Day 5 :
We have covered most of the major sights in and around Lhasa and all of us had acclimatised somewhat to the altitude. We were to begin our "nomadic" life from here on, heading further afield to view the beautiful sacred lakes of Yamdrok tso, Namtso and Basomtso, and to Rongbuk to marvel over God’s creation, the highest mountain in the world, Mt Everest.
We started our journey at 9am; our first stop was Yamzhong tso. It was the first of our long drives ahead. We took the southern route via Gyantse to Shigatse, crossing the Tsangpo bridge; we began our long and winding way up to Khamba La for a panoramic view of the pincer-shaped Yamdrok tso (the Turquoise Lake). The roads were surprisingly in better condition than expected. However, it can be deceptive, as drivers must stay constantly alert for falling rocks, domestic animals crossing and roads washed off by rain. The roads are also narrow and we soon learnt to appreciate the skills of our driver.
We reached the peak of Khamba La (4794m) an hour later, our bus almost stalling as it slowly made the steep climb. We were not alone as tour buses, land cruisers and mini vans were parked haphazardly in both directions, waiting for tourists to snap pictures of the magnificent lake in all its turquoise splendour. Jostling among the tourists were enterprising Tibetans offering their colourfully decorated yaks, ponies and even a large clownish dog for photo-taking at a small fee (of course). Despite the garishness and commercialism, the breathtaking view of the lake with the Nojin Gangzang snow ranges (7191m) and Mt Donang Sangwari (5340m) in the distant background more than compensates for it. For the perfect view, head towards the prayer flags but do watch out for "land mines" (being the droppings of various animals and possibly humans too).
Yamdrok tso (4408m) is one of five sacred lakes of Tibet and also the largest freshwater lake. It is revered as a talisman for Tibet and the locals believed that should this lake dry off, Tibet will become uninhabitable. It is no wonder that the Chinese hydroelectric power station project that utilise the waters of the lake came under heavy criticism from all quarters. We were supposed to head down towards the lake, alas, the rain had washed off the road, making it impossible. We went back the way where we came from and took the Western route this time, following the canyons running along the Yarlung River towards Shigatse, our next stop and resting place. It took about 6 hours to arrive. The drive was fairly smooth, passing scenic rural landscapes, impressive canyons and waterfalls. Our driver and guide were accommodating as we made occasional stops in the middle of nowhere to take photographs of the sweeping vista.
It was also on this trip that we learnt how strong our bladders were. There were hardly any public toilets or rest stops in between. It was with a happy sigh of relief when we finally glimpse civilisation in the form of the Chinese town, Shigatse (no matter how ugly it was) appearing suddenly out of nowhere. We had travelled a total distance of 348km.