Saturday, July 6, 2013

Tibet road checkpoints

On our itinerary it said, “Day 4 Lhasa to Gyanta to Shigatse (330 km), Day 5 Shigatse to Everest Base Camp (350 km).”  I looked at those distances and assumed, wrongly, that each travel day would take maybe 5 or 6 hours.  The reality was those travel days took 12 hours each… on the road, but not always moving.  Our tour used a small bus driven by a really friendly and helpful (non English speaking) Tibetan driver, who somehow kept steady and focused on those long driving days. 

An amazing thing about traveling in Tibet is there’s not much traffic and each vehicle is tracked by police checkpoints.  It was our guide who jumped out with his backpack full of permits and dealt with each checkpoint.  We were mostly not allowed off the bus at these checkpoints and absolutely no photographs.  I don’t really know what was happening at the checkpoints.  My understanding is the checks work by a paper trail: at one checkpoint our guide was given a piece of paper with a time on it, sometimes a police officer would board the bus to count passengers.  At the next checkpoint, our guide would submit the paper.  The challenge with this method is to not arrive at the checkpoint early; that means drive slow or pullover and wait to make the checkpoint time.  A few miles before the checkpoint, it was common to see cars on the side of the road waiting.

We needed to arrive in Shigatse before 6:30 pm for a permit to continue on to EBC, but we were making slow progress between checkpoints and it looked like we might not make it on time.  Even though we did arrived before 6:30, it apparently was not enough time; we had to come back in the morning.  Knowing that we had a long drive, we got an early start, arriving a half an hour before the permit office opened, our guide went in and we waited and waited and waited for 2 hours.  No explanation given.

Back on the road, we eventually came to a serious military checkpoint that made our guide a little nervous, “Please! No photos.”  Here, we had to get off the bus, go into the building, and line up for a passport check.  One of the European guys on our trip wondered out loud, whispering, “Would this be a good time for my “Free Tibet” t-shirt?”  Izzy, needing a toilet, walked in the wrong direction and received a smiling military escort back to the bus.  They weren’t being stern or unfriendly, just very official.

To travel in Tibet, a guide is essential to manage permits and checkpoints, and right now, independent travel is not allowed.
Yamdrok-Tso Lake

a car in front of our bus hit a sheep in this village,
causing much yelling between the shepherd and driver,
but the driver paid 

villagers listening to the argument about the dead sheep 

drying yak dung on the wall,
burned in stoves

glaciers at a high pass

passes have many prayer flags

wide-open space,
stunning views

a few hardy plants

empty road and a plastic policeman

Pelkhor Chode Monastery, Gyantse
(Gyantse Kumbum building)

Izzy and Steph after a long day on the bus,
Chinese noodles for dinner in Shigatse

driving through a river, and then
a few days later when we came back,
there was a new bridge

lots of trash in places like passes

beautiful, hand painting inside a traditional Tibetan house,
we had lunch here

nomadic herder camp

people camp at the passes,
selling and begging,
...hard, hard, sad life

police checkpoint

a landslide came down the road,
most of the town was working on clearing it

first view of the Himalayans 

Everest base camp,
Steph inside a clean and cozy yurt
 we slept on the benches

early morning view of Everest,
getting up and seeing this magnificent mountain
that I will never climb was beyond exhilarating,
it made the long road trip worth it

 outside of our yurt,
and our bus


walk to Everest lookout point,
can also take a bus there

yaks live at ridiculously high elevations

view from the lookout

lots of Chinese tourist at the lookout point

last view of Everest from Rongphu Monastery

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for writing about your experience, and illuminating so many facets of China. The comparisons/contrasts of your teaching experience in the U.S. and China mirror what others have said and written. Few, however, have described them with as relevant and clear a prose.

    There were similarities between your description of the solitude you found, and the title of a recent book: Kinder than Solitude, by Yiyun Li. Do we appreciate each other more when we question each other? Is the US, and western culture unique in constantly taking the risk in asking for knowledge, from teachers willing to give this gift? Are only western teachers willing to risk learning from their students?

    You mention in the Statesman article that the Chinese believed they had the best and dominant culture. This observation provides relevant illumination of the present tension between China, its neighbors, and the US. Interesting that this sense of superiority is present inherently in the population of China, not just its leaders. Can we shift the planet's population from stopping with a conclusion, and move them to wonder about the world around them?

    Lastly it was great to see someone with a surname of Montgomery take risks, ask questions, and make keen observations. Particularly relevant, since having the same surname, I have looked for great achievements among Montgomery's, and they are rare. Whether or not you inherited the name, your efforts are appreciated. Hard to know where Montgomerys fit in society, although a book by a fellow that wrote a commentary recently might give the answer:


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