8 days in Tibet, part 2, the landscape and food

Tibet is highly mountainous and blessed with blue skies when I was there and certain bits reminded me of Peru and Chile. My guide tells me that September and October is the best time because the rain has stopped and it’s not too cold. I was very lucky the trees were just turning to their autumn colours and it made everything look stunning. I did both Lake Namtso and the drive to Xigazê which allowed me to see Lake Yamdrok, nicknamed the turquoise lake.

Lake Namtso is a good 7 hours drive north from Lhasa and it’s supposed to be the highest and holiest lake in Tibet.

Because it was raining the day and morning before, we were blessed to see snow capped mountains when we drove past the mountain pass and lucky enough for the pass not to be closed because it stopped raining as we headed up.

The highest point of the Lagenla mountain pass before you reach the lake was over 5000m and the wind was cold and chilly, my nose nearly froze off when we stopped for pictures. Ok I exaggerate but yes it’s very cold so please bring along proper winter jackets, gloves, scarfs and beanie if you’re visiting around the same time as me. The view is stunning, so even if you’re frozen, you have to take photos or at least take in the view for 1 minute.

Apparently if you visit in summer, the fields will be beautifully coloured with blooming flowers so you’ll be impressed too! I was blessed to see the snow capped mountains and also, the autumn coloured fields.

The drive was scenic but not easy as it was bumpy and the toilets were scary, read: no doors, just a hole or a drain and no flush and water. I suggest you bring lots of wet tissues and toilet paper for this road trip. You will not be disappointed. Or, dare I say, use the adult diaper. 🤪

Warning: You will be sleeping at a high altitude in a minimalist guest house so please bring along warm clothes for sleeping and pills if you need. I had oxygen pumped in my room all night as one of my tour mates had altitude sickness. It wasn’t expensive, CNY200 for the whole room for the whole night for the 3 of us, so it was ok. But I think although I breathed well and had no headache, the oxygen kept me awake all night and so, I compensated on sleep on the journey back to Lhasa.

Lake Namtso is holy because the holy mountain range of Nyenchen Tanggula. We saw many nomads, sheep, yaks and cows along the way. Some of the nomad’s tents have become houses to accommodate the cold weather.

Yakety yak

Once we checked into the guest house, we walked around Tashi island. The landscape was beautiful and it’s an easy hike. I can easily see why it’s holy, it has a magical feel about this place and the rocks are all supposed to be holy too. When we arrived, the holy mountain was covered by clouds and it rained on us at sunset so we missed it. Apparently it started snowing after we brushed our teeth and huddle in the guest room at 9pm as we could hear the rain/small hailstones banging on our tin roof.

The next morning, since I couldn’t sleep, I started to get myself ready for my short walk to the lake in 1 degree Celsius weather at 645am. The sun rises at 730am so I had time to see the Milky Way too. The sky was amazingly clear as the rain last night must have cleared all the clouds to reveal the beautiful Milky Way.

This is the holy mountain blushing at sunrise.

I was one of the only few out as it was really really cold but as the sun crept up slowly, more and more people joined me at the lake. The sunrise was stunning and the holy mountain Nyenchen Tanggula was the first to get the orange bit of the sun. It was such an amazing sight and you have to wake up for this if you manage to sleep!

After breakfast, we drove back to Lhasa and the view looks a bit different as it was blue skies and white clouds all the way. We were really blessed to see the contrast going there and back.

My favourite road trip has to be the drive from from Lhasa southwards to Xigazê (Shigatse). We drove over the Gampala pass which is an important Trade route between Bhutan and Lhasa and Sikkim. It is now an abandoned Valley as the water has dried up and the houses abandoned. I could only imagine the glory of the 60s when nomads lived and traveled upon these roads.

At our first rest stop, we took pictures with the Tibetan mastiffs, a beautiful breed of dog found only here, who were the nomad’s best friends as they protected the herd from wolves and other predators. They are now show dogs for tourists like us and I hope they’re treated well.

The next stop was the Yamdrok Lake. The Lake is surrounded by many snow-capped mountains and in the distance you can have spectacular views of Holy Mount Nyenchen Khangsar, (7191m) the highest mountain near Lhasa. It’s supposed to be holy and it’s really beautiful against the clear blue skies. The water is so surreal looking because it’s really turquoise! Only Nature can be so amazingly beautiful. The water is such because it’s pure water from the glaciers reflecting the clear blue skies. If you came on a cloudy day, the colours would be different so we were really lucky the guides switched the days so we can enjoy the beautiful colours.

