It was yet another Chinese breakfast before loading the luggage into the car and checking out of the hotel. It was time to say goodbye to Lhasa. When I leave certain places I wonder if I will ever come back to that place ever again in this life. Lhasa was one such.
Since the fuel tank showed less than half tank of fuel we decided to tank up before leaving the city. Strict controls are exercised in Tibet to issue fuel. Proof of ownership of the vehicle and driving permit are required before permission to fill is given. Yingchu found it difficult to convince attendants and supervisors in three fuel stations that we are entitled to fuel as we possessed temporary Chinese vehicle permit and driving permit. The experience was a bit frustrating since none of them was will to even read what was in the permits. However, the fourth fuel station, China Petrol, agreed to tank us up on the condition that Yingchu stood guarantee for us!
All along the 450 kilometer route on G109 we had check points to report to. Each one of them gave us speed limits to be observed. Even though the highways are open for 70 and 80 kmph the speed prescribed keep us to an average of 50 kmph. By and large the road condition was good, except in certain parts. The entire route was a two lane highway stretching long as far as the eye can see between mountains. The journey was completed in 10 hours with stoppages to observe the prescribed time between check points, bio breaks and lunch. Baiju and I took turns behind the wheel. Lhasa is at an altitude of 3600m while Amdo is at 4500m. Thus, it was a series of steady climbs and descents.
By 10.30 am we reached Yangpajing and decided to break for tea. Many tourist coaches were parked there and we could see the snow capped Nianqintangula Mountain peak at 7120m from where we were. Many albino Yaks were tethered to small poles. We went on merrily clicking the Yaks and mountain views. After we were done some local herdsmen demanded money for having used their Yaks as a prop and subject for photographs. They even got a bit aggressive. Thanks to the intervention of Yingchu we got away without any damage! We had a small flask of sweet tea from one of the restaurants before resuming the journey to Amdo.
After 1.30 pm we stopped for lunch at Naqu (pronounced Nachu) after reporting to a check point. The city is famous for the Chongzao herb, which is used in preparations to improve immunity and vitality. The demand for the herb, the quality of which is best in the city, has made many people rich in the city. We had pork dumplings and vegetable soup for lunch in a small restaurant. The vegetable soup had a large helping of egg in it! As usual our presence in the restaurant aroused a lot of curiosity amongst the local people.
We reached Amdo at 5.30 pm and drove straight to the only hotel where foreigners are permitted to stay in Amdo. As we got out of the car it was cold and windy. The sight as we were getting down from the car sent chills down our spine. Two paramedics were loading two huge oxygen cylinders into an ambulance! Yingchu calmed us by saying that many people come to Amdo for acclimatization and it is they who need assistance. Since we had been travelling through mountainous areas for the past seven days we would not face any problem. Anyway, as a precaution we decided to continue with Diamox, the altitude sickness medicine.
Yingchu had warned us that the accommodation would not be good as she had experienced it the year before. However, externally all looked fine. At the reception we were told that though there is running water in the tap there is no arrangement for hot water. The mention of running water itself was a huge relief. We got to the rooms and spread our luggage out. It had been a rather long day without use of the toilet. Running water there was in the wash basin, but there was no other tap to collect water! Thus, a bath was totally ruled out. Mercifully there was a bucket and plastic pan in the bathroom. I blocked the wash basin outlet and collected water in the bucket. The water was icy cold and certain parts of the body could not be felt for a long time after the ablution!
It started raining to add to the cold. I decided not to turn on the room heater since that would further reduce the availability of natural oxygen. Most of the warm clothing had been packed away in the belief that super cool climes were over. We were unprepared for the weather in Amdo. Hence, much of the luggage had to be re-opened to retrieve our inners and other warm clothes. It was overcast when we set out in search for dinner and it started raining as we were walking the main street of Amdo in search of a suitable restaurant. Fortunately, we had jackets on that kept out the wind and the rain. By the time we located a small place tht would serve s fried rice the pant and feet were wet. The draught of cold air that came into the restaurant made me shiver from head to toe. Thankfully, Yingchu produced a flask of hot water and some paper cups. Besides having a few gulps of hot water to warm the insides I wrapped my fingers around the paper cup filled with hot water. After a couple of cups of hot water I felt better. The three of us in that small restaurant raised giggles and smiles. A family of local tribe people even took photographs of us – it made me feel as if we were from another planet. Then I reasoned that they were quite used to white skinned foreigners but had not seen many brown skinned ones around and hence, the added curiosity. Anyway, we felt happy for the attention. Pork and egg fried rice arrived. Portions were mountainous. The vegetable soup – special instructions were given not to use egg in the preparation – portion too was huge. Quite a lot of the food was wasted as we had not anticipated the large portions. It was still drizzling when we walked briskly back to the hotel. I did not lose much time in diving under the quilt; did not bother to change into night clothes either. Tomorrow would be a long day as we had to cover nearly 700 kilometers. Hence, a good nights’ rest in bed was absolutely essential.