By Mick McDonald
Oh My God!
These were the words most uttered as we drove an unbelievable fairy-tale landscape of snow-capped peaks, narrow canyonlands dissected by a raging torrent far far below, pine forests, Impossibly scenic monasteries located on a knife edge ridge and a landscape dotted with Tibetan style farmhouses that would command a billion dollars for there stunning location anywhere else on earth, it was almost too much to take in. The road itself was an all-day series of twitsies that ascended and descended, never seeing anything more than 3rdgear.
We finished off the day brilliantly as we watched the last of the sun’s rays descend over the looming snow covered Mieli Mountain so close we could virtually reach out and touch it
Thinking it just couldn’t get any better and hoping it wouldn’t as I was fearful of crashing as I spun around for yet another stunning view, it did indeed get better the following day. We immediately ascended to a dizzying 4225mt via a narrow road that is clings to the incredibly steep mountainsides, how they built these roads is beyond belief. We were again following the Mekong River but this time it wasn’t hot and wide full of longtail boats and bordered by lush forests, this time is was a raging river that literally cut two towering canyon walls through a very arid landscape of red rock and cacti
We officially entered the Tibet Autonomous Region via a series if checkpoints manned by bemused police who found it hilarious that our steering wheel was on the “wrong side”. The entire days drive was another endless series of twisties through more snow-capped mountains, incredibly deep canyons bordered by vertical walls, and the mighty Mekong far below before arriving into Mankang for the night. Mankang was a weird town, to say the least, with a glitzy neon lit street scene that would rival Vegas, it was all but empty!
Leaving Mankang we immediately ascended a 4400mt pass via yet more twisties where we officially joined the legendary Sichuan – Tibet Highway and it did not disappoint. Still following the Mekong, that was barely visible as it was so far below, we ascended a mighty 5130mt pass, just as it started to snow, to be followed by hail to be then followed by brilliant sunshine that set the fresh snow aglow, it was beautiful. Thirty minutes later we were driving through an alpine valley with a rushing silt laden stream bordered by near vertical mountains as yaks grazed and locals went about their life in their own version of Shangri – La
Without a doubt the highlight of the day was an impromptu visit to a group of nomadic families settled by a crisp clear mountain stream in a high-altitude valley. We were invited inside one of their tents; an incredibly basic structure, made entirely of Yak, with sleeping mats on the floor and a wood oven in the middle. We were presented with Yaks cheese, tasty homemade bread, yaks’ butter and yak tea, all of it was delicious and we learnt a lot about their way of life via our translator / guide. They only asked if we had some meds for some ailments they suffered and of course Sarah, being the paramedic, loaded them up. The little girl made us promise that we would return next year. An amazing authentic experience with some VERY hardy people. We finished the day in Zogang and incredibly found a pizza joint!!
Its official I have run out of superlatives; the drive from Zogang to Ranwo was quite possibly the most outstanding drive / ride of my life, and I don’t say that lightly. The incredible diversity of landscapes from grasslands at 4000mt, absolutely towering snow covered peaks, arid narrow canyonlands with oasis villages, aqua blue clear rivers surrounded by stands of pine, a 1 hour endless descent down the most amazing set of twisties I have ever seen, I could go on & on, it was simply awe-inspiring , life affirming, uplifting stuff, it what slaps you in the face and shouts “this is living”.
Incredibly the scenery wasn’t the highlight of the day.; I pulled up for what I thought to be a great shot of an old bridge when we noticed a group of around 50 Tibetans praying, chanting and spinning their prayer wheels, about to leave a lady came over and again asked us for medicine, what followed was half an hour of medical dispensation and advice to a gathering group. We were immediately invited to join them in some yak butter tea and breads. We sat around a boiling cauldron as they brewed a huge tub of tea and offered us the first tea. In this world of packaged “authentic” experiences it was a rare and great privilege to spend some time with these remarkable people and also a great sense of doing something for these people other than snapping photos, even if it was Sarah who did all the work, I just rode on her coattails!!
We rode into Ranwo, of course in an impossibly beautiful location lakeside, surrounded on all sides by towering peaks after what was a truly remarkable day.
The beauty of Tibet continued unbated all the way to its capital Lhasa, a day was spent visiting the iconic Potala Palace that stands like a sentinel above the city and wandering around the incredible Johkang Monastery watching pilgrims, some who have walked 1000s of miles , offer prayers to their God, it was a truly remarkable way to end a truly remarkable week and tomorrow we are off to Everest Base Camp, will it ever end!!
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