5 Days to Everest — Day 1
We had our stuff packed up and in the Land Rover by 9am, ready to go. We drove out of Lhasa, headed for our first location, Yamdrok Tso. This lake is one of Tibet’s three holiest. It has no river which feeds it, nor does one flow from it. Tibet’s largest freshwater lake has been refreshed only by rains and has been drained only by evaporation for millions of years.
However, recently the Chinese have created a hydroelectric plant underneath the lake that drains the lake of its water to produce power for Lhasa. The water level is slowly dropping below the natural level since the project was finished.
While the engineers have promised to replenish the water from a nearby river, this process has not yet begun. However, the water from this river has much different properties and may be toxic to the wide variety of life which lives there, including some species found only here. Not only that, but it is widely speculated that this procedure will actually end up in a net loss of energy and will only serve to destroy one of the Tibetans’ holiest sites.
People also question the need for the power generation capabilities, since Lhasa does not currently exceed its capacity. The reasoning goes that Lhasa is growing quickly, and demand will soon outstrip its current ability to power the city. However, the growth is due largely to Chinese migration to the Tibetan capital, not due to a wide scale change in the Tibetans’ traditional herding and nomadic lifestyle.
The lake was a beautiful place, even despite the lack of greenery and the fact that the lake was nearly completely frozen over. Nearby, there is a glacier, moving ever so slowly down a mountain slope. Hawkers have set up nearby selling worthless junk and attempting to charge a fee for taking pictures. They have also brought dogs and yaks to a scenic overlook of the lake, attempting to charge pictures for shots with the animals. They shove them into the pictures then demand payment. They forced Kamson to pay 30 Yuan by surrounding and not allowing him to get back into the car. It probably would have cost more but we got out and pushed them all away from the car. They might have struggled more had another Land Cruiser not rolled up as we were trying to get away.
That afternoon, we stopped in a town called Gyantse. Famous for its monastery and its carpet manufacturing, it is the 4th largest city in Tibet. Inside the monastery, there is a structure called the Kumbum (meaning 1,000 images) filled with murals and chapels. However, we arrived too late in the day due to the poor roads going on the way to Yamdruk Tso.
The carpet factory we went into was an interesting place, with several buildings full of women in various phases of preparing wool and creating the carpets. We talked to them for a bit in the few short sentences and phrases of English they knew and the gestures we could work out in common. Kamson bought a carpet and we packed it into the car and headed off to Shigatse.
When we arrived in Shigatse, we checked into the hotel of the driver’s choice. Kernby, Brian, and I weren’t involved in the decision making process, Kamson and Sonam worked it out between themselves in Mandarin before we’d arrived in the city. We set our stuff down in the 4 person room and got ready to go to dinner. But first we took a brief tour of the city. With only a few streets and a handful of traffic lights, it didn’t take long.
We went to a restaurant that the Lonely Planet recommended, but it seemed a bit dingy for Western consumption. We tried another place and it was much nicer. We had a good meal and noticed that the other two tour groups who had been trailing us all day long had wandered into the same place. They were also at the same hotel, on their drivers’ recommendations. These were probably the most Western-catering places in the city.
When we got back to the hotel, we were tired and went to bed immediately. We were asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillow. The next day we were to see the Tashilhunpo monastery, one of the holiest in Tibet.