Archive for May, 2010

Snake Massage for your back ache?

Monday, May 31st, 2010

Hi All, Pooja here. We reached Nepal yesterday and are catching up on sleep in Kathmandu. The last 10 days have been exhausting and challenging.

I wrote parts of this blog in China but thought it would be prudent to post it once we left China. The first part is a bit about our interesting experiences and the other about the difficulties we have faced due to our nationality.

When Will the Next Mountain Come? – Asking the local Tibetan person for directions is an interesting task. The answer is mostly, “ Oh, your destination is not far away” or “ Its just behind the next mountain”. The amusing bit is that, every time we got these answers we had to drive for another 50km atleast! It’s become a joke now. Tushar, Feifei (our guide) and I kid that when we are nearing our destination and can’t get to it…the village/town moves to another mountain. ( sigh, and mountains to go before I sleep ) Robert Frost should have switched the miles to mountains J

Snake Massage – Ok, this is really creepy. I was watching CCTV (Chinese TV) in Saga, China with Feifei when suddenly a clipping of a man on a massage table flashed on the screen. The next thing I saw was this doctor putting about 5-6 snakes on the man’s back and then massaging his back with them. Yikes! ( I don’t know about you guys but snakes freak me out)

A Very Special Wine – Sticking with the snake subject, Feifei told me that there is a special wine (3 snake wine or snake wine), which the older generation enjoys drinking. How is it made? Well, you take 1 or 3 or maybe more snakes (alive) and put them in the wine bottle/barrel. After a little more than 40 days you pour the wine in your glass (with the snake still inside the bottle) and enjoy the snakey taste! I’ve been told it has fantastic health benefits. Feifei wasn’t amused by my gob smacked look. She told me that her grandmother loves the snake wine and it’s enjoyed by her father as well.

An Ode to The Land Cruiser (LC) – Tibet would come to a standstill if Toyota stopped making the Land Cruiser. Other than a very few others, the LC is the only 4×4 you see here. They are the lifeline between villages/town as we saw them tackling the most treacherous road conditions with not much difficulty. Where Goofy does 10 km on a muddy road, the LC ( Tushar calls them Sher Cheetah) flies by at about 30km. Goofy has not given us any trouble till now but I have to be honest and say that the LC is the right car to pick for anyone wanting to tackle the terrain in Tibet.

Roads in Tibet G219 – We have driven a little over 1,800 km on the G219, the main highway which starts from Yeching in Xinjiang and continues into Tibet. The road is treacherous and only about 200km of it till Saga is a road! (It becomes better after Lhatse) The entire highway is a mud and gravel terrain and one has to off road on most parts. The part between Mansarover and Saga is the worst bit! Anyone wanting to do the Kailash Mansarover trek, please come here after 2-3 years (if you can wait) because the government is in the middle of constructing the road. If you are planning the journey in the imminent future, make sure you have car/motion sickness tablets along with altitude sickness ones.

Tibet – Tibet is many things rolled into one. It’s very intimidating due to the terrain and altitude. Its people are untouched by commercialism. Its beauty is pure and breathtaking and the local Tibetan is very proud of his heritage. One interesting thing I noted was that traditional Tibetans don’t like people touching their hair. It is disrespectful to do so.

Water Problem – It’s truly a wonderful sight to see a desert at over 4,000 meters above sea level. However, even though the region has many lakes, it’s very difficult to get running water in the hotel/motel bathrooms. Infact, some of the places we stayed in didn’t have a bathroom. One can check into a hotel and still have to use the open when nature calls. Even in Mansarover, one has to go in the open (next to the campsite at the holy lake), which Tushar and I didn’t want to. (Our portable toilet came handy!). It’s not a nice sight to walk to the holy lake crossing people’s morning business. I hope the Chinese authorities improve the facilities there.

