The bus

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The wheels on the bus go round and round, but the people on the bus go squish and sweat. We have bus envy. Yesterday’s bus had seats with pockets, leg room, and – the holy grail of sunny travel – air conditioning. Today’s is a little more rustic, and the bad news is that this is our transport for the next week all the way to Kathmandu. We won’t quite have the ordeal being experienced by some cyclists we passed while ascending a pass at 4600m, but it’s fair to say we’re underwhelmed by the comfort. Of course this is more than made up for by the adrenaline thrill of hairpin bends and blind corners. I won’t go into a vivid description of the safety conditions on the roads in Tibet for fear of alarming relatives back home. We’ll be ok!

Today’s journey has seen us trundle through the Lhasa valley, following the river downstream to where it joins another and heads off to India. We stopped at a ‘water burial’ site, where the tradition is for the dead to be cast into the river, much like we’ll see at Varanasi in India. Amid the usual prayer flags, an interesting sight on the cliffs alongside the water – white paintings of ladders, to indicate that the dead should climb up to a heaven. Our Norweigen friend Gardar points out that ladders are of course bidirectional, and so an arrow would be a worthy addition!

On we go, past farmers baling their barley into lots of neat little stacks – like a small teepee, with the barley on top fanning out in a cone to keep the rain off. They must make lovely temporary housing for passing wildlife. The bus screeches to a halt as we’re surrounded by Yaks being herded down the valley by a nomad – and later a flock of sheep with their shepherd.

As we reach the pass, a gorgeous turquoise lake comes into view, glistening in the sunshine as far as the eye can see – and reflected in it’s surface, we can see snow capped peaks of a mountain range. Not the Himilayas yet though, we’re told. This lake is a mere 640 square kilometres in size, 240km long.

At each photo stop, there’s an assortment of locals – nomadic peoples who rely on passing tourism to supplement the meagre income they get from farming. Photogenic mothers, dogs with red fluffy scarves around their necks, and of course at least one yak. All, understandably for inclusion in a photo for a fee. We went through a pass at 5020m next to a stunning glacier, and found probably the highest outdoor pool table in the world, with a few locals playing a tournament on it. Amazing!

One last thing for today – prayer flags. It has to be seen to believed. I’m sure you’ve seen the photos of some colourful prayer flags draped across some rooftop, but I’d never realised quite how extreme they get. Every accessible mountaintop, electricity pylon, and pass has thousands of them, in places so dense that they look like a giant fluttering patchwork quilt hanging in the sky. And along with the flags, prayer confetti to release in the wind – oh, and along with that, all manner of rubbish from passing visitors. Beautiful from a distance, up close it can seem somewhat like legal littering, with more manmade rubbish than the last day of Glastonbury (which is bad, if you haven’t seen it!)

One day of the road trip down, five to go. Only a few hours tomorrow, compared to the seven we’ve done today.

Simon

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