Sunday, July 6, 2014

DAY 19 – 4 July 2014; Amdo to Geermu

Despite the late night and overwhelming sleep I got up by 4.30 am to complete the blog posts. I thought of getting ready before sitting down to write so that the process would be uninterrupted. The Zhuogeying Hotel where I was staying is a government facility. And this morning that character surfaced. The only tap in the bathroom, that with the wash basin, was dry! Not a drop deigned to drip. I looked woefully at the quarter bucket of water and a small roll of toilet paper. It did not take long to arrive at a decision. Bath, anyway, had been ruled out the previous evening owing to a combination of weather and absence of a tap. Some part of the water in the bucket was used to brush and wash my face. Then I sat down to write in the hope that, by some heavenly intervention, the tap would become fertile once again some time soon! After I had finished a portion of the blog I went to the toilet and found the condition unchanged. More than my condition I was more concerned about my companions. I knocked at their door and put across the situation as gently as I could. I saw Lal Jose diving back under the quilt and Baiju nonchalant. I went down to the reception and found a few other occupants animatedly talking to a lady. I gathered they were discussing the same problem. I tried to explain to her that we had to leave soon and that there was no water in the taps. She was interjecting in some language that I could not make any sense of. I also gesticulated frantically to explain the desperation. I do not know what got into her. She ran up the stairs and came to my room. I showed her the dry tap. She picked up an empty bucket from the bathroom and ran out. I thought that the problem was close to being solved. She came back in a while with the empty bucket and almost in tears. I had to wake up Yingchu to understand what the lady was saying. It turned out that the lady was not working in the Hotel, but had only come there to visit her friends! What a lovely start to a tough day that loomed ahead. I gathered all the drinking water I had bought in Lhasa and gave it to my companions asking them to get ready. I also suggested that they use the chemical toilet that we were carrying. Finally, it found an occasion. I took it out from the car and explained its use to Baiju, who was to inaugurate the toilet facility. He turned out to be a satisfied customer. In the meanwhile the tap yielded for 10 minutes. I collected enough water for Lal to complete the morning nuisance. I did not want him to scald his rear end once again, as he did in Dingri (more about that at an appropriate time). And I took recourse to a Lomotil. At the end of the day I marveled at how such a small tablet could achieve such big results!

Despite all the mayhem we were only about 45 minutes late to begin the day’s drive. We decided to have breakfast in Amdo town before proceeding on the long 650+ kms drive that lay ahead of us to reach Geermu. Yingchu took us to a neat little restaurant that served corn porridge, boiled eggs, Pork Baozi and stuffed bread (Pingzu). Tea and coffee were out of the question though. It is not popular in China to have that with breakfast. We also packed a few boiled eggs that did come in handy during the long drive.

It was incredibly cold and I had to wear gloves to drive. The road was not in great shape. Even though it is a highway the G109 is under rebuilding in many long stretches and in bad shape in about 300 of the 650 kms to Geermu. The two laned highway did raise questions about the manner in which infrastructure is maintained in China. However, the saving grace is that work is on to rectify the defects. Moreover, on this stretch, which serves as the supply line for Tibet, two lanes are inadequate; the movement of freight trucks is very high and therefore, the highway should have been four laned – land is not a limitation, as it is in India, and it is all State owned. At one point we were held up for almost 30 minutes for a military convoy to pass. We noticed with interest that the license plate of the military vehicles started with the alphabets LJ, the name of Lal’s production cum distribution Company. When a driver smiled and saluted Lal claimed that he did so because he recognized the owner of the fleet! The highlight of the drive to the border of the Tibetan Region was the Tangula mountain pass at 5230m. The Tangula railway station is the highest in the world. The station does not have any commercial stops but passenger trains stop for passengers to appreciate a collection of memorabilia connected with the construction of the Lhasa-Geermu line in which a large number of workers died, but was opened to business ahead of the scheduled date.

At the Tibetan border
After over 5500 kms on the road since 27th June we reached the Tibetan border with Qinghai Province. We got down at the arch which wished travellers for having been the guest of the Tibet Region. It was time for Baiju to take over the wheel after 250 kms. Shortly thereafter we reached Tuo tuo he town and stopped for lunch. Yingchu located a Sichuan restaurant since we suggested a fried rice lunch. As we walked into the restaurant raw fish of various types were displayed and so was something that resembled a brain. We were told that pig brain is a delicacy in the area. We ordered two plates of fried rice and a bowl of soup. It was extremely tasty. As we were leaving the restaurant a person bowed deeply and wished us. He later came to the car and tied a white shawl, called katha, on the grill thereby wishing us luck in our journey.

The poor roads for the next 200+ kms consumed the food in quick time. The state of the road was shocking. Just after we left the Tibet Region the landscape too changed dramatically. Gone were the snow capped mountains and glaciers. The mountains were still there, huge but bare and forbidding. Right through to Geermu from Lhasa the railway track ran parallel to the road and at times crossed the road. The tracks are protected by fencing on both sides to prevent trespass. There were trains at regular intervals on the route, mostly freight and maintenance trains.

As we neared Geermu the topography changed once again. It became flat and the temperature climbed. The government has leveraged the topography by investing in large solar farms. Yingchu told us that a lot of investment has gone into alternate sources of energy such as solar and wind power. All along the way to Geermu from Zhangmu I noticed that mobile towers are powered by solar panels too.

Wide roads welcomed us into Geermu city and we paid the first toll of Yuan 5.  We drove into the city centre through tree lined avenues and neat but large squares. Accommodation was arranged by Yingchu in the Zhufengdasha Hotel which was in the heart of the city. It was 8.30 pm by the time we reached the hotel. The well appointed rooms came quite cheap at Yuan 225 each, which included breakfast. After freshening up we went to the night market, just opposite the Hotel, for a round of beer and food. We chose to have mutton, chicken, beef, vegetable and squid kebabs, which were extremely tasty. I also had a stuffed egg pancake, which was delicious. Ice creams rounded up the heavy meal. The massive meal with beer cost just Yuan 145, or INR 1400 for a group of four.

By the time I had reorganized my luggage and sorted out the expense account and other documentation it was midnight. The blog report had to wait for the next morning.

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