Our Nationality – Both Tushar and I are Indian Passport holders. This has been a huge concern for the Chinese authorities because we were driving through sensitive areas in our own car. Our route took us through Aksai Chin, which was claimed by India ( part of Jammu and Kashmir) and is under Chinese Administration. One of the reasons behind the Indo-Sino war in the 60’s was Aksai Chin. Due to our nationality, the Chinese government stipulated a set route for us, which we had to keep to at all times. During one of the routes, our guide told us that we could not stop on the way ( the drive to the next destination was 10 hours) or take pictures. We were not allowed to stop for lunch or even for a toilet break. We have had to register at almost every army station on our route so that a tab could be kept on our whereabouts. Other conditions applied on us were that we were not given permission to do the Mt Kailash Parikrama (circumambulation) nor were we allowed to talk to any monks or religious people in Tibet. Due to ill health caused by altitude sickness, Tushar and I decided to cut short our trip in China and head into Nepal sooner. However, we were not allowed to exit China before the date, which we had originally planned. Only when the Chinese government gets the necessary exit papers related to us, will we be allowed to leave the country. Don’t, be put off though. I found the local Chinese person very warm and friendly.

Exiting China – We have now exited China. The border control got our exit papers ahead of our original exit date. At the border control, the army checked nearly every photograph in our camera and checked almost every item in our luggage. (we have around 17 bags with us; food, medicines, clothes, laptop and electronics etc)

Thank You – We will be hitting Delhi very soon. I want to thank all of you for following our journey and supporting us all the way. Both Tushar and I left our jobs in London to undertake a dream that all of you have helped us achieve with your encouraging words and advice. Goofy will be shipped back to London as soon as we reach Delhi and we will go back by June end.

I would like to sign off by saying that as much as I loved every bit of the journey, my aim was to raise as much funds as I could for Friendicoes. If you would like to support us in our cause, please donate online via our website or alternatively cheques can be made in the name of Friendicoes SECA, which can be collected. ( please email us). Every penny you donate goes to the animals ( not just dogs but cows, cats, horses, rabbits and others as well)



P.S. We have uploaded lots of new pictures of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and China. Please check from album number 028 onwards. Click here to go to the photo page

A road is all I ask for

Friday, May 28th, 2010

Last few days in China & Tibet have been very tiring and stressful. We have been living at an average altitude of 13500 feet since the last 1 week and it has started affecting our health now.

The driving is extremely difficult here. We have been driving everyday since we left Kashgar. The roads are non-existent and we have been driving mostly on mud and gravel. About 90% of the journey so far in China has been on these kind of roads. This has made our journey extremely slow and stressful. There have been many days when we drove for 12 hours straight but covered not more than a few hundred kilometres. It is also very dangerous to drive in these conditions. We have driven through snow, wet mud, sand storms and streams.

From Kashgar we went to a very small village called Mazar which had just a few shacks that were all occupied by road workers. We managed to get a room in one of the shacks and had a nice evening with the local workers. On asking, “where is the toilet?” everyone started laughing at us and said, “It is wherever you want it to be”. It was some experience spending a night in that little room covered with a tin roof.

From Mazar, we drove to another very small village called Tielongtan in Aksai Chin region and on the way we had another off road adventure. While driving on a particular bad road, suddenly we found that the road ahead of us was broken and we could see a big hole in the front. The only way to get on the other side of the hole was to drive on the wet mud on the side of the road. This was a dried river bed but the mud was still very soft. I slowly drove on the mud but realized that the car was sinking into the ground. Immediately I reversed and stopped. We were stuck at an altitude of 5000 metres. There were a couple of cars parked in the opposite direction who wanted to cross over to our side. Now everyone was waiting to see who would make the first move. Then a big army 4×4 approached from the opposite direction, it waited for a few seconds then just geared up and hit the soft mud. In a matter of seconds it drove over the mud and parked next to us. Feifei (our guide) asked if it would be safe for us to go and pointing towards Goofy the driver said, “No, not in that car. It won’t make it.” But what choice did we have? Remain stuck at 5000 metres and risk dying or try. I said my prayers, put my seat belt on, kissed Pooja, stopped thinking about everything, put the car in 4×4 mode and pressed the accelerator. We hit the wet mud and started going down. I turned the wheel and got out of the mud. Now we were going sideways and once again started sinking. Again, I turned the wheel in the opposite direction and got out of the mud. After many such manoeuvres, we finally reached the road but not before going into a big ditch which threw up mud on the windscreen and made it impossible to see ahead. We were finally out of the mud and on the road. I stopped the car and heaved a big sigh of relief. There was pin drop silence in the car. Pooja, Feifei and I were in shock and could not believe that we had made it. Well, it was a great experience and one that we will always remember.

