Tibet 2014 - Saga to Paryang full

Saga, 7 September.

Bev feels better in the morning, oxygen levels are up. I slept better than expected. Breakfast in the cold hotel lobby. Bev and Guy try the ATM but it doesn't work. Guy gets hard stares from men in the street, this is a tough place, wise to be careful with eye contact. We buy paracetamol in the chemist after a long discussion about doses with the Chinese pharmacist - but it‘s cheaper to buy it in the UK. Again we set off at 10.30. The first police checkpoint sends us back into town to another point, then we’re away. Cloudy. We rise to a small pass and then it's flat on a good road across scrubby grasslands with occasional settlements.

Flocks of sheep, goats and yaks. We pass a young man in a hi-vis vest and camouflage jacket sweeping the road, a small Sakya monastery on a hill, a hydro electric plant in stages of construction, teams of Tibetans clearing a drainage ditch by the roadside, powerlines and telephone lines.

The old Tibetan houses around here look old and unkempt. Untidy courtyards, yak dung fuel piled outside. There seems to be no farming other than livestock. Mostly we follow the Yarlung Tsampo river. The road is often lined with barbed wire fence to keep animals off the now more important road but probably also to make life difficult for the nomads.

More checkpoints. At one small village we have to detour to avoid the new bridge, the detour takes us past a little gompa with small square stupas and a walled courtyard completely covered by lines of radiating prayer flags. There’s one monk with a flat rakishly angled yellow hat and I wonder if he's a Bonpo.

The road climbs to a small pass where we stretch legs at 4950m by a rotting old metal archway with a fallen mass of flags and khatas and old packets of paper lung pa scattered on the ground. Numerous small cairns wrapped with khatas that glisten when the sun comes out. A nearby hilltop is crowned with solar power and communication masts. The crew find a Russian trek company sticker and put it on the back window of the Toyota.

We continue to drive across flat plain, we see the wild horses called kiang and two black necked cranes. We pass through a larger village with better kept traditional houses, doors covered in faded blue cloth with the eternal knot design. Another police checkpoint. One cop with peaked cap, face covered by a scarf, mirror shades, cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth, removes scarf to reveal a smooth pink and very young face.

We stop at the village of old Zongma; just beyond the village is a hilltop and Zadun monastery. A gateway stupa, steps covered with yak horns and prayer flags, leads up to the low long buildings of the monastery. A 1300 year old Sakya monastery, an unexpected gem. Outer and inner courtyards, an outer chamber with Sakya protector deities and the four guardian kings, more protector statues guarding the main prayer room, newly made but good quality.

A very large Padmasambhava statue in the main prayer room, so large his head is in the skylight, behind him a much smaller staue of Sakyamuni Buddha. in the inner courtyard a splendid framed image of the spiritual cartography of the kingdom showing a Demon’s body illustrated with sacred sites and monasteries including Zhadun placed at the Demon’s right knee.

The young monk shows us the outer courtyard and remains of old wall paintings. The stupa in the courtyard apparently contains 100,000 statues, probably tso tsos. Another courtyard leads to a small chamber with three stupas and fine old paintings defaced in the cultural revolution, faces and whole images removed or covered with Chinese newspapers.

Even more unexpected than Zhadun are the sand dunes that emerge shortly after between the road and the river. Beautiful, perfect sand dunes. Sand dunes, river mountains, blue sky, Tibet is full of surprises. A large Eastern European group is already on the dunes, our crew race up the crests. The East Europeans are sitting meditating, one man is chanting and throwing grains into the air, all very surreal.

We stay the night in the village of Piyang. Again it's hard to find a guesthouse, we drive around and realise it's much enlarged since its description in the Kailash guidebook. Eventually, on the edge of town we check into a large Tibetan courtyard with simple traditional rooms run by a friendly Tibetan woman. At night it will be dark and we select room near the drop toilets.

The traditional glazed dining room has the same lino as our rooms, tables and carpeted seats and an old dung stove which heats the room magnificently and boils the kettles. We stroll around nearby bits of the town, fail to find the small gompa, laugh with some children, see a woman in a stunning hat and get treated to the flashing eyes of a scarved woman on a motorbike. Back at the guest house we wash outdoors in the sun; Mr Sarosh finds washing bowls that fit in the incongrous washing stands outside our rooms. A Chinese group arrive noisily and seem disruptive but in the dining room they are friendly and take great interest in our pizza. They too are going to Kailash. The TV is on as usual making it harder to have more conversation; there is no electricity in our rooms and we go to bed early.



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