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Following Tibet's Southern Friendship Highway (II)

Publish Time: 2018-12-20 Author: Bruce Connolly From: chinadaily.com.cn
Gyangze Fort (dzong) and town 2000.  [Photo by Bruce Connolly/chinadaily.com.cn]

Overlooking everything was the 14th century Gyangze Dzong, one of the grandest fortresses in Tibet. It's a cornerstone of regional history, which was practically destroyed during the British invasion in 1904.

Exploring the town, I felt I could've stayed for weeks. Most buildings retained the traditional local style of two floors, white walls and blue window frames. There were few motor vehicles, rather horse-pulled carts passing tethered cows and open-air markets displaying large tea pots, kettles, cooking cauldrons, milk containers, and iron stoves. Children passed, going to and from school, as I headed for lunch in a delightful restaurant displaying paintings of the surrounding landscape. I loved the food, which had a distinctive Nepalese flavor.

Departing Gyangze the scenery turned dramatic. Reaching a hydro power station, the road zigzagged steeply to emerge above a lake created by hydro dam construction. It was amazing to view this landscape of bare brownish rock rising above the blue waters from which an abandoned castle protruded.

Distinct from the road earlier leading from Gyangze from Xigaze, this highway was very quiet. At first we would only see the occasional horse-drawn cart. Snow peaks started to appear ahead with the 7,191-metre-high, ice-covered Nojin Kangstan seeming to be directly above the highway. Yaks roamed while I, as a geographer, was just thrilled – this was a classical glacial geomorphology landscape.

Gyangze Fort (dzong) and town 2000.  [Photo by Bruce Connolly/chinadaily.com.cn] 

Gyangze Kumbum 2000.  [Photo by Bruce Connolly/chinadaily.com.cn] 

The 5,045-meter-high Karo La Pass was the highest point. There the mouth of a glacier, cracked into deep crevasses, clung to rocks above a small, semi-nomadic encampment. Stopping there I sat on a rock while looking at features I had studied and written about during my university days. I was also quietly amused at how the locals had turned a tent into a restaurant for occasional passing tourists, while also selling polished stones and beads.

Again, sad to leave, the road started descending an equally impressive u-shaped valley, passing slopes of shattered rock, pierced by crashing meltwater streams. I was enthralled by the scene. As the land started leveling out, we rounded a bend to see the calm waters of Yamzho Yumco, its name deriving from its turquoise color. As we crossed a plain passing through Nagarze, a small lake-side town, snowy mountains formed the backdrop. A modern middle school sat among primarily traditional highland architecture.

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