On Tibetan Land Once More
It was not in our plan when we set out on our trip to Yunnan in early October, 2011, but I knew from the beginning that there is a route, other than the well-trodden Shangrila-Tibet G214 highway, into the World’s Roof. The road starts from Bingzhongluo (丙中洛) and runs along the Salween River (called Nujiang (怒江) in China). I just didn’t know the road conditions. By the time we reached Bingzhongluo, we had heard a lot about that route and knew it is drivable if and only if your car has very high clearance. Unfortunately our car, a Chinese made two-wheel drive city SUV, doesn’t qualify. But, hey, man, we are only less than 50km from Tibet, we said to ourselves. Why not try to drive up there even if just for a feel of the road conditions.
Actually the road up to the Tibetan border is in fair conditions. Very narrow and passable by only one car in some sections, and a bit bumpy too, it is generally drivable. We saw only one small truck during the entire drive. We reached the Yunnan-Tibet border sign post in about 1.5 hours. The sign post is in Chinese with English translation but the English translation is a joke. The meaning of the sign post is “No Entry by Foreigners” or “No Foreigner Allowed”.
Apparently I, as a Canadian citizen, was in violation of the law when I stepped beyond this sign post. Who cares? There was not a soul around except us. Now it was the third time for me to be on Tibetan land. And this was a new route few heard of or traveled, and definitely not for the faint of heart.
On our way back from the border, just as we felt we were bravehearted to have driven into this remote area, we saw a young man walking on the road, who made us ashamed of ourselves. We were a gang of four driving in a SUV, but this guy was backpacking alone, all the way into Tibet!
However, the young backpacker was actually enjoying a luxury in comparison with the early inhabitants of this remote area who had no road other than rough trails dug out from steep cliffs along the river to connect with the outside world. We saw one such trail on our way to the Tibetan border (see picture below). As many of such trails had been used for many years in the past by caravans who traded Chinese tea with Tibetan horses, they are now generally called “Tea-horse Ancient Trails” (茶马古道).
There was a guy that we met on the Tea-horse Trail who also deserves our respect and awe. He is a village paramedic and the only person who knows a bit about medicine in this remote area. He was on his way to a village on call from a sick person. Most young people of his age would have gone to the big cities for better life, but he stayed put because he felt, in his words, he was “needed”.
Life remains rather tough and simple for the local people, despite tremendous modernization has taken place in other areas of China. A few kilometers from the Tibetan border, we saw people still use water-driven millstone to grind corn. The young mother inside the mill shed had such sparkles in her eyes that I feel sad each time I look at this picture:
Unlike in most part of China, the people along the upper Salween River are mostly believers of western God. Catholic and christian churches popped up in sight as we drove along the river. And, surprisingly, new ones were being built. Below is a picture of a new Catholic church near the Yunnan-Tibetan border:
We heard that the government was considering upgrading this road. If that happens, we will definitely come again and drive into Tibet on this road. This road leads to Chayu (察隅) and then to Ranwu Lake (然乌湖) where it connects with G318, the main highway to Lhasa. I believe there is a lot more, in terms of culture and scenery, to explore and enjoy along this path beyond where we stopped last October.