Part 3: Bome – Nyingchi – Guangzhou – Hong Kong June 23 – 26
June 23 Friday: Suasong Village – Bome 波密320km
In order to watch Mt Namechakbarwa at sunrise, Kylie and I got up before 6:30am. Despite the drizzle and mist, the scenery was enchanting. When the sun emerged through the clouds, it lit up the top of nearby peaks, all except Mt Namechakbarwa.
When it stopped raining, Kylie and I walked all the way to the far end of the wheat field. We followed a path which takes us half way down to the river bank. It’s beautiful and atmospheric: tranquil and peaceful without any tourist in sight! We did not return to the guesthouse till 8:15am.
After breakfast, we drove along the left bank of the Niyang River and had a stop at the sand tune丹娘沙丘. I enjoyed walking on soft wet sand and looking at the expansive Yarlung Zangbo River.
We next arrived at the Niyang River Tourism Area 尼洋河風光帶 where we had to pay RMB35 for a ticket. There are a number of sites associated with Bon 笨敎.
Bon is a Tibetan religion which is now almost indistinguishable from Tibetan Buddhism in terms of doctrines and rituals. But it differs in religious authority and history it accepts: Bon followers believe that Bon was the indigenous religion of Tibet based on the teachings of Tonpa gShenrab who lived before Buddha. It was patronised by the people and rulers through the 8th century when royal support switched to Buddhism. The Bon faith followers then hid their texts, and adopted ritual and religious practices of the Tibetan Buddhists but remembered their history an beliefs as well. They have been treated as heterodox.
Today, two easily distinguishable features can tell whether one is a Tibetan Buddhist or Bon faith follower. Mani stones are inscribed with the six syllabled mantra of Avalokiteśvara (Om mani padme hum) as a form of prayer. These stones are intentionally placed along the roadside and rivers or placed together to form mounds or cairns or long walls as an offering to spirits of place or genius loci. Tibetan Buddhists pass or circumvent from the left side (ie. clockwise). But Bon followers have the stones inscribed with eight syllables and they would circumvent the mani wall from the right side.
As Zangpo is a Tibetan buddhist, he does not know about Bon and places worth visiting. As a result, we missed the five main Bon temples which scatter around the sacred mountain 笨日神山.When we saw numerous mani walls at the foot hill, we asked Zangpo to stop and spent some time looking at the mani stones with eight syllables, most of which look fairly new.
After leaving old Nyingchi Zhen, we soon rejoined National Highway 318, went over Sekyim la Pass (4720m) 色季拉山and descended into the famous Lunang Forest魯朗林海covered with pine and spruce forests and meadows and surrounded by snow-capped mountains on both side of the valley. The two lookout points that I had visited before now charge visitors RMB60 for a combined ticket. A rip-off!
Lunang has changed with many new developments including several five-star hotels. I was overwhelmed by its tranquility, beauty and rustic atmospherein 2011. Though it is still pretty today, it has lost its purity and soul that I treasure.
Zangpo took us straight to his friend’s hot-pot restaurant. The signature dish here is the hot-pot chicken soup with Chinese herbs. Thanks to Zangpo, we had a big pot for RMB180. Before leaving, Kylie and I checked out one of the 5-star hotels which is charming and elegant. We could get a room for RMB800 which can accommodate three of us. I do not mind spending a couple of days here if I ever return to this region.
We were back on the road after 3pm. The road between Lunang and Bome is scenic. But when I first travelled here in 2011, the road between Lunang and Tangmai 通麦was considered one of the most dangerous roads in the world. Today, after completion of several tunnels and road improvement works, the drive is pleasant but no longer dangerous and thrilling.
Zangpo suggested us stay in a local guesthouse in a village 故乡村on the way to Bome. As they only had a double room left, we decided to drive 20km more to stay in Bome. We found a new hotel by the river and got two rooms for RMB440. As the hotel would not provide free accommodation for drivers, Zangpo stayed in a cheaper hotel nearby. We were not hungry and had a light dinner in a Sichuan restaurant opposite our hotel. The boss cast us a weird look at us when we paid RMB75 for our dinner: he must think we were too poor to have a full meal!
June 24 Saturday: Bome – Nyingchi 300km
Medog is only 150km from Bome but has been difficult to reach till the completion of a new road connecting it to Bome. According to Zangpo, the journey would take about five hours as one can only drive 20-30km an hour. I got up early and spent an hour walking along the river with Kylie before breakfast. Bome is going through a construction boom with numerous new hotels opened along the main street. We had a power failure for the second time on this trip. As a result, the hotel could not serve us breakfast and gave us a bottle of water and a cup noodle instead.
