Cindy with scarf offering at Tropu-la Pass
New Video - this is a really short video of the amazing horse riding competition that we stumbled on en-route to Tingri before heading up to Everest Base Camp. Scroll to the bottom of the photo section to view it...
After a terrible breakfast in Shigatze of bad instant coffee (I know that all instant coffee is bad, but after three months here, you are desperate for any kind of caffeine) hard boiled eggs and giant pieces of soggy toast, we tried to wander around town looking for some munchies and eventually found some fruit to tide us over till lunch.
We hopped in the Toyota and headed off towards Tingri which is our new destination since the road to Shegar is closed for repairs by the Chinese who are trying to spiffy everything up in time for the Olympics.
Tropu-la Pass Vista
We made a pit-stop at the Tropu-la pass where you can see Cindy offering a prayer flag to the huge display of flags fluttering in the wind. This is considered auspicious and a good way to “blow away” bad luck and omens at the top of a pass. It is also a convenient and much cleaner place to pee than at rest-stops J . The views from the top of the pass of the stark but gorgeous landscape are really great too.
After winding down the pass, the road opens onto a vast plain and riverbed with ominous, dusty mountains in the distance and sheep, goats, horses and donkeys grazing everywhere.
We stopped to indulge Tenzin’s nicotine habit and sat with a local shepherd for a bit, the only traffic to speak of being the kid and the man on the horse cart in the picture. The feeling is the same as being in the wilderness of Wyoming or Montana - the sky looks absolutely huge and deep blue and it is nice to be away from all the noises and craziness of the city.
The road to Tingri
After winding through the valley on the way to Tingri, we finally turned a corner and were provided our first, distant view of Mt. Everest, known here as Chomolungma
Tibetan Joke Interlude: This is one of several Tibetan jokes that Tenzin told us.
It might lose something in translation but gives you an idea of how the Tibetans feel about their invaders. Three men, one American, one Tibetan and one Chinese, are on a small airplane that is loosing altitude and the pilot tells them they each must throw something out the window to save themselves. The American says “I have plenty of money so I will throw all of my dollar bills out the window.” The Chinese man says “I have plenty of immitation things so I will throw those out the window.” The Tibetan man thinks for a moment and says “I have too many Chinese people” and throws the Chinese man out the window. Ha! Ha! Ha!
Horse Cart on the road to Tingri
We drove through Shegar which as Tenzin had said is not much of anything, nor has views of the mountains and proceeded on to Tingri. Just a mile or so out of the very small town off on the left side of the road was some big commotion and lots of horse carts, scooters and 4WD vehicles were heading over to a wide open field.
I mentioned it to Tenzin and he looked and said “Oh! You are very lucky! This is a Tibetan horse competition.” So we went to check it out.
Road to Tingri Vista
We bounced across the field and through the river and parked, walking into a pretty large crowd of Tibetan revelers lining both sides of the competition field. Thirty or forty contestants were competeing, mostly young to young adult men and a few women dressed in traditional costume with colorful red hats and the typical coral and turquoise ear jewelry. The horses are also very decorated and covered in traditional Tibetan carpet (which seems to be used for everything from motorcycle seat covers to chair covers to bedding to actual carpets here). Six guys not competing would run out onto the field after a contestant finished and place about a dozen white prayer scarves weighted down with what turned out to be cigarettes (one of the winner’s prizes probably along with a healthy serving of chang which is Tibetan home-brewed barley beer).
The rider would then fly down the field holding on tightly with the right hand while leaning way the hell over and trying to grab the scarf with their left. Some were very graceful and did pretty well - others looked in danger of falling off (which some did) or having the horse refuse to keep running with someone hanging off his side.
Mt. Everest from the road to Tingri
We watched this for quite a while until all of the contestants on this side were finished and at the other end closer to the view of Everest and Cho Oyu in the distance. Cindy, Tenzin and Jayang walked across the field to get a view from the other side but I hung out to take some photos of some of the incredible jewelry covering the woman. After a few minutes, an older man beckoned me over to sit with he and his extended family. There were a bunch of little kids who were of course totally enamored with my camera, all of them wanting to look at pictures and look through the lens.
I sat with the man and his friends and family and the next thing you know, out comes a rather large glass of Chang the Tibetan home brew mentioned earlier poured out of the oldest looking gas can you have ever seen into a grimy glass. Being ever polite and kind of liking Chang anyways, I was in no position to refuse and was chastised for not finishing it in one gulp. Have another! We attempted to have a conversation but all I really got was that he was 58 (he showed me on a calculator) and that, unless my camera was a Polaroid and I could give him a picture, he didn’t want his taken. Six or seven shots later, he was trying to tell me something and finally I waved Tenzin over who translated and thankfully explained to the man that we live at sea level, not over 16,000 feet and that any more Chang might result in me not feeling to well. We hung out with the family and the kids a bit longer (Cindy has a kind of funny picture of them piling on me to look at their pics on my camera) and then headed off to find a place to stay in Tingri.
Tractor on the road to Tingri
Horse Competition in Tingri
As you can see from the look on Cindy’s face, the guest house was less than special - actually kind of a small little jail cell-like room (although relatively nicely painted) with two little cots, no electricity and definitely no attached bathroom. Good thing we bought silk sleeping bag liners in Kathmandu! Rooms that looked like something out of a Mexican situated horror flick like “Dusk till Dawn” surrounded a dusty courtyard. I won’t scare you all out of coming to Tibet by sharing gross details but let’s just say that, unless there are dire circumstances, not using the facilities seemed to be a good idea.
We ended up having a veggie dinner in the little restaurant which was none to special (Yak meat and no refrigeration makes for a bad belly) but had a nice conversation with three funny Aussie guys in their 60’s who had just returned from Everest Base Camp.
One of them is a travel agent and he and his buddies go off on an adventure each year that he later tries to package and sell as a tour. They had a good time at Base Camp and stayed at the Rongbuk Monastery up there (which is where we thought we were staying but it ends up that we are going to stay in tents). They had great weather but, similar to Tingri, said the bathroom facilities were somewhere south of horrific.
Tibetan Woman and Jewlery at Horse Competition
Since China only has one time zone in the entire gigantic country, it gets dark late here so we decided to walk about thirty minutes up to a viewpoint that has distant views of Everest and the surrounding mountains. It was actually quite a little walk up, mostly due to the altitude, but Cindy was happy that she found a little secluded spot where she could pee in relative cleanliness with a view of Everest (covered in clouds today).
It was really windy but I figured we better go all the way because who knows when you are gonna be in Tingri again so we pushed on to the top where there is a monument of sorts and a viewing area. I ducked into the viewing area and there was a couple huddled against the low wall hiding from the wind drinking a bottle of Chinese Dynasty red wine. We talked to them for a bit and found out later that they are Russian and wanted to hopefully see Everest and the stars so were going to hang out until late. Considering that I only had on sandals and that we are going to Base Camp tomorrow, we headed back after a bit and bid them farewell. The sunset never really materialized and the clouds rolled in so you could only see parts of Everest but later that night, it looked clear out so hopefully they got their view and we will at Base Camp tomorrow.
Tibetan Woman and Jewlery at Horse Competition