Later, we drove past the Korola Glacier and took many photos at the top, where we can see it in all its glory. This was the place where the treaties were signed between the British and the Tibetans back in the 1930s.

Our final stop was the Manak Dam Lake, the colour was amazing too and you can see and hang beautiful prayer flags at the Simila Mountain Pass. The prayer flags are written in Sanskrit. We were lucky our guide Kunga could read the flags and verified it was Sanskrit.

We took too long a time taking photos of the wonderful scenery that we missed the visit to the monastery in Gyangze. We did make time to see a cute barley milk. Barley is the most important crop in Tibet and they used it for food, tea and offering to Buddha.

The drive time was 10 hours and it didn’t feel like it because it was so amazingly beautiful.

The next day, we drove by another way, the northern highway where you can see the train tracks and the Padma Pudra river. The Padma Pudra river flows from the holy mountain Kailesh and merges with the Lhasa river and then all the way down to the Indian Ocean. Here is the place where they meet.

The next time I come around Tibet, I will hike Mount Kailesh.

The food!

Tibetans love their noodles and tea. The tea houses are usually bustling from mid morning all the way to early evenings. There are large ones and small ones and it’s a place to rest after praying or just to socialise and have a meal. The 2 teas they have, the sweet tea which is made of barley and yak butter and tea and sugar. Or the black tea which is the salted one without milk that’s good for altitude sickness. I tried both and because I’m lactose intolerant, I usually drink the black tea and I guess it works for altitude as I wasn’t that sick from the altitude apart from a queasy stomach, muscle cramps at night and a bit of insomnia. Yes I’m very lucky.

I really liked the small one Tashi brought me too as he seemed to know everyone and everyone was friendly. I seem to be the only tourist and that always feels nice. It’s located in the Barkhor area opposite time square.

The Tibetan noodles has the consistency of al dente spaghetti in a yak broth with peanuts, spring onions and yak of course. It’s delicious. I especially love the spicy mala french fries dipped in it. The mala French fries is a very good snack and I had it a few times at different places.

One of my favourite noodle place in Lhasa is SouYiWan. It’s located just in the street before Yak hotel in old Lhasa. I love the mushrooms in chicken broth vermicelli and my favouritest, the matsutake mushroom and yak handmade noodles served dry. The yak yogurt is amazingly smooth and delicious too!

Mushrooms in chicken broth vermicelli
My favourite dry noodles. Slight spicy and soft noodles
Yak yogurt with rose jam. YUM

Tibetans love their momos. They have fried momos, steamed momos and soup momos. They’re basically dumplings and usually made of pork or yak or vegetables. It’s similar to the Nepalese momos I guess. The skin is a bit too thick for my liking because I’m used to the thin skinned ones. But hey, it’s still tasty and when in Tibet, you have to do what the Tibetans do right?

Dishes with mushrooms, yak yogurt, yak cheese and yak meat is very popular Tibetan cuisine. There are many restaurants to try in the Barkhor area and I particularly liked TIbetan Family restaurant, near the Jokhang Temple. Tashi restaurant just near the crossing to yak hotel has traditional Tibetan food and I had the boobi there. It’s like a tortilla wrap with veg and fried yak and paired with yak yogurt and chilli. It’s good.

Yak boobi with ginger tea

Sichuan has a big influence in the food of Tibet. There are so many Chuan restaurants in Tibet and they’re usually a stir fry with the peppers and chillis and are delicious. I tried Tibetan and Nepalese food at Makye Ame in Barkhor and it was good too but pricier.

Spicy yak tongue.

Indian food and Nepalese food is also found widely in the many restaurants around. We had good Indian naan and curries at Lhasa kitchen and Namaste restaurant also comes highly recommended.

I loved Tibet because it’s so beautiful and safe. And you can get blessed by holy monks and see the amazing ceremonies.

The only things I didn’t like was the toilets! But hey, nothing’s perfect right?

One of the reasons why I love traveling alone is because you always meet amazing people on your trips. This trip, I met 2 ladies who are also yogis and into holistic healing. I know I will definitely meet them again in my travels someday. And Tashi my guide? I think he’s gonna guide me to Mount Kailesh when I’m back in Tibet!

Never stop wandering

XOXO

Stella

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