Photos from the Shoebox: Overland From Kathmandu to Lhasa 1990
If you had a 35mm camera you probably have a shoebox full of pictures that you never got around to sorting and putting in an album. In this series “Photos from the Shoebox” I take them out of the closest and shine light on them once more.
Often the journey is as interesting as the destination. My best friend and I had been in Nepal for almost two months. We had done the obligatory mountain treks and explored the city and its surroundings to its extent. We started to get that feeling. You’ve probably felt it too, the feeling of itchy feet, the need to move. It was November in Kathmandu and winter would soon arrive.
“Why not journey into Tibet?,” we mused. We found a tour operator who had one last overland trip to Lhasa before snow made the highway impassable. Back then in the 1990’s you had to join an approved tour. There was no opportunity for lone, off the beaten path type of travel.
We spent days in line-ups getting our visas and cashing in some traveller’s cheques to join an eclectic group of geriatric Americans, mid-aged Brits, a pair of young Swedish female backpackers and a couple of mysterious lone travellers.
The best place to sit in a bus? Front seats. From this point of vantage the windshield becomes your big screen TV. On one leg of the journey we drove for about seven hours over stark scenery that was beautifully barren and monochromatic.
What started out as a black dot on the horizon soon materialized into flesh and blood. A curious nomad left his herd to come and check us out. It was not often they came across foreigners.
As hours and kilometres ticked by we had the luxury of immersing ourselves in personal reflection. It was the perfect condition for an introvert like myself.
Every Tibetan we came across greeted us with an excited exuberance, always laughing and asking for the same thing. They all wanted a picture of the Dalai Lama, forbidden by the Chinese.
The locals were peculiarly the same colour as the landscape – mottled shades of brown, blue and grey and often covered with dirt.
I can’t imagine living in this environment. It may be a simple life but it’s a harsh existence.
Our bus took a beating breaking two springs and putting up with a bunch of progressively cranky travellers confined inside its metal box.
On the fourth day the browns and greys gave way to a beautiful turquoise. We’ve made it to sacred Yamdrok Lake, one of Tibet’s three holy lakes.
Time always seems to pass slower as you get closer to your final destination. Patience is in short supply. Anxiousness takes its place. Finally, we reached Lhasa where a nice Holiday Inn greeted us with a hot shower, comfortable bed and decent food. After a long, tiring journey who doesn’t like a little pampering?