Getting to Shigatse

Having survived the latest rockfall, our intrepid little group may have thought the worst was over. We had set out only the day before on our journey from Kathmandu, though it felt as if we had been underway a lot longer!

But we had set foot in Tibet and I for one had been energized. I was lucky. As we climbed higher into the Himalayas, some of the group began to look a rather ghastly shade of yellow, not least the Chinese lady from Hong Kong.

That was later in the day, fortunately, as the second day of our journey started out with some actual climbing.

One of my jokster friends back home had suggested perhaps I should take crampons on this trip and I had laughed. “Oh, ha ha”, I’d said.


We had climbed a fairly steep path the previous night and found it slightly challenging. That had been on an incline. (This picture was taken at the same time as the other, posted earlier, obviously, but I believe this was the second climb)

This was a whole new experience, however. Now we had to climb several hundred feet, straight up, on a loose surface, with almost no hand-hold.

It had been all very well, the night before, climbing a comparatively short distance, on a medium slope.

Now, for one thing, we were wearing an extra layer of thermal underwear that made movement more awkward and in spite of the cold temperature, this type of activity warms you up very fast.

Before long I found myself coming to a boil.

We had started out boldly carrying those items that we particularly treasured, in my case a heavy camera bag. It’s amazing how quickly you learn to divest yourself of such things when the need arises.

Before we had got far, I was more than happy to entrust my camera to a passing sherpa. Yes, those little sherpas were hoofing it up and down that rock face like mountain goats.

Bastards!” I thought to myself, smiling, none-the-less. Even extremis couldn’t wipe the smile from my face.

One of the lads was happy to assist me and I thrust my camera bag at him, forgetting that my lovely new wool-lined suede gloves were inside.

I never saw them again, but although I wasn’t happy to be glove-less in freezing temperatures, I decided that my gloves would most likely be much better appreciated by whomever had appropriated them. I daresay they are still keeping someone’s fingers warm, somewhere in Tibet, whereas I should certainly have discarded them long ago.

By the time I discovered the theft, I was prostrate in the latest bus, happy merely to be still alive. Some of the group were looking rather shattered, including an elderly American gentleman. He revived sufficiently for us to continue, but none of us was exactly looking forward to an 11 hour bus ride.

However no-one complained. I think no-one could actually speak at that point.

I made some brief notes about our 25 companions, saying that they were a “decent lot”, one American, one Chinese, 2 Swiss and 21 “Brits” about whom I said: “for once, none of them embarrassed me”!

I’ve always been very sensitive of the way people behave when in foreign countries, feeling that there should be some sort of test to pass before you are allowed to leave, in order not to “let down your side”. Let’s face it, all nationalities have their uglies. I seem to have met them all at one time or another.

In the bus we began to cool down and recover from our energetic wake-up call.

We settled back to watch the stunning scenery which was however desolate. Passing an old ruined town, we wondered how long it had been there.

We came upon this gentleman in his pony cart and another leading a little horse and foal. We stopped for photographs and were accosted by a small child who scooped up all our leftover fruit and sandwiches. She went off proudly wearing a British Airways button that said “Go for it America”.

Tim preferred to call himself a “traveller” rather than a “tourist”, but I think in giving out buttons like that we were behaving more like the bratty tourists we disliked. Maybe those items were repurposed, but it’s hard to imagine what as. Shame on me.

This lovely man, who came by leading his horse, was however very pleased with his button and placed it prominently on his hat.

Looking at that beautiful face now, I wonder how he has been impacted by the advent of tourism on the simple lifestyle that was his.

I am sure he could not have visualized the arrival of Chinese concrete and neon into this sparse empty plain.

Perhaps it was inevitable. This is what tourism wrought.

But did I have to be part of it?

I adored Tibet. I was so lucky to go there, but it tears my heart to think I contributed to the destruction.

Some may not regard it that way, of course.

But to me it was like the pilgrims coming to America.

It weighs on my conscience.

Have you seen the picture of the queue on Mt Everest?

I don’t even want to look up the link for you. I’ve read the story, or I would think it untrue.

This is how I want to remember Everest. We stopped for lunch there and it didn’t look much different to the surrounding mountains.

They were all impressive. I was drunk on the experience.

We climbed eventually to an altitude of 17,500 feet where we found prayer flags displayed and I took this photograph of my travelling companion, Tim.

Descending once more to a lower plain, we drove for hours and hours. And hours. Some of the group were feeling quite unwell, affected by the altitude. A couple of the ladies had severe headaches. Unaccountably, given my propensity to physical problems, I was unaffected. So lucky. Tim was fine too.

So although I was tired, I was doing really well until, at about 4pm (we started out at 8am), Neil announced that we still faced another 8 hours on the road. OMG.

The afternoon sun beat down on the bus which quickly became unbearably hot. Layers of clothes were pealed off and even I began to swoon in the heat.

Such a relief when the 8 predicted hours turned out to be only 5! And at Shigatse there was an actual hotel. With rooms. And bathrooms. And water. Cold water. But, paradise, large thermoses of hot water. So it was a dump, what more could we want?

Dinner was served in another of the grim dining rooms that seemed to be a specialty. It was an unappetizing Mongolian hotpot, wherein the tastiest item was sea slugs. Had I known, I probably would have passed them up. But the alternative was boiled spam. No-one was very hungry anyway.

I made some uncomplimentary notes about the head waitress, and the following morning our breakfast fiasco did nothing to change my mind. But who cared.

While the hotel was certainly not warm, I concluded that I was no worse off than I had been in “the old days” while visiting relatives in England. Maybe it was all that heat left over from on the bus.

Curiously, we had a telephone in our room. I noticed it particularly because it was bright orange. Some time during the night it rang loudly. A phone that rings in the night only brings bad news and my heart, already pounding from the altitude, did a couple of flip-flops. I picked up the receiver to hear absolutely nothing, and I realized, feeling foolish, that of course no-one knew where in the world I was.

I was in Shigatse! Where we met some townies. The off-the-shoulder look was very popular. The garment consisted of an entire animal hide, inside out. I think keeping one arm in preserved heat. The sleeves were very long, to cover the hands, as there seemed not to be such a thing as gloves.

I noticed again, in the faces, what seemed to me a great similarity to Native American faces.

We now had a full day to explore….

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