Normally, my work schedule is made up of all sorts of meetings, press interviews, taking part in exhibitions, speaking at conferences all over the globe. Normally. Not this year, darn it!
Now, some of the events I get to are one-offs. Some are regular, recurring ones (mostly annual) but to which I get only once in a while. While there are some recurring events that I deem simply must-attend. And one of my main must-attends every fall or early winter is the World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, organized by the Cyberspace Administration of China, which I’ve participated in every year (up to 2019, that is) since 2015 – just a year after it’s ‘inauguration’ a year earlier. This year, alas – no traditional trip to eastern China; however, much like here at K, not being able to be present in-person does not mean a big and important event can’t still go on. Which is great news, as this means I can still get what I want to say across to: the main players of the Chinese internet – state regulators, heads of provinces and regional development institutes, and also bosses of the Chinese big tech companies; and all from a huge screen – perhaps the biggest I’ve ever seen!
Sure, it would have been nice to be there in person – to stroll around the quaint cobbled narrow streets of the old ancient town (as old as the Tang dynasty, apparently) and take a boat ride along its canals, which indeed some folks did manage to do, somehow. But I was playing it safe. Still, the plentiful ‘in-person’ activity at the venue is at least cause for optimism during these remote-everything times.
But now for the main thing: about Wuzhen superstition…
As part of my plans I have a brief one-and-a-half-day stopover in Hong Kong. If memory serves me correctly, the Chinese name of the city 香港 means “fragrant port”. It’s always useful to check these things though… Well, I was almost right – it’s closer to “incense harbor”. The meaning of these hieroglyphs were once explained to me a long time ago by a Chinese man who wasn’t that fluent in English :)
“Incense harbor”. What a beautiful name! For some reason, I got to singing the golden oldie by Vertinsky: “Your fingers smell of incense, and sorrow sleeps in your eyelashes…”.
A beautiful city! … I’m not here to discuss prices and the quality of housing or any other problems or troubles. As a tourist with less than two days to spare, the city is fantastic! Both at night and during the day.
Oh no! Our Tibetan adventure had drawn to a close. Our planned route – traveled; natural and man-made OMG Tibetan places of interest – visited; cherry-in-icing on cakes – eaten; kora – completed; much of southern Tibet – photographed. Time to pack up the suitcase and get to the airport. To get there – we took this here road to nowhere:
I’ve already told you, in quite some detail, about how scenic Tibetan roads are. But there’s a road in particular – China National Highway 565 (the Zanda Connecting Road) – that deserves a post all of its own: this post!
There are many sacred, holy places in Tibet. No – very many. So it won’t come as a big surprise that after completing our kora-round-Kailash, not far from it is the next holy place – Lake Manasarovar, aka Mapam Yumtso, aka Manas Sarovar, a place of deference and worship for several religions, and around which are regularly performed (can you guess? Oh go on!…) koras! Oh – and the water in the lake: not to be touched!…
And next to this holy lake – another! Lake Rakshastal, aka Ravan Tal, aka Langa Tso.
And next to it – another holy place: another monastery – up on the hill:
After a sound, albeit short night’s sleep after two intense days on the road getting here, it was finally the morning of the day of the first leg of our kora around Mount Kailash. ~20 kilometers of trekking was on the menu for us this day, with a rise of ~350 meters in altitude (from ~4700 to 5000+). We were walking from dawn till dusk, which translates into around nine hours! Yes – more tourism until you drop: just as we like it ).
Our objective for the first day: to get a sighting of the northern