Tibet Overland Trip
Yamdrok Lake

    Tibet Overland Trip takes you along the shores of the sacred Yamdrok Lake. The Kamba La pass opens view on turquoise waters then winding road passes the melting Himalayan glacier – Kharola and down the valley to Gyantse and then Shigatse for the overnight stay.

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Tibet Overland Trip - Yamdrok (Scorpion) Lake

     For a while the S307 follows upstream the Yarlung Tsangpo along the wide and surprisingly (given the high elevation) bustling with life valley.

Groves of trees with some already showing signs of colors of quickly approaching fall, abundance of shrubs along the riverbed, orchards, fields – some already dotted with piled sheaves some still waiting for harvest and here and there little settlements.

But as soon as S307 leaves the valley and starts to climb uphill the landscape changes.

Fields give way to vast grasslands roamed by herds of yaks.

The road (I have to admit - still in remarkably good shape) climbs through the long serpentine-like section of tight bends crossing the first major pass Kamba La (Gamba La) at 15,730 ft (4794 m).

It marks the magic moment as in front of you opens a heavenly view on one of the largest lakes in Tibet – sacred Yamdrok Tso (called also Yamḍok Yumtso). Its turquoise waters sharply contrast with surprisingly green slopes of surrounding hills and a barren Lhagoi Kangri mountain range with the snow-capped peak of Noijin Kangsang (23,641 ft / 7206m) in the backdrop. 

The sky feels to be closer here than ever before as the tranquil waters of the Yamdrok Lake perfectly reflect the firmament. 

View from the space unfolds the shape of scorpion. 
Source: Wikipedia

     Well, once again Lhasa proves to be the “Land of gods”; the biblical separation of waters by the firmament (these below from those above) seems to be undone in this sacred Tibetan land.

The lake has strange shape with two quite complex arms and long tail – all filled with pristine clear water.

Seen from the space it resembles a scorpion; that is why sometimes in the English-speaking world it is also called the “Scorpion Lake”. It has nothing to do with its native Tibetan name.

Heavenly view on one of the largest lakes in Tibet – sacred Yamdrok Tso

     In this mountainous area you cannot have the full view on almost 44 miles (70km) long lake, so till the last century the lake’s shape was the secret shared only by high flying birds.

Talking about birds – despite lake’s location at around 13,100 ft (4000 m) it creates the largest habitat for water birds in Tibet attracting wild ducks and gulls every summer.

But these days birds are not the only “creatures” visiting this magnificent and truly sacred place. Thanks to its close location to Lhasa, it is also crowded with tourists and souvenir stands. Sometimes in front of such beauty you wish to forget about surrounding crowds, noisy shutters…. just sit down and gaze upon this breathtaking creation. Do not forget – you are in the “Land of Gods”……

The sky above and below.....

     Continuing along the Road 307 you will notice an intrusion, a dissonance in this otherwise heavenly landscape. Unexpectedly, almost out of nowhere High Voltage power lines appear suspended under the sky.

Not for the first time, the battle between Idealism of Mother Nature and human Pragmatism has been won by the latter. Since 1996 the hydroelectric power station operates at the western end of the Yamdrok Lake. Located close to the small settlement Pai-Ti it is the largest power station in Tibet.

Turquoise waters sharply contrast with surprisingly green slopes of surrounding hills 

    The road winds along the lake then climbs again to cross the Kharo La pass at 16,550 ft (5045 m). Crossing the pass you come face-to-face with another natural marvel – Kharola Glacier.

Few tens of years ago it was almost touching the old road, but with time its magnificent body significantly retreated - certainly not due to the “pressure” from tourists as some may claim but rather “thanks” to the global warming. Now, from far away, it seems to be licking his “wounds” washing the pain in streams of icy water oozing from under its body. 

