Fields in Village of Milrepa
Video Uploaded - a short, dumb video of us driving down the dusty road from Everest Base Camp to the border town of Zhangmu. The funny thing is our driver's gloves (and watching him flip off the truck driver) and the cool Tibetan pop tunes...
Once we reached the monastery and dropped the kid off, the snow had subsided and it was just bleak and grey and drizzly out.
We drove back the way we came all the way to Tingri and had lunch at the dive place that we had stayed a couple days ago. From Tingri it was more desolate, desert plateau scenery as we drove up and over the Tong la Pass and headed back down towards Milarepa where there is a cave and temple. Tenzin had told us that they are working on the road between Nyalam a bit down the road from Milrepa and Zhangmu where we would be spending the night. They often close the road until 8:00pm and, even though it is only about 30 kilometers, it can take four hours. Sure enough, we got to Milrepa and the Chinese authorities had the road closed and said it was not re-opening until 7:00 that night, another four hours.
Prayer Flags at Tong-la Pass on the road to Zhangmu
Without much to do since Milrepa is not much bigger than a muddy postage stamp as you can see in the picture of the fields, we decided we would go check out the Milrepa Cave which was the cave of a famous Buddhist mystic.
A steep walk down stone steps led to a small temple that is closed on top of the “cave” which is now covered by the temple and also locked up. Apparently someone had stolen a precious, old Buddha statue inside and ever since it has been locked up. Pretty exciting! They are also building a monastery there but Tenzin had explained that it is some weird, Italian run “bad Buddhist sect” that he had mentioned several times but we never really understood.
Tong-la Pass on the road to Zhangmu
We walked back up to the village and Tenzin asked if we wanted to walk to Nyamla instead of just sitting around and have Jayang pick us up when they re-opened the road. I asked how far it was and he said “Not far. We go up, then down, then up and it is around that corner” pointing at a hill a few kilometers away.
We said sure, why not, and headed off walking through the construction. The Chinese are trying to really build up the entire road infrastructure in the whole country, probably posturing for showing how advanced they are for the Olympics. There were tractors and jackhammers and workers all over the road. I asked Tenzin if they use Tibetan labor and he told me that they only use the Tibetan’s for the hardest labor that the Chinese don’t want to do and they pay them half as much. We saw lots of Tibetan men and women walking back towards Milrepa always asking where we were going (since we were the only people walking towards Nyalam). We walked for an hour or so and Tenzin popped into a little house and came back telling us that the woman inside said that it was only “about ten more kilometers to Nyalam”. I guess “not far” in Tibetan means it is less than 15 kilometers.
Tong La Pass Panorama
I figured that the road would reopen and Jayang would come along long before we made it to Nyalam but about fifteen minutes later, we heard a vehicle and looked back to see our SUV, recognizable with it’s red scarf wrapped around the broken antenna on the roof. Jayang came pulling up to us and we hopped into the car. Tenzin was cracking up as Jayang rapidly explained something to him. It seems that he told the police that Tenzin was a new guide and didn’t really know what he was doing and that we had been at Everest for four days and that Cindy had bad altitude sickness. They let him through on a special “emergency” pass which meant we didn’t have to walk the rest of the way to Nyalam and we should be at the front of all of the many lineups on the road from landslides and stops for road work. Pretty ingenious Jayang!
Jayang our driver
We made it to and through Nyalam and thought we were on our way untl the road turned back to mud and two minutes out of town, we were stopped again, this time in a lineup of trucks waiting to get past a backhoe.
For another couple hours we zig-zagged down the mountain, occasionally stopping for construction or landslides and finally pulled into the entrance to Zhangmu. On the way down the hill, Tenzin tried calling a nicer hotel than the guest house they had us staying at that had no attached bathroom and no showers at all. The Chinese proprietor wanted $100 more than the guest house which was too excessive so Tenzin called his agency and explained that we hadn’t had an attached bath or shower in three days. They said they would take care of it and “upgrade” us. Cool.
Tenzin our Tibetan Guide
The traffic in Zhangmu which is just a small border down is crazy. A narrow, two-lane road winds through the fairly grotty town with cars parked on both sides and huge trucks rumbling up and down the road transporting Nepali goods north and Chinese goods south.
There are constant gridlocks and we thought we would never get through. After watching Jayang navigate past trucks and cars with an inch of clearance on each side, we pulled up at an absolutely disgusting looking place painted dirty pale blue with a “Hotel” sign painted on the wall and though “Crap! Hope this is not our upgraded hotel” but prepared for the worst. Jayang turned the car off and Tenzin opened the back and started taking things out. We thought “Oh well - at least there is a shower” and started to get out. Tenzin laughed and told us to get back in - they were only dropping off some Tibetan carpets that we had brought from Base Camp to be delivered. Phew! That was close.
Tenzin our Tibetan Guide
We hit another traffic jam, this time an asshole truck driver didn’t wait his turn and the next thing you know, 30 or 40 trucks are plodding up hill, refusing to let us go down.
Jayang had to back the SUV up a few hundred yards, quite a feat in Zhangmu, and wait for a break. Meanwhile, Tenzin walked off ahead to find our hotel. We made it through the mess and pulled up to park with one hotel on the left and a nicer looking one on the right. We hoped ours was the nicer one but we weren’t so lucky. Tenzin walked us into the one on the left, a dingy place jam packed with Indian tourists heading for Mt. Kailash (that was the place where one of Tenzin’s guests died..) Our room was on the sixth floor up six flights of dark and dirty stairs but it had reasonably comfy beds, hot water and wasn’t too dirty. Our silk sleeping bag liners came in handy once again. We had a pretty good dinner at the restaurant downstairs with a few last Tibetan beers and talked to a German girl who was towards the end of her trip and heading to Kerala (south Indian state) for Ayurvedic treatments at some resort for the last two weeks of her stay.
Tenzin after he ran up the "shortcut" to Everest Base Camp (hiding his cigarette...)
Kerala is the state where Cochin, home to a potential free Hilton stay, is located and one of the places we are considering going for the remainder of the trip. Perhaps we will see her there.
Tenzin at Everest Base Camp
Tomorrow we cross the border and drive back to Kathmandu where, unless we are able to change our flight to Delhi, we spend one last night.