A connection of roads leads from Shanghai at the Eastern coast of China to Kathmandu in Nepal. The section between Lhasa and the Tibetan-Nepali border is what is most often called the Friendship Highway. This route is particularly popular with overland travelers in Tibet; one reason is that the permits for this route are easier to get than for other parts of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (read about how we got ours here). The other reason is that the road leads through amazing scenery and to a couple of monasteries that are all in themselves very well worth visiting.
To travel along this route, we have to hire a guide and a driver. Public transport is out of bounds for foreigners like us. The map above shows our overnight stops on this trip, and the video is a sampler of all the landscapes we see. Tibet is on a high plateau, shielded against rain and snow by the Himalayas on its Southern border. The air is clean and dry and the landscape is nothing but amazing, with green high-altitude grasslands near Lhasa and a dessert-like landscape without sand on the Northern side of the Himalayas.
On the first day outside Lhasa, we pass the turquoise blue Yamdrok-tso which you can see at the beginning of the video. We continue on to Gyantse where our altitude-plagued lungs are challenged when we climb the many stairs of Gyantse Kumbum. On the next day, we arrive at Shigatse monastery only hours before it is closing down for a high but unpopular visitor.
Our guide has to register us whenever we enter a new place or region. Once, we have to enter a military type of building with our guide to get permission to continue along the road. Our weirdest encounter with the police is in Sakya, a rather small village a little off the Friendship Highway. The village’s main road is a construction site when we arrive, and when we try to visit the monastery in the evening, we are sent away after buying the tickets. All there is left to do in the evening is to eat and we’re promised a restaurant with great momos (Tibetan dumplings). But when we meet our guide at dinner time, she tells us that the local police officer recommends us to eat in the hotel’s restaurant instead. We dine under the watch of Mao on the wall and the police officer at the door. The anger is slightly soothed the next morning when we are finally able to visit the atmospheric Sakya monastery before we continue with our road trip.
Time of visit: September 2013
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