The scenery was spectacular. Water in the lakes was emerald green and the mountains looked like a lovely painting. The sky was so clear that in the night you could see millions of stars and they seemed closer to you. Unfortunately, our stay in Aksai Chin was short lived. We had no idea what was going to happen in the next few hours after we arrived in Tielongtan. We were at an altitude of 5100 metres (15300 feet) and the air was thin. We reached Tielongtan after a 12 hours drive so we quickly had dinner and went to bed. At around 12 midnight, Pooja woke me up and complained of altitude sickness. She was finding it difficult to breathe and her condition was getting worse by the minute. I immediately woke up Feifei and she called the lodge owner. Fortunately, he had oxygen which he instantly provided to Pooja. He then advised that it would not be safe for Pooja to stay at that altitude and suggested that we should immediately drive to a town called Duma which was at a lower altitude. We packed our bags and rushed towards Duma and arrived at 6 in the morning. Throughout the drive, Pooja had the oxygen mask on her and it was the scariest night for both of us. I cannot imagine what would have happened if the lodge owner did not have oxygen that night. It made me realize how unprepared I was and I cursed myself for not having thought about such an eventuality. It was eerie to think that Tielongtan was in an area commonly known in China as “Death Valley”.

I am glad that we are past that night and Pooja is fine now. The drive since has not been pleasurable either. Roads are extremely bad, altitudes very high and hygiene is not a priority here. The only thing that keeps our spirits high is the unparalleled natural beauty of China and Tibet. Also, the fact that we are so close to India is keeping us motivated.

We finally got tarmac. After driving on mud and gravel for 900 kms, we suddenly saw a cemented road. I just stopped the car and admired the beauty of a smooth road. I realized my eyes were wet, I got out of the car and literally kissed the road and just lay flat on my back in the middle of the highway. It was an amazing feeling to finally see a proper road. Things we take for granted in our everyday lives! Unfortunately, this pleasure was short lived and only after 100 kms, we were back on mud, rocks and gravel.

Two days back we visited Mountain Kailash. We stayed at the foot of the mountain from where the holy mountain rose majestically right in front of our eyes. As soon as we spotted the mountain, Pooja exclaimed, “There it is. That’s Mount Kailash”. I had a shiver go down my spine at the sight of the holiest but the least visited holy mountain in the world. Since childhood, I had heard stories about the great mountain and to actually be standing in front of it simply made me very happy. Unfortunately, that night I too suffered from altitude sickness but this time we were well prepared and had an oxygen bag with us.

Next day, we drove to Mansarovar lake which was one of our best days in China so far. I took a holy dip in the lake ( the water was extremely cold) and then we had a good rest in our lakeside camp. We were pleasantly surprised to see lots of Land Cruisers approaching the lake side. They were full of Indian pilgrims who were visiting the holy lake and the mountain. In a matter of a few hours, at least a hundred Land Cruisers arrived. We had a nice evening interacting with people who were all very interested in knowing more about our journey and the cause. There were big groups organised by different companies and the best part was they all had cooks travelling with them which meant Indian food for us that night! We were offered food separately by all groups and a night that we thought would be very quiet became a big event for us. We met some great people and made new friends. The journey surprises us everyday. We never thought we will meet so many nice people from India and get to have a great time with them in Tibet.

Yesterday, we drove from Manasarovar Lake to another very small town in Tibet called Zhongba. The drive again was extremely hard and stressful. We drove around 250 kms in 9 hours and all the time I feared that the car would breakdown. We hit rocks, drove through streams and climbed steep mountains on unpaved roads. Same story today as well. We arrived in Saga today which is around 150 kms from Zhongba. It took us 7 hours to cover this distance. I think that will give you an idea about the road conditions. We have been told that the road from Saga onwards should be good. I am just looking forward to a proper road. German Autobahns are a distant dream now.

We have decided not to go to Lhasa as we will have to make a detour of atleast 1000 kms. Given the road conditions and our health, we decided it would be best not to visit Lhasa and go directly to Nepal. So now, we should reach Kahtmandu at least 4 days before schedule which would also mean reaching Delhi 4 days ahead of schedule!

Once we reach India, we may be stopping a night in Lucknow and another in Agra. On the final day, we would like to drive from Taj Mahal to Delhi. Pooja and I would like to invite anyone interested to please come and join us on our ultimate driving day from Agra to Delhi. I will send exact details about the date, time and venue from Nepal. It will be one of the most memorable days in our lives and we would love to share it with everyone.

Catch up from Nepal!