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19:18 Sep 29 2011

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Travel to Shigatse
12:59, July 09, 2010  
Travel to Shigatse

Tibetan stalls by the foot of a glacier close to Yamdrok Lake in Tibet. Photo taken July 7, 2010. [Photo: CRI / Dominic Swire]

Most of today was spent travelling as our minibus sped through the windy mountain roads from Lhasa to Tibet's second largest city, Shigatse.

Located at around 3,900 metres above sea level Shigatse has a population of 80,000 and lies approximately 250 kilometres southwest of Lhasa The city is county level and serves as administrative centre for Shigatse county. (Shigatse is sometimes known as Rikaze or Xigaze.) The city is also known for the Tashilhunpo Monestery, the traditional seat of the Panchen Lama. We intent to visit this place tomorrow.

However, today the travel proved more interesting than the destination. We took the mountain road from Lhasa climbing around countless hairpin bends as the strong sun thumped down on the valleys and peaks of the barren mountains. The scenery was amazing but we stopped at a couple of places that were truly beautiful.

The first was Yamdrok Lake, one of the autonomous region's three most holy lakes. The expanse of pristine blue water covers over 600 square kilometers and a length of over 70 kilometres. All around mountains surround the site, some with a sprinkling of snow on the top. There were a number of other tourists that had stopped at the same place as us - and the Tibetans cater for them by arranging dozens of stalls of jewelry, and opportunities to take a picture with Tibetan dogs, sit on a huge horned yak, or even wade into a small flock of sheep. This bustling modern day popularity makes it somewhat difficult to appreciate that the lake is considered divinatory and is often visited by pilgrims coming to worship.

Another stunningly beautiful stop we made along the way was at the foot of a glacier not far from Lake Yamdrok. Although the sun was very strong lower down the mountain, up here there was a very chilly wind and a low cloud was threatening rain. But look up and your mind is instantly taken off the weather by the snow and ice covering half the mountain like icing on a cake.

As time was ticking, we soon jumped back in the bus and headed to Shigatse. After settling in to our hotel and being treated to a very nice dinner we went for a stroll into town to see what Tibet's second largest city feels like. Unfortunately we took a wrong turning and ended up in the outskirts of this small city - a very dusty place with broken pavement and few shops open. The slightly desolate feel was strengthened by looking to the horizon and seeing the wide expanse of the sky propped up by the distant jagged mountains.

But soon we were in the taxi and heading to "Shanghai Square," which was mentioned on a tourist brochure and sounded like a place to visit. Unfortunately the "square" tuned out to be little more than a shopping complex - but at last we were in the center of town and able to have a look around.

Although it was around 9:30pm, the streets were still busy, shops were still open and Tibetan music could be heard piped onto the street. The streets seemed clean, neon lights shone and hoards of school children dressed in neat blue and white sports uniform made their way home on bicycles and electric scooters, some sitting three to a bike. Here we sensed a more relaxed feeling than in Tibet's capital, Lhasa. Of the many restaurants we saw open, my favourite was the (I quote) "Yakheadtibe trestaurant." With a clear disregard for individual English words the owner had simply divided the number of letters in the name and stuck a huge model of a yak's head in the middle. The beast's eyes were red-ringed and its tongue was sticking out of its mouth giving it a slightly mad look. We didn't go in but it made me laugh and seemed to match the friendly nature of the city.

Source: CRI online

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