The road less travelled – Paiku

Despatch 02.06.10 – Back on the road early yesterday, we drove down a better road than the night before for an hour or so to where it joined the main southern route across Tibet, linking Mount Kailash to Saga and beyond to Lhasa. It was a bit of a shock. Huge roadworks are turning what was a rough track into a proper highway which will eventually be tarmaced. This was certainly not the road less travelled.

We saw again the fleet of Landcruisers taking Indian tourists on pilgrimage to Kailash and we stopped at Saga, completing the huge circle we had drawn through the mountains before taking the road back to the border at Zhangmu. Thinley pointed us to an excellent Chinese restaurant where we had a long lunch before getting back on the road.

But our trip into the unknown wasn’t over yet. Just off the dusty road back to Nyalam and the border is a beautiful lake called Paiku and above it a stunning Tibetan village where like goes on pretty much as it always has. Its gompa escaped the Cultural Revolution and is clearly several hundred years old. The atmosphere was more like the monasteries I’ve been to outside the Tibet Autonomous Region, where people are more free to practise their religion.

In the gloomy light it was easy to imagine scores of generations of monks saying their prayers. At the local school, dancers were preparing for a dancing competition in the nearby Kirong valley, and we were invited into people’s houses to chat. Weirdly, just 20 minutes away, tourists are racing back to Nepal and their flights home. Locals say almost none of them stop. I guess it’s not on the itinerary. We’re only here because Julian discovered the village by chance on a earlier trip. It’s been an extraordinary privilege to spend a couple of nights here before the mad rush starts again.

Ed Douglas

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