August 9, 2007: Samye to Gyantse
After a good night's sleep in our "beautiful" Guesthouse room, we got up and had some cookies and
water for breakfast. We then met Tsering downstairs shortly after 8:30 am. He introduced us to our
driver, Mr. Gan, who was going to drive us all the way to the Tibet/Nepal border in his Landcruiser.
He came from Lhasa and had brought our bag which we had left behind in the Lhasa hotel. We
loaded up and left Samye.
After leaving the Monastery compound, one could see all the new construction of houses, streets and
plazas in Samye. More "Chinesefication" in progress! We left Samye towards the East to Tsetang and
as soon as we passed the last house, we were on a dirt road. On the map, this looks like a detour, but
in Tsetang there is the nearest bridge connecting Samye to the southside of the Yarlung Tsangpo
River, the Tibetan name of the Brahmaputra. The scenery was beautiful and soon it became real
deserty with lots of sand dunes.
After about an hour on this pothole filled road, we came to the bridge over the Yarlung Tsangpo.
After crossing the river, we drove westwards towards Tsetang. We dropped off our cook and his
equipment at the bus station of Tsetang from where he took a bus back to Lhasa. We said our
good-byes to him. We will certainly miss him and his great sense of humor.
We continued our journey to the west towards Gongkar. Once we arrived across the other side of
Samye, we saw the little ferries which cross the Yarlung Tsangpo towards Samye. Shortly before
getting to Gongkar, we encountered a Chinese army caravan of at least 200 or so vehicles which
went towards the East, i.e. Tsetang. The mighty Chinese Army! We passed the airport and then drove
through Gongkar and then crossed again the Yarlung Tsangpo on the same bridge as after our
arrival a week or so ago. After crossing the river, we turned west and drove now along on the
Northern Friendship Highway. I originally thought that we would take the Southern Friendship
Highway to Gyantse, but apparantly there was a lot of construction going on there and the road was
closed. So we had to make a detour via the Northern Friendship Highway. This was a bummer as I
would have liked to see the Yamdrok-tso lake, one of the four holy lakes of Tibet.
Then we hit a police checkpoint where our permits were checked. Here, our driver received a piece of
paper which detailed the time when we left this checkpoint. The main reason for this and the
checkpoint was to document the time of us leaving this checkpoint. Apparantly in the past, people
drove like maniacs on this road and in June a bus crashed and plunged into the river killing more
than 30 people because of speeding. This was the Chinese way of controlling the speed. Actually
made sense to me.
The Yarlung Tsangpo Valley now became narrower and narrower and the river below us was moving
swiftly with lots of rapids. This road had been paved only two and a half years ago. At the second
checkpoint, our driver had to return the time card. Allowed time for that stretch was 30 minutes, it
took us 34 minutes, including a cigarette break for our driver. If you are too fast, a fine of 600 RMB
per person in the car is levied, a rather expensive fine. Soon thereafter, we stopped for lunch at
Traduka, which appeared to be a popular place to stop and was full of Chinese restaurants. Marc had
pork with onions and rice and I had rice with egg and tomatoes.
Shortly after Traduka, the valley became wider again and the road deteriorated, but still was
relatively decent. At around 3:30 pm, we left the Northern Friendship Highway and turned south
onto a dirt road. This was the shortcut to Gyantse. The scenery reminded me of the American Desert
Southwest with its red rocks, sand dunes and heat!
An hour later, we reached the Highway Gyantse - Shigatse and we turned left (south) towards
Gyantse. We reached Gyantse around 5:30 pm. We checked into the Wutse Hotel. The room was fine,
it even had an attached bathroom and shower, so we could shower off the dust from our trek. After
cleaning up, we went "into town".
Gyantse was another town made-over by the Chinese. We found a nice restaurant just a couple of
blocks from our hotel. It was spotless and only Westerners were in it. Marc had chicken fried rice and
I ate veggie noodle soup and then spaghetti with tomato sauce. Add to that a couple of Lhasa beers
and we had a great meal! We walked around Gyantse for a little while more, but then returned to our
hotel. Watched some TV (some Asean snooker tournament) and slept pretty good.