from Tingri to Zhangmu, a most amazing ride

Zham Travel Blog

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Old Tibetan army forts on the road to Nyalam from Tingri
We took a wlk into the town of Tingri today. Tingri is situated on a rather large plain, larger than any flat area we had traveled on this trip. It's still at an high altitude, about 14500 ft. We basically circled the town, up the hill where there was a mounment for the nature preserve we were in, and the ruins of an old fort. As we walked, we would see many dogs roaming the countryside in a pack, not chasing the goats though. A little girl (maybe 7 or 8 years old) herder saw us and came over, hmm, she asked for money! That's not a good thing to have learned from tourists. We had a good view from the top of the hill, however, Cho Oyo always had some clouds over its top and Everest would also play hide and seek today.
More ruins by the road
We could see the mountains, but not always the peaks.

After lunch we loaded up the cars and headed to the border. We would have one more high mountain pass today. On the way, we began to see trucks from other parts of China. We had to honk the horns to pass them and then since we stopped for scenery, we would have to pass them again later. Tashi's car was having problem with a stuck horn, so they stopped from time to time to "unstuck" it. We drove up this high mountain plateau area where we could see some of the Himalayans, but most of the time, the very top of them would have some clouds. We should have been able to see Shishapangma but never got a clear view. This high plateau was interesting in that there was a "road", but there were also "shortcuts", since the plateau was shaped in a rolling form, cars would take shortcuts instead of taking the wider turn of the road.
Panorama from Lalung La, our last pass in Tibet at 16564 ft, Shishapangma was behind clouds.
It's easy in the 4WD and kind of fun. We stopped at the final pass, where there were lots of prayer flags as usual, and some wind-powered prayer wheels! It was very windy. From now on it was all downhill. We've started to leave the roof of the world behind.

We arrived at the town of Nyalam about 4:30pm, and lined up our cars on the road going south. There were perhaps a dozen 4WD's waiting. The road was rumored to open tonight at 7pm. We had to find a way to kill some time. First we went to a tea house, where we had some tea, coke (for Kristin, who was able to find coke at all places we stopped). We chatted around, and watched a little of the TV which was on. They had electricity here, and obviously TV reception.  Frodo was being attacked by the giant spider monster on TV in the Lord of the Rings triology.
Kevin leaving the last kata at Lalung La

After sitting and talking for a while, we decided to walk around the town to see if there was anything interesting. We walked around, and there wasn't much of real interest. It was just a normal town, with shops (none had the furry dog collar we saw at Khampa La), schools, kids playing on the sidewalk. There were many restaurants, obviously due to the road closure, people had to find some place to sit around and eat.

The road actually opened at 6:30pm, and we were on the way, not knowing what was to come. Let me try to set the scene for you:

Imagine a river born in the glaciers of the Himalayans cutting through the tallest mountains on earth on its way to join other rivers going to the Indian Ocean. As the river winds south, more waterfalls from the mountains join it so the river gets more water, goes faster, cuts deeper into the mountains.
A red hill on the way (through sunglasses)
As the river cuts lower into the mountains, trees start to appear on its banks and the mountainside.

Because the mounutains were so tall, when people started to go along the river to the south, the road they carved out of the mountainside was narrow. Because of the steepness, they had to make switchbacks to go down the mountainside. The waterfalls come from high up and bring with them falling rocks, the road was frequently blocked by the rocks, and the waterfall would either go above the road if the road was carved into the mountain in a half tunnel, or the waterfall would just go on the road before plunging further down toward the river below. Cars and people had to wade through the water, maybe only 1-2 feet deep at today, bump over rocks, and duck under waterfalls (under which the cars would stop and get a free carwash! It's so cool!) The road was frequently many hundreds of feet or more above the river, there was nothing but the good skills of the drivers to prevent one from falling down and never be found again.
A river and some settlement along the road
  Along the way, there would be tents set beside the road or overhanging a bit, these would be workers tents. The road was being fixed and paved, and hundreds of workers, most of them from interior of China, lived in these tents to work on the road. There were kitchen tents, and bathroom enclosures (which could be identified by how they were hanging over the cliff), It was dinner time for most workers, and they would be sitting or squatting by the tent, rice bowel in hand. The kitchen tents would have some smoke coming out of the chimney pipe. It's all very very basic and rustic. Ah, and the place was very wet for the most part from all the waterfallss so at least water supply was not an issue. Some workers would be women, and I even saw a kid or 2, and some dogs.
Before getting to Nyalam, we saw several of these scenes, Nepalese herders with the goats they bought in Tibet, on the way home to Nepal on foot!
Maybe a year or so later, the road would be paved. We wondered how the maintenance would be carried out, since it probably would need constant repair from landslides and potholes from water.