Zangpo who is aware of our keen interest in Medog, suggested driving us on the road to Medog as far as the first check point. On the way, we visited a temple 多東寺. Though the main hall is under construction, locals are visiting other parts of the complex.
We followed the river passing through several villages before arriving at the beautiful Spruce Forest Park 雲崗杉林. Kylie and I love to spend sometime in the park. But as it would take three hours to complete the hike, we had to give up the idea and moved on.
It was after 12 noon when we were back in Bome. We decided to have an early lunch. As the chef of the restaurant comes from the Guangdong Province, we had Cantonese cuisine without much oil, little salt and no MSG. The delicious pork hot pot and two vegetable dishes cost us RMB180. Around 1 pm, we were back on National Highway 318 heading to Nyingchi with a brief stop at the picturesque village 故乡村 which we were supposed to stay the night before.
We took the same route back. By the time we arrived in Lunang it was raining again. I remember I stayed in a guesthouse run by a Tibetan family in 2011 and had a lovely walk before dinner. This time, we stopped in another village 扎西岗村for about 20 minutes. Kylie and I got wet after a short walk. What a pity!
Brenda has been keen to find out the development of Bon in modern day Tibet. We therefore made a stop in Nichi Cun尼池村 which is near the old Nyingchi Zhen. We went straight to the Gu Xiu Temple 古秀寺, a temple with over a thousand years’ history which has been reconstructed/renovated in recent years. A 30m-tall cypress tree nearby is said to be over a thousand years old too. Unfortunately, we did not have a chance to see the main hall which was already closed. It was raining heavily but had not stopped some followers from circumventing the temple in a counter-clockwise direction.
At 7pm, we arrived at Hongtian Hotel. This time, I had a room by myself while Kylie and Brenda shared a room. Zangpo took us to a local hot pot restaurant and we had a large pot of pork knuckle soup with plenty of vegetables. Zangpo insisted in treating us. In appreciation of his good service, we gave him a tip of RMB1000. We all had a good time.
June 25 Sunday: Sight-seeing around Nyingchi 60m
Zangpo would return to Lhasa in the afternoon in order to take on another assignment which would begin the next day. So we set off early at 8:30am to visit Lamaling喇嘛岭. The temple, a fairly new one with about 100 years of history, belongs to the Nyingma order. The reduced entrance fee is RMB15 for elderly visitors. Padamasambhava, Wuliangguang Buddha and Avalokiteśvara (or commonly known in Chinese as Guanshiyin Bodhisativa) are revered here. Though not big, the temple facing the Yarlung Zangpo River, is worth visiting.
We returned to the city and Zangpo took us to the Biri Sacred Mountainanother Bon holy mountain. The area is now turned into a national park with a good walking path under 3km with 8400 steps. When walking at the foot hill, I see the holy mountain looking like a person lying on his side. I also had fantastic panoramic views of Nyingchi and the surrounding areas.
We were lucky with the weather: it rained when we were back in the car park. After lunch, Zangpo bid adieu and returned to Lhasa. It rained hard the whole afternoon. When the sky cleared up around 6pm, Kylie and I decided to take a walk. Unfortunately, it started to drizzle after 15 minutes. We carried on and found a nice bakery where we had a drink. It was 7:30pm when we were back in the hotel. I was soaking wet! We were not hungry and only had noodles and dumplings for dinner. As a result, we paid RMB55 for a light dinner on our last night on this trip.
June 26 Monday: Nyingchi – Guangzhou – Hong Kong
Zangpo who could not take us to the airport, had arranged a taxi for us and paid RMB200 to the driver. We left Nyingchi at 8am and arrived at the airport 30 minutes later as there was no traffic on the highway. Everything went smoothly and our plane departed on schedule at 10:40am and we landed in Guangzhou around 2pm. I took a window seat and had a scenic flight: the aerial views dominated by snow-capped mountain ranges veiled in clouds are amazing and stunning.
Unfortunately, my suitcase was somehow not on the plane. I had to spend an hour filing a report. Brenda, Kylie and I decided to hire a private car for RMB900 to take us to Lowu. As there was no traffic jam, the journey only took two and a half hours. We crossed Lowu without problem and were back in Hong Kong before 6pm. It was Bing’s birthday. As I had no luggage, I was able to go straight to her place and joined my friends to celebrate her birthday.
(Note: I took me a week to get my suitcase back. Staff of the Southern Airline are polite and helpful but inefficient. I had to call twice to find out whether my luggage had been found. Then the airline told me I had to go to Lowu to pick up my suitcase. I asked it be sent to HK instead. I called a few more times to check when my suitcase would be delivered to the HK airport. When I was told it had been flown to Hong Kong, I wasted no time and rushed to the airport to pick it up. I could not believe I had my suitcase back till it was in my hand).
Remarks (to add)