Tibet 2014 - Paryang, Drongpa, Shegar

Darchen 20 September.

We leave Manosarovar for a long day’s drive on the plains. We pass the Gung Gu Tso, distant hills reflected in the still blue water. Yellow grasslands, yaks, herds of sheep, white nomad tents, telegraph lines, distant snow capped mountains. Small child in brocade coat eating a sandwich at the lunch stop. Back at Paryang we stop at the Bearded Fruit Shop while Lakshang sorts some paperwork. Joni on the headphones, Hissing of Summer Lawns tales me back to the seventies. Melancholy descends, old friends, where did the time go? Life is precious and so short.

We stop for the night at Drongpa. A smart new guest house with bed linen drying in the courtyard, new beds and bed side lamps! Bed side lamps?  There is a fantastic sunset over the old hilltop gompa and a rainbow emanation over the stupa. We eat in a family cafe, warm from the central stove; children, kittens, tv, a lovely family room and we stay late. The GH is noisy in the night and we realise that it doubles as a comfort lodge for truck drivers, aka a brothel.

21 September.

Breakfast in the family cafe, the younger daughter is still naked under the quilt and unable to get up while we’re still there. We return to Saga and more beaurocracy. A disheartening town. Overpoweringly loud music from loudspeakers outside a Chinese hardware shop, it could drive you mad. New red plastic Chinese signage being overlaid on the old Tibetan buildings, intricate painted Tibetan carvings being literally whitewashed over by men on ladders.

On a lesser road we pass new roadside ‘villages’ built to house nomads whose movements are being curtailed. Dried up salt lakes. We stop at the dramatic blue Palku Tso where Chinese tourists turn their big cameras on us. Sunny skies turn quickly dark and behind a large nomad camp the low skies over the mountains to the south are dark and dramatically storm filled.

We have lunch in what seems like heaven, a wonderful traditional roadside halt with rugs and old furniture, egg fried rice, endless tea and no sense of time. We drive past ruined hillside forts, at Tingre I look for our 2002 lodgings but all I see are the wetlands and horses of my memories. Strange rainbow lights emanate in the now settled skies before we stop at the modern Snow Leopard Hotel in New Tingre. Laughing girls kntting at reception, large beds, a clean sink, tepid water, a faint smell of sewage and cold, we’re still at 16,000 ft. A modern blue domed cafe is utterly bleak; men playing ma jong, noisily.

New Tingre is actually a couple of miles away dwarfing the old Tibetan town of Shegar. We drive out there and meet a lama who’s one of Lakshang’s relatives and who shows us round the prayer halls and the lama’s chapel before taking us to his room. A delightful man who gives generously of his time, tea and biscuits. He shows us his small meditation room and his living room, full of plants, books, warmth and life. His account of the Cultural Revolution, the Red Guards running amok through the monastery buildings destroying the Buddha statues and the libraries, the monks trying to stop them and conceal them is chilling. Actually, it’s terrifying. The sense of disaster, terror and tragedy still feels real. He is phlegmatic, it happened. It is gone. “Yes, the Chinese did this”. He shows us precious carved wood printing blocks which were hidden as building materials and a silk brocade for the high throne used as a saddle cover for many years until the chaos was over.

Our meal at the blue domed cafe is confusing, chips are thinly sliced raw potato.


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Sunset over Drongpa