We weren’t at all sad to leave New Tingri, despite another mouthwatering dry chapati and fried egg combo. We got back on the road and our first port of call for the day was Sakya Monastery, which is between New Tingri and Shigatse. I was definitely getting a bit templed out by this point but Sakya offered something a bit different to what we had seen before. In the courtyard outside the monastery, a bunch of locals were parading some seriously mean looking effigies up and down, in preparation for an event that would apparently take place a couple of days later. This was accompanied by the sound of some young monks blowing long, deep horn type instruments. We must have watched them for about half an hour, temporarily forgetting the cold to take in a surreal but memorable experience.
That afternoon we drove back to Shigatse and a hotel that actually had running water and one of the most welcome showers I’ve ever had. It felt like returning from the wild, which was essentially what we were doing. That night, we were able to get a decent meal and have a belated celebration of the New Year.
We had an extremely early start to our final full day in Tibet, as there were still a few things to see and a lot of miles to travel before we got back to Lhasa. First of all, we went to a carpet factory in Shigatse, where we were able to interact with some local Tibetan people and see the results of their labours. Janey and I still had a couple of weeks left on the road at this point though so there was no way that we were buying a carpet to lug around with us though. The factory was an interesting place to visit. However, I do have to question why, in a country as poor as Tibet, 44% of the profits of the factory go to the monastery, and only 28% go to the workers.
After leaving the factory, we had a very long drive back to Lhasa, along the Northern Friendship Highway. This is a misnomer if ever there was one, as it’s not a very friendly road at all. Damdul got into a ridiculous game of tit-for-tat overtaking with a massive bus, that went on for at least half an hour. He then made up for it though by, with very little ceremony or announcement, turning off the main highway and driving into a small village. It turned out that he was taking us to his family house, where we met his wife, grandparents and children. The family seemed delighted to have us there as they insisted on pouring us copious amounts of butter tea, and even posed for a family photo for Tyrone. He later printed this and sent it to them, via Snow Lion Tours. I like to think that it still takes pride of place in their simple but beautiful home.
Later that day, we arrived back in Lhasa and went souvenir shopping round the Barkor. This was one of the least enjoyable experiences of the whole trip. The vendors set ludicrous prices and bargained very aggressively. I appreciate that a lot of these vendors are very poor but by being a bit more courteous and not thinking that all Westerners have bottomless pits of money, they’d have probably made a lot more sales. Not too long later though, we went to an incredibly hospitable family restaurant where I ate the best meal that I had all trip, which completely overshadowed the unfriendly vendors. That’s the thing with Tibet. It wasn’t always the easiest place to travel but in the end, something always proved that it was worth all the effort.
I woke up on Day 9, our final day in Tibet, with no headache. My body had finally got accustomed to the altitude! I had to laugh at this. That morning, we said our goodbyes to Tyrone and Virginia and went our separate ways. They sensibly headed to Lhasa airport, where they boarded a plane to Chengdu and then travelled on to Bangkok. Janey and I had made the decision that, rather than flying, we were going to take the 33 hour train journey from Lhasa to Xi’an. When we were planning it, this seemed like it could be one of the highlights of our seven week trip. In hindsight, what on earth were we thinking?! The best adjective I can use to describe that journey is “character-building.” A day and a half later, with character sufficiently built, we stepped off the train and headed into the city at the end of the Silk Road. Our Tibetan odyssey was at an end.