   From the Kharo La pass the S307 winds down the fertile Nyang Chu Valley to the town of Gyantse. The Nyang Chu river - tributary of the Yarlung Tsangpo (Brahmaputra) flows through the narrow valley opening the Himalayan Range southward. 

Views on the Yamdrok Lake from the road S307

Yamdrok Lake - Views from the road S307 winding for miles

along the shores of the lake.

Himalayan Glaciers: Kharola glacier next to the Kharo La pass significantly retreated in recent years from "his territory"....

Tibet Overland Trip - Gyantse    

     For centuries Gyantse was part of the major trading route connecting eastern Indian Peninsula with Tibet (Shigatse to the west and Lhasa to the north-east).

The prosperity faded-out gradually with the final blow given by the British expedition in 1904 led by Colonel Francis Younghusband. Currently the road crossing to Sikkim (landlocked province of India) over the Nathu La pass is used only for cross-border traffic; sadly it is closed for tourism.

The Dzong Fort from the end of the 14th century... 

    Gyantse is home to several historical and religious sites. The Dzong Fort located on the hill in the center of the old town dates from the end of the 14th century. For long it was successfully protecting the access to Lhasa from the south. The fort is remembered for the heroic battle of poorly equipped Tibetan forces with Younghusband’s expedition which left it in ruins (unfortunately nothing new in our western-style democracies !).

Fortunately in recent years some reconstruction works were carried out and now once again the fortress - reminiscent of times or glory dominates Gyantse’s cityscape.

The early 15th century Kumbum Chorten is an extraordinary example of the religious architecture representing the Tibetan branch of Buddhism. It is considered as a largest such structure in Tibet (“Chorten” is a local name for Stupa - the oldest Buddhist religious monument dedicated to Buddha). The monumental golden dome raises high above five floors lined with chapels, sculptures and murals along the clockwise climbing Tantric Path.

    The Kumbum Chorta is located in a large compound that during its best times contained 15 monasteries and religious schools representing three different orders of Tibetan Buddhism.

Today the large area surrounded by wall and steep cliffs on the back is mostly empty. Only the early 15th century Tsuklakhang monastery survived time, British invasion and later Chinese Cultural Revolution.

The S307 ends in Gyantse, from where the S204 takes on the last leg of the Yamdrok loop.

Some 19 miles (30 km) north-east from Gyantse near the confluence of Nyang Chu and Yarlung Rivers lies Shigatse – the 2nd largest city in Tibet after Lhasa. It is also here where the road S204 joins back the Friendship Highway S318. 

Gyantse: Old fort Dzong after recent restoration works, 

Wall of prayer wheels at the entrance to the Kumbum Chorta. 

Tibet Overland Trip - Shigatse:   “Place that fulfills wishes”.. 

In Tibetan language the word “shigatse” means the “Place that fulfills wishes”….

The town may well deserve this poetic and spiritually loaded name.

It is home to the Tashilhunpo Monastery – 2nd largest in Tibet and the traditional seat of Panchen Lama (2nd highest rank spiritual leader in Tibet after Dalai Lama).

Hotel Shigatse

It seems to offer comfortable night (and not only)

Hotel Shigatse - in the lobby a gigantic painting showing view on Panchen Lama's monastery complex. 

Shigatse: Streets "decorated" with lamps are surprisingly green;

Tashilhunpo Monastery – the traditional seat of Panchen Lama 

      May be intrigued by the promise of fulfillment, may be simply due to the long day charged with attractions, many tourists decide to stay overnight in Shigatse.

Fortunately the Hotel Shigatse offers quite decent settings (as you move westward farther from Lhasa, the number of “stars” characterizing hotels are decreasing.

The only compensation for that drop may be the night sky generously exposing more and more celestial secrets).

If you want to continue this epic odyssey across the Tibetan plateau, then please follow the link: Himalaya Everest Base Camp Adventure 

However if you prefer to travel back to the Lhasa Valley, then please select the following link: Tibet Adventure -Brahmaputra River 

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