from Tingri to Zhangmu, a most amazing ride
Zham Travel Blog› entry 16 of 24 › view all entries
October 6th, 2007 – by: portia
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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