After the extra day in Nyalam (3,750 m; 12,303 ft) for acclimatization and a short hike, we packed our bags and headed North and East for the settlement of Saga. While only 336 km away, the roads were essentially washed out, and we’d mostly be driving off-road. The journey would take us nearly 10 hours and it was the roughest day so far.
As we rode uphill, we left behind whatever little greenery we had seen. Down in the valley we spied a mosaic of bright green fields. The mountain sides were gravelly bare with few shrubs. At 15,000 ft, the Tibetan plateau is a barren sandy terrain stretching as far on the horizon.
As the plateau is edged by the Himalayan mountains on the South, we had hoped to witness some spectacular scenery along the way. But it was an overcast day with cold drizzly rain and snow. The high point at Lalung La (Pass) (15,900 ft) was unimpressive. It was festooned with prayer flags and prayer wheels. But it was bitterly cold and windy to be outside the Land Cruiser. And it was snowing, in the middle of summer. The valley and the mountains were smothered in dense fog and visibility was minimal.
Once past Lalung La (Pass), the drivers went off-road, literally. There were no features to guide us, but the convoy of Tibetan drivers knew exactly where they were headed. This drive across a featureless plateau, up mountainside and down valleys, and through ravines, went on for most of the day
Along the route, there were no signs of any settlement. Absolutely NO traffic on the roads either. All day, ours was the only traffic on the road. No restaurants, no gas stations, no nothing. No people. It was just us and the barren, featureless terrain, zipping by for hours.
To arrange for lunch, one of the kitchen trucks and staff had left Nyalam the previous night and stopped at a pre-determined place to prepare lunch. After a long and bumpy ride, the blue-green dining tent over the horizon was a sight for sore eyes. We looked forward to getting out of the Land Cruisers, stretching our legs and into tents, for something warm.
Sishapangma is the 14th highest mountain in the world and many groups try to ascend it in the summer. At this tiny Base Camp Post Office, everyone has to have their papers checked. We must arrived during their siesta hour, for even though there were only two other cars ahead of us, we had to wait an hour to get clearance to proceed.
Whiling away the time, we stopped by the adjacent tiny, one room store/restaurant/home. I saw this mother and three kids comfortably settled. The locals love the ‘bindi’ and every time they see an Indian woman, they ask for a bindi by pointing a finger to the center of their forehead. The women in our groups would oblige and from their purse remove and stick a bindi on the girl’s forehead.
At the check post, a family of yak herders came by to observe our convoy, but stayed a distance away and then walked away on the plateau.
These women came closer to observe and even posed for pics. I only noticed the baby cocooned on her back when her friend pointed it out. After a few minutes, they too walked away on the barren plateau. We had noticed this often. During breaks on seemingly desolate roads, some yak or sheep herders would walk by. I have no idea where they lived, we could not see any sign of habitation. Occasionally during driving, we could see a cluster of tents far away in the mountains. Perhaps, these nomadic herders stayed in such tent settlements.