"Full many a ray of purest ray serene the dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, and waste its sweetness to the desert air."
from "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" by Thomas Gray

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Kailash 2014 Day 12 : Back to Nyalam, Sunday, Sep 15 2014

Today we would go back to Nyalam, back where our yatra had started in Tibet.

As we left Dongma, I fell asleep in the bus, and suddenly woke up to find we had stopped. Even the shortest of stops is beautiful because of the exotic colors of Tibet. I  have often wondered if people who live in the desert make up for the monotony of color in natural design with the color combinations in manmade design. Every Tibetan establishment - a shop, a restaurant or a mudhouse is decorated with beautifully hand-painted designs in primary colors, the brighter the better.

a road stop at Saga

what is a mutual benefit supermarket? a co-op?

getting ready on the street

the roads of Tibet

our Chinese guides at extreme left and right, our bus driver - the movie actor Johnny second from right, with three Sherpas

The bus started again, and the lulling motion put me back to sleep. The exhausted body was healing as we rested in lower elevations each day, and it badly needed sleep.

lunch stop
In the middle of flying sands, the Sherpa team would have spotted this photo spot, and stopped for lunch. This mudhouse looks suspiciously like the one I remember, with the same beautiful furniture, from Dongma/Zhongba where we had lunch four years ago but I could not be too sure.

photographer photographed

photographer photographed
cows in the meadow

sheep in the pasture
The sheep in the pasture remind me of the Zhongzhung, whose descendants live as nomadic herders in this region. I wonder what the ancient Sanskrit name is, because this was all Vedic culture in the Indian subcontinent of Bharatavarsha. Some name has been "apbhransh-ed" - corrupted into Zhongzhung, like Chandragupta becoming Xandracoptus in Greek literature.

burned tire in the bus in front
The bus in front had slowed down and stopped, and our bus driver, the action hero Johnny stopped behind it, and went running to resolve the issue. The policeman from our bus went close in tow. The driver and policeman from the other bus came out as well. Johnny was under the bus, the other driver went there as well to check out - I suspect they took time to lie down for a bit, because it was after the better part of an hour that they came out and said the tire was burned out - we had been smelling that burning smell sitting in the bus.

We texted people in the other two buses that had gone ahead and would have to stop at the checkpoint because our entire group was on one permit, and we needed to cross the checkpoint together. The new rule from August 2014 (after a couple of accidents in Lhasa) said that regardless of the size of the bus, a maximum of 18 people could sit in a bus with a police constable and the driver. Good sense prevailed, and with the two policemen in agreement, the people from the other bus came to sit in our bus. Our bus now had 36 passengers instead of the legally permitted number. We set off with the other bus carrying only the policeman besides the driver. Our little episode had a local audience below.
pretty locals gathered to look at our bus with the burning tire

We caught up with the other buses, and stopped at the Thong La pass, which is close to the Lalung La pass - at an elevation of 5,120 m. 

this is new - the Chinese government is promoting tourism in Tibet bigtime

Thong La pass

This was a long sleep day for me, except for the photo opportunities now and then. Close to 6pm, entering Nyalam, the buses stopped again at a bed-and-breakfast kind of place that seemed to have a nursery within - we could see a lot of plants grown against the glass windows on the upper floor. There were cows grazing peacefully - I wonder often how cows ever lived without domestication. Or did something evolve into cows after being domesticated? It is pretty much inconceivable to think of cows without human protectors - there is no animal the cow can attack or intimidate in any way.

a stop to wash the buses before entering Nyalam, cutie cows outside the bed and breakfast
A lot of people had been excited about taking a hot shower again. We reached Nyalam after 8pm - the distance by road and time estimates do not mean much when we take frequent rest stops for the buses, on top of security checks and meal breaks. Today was the day the travel agency Travelorg/ Travelorg India had said we would have rooms for two, then yesterday the travel agent had told Swamiji that there was a problem with the booking so we would have to accommodate one person on a mattress in each room. So far so good - when we reached the place, the Sherpa team asked to accommodate 5 people in the room - basically 2 in a bed meant for 1 - and one person on the mattress on the floor. The Travelorg/ Travelorg India travel agent was sitting in the lobby unapologetically - while we were running around trying to figure how to best make this work.

The women in the group got adjusted to this cramped arrangements easier than the men who would not sleep two to a bed four feet wide. I asked the hotel desk if there were other rooms, and they said they would swap out a 2-bed room that had an attached bathroom, with two 4-bed rooms without an attached bathroom - so we could have eight beds instead of two beds and a couple of extra mattresses on the floor as long as the persons would use the common restroom at the end of the passage.

Travel tip for the yatri - Why would the travel agent not be running around facilitating this for us? Why do I need to run up and down the stairs, breathless with altitude sickness and with increasing respiratory allergies from the dust to arrange this for the gropu - and this is just one of the many reasons I personally recommend not ever using Travelorg/ Travelorg India for any travel.

As we finally settled in, we at least had a few private bathrooms to take hot showers in. This was not the greatest - some rooms did not get hot water, some ran out of hot water. I guess my room was one of the lucky ones, we heard the horror stories from the others later. Well, we had our own challenge, the toilet flush did not work, so we had to fill buckets from the shower to flush the toilet. There was fungus on the bathroom walls, which was slightly better than a couple of rooms that had widespread fungus on the ceilings. We knew we had paid a pretty penny for accommodations that were surely not that expensive.

We booked a room to honor the Sherpas after dinner. After a delayed dinner that nobody was complaining about - the Sherpa team had been working since early morning, helping with the burned tire, and now had reached late and cooked dinner - the Swamijis honored them with a white satin sash and a cash gift (our collective Chinmaya tip divided among Sherpas, drivers and Chinese guides).

the post-dinner gathering to honor the Sherpa team

the post-dinner gathering to honor the Sherpa team

honoring the Sherpas

honoring the Sherpas
As Swamiji thanked various people for making the trip possible, he thanked Bharatbhai, the travel agent as well. This was the first and last time the Travelorg / Travelorg India agent addressed the entire group. Most people whose money he had taken for this trip, got to see him for the first time in the trip. The less said here, the better - suffice it to say that we do not recommend this travel agency for any travel, I would not wish this level of lack of customer service on anyone.

To the very end, giving more than they receive, the Sherpas had baked an eggless cake saying Thankyou. It is amazing how this community is so hard-working and humble.

The short function ended with each of us paying $250 for the helicopter trip the next day. According to the Travelorg/Travelorg India agent, there was no other option, there had been a second landslide. By now, I knew better - I messaged a few friends to search on the Internet for a fresh landslide in Nepal, they texted back there was no such information.

The logistics do not allow time to stop and think, but there is a constant chant inside to my ΓΌber dad - Aum Namaha Shivaaya.

Tomorrow, back in Kathmandu.

AUM Namaha Shivaaya!!


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