We all agreed this was a very exciting E-ticket ride (assuming you had been to Disneyland, e-ticket was the ticket for the best rides). The 30km distance between Naylam and Zham took about 1.5 hours. It could take a lot longer, so we were very lucky, since we had the daylight to see the scenery.

The road was narrow but it was the only road between Tibet and Kathmandu for hundreds of years. Now with cars and trucks making this journey in addition to foot traffic by Nepalese people who came to Tibet to buy hundreds of goats for their special festival, they had to herd all these goats back on foot! And (crazy) westerners bicycling.
Some goats decided to head back to Tibet.
The trucks were allowed to go after all the 4WD's at a later time. It became a 1-way southbound road in the evening, and reverses at about 1am to become a northbound 1-way road.

Imagine you were coming from Kathmandu, you had to wait til 1am before being allowed to go north. It's dark, and you couldn't see anything. Maybe that's good so you don't get scared, but you would be missing out on one of the most spectacular roads on earth. Besides, going from Zhangmu to Tingri was going to 15000 ft in one day, and you wouldn't get to acclimatize as well because it would be REAL hard to find something to do in Tingri for 4 days! If you went to Everest base camp, you would be going to 17000 ft in a hurry, not a good way to avoid getting altitude sickness. This is why I would strongly advice anyone who wants to take this trip to go from Lhasa to Kathmandu, not the other way around.
On our way to Zham from Nyalam

Zhangmu is a hill town, the road leading to it winds down in switchbacks, the narrow road was half taken by numerous trucks, some from China, some from Nepal. Merchandise going to Nepal need to be unloaded here and put on Nepalese trucks, and vice versa. It's not like there was any parking lot in this town, so all these were taking place on the narrow streets. Porters would carry the goods between trucks. It's amazing anything can be done in this manner. As we went into town, it was a big traffic jam, so it took a while to go down to our hotel. The town had lots of waterfalls going through it, and we had the sound of the waterfall outside the window. This was a pretty nice hotel, a big step up from TIngri. They had electricity and lots of running hot water. However, the shower hose was defective just like the one in Tingri, so must be a bad design or cheap material.
wading through waters, car #3 and 4 were in the water in this photo, a waterfall came from the left to join the river on the right.

For dinner, we walked down another switchback or so, and the first restaurant we went to called "base camp" had a lot of people and way too loud music, and what looked like climbers dancing to the music. So I suppose it could be the right restaurant for some people, but we went across the street to the "Himalayan Restaurant", which was quiet and turned out to have really good food too.
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Old Tibetan army forts on the road…
Old Tibetan army forts on the roa…
More ruins by the road
More ruins by the road
Panorama from Lalung La, our last …
Panorama from Lalung La, our last…
Kevin leaving the last kata at Lal…
Kevin leaving the last kata at La…
A red hill on the way (through sun…
A red hill on the way (through su…
A river and some settlement along …
A river and some settlement along…
Before getting to Nyalam, we saw s…
Before getting to Nyalam, we saw …
Some goats decided to head back to…
Some goats decided to head back t…
On our way to Zham from Nyalam
On our way to Zham from Nyalam
wading through waters, car #3 and …
wading through waters, car #3 and…
high mountains and river
high mountains and river
looking back, can you see the rive…
looking back, can you see the riv…
its getting dark,
it's getting dark,
sunset colors in the south
sunset colors in the south
road construction workers tent hom…
road construction workers tent ho…
one of many waterfalls
one of many waterfalls
We go under the waterfall
We go under the waterfall
for a car wash, cool!
for a car wash, cool!
Into Zham, trucks took up half the…
Into Zham, trucks took up half th…
Zham Hotels & Accommodations review
This was one of the newest hotels in Zham (Zhangmu) at the border of Tibet and Nepal. The room was above our expectations (which was set to "rustic"),… read entire review
photo by: Ils1976