Abstract= We cross Yangpachen and go up a wild valley to the monastery. An icy pass then a cold highland valley before going down again to a temperate and pleasant valley where we visit three additional monasteries and a large crowd of pilgrims in the surroundings of Nyemo.
Yangpachen. As we ascend the temperature becomes wintry. Melted snow falls. Leaving the city to the N side in direction of the W of the new transverse valley, we cross the Tibetan village of Yangpachen which is bordered by a geothermal power plant. After passing through the village, the road turned to the left and followed a valley. The horizon is hazy because the fog cuts any visibility beyond 300 meters. Two kilometres from the village, in the middle of the plain, 500m on our left, we view derricks which collect the vapor in the ground and feed the geothermic power plant. Melted snow continues to fall and we are stiff with cold inside the Toyota.
I am anxious to see the monastery of Yangpachen. The road is rectilinear in the middle of a very broad plain of which we can't distinguish because of the poor visibility. It is when the road approaches a large hill on our right, that we see the first houses of a village. The monastery is on the hill, surmounted by lungtas.
A narrow path climbs the front of the monastery surrounding wall gate.
It is early and all the monks are not all inside the Dukhang. The monks arrive in groups and after fifteen minutes start singing buddhist books.
A young monk goes back and forth with a large thermo flask filled with Tibetan tea and another with a small bag containing the tsampa flour. Some are mixing tsampa in their wooden bowl, some are singing, some are slowly conversing. The lamas do not sing all at the same time. Some voices decrease on the side to revive on the other side of the chorus. It sound like the waves noise on the beach. Very beautifull!
We stay with them for nearly an hour to pray, then have to take the road again which has the aspect of a large black snake in the middle of a white winter landscape.
After having visited the place, snow stopps falling and the sun plays over the vapour of cloud. For a moment we get a glimpse of the mountains and the snow-covered summits which surround us. The road goes up with large bends towards Shoggu la pass. The landscape takes the aspect of the Tibetan highlands with here and there some herds of yaks dispersed in their search for food under the blanket of snow.
At 5200m, we stop at the road side to take some pictures of a nomad tent which is nearly 200m on the right side of the road. The blue sky plays with the clouds. Two inquisitive children come to see us. The youngest has large glasses to protect his sight from the glare as the snow luminosity can be dangerous.
The drokpa (nomad) comes to us and invites us to take tea.
As we move towards the tent, he says we are the first car passing here since the end of winter.
We photograph the inside of the tent, 6/8 square meters, with some straw mattresses, a kettle in the centre fixed on three large stones, and bags containing his ustensils, tools and clothing.
In an enclosure, within a score of meters, ten yaks and some horses are parked and connected by a chain which is fixed on the ground and makes a square.
These people have huge smiles, they make us sit and offer tea, tsampa and meat of dried yak.
They have a certain nobility in their attitude and we appreciate that a gift from us will offend them, even if given to the children. There is much dignity in the youth which we met in the monasteries a great dignity, even a maturity which we do not see in our own children who are over protected. The man and the woman have dark skin due to the strength of the radiation in altitude. They accompany us back to the car. These people do not attend any school, do not read any books but from memory are able to recite entire books which they have learnt from a relative or a parent. When we imagine that last winter, they had nights where the temperature descended to -40° and that the wind blew at more than 100km/h. I wonder sometimes why we consider ourselves superior to them. Their smiles, their eyes and their generosity, are unforgetable.
As with many people whom we met we were surprised by the beauty of these glances. Glances which did not express any particular interest at the sight of our watch or our camera, but looked through us like arrows. In their thought, there is not the least desire to know if we have money or not, or to envy us. We feel there is a certain beauty of the heart and we are invaded by the feeling of a great sadness, because we really feel that we shall never be able to reach such a serene attitude. These people, who have nothing or so little, express a happiness free from all impurity.
They often show looks of great intelligence. As the travellers who preceded us, we will be deeply impressed by the landscape and the people whom we meet here, words fail us ...
After having left them, the road rises towards Shoggu la pass. The road bends near the top and is covered with snow. The driver has difficulty in staying on the road. The summit is 5440m high is entirely covered with fog and we miss the marvellous sight of the peaks of the North Tibetan Highlands.
We go down towards a wide valley where many nomads live well apart from any civilization, as the couple we met.
We pass at a distance two villages whose dwellings are scattered accross the plain and descend through a broad valley which 300 kilometres further ends at the Brahmaputra river.
Twenty kilometers further, we leave this valley to take another one which bends southward on the left. The weather seems to improve gradually and while descending this new valley we cross a certain number of small villages, growing barley.
We lunch on the river bank. A nearby young boywho is watching a group of yaks comes up close to see. We call him and offer small small white bread coming from the Lhasa's best bakery and a banana. He hides them under his his haversack. We ask why does he not tastes? He will give all to mother!
We go down again on the left of the Nyemoma chu river (a tributary of the Brahmaputra river).
While arriving before Nyemo, the valley is not very broad but it becomes very cultivated with the river flowing in the middle. All the villages have the same name of "Sholeg" and this upsets me because I have noted numerous toponyms on the recent Chinese maps.
The prefecture of Nyemo, called here Dardrong by Tibetans remains very tibetanlike and resembles Pempo city. The main street which crosses the city curves a little between the buildings. At its southern end we are not surprise to see some more modern buildings. We find a guesthouse which is pleasant but without hot water and with toilets in the court. Here no problem with the Public Security Office.
We head S and past the village of Lhundrupgang we found a track on our right which led to the monastery of Gyeche.
As it is Sunday, a colourful crowd surrounds us, as if all the valley has arranged a meeting there. The ruins of the old monastery destroyed by the Red Guards were visible on top of the hill. After visiting the two temples we took the road again towards Dardrong and while bent towards the foot of the mountain, we arrive in front of the monastery of nuns of Pero ani gompa.
This monastery is also crowded. The nuns are singing alternatively and continuously religious texts. Voices are melodious and touching. On the mountain slope behind, a cave, Pero ritrö where a holy lama gives private consultations. Fifty to hundred people were queued on the cave lane hence we were not be able to visit it
We travel up a broad valley in the north eastern direction to the village of Sangri which was also situated at the foot of a hill. Behind this Tibetan village, the car drops us on an abrupt track. 150m of climbing, leads to the entry of the monastery which dominated the entire valley.
It is an old monastery, purely Nyingmapa (of the old religion) and contains many tantric symbols. Here the inside is crowded and as in the preceding chapels, and the monks are singing sutras continuously. A Tibetan which would be a corrector in Buddhist writings discourses one moment with us and gives us his address. Here the religious enthousiasm is very present.
From the monastery, we have a beautiful view of the valley of Nyemo. We go downtown again where we find a small restaurant. Nobody remembers the presence of any French mission in this area. We could have remained several days here but there is nothing further to visit.