As this leg of the trip is made up of long coach trips and quick stops on the way to the Himalayas, I thought I'd handle the blog in the same way that I did with the Trans-Siberian train; namely short posts that capture the highlights of days. It should be more succinct and readable like that, at least that's what I hope.
Day One - Lhasa to Gyantse
We left Lhasa early on a grey (and rather poetically) foreboding morning. The journey to Gyantse would take about seven hours and not many of the group were looking forward to spending so much time on a coach. I was fairly nonchalant, now battle hardened by spending so much time in confined spaces with people you barely know, and this relaxed attitude quickly seemed justified as it appeared we'd be making quite a few stops along the way. The first was at the banks of the mighty Brahmaputra River, that winds itself out of Tibet before eventually meeting up with the Ganges in India. Wide, flat and choppy, this seemed like a rather plain start for what would become one of the world's most vibrant rivers, but the gunmetal skies did make it all seem quite dramatic.
We then began the long, long winding road that would take us over our first mountain pass over 5,000 metres high. A lot of the group were on altitude sickness tablets and the medication, combined with our driver's somewhat liaisez-faire attitude towards the physics of sheer drops and approach velocity, left Jane crouching in the middle of the aisle, covering her eyes and turning a delightful shade of green. The view from the top was well worth it though, as we got a glimpse of the next valley and the Turquoise Lake. A surprisingly apt (and succinct) name given the Chinese tendencies for place naming, the Lake definitely ranks as one of the most beautiful sights I've ever seen. I didn't know water could be that colour. Amazing.
It got better as we stopped on the banks and I was allowed a quick paddle. It wasn't as cold as I thought it would be, considering it's altitude and that it's glacial - comparable to a dip at Longsands during March - but the scenery was stunning.
Onwards and a lunch stop. The touristy restaurant, which was the slowest I've ever been to, attracted some young Tibetans - they seemed excited to see us and were only to keen to have their pictures taken.
Another 5,000+ metre mountain pass, and we were well on our way to Gyantse. We did stop, but the weather had taken a turn for the worse and it was absolutely freezing. I hurried out, took some particularly half-arsed photos, then flew back onto the bus as soon as I could. Some people used the opportunity for a wee stop, which I thought was crazy as they must have had to snap it off when they were done. Brrr.
We carried on, stopping briefly at another mountain top lake. This one seemed to be even bluer than the Turquoise Lake, as illustrated by the photo. That's not sky, it's water. Isn't that incredible?
Just one more piccy, I can't get over that blue.
We finally arrived in Gyanste and, after checking into a hotel that looked like it had been transported to Tibet from Chernobyl, we went for dinner. It was Al's 50th birthday, so Judy and Drujal had managed to magic up a birthday cake in the heart of rural Tibet. Not just any cake either, but some magical, ornate Chinese monstrosity, apparently made only out of whipped cream flowers and rice wheat. It was lovely and awful in equal measures.
We retired early-ish, as I think the altitude had gotten to some of the group.