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Brian’s Travel Diary

Friday, 16 Feb 2007

Location: Shegar, Tibet

MapThe way to Shegar was mostly a newly paved road thanks to the never ending supply of Chinese labor and the need to provide jobs for Han Chinese in Tibet. Even so, the road to Shigar was full of suicidal hairpin turns and blind spots with enough room for only one car to pass at a time. Yet, our driver in all his competence, or maybe it was ignorance, felt the need to only honk when speeding around turns as rocks and dust plummited over the cliff landing several hundred feet below. Seat belts? No chance. I would have been happy with a head rest, but we didn't have any of those either. About 20km short of Shegar we happened upon a couple of Swiss mountain bikers who were having a tough go of it. In fact, one was so sick he couldn't stay on the bike without falling over. It was bitter cold at this point, somewhere around -2C or so and these two mountain bikers had just spent the night on the side of the road with the one losing his food at both ends. We would have loaded them up and been on our way but we had no way of carrying the bikes. So, Kernby the avid cyclist volunteered to take the sick guy's bike and ride the remaining 20km in a snow flurry with the healthy Swiss dude, while we took the sick guy to town. Everyone got to Shegar without any problems.

Shegar is unique in that it has no power. At 4,050 meters you are pretty high up and its always cold and the only respite you have to get warm is the dung stove. In Lhasa we were spoiled with high quality yak dung or even coal, which doesn't really give off that much smoke (comparatively). But, in the sticks of Tibet the villagers will burn just about any dung they can find. I got to experience the appetite supressing fumes of sheeps dung. It just made me nauseous. Beau didn't seem to mind it as he spent countless hours jotting away in his journal hovered over the stove. Sheeps dung actually looks more like rabbit dung. It's just small pellets that they scoop up and dump into the fire of the stove. The problem is when it's windy and the wind blows against the exhaust pipe, all of the smoke gets blown back into the room from under the boiling pots. It makes for a lovely blueish gray haze of dung smog blanketing everything in the room. Oh, the room is also a restaurant or 'restaunt' as the sign read.

Kernby and I elected go outside and be cold instead of nauseous where we ran into a goat herder on the hillside about a kilometer from town. Of course, we spoke very little of each other's language so the conversation was more of a charades game with some dirt and rock pictionary thrown in. We found out that he got Y150 per goat, which is about $20. That seemed pretty good for a guy with 50+ goats. He definitely had the goat herders 'eye.' We were looking for Beau who was about 2 or 3km away and had disappeared, but the goat herder knew exactly where Beau was even though we couldn't see him anymore. Shortly after that a couple of goats got out of the pack and strayed about 500m away from the herd. We got to see him send his eldest of four children off on a sprint to round up the wayward goats. It was pretty impressive to us because at that altitude we were only good for about 20-25 steps before a deep breath timeout. After about a half hour we were invited back to his house to drink some tea. On the way Kernby and I cut all of the pictures out of his Lonely Planet to give to his kids. But, when we entered the village we were mobbed with children asking us for pens and money. I never really figured out why they wanted pens, but I have them everyone I had anyway. They also got most of Kernby's pictures. One of the children was playing with an old bicycle rim with a rope on the end of it as a toy - as if he were walking it like a dog (I can hear one of the "In my day...." stories from my dad right now). As we walked into the front yard of the house the baby sheep were seperated from herd and were kept out of the open door house by a 55 gallon drum and a mud slicked piece of plywood board. A family of six, mom, dad, two boys and two girls all lived in basically one room with a dung stove as the center piece. We drank about a half dozen cups of yak butter tea and had real tsampa, which is basically barely flour. It was served to us on a ladle and we had to pinch the flour and then drop it in our mouths and chase it with the butter tea - it was like a cement mixer. Our host showed us up by taking a heaping tablespoon worth of the flour all at once and then chugged his tea in one gulp! It was good, but I wasn't about to enter a competitive tsampa eating contest. Our tea was refilled after each sip by his wife who stood over us simply waiting to fullfill her duty. Good woman - knows her role. I asked if I could take some pictures and the wife modestly declined. But, after some gentle encouragement not only did we have a family portrait, but one with Kernby and I in it as well. It was the first time I tried to use the self-timer. So the trial & error process and apparently comical facial expressions made for some mild amusement. Right before we left the girls brought out their English learning books and Kernby and I walked them through some elementary phrases. It was a very cool, if not priceless moment and made for a nice detour from the tourist circuit.