Wednesday, July 2, 2014

DAY 15 – 30 June 2014; Dingri to Shigatse

Shortly after I woke up at 4 am the power supply packed up. I worked for a while in the dark on the blog. After an hour I walked out of the room to ask someone to switch on the genset. I was greeted by rain and howling winds. It was cold and blustery. After a while I located a girl in uniform and tried my best to explain the power supply situation. Nothing got done. Rather than get soaked in the cold rain I sought refuge in the room. When it was time to get ready I ventured out once again and located the right person to switch on the genset. We all got ready to face the third week of the journey by 7 am. After settling the hotel and restaurant bills we got on to the G318 to Shigatse.

Nearly 25 kms into the drive we started seeing snow decked mountains at a distance. Yingchu mentioned that it looked as if fresh snow had fallen over the night. It started getting colder inside the car. To add to that the roads were under construction in many places; some parts of it were quite slushy and slippery. As we neared the snow laden mountains the engine of the car became very sluggish. It would just go on at 30 to 40 kmph; also encountered engine missing many times. The drive was not one for the fainthearted. The snow became progressively thicker as we got to the Jasso Pass. We had discussed many things last night over dinner, but I did not check on the route to Shigatse. My impression was that the worst was already over with the Mt. Everest drive. All of us had packed our woolens away and thus, were unprepared for the experience across the Pass. The Jasso Pass at 5248m, Yingchu confirmed, would be the highest we would be doing in the entire journey. Icy winds added to the experience. We did not stay very long there.

As we got pass the Pass the snow cleared up fast and the roads became a beauty all over again. From bare and forbidding mountains greenery appeared and farms could also be seen. I anticipated that we could do the remaining 180 kms in less than three hours. But that is not how it works. The next police check post we reported to stipulated a speed ticket of 110 minutes for 96 kms and the next check point gave us 60 minutes to cover the final 55 kms. It was a task, almost put me to sleep, driving slow to keep to the speed restriction. Else we would have had to pay a hefty fine.

I had decided to get all the paperwork related to the car and driving licenses done first so that we would get more time to spend in the Tashilunpo Monastery. Accordingly, as we drove into Shigatse Yingchu guided me to the police post where vehicle tests were to be done. I was asked to drive the car over a steep incline and then down at the other end. Then I was told to drive into a huge enclosed shed where there were numerous electronic gadgets to check various parameters of the car. The chassis was completely scanned, the headlights were checked for brightness and focus, the tare and load was ascertained and the brakes and handbrake were tested using the gadgets operated by one man. In about 15 minutes all the tests were done and Yingchu collected the test results. With that in hand we thought it better to check into the hotel as the traffic police department would be at recess till 3.30 pm. Yingchu located a lovely Tibetan hotel, Gesar, with three bed accommodation at Yuan 360, with breakfast included. The lobby of the hotel was elaborate with wooden carvings and loud coloured paintings. When we got into the room we discovered that it was much more than we had anticipated. Apart from the three bed room there was also a study with a huge double bed, which I opted for.

It was time for chow chow. We had not stopped anywhere for breakfast. Biscuits and peanuts had carried us upto Shigatse. I grossly underestimated our ‘staying capacity’. The restaurant of the hotel was where we went to. We ordered sweet and sour pork and fried tofu with rice. It was veg fried rice and soup for Baiju. Yingchu quietly told us that the veg fried rice normally contains Yak meat and the soup chicken! Baiju asked for fried rice without the Yak meat. However, the veg soup with chicken, he said, was delicious. The rest of the food was too good; the pork was juicy and Yingchu told me that it is prepared from the best meat of the animal. Tofu, the food of the Gods, was heavenly too. I stuffed and stuffed till I could no more. Then and there I decided to skip dinner.
By 3.30 pm we went to the traffic police department for the temporary driving permits and license plate. Some paperwork and a few phone calls later we took the eye test and were briefed that in China it is customary to drive on the right side of the road and that the speed restriction on the highway is 70 kmph. In a short while we got the Chinese provisional driving permit number L1: 00395798 and temp license plate, D00389, from traffic police dept. then we went to another police office to get the documents registered. With that all the formalities were over. I can even get fuel filled using my own permit hereafter. The custom in Tibet is that the fuel is issued against a voucher carrying details of the driving permit. Another interesting thing I encountered in Shigatse is the closure of roads for water cleaning them. Some of the arterial roads were closed for this activity undertaken by policemen. Even on the highway to Shigatse I saw people, perhaps contract labour, sweeping roads.

The original plan was to visit the Tashilunpo Monastery after getting the formalities done. The threat of rain sent us back to the hotel. I had a lot of residual documentation to be done – updating the expense account, driving record and log sheet, photo transfer, arranging accommodation beyond China, etc. While the travel thus far through China has been pleasant and enjoyable the major handicap I have faced here is the official blockade of the internet; Facebook and Google are not available. Thus, communication has been a problem, especially with mails and blog posts. I skipped dinner as decided after lunch and took to bed early. 

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