We had a good rest at the Danxia hotel in Xinlong and were raring to drive the 300 km to Baiyü. Alas! destiny had other plans.
Breakfast in Xinlong
Before that I will narrate a breakfast story. We arrived at the breakfast buffet; there was no one. Meanwhile, the chef was busy at work and filling the bain-marie. We peeked into them and found some porridge and what looked like some boiled roots or tubers. This was our 7th day in China, but this was a new predicament. The chef saw us flummoxed and brought out a can of condensed milk and gestured to us to dip the boiled stems to dip in the condensed milk and have it like the panda images on the can. Here’s an image of our breakfast table.
Drive to Baiyü County
Well, after this hearty odd breakfast, we set out on our drive to Baiyü. Our plan was to visit the Yarchen Gar monastery housing about 10,000 Tibetan nuns living and studying there. We would then drive through the Jiaodeke mountain pass, overlooking the snow-capped peaks of Sichuan including Minya Konka at 7556 meters.
Sudden Change in Plans
The first holdup was after an hour’s drive; when we were stopped by a group of police saying that there was a landslide and we could not go any further. They wanted to talk to us instead of Kevin, and used an app. The English came out quite funny like “What to do?” instead of “What is your purpose of being here?” It really left Kevin in splits.
We came back to the highway and then drove for another hour or so and turned left. We were in a large queue of cars at the foot of the mountains. The police were checking all the cars and stopping all foreign tourists. The police also questioned Kevin why he was taking us, when Yarchen Gar institute was closed to foreigners. So, we had no resort but to turn back.
New plans – Drive to Dêgê County
Kevin being the resourceful and enterprising person that he is, soon rearranged our itinerary and hotel bookings. Our destination would now be Dêgê County in the Garzê Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture about 355 km away on mountain roads by the towering Cho La mountains also known as the Que’er Shan.
This would be roughly about another 6 hours of drive and we would stop at Manigange for lunch. Manigange is a trading town and was famous in the ancient times for Tea & Horse trading .
Cho La Mountain and Tunnel
Well, the next part of the ride was unencumbered, and we enjoyed the beautiful panorama. There is a treacherous rough dirt track prone to landslides and blizzards, climbing up the Cho La Shan Pass at 5050 meters above sea level, which we would have taken had we some time at hand.
For now, we decided the rest of the journey to be uneventful and took the 7079 meters long Cho La tunnel at a height of 4300 meters, quite an engineering marvel.
The Cho La Mountain Tunnel is one of the world’s highest vehicular tunnels at an average altitude of 4378 meters above the sea level. It is also known as Que’ershan Tunnel, boring through the Cho La mountains . The tunnel was opened in September 2017 and took 15 years to complete.
We reached the once remote but now well accessible town of Dêgê and stayed at the Gesa’er hotel. We found a bar and cafe for our evening coffee. Kevin took us for dinner to a nice Sichuan place and we tasted Chinese homemade Liquor for the first time and grew really fond of it.
We retired to the splendid Gesa’er hotel hoping the next days would not bring in any more unprecedented surprises.