We departed from our dreary hotel in Drigung town for Nyingchi (Nyangtri county. This was the old capital of Nyangtri county and is located in southeast Tibet, where the Himalaya Mountains and Nyainqentanglha Mountains extend from west to east, like parallel huge dragons, to join the Hengduan Mountains in the east. The route was by far the most scenic, passing pastoral farmlands, grasslands dotted with wildflowers and forested mountains with towering pine trees. The journey was also our longest, 7 hours in total before we reached Nyingchi.
We followed the Niyang river, a tributary of the great Yarlung river and crossed the watershed pass of Mi La or Mamzhong La pass (4930m), between Meldro and Nyang-chu rivers. Here, the landscape changed gradually from green to grey and by the time we reached Mi La pass, we were in winter wonderland. We stopped for some photographs and a little snowball fight. We were fortunate to have the place to ourselves as it was crowded with locals and tourists a few days later on our return to Lhasa. The snow too had also disappeared by then.
Descending from the Mi La pass, we witnessed one of the first of the many road accidents enroute (5 in all, some new, some days’ old). The two lane narrow road around a bend was blocked by a logging truck and a land cruiser that had flipped into the ditch. There were no casualties (this time) but the road was made impassable. The snow and rain had made driving conditions extremely difficult. The only way to continue our journey was to drive around the truck; a highly risky manoeuvre for a miscalculation meant a freefall into the valley below. Our driver took the risk for turning around was not an option and we lived to tell the tale.
We reached the Chinese town of Nyingchi, known by locals as mini Hong Kong. It has the makings of a city; with time, it probably will be, particularly with the completion of the railway linking Tibet to the rest of China. From karaoka bars, cafes, restaurants, shops selling anything and everything, there were little traces of Tibet here.
This highway from Lhasa to Nyingchi and further is one of the main routes loggers used to ship logs to Lhasa. En route, we passed by countless lorries carrying logs piled as high as two stories (which can be dangerous and foolhardy). Parts of the highway were damaged or under repair. In one instance, a heavily loaded lorry was stuck in mud trying to drive round the damaged road. It created a huge traffic jam (a rarity in Tibet’s countryside) as tourist buses, land cruisers and more lorries on both sides of the road waited for the lorry to get out of the way. It set our journey time an hour later. As we passed the offending lorry, we saw that another, smaller truck had flipped over earlier, and the driver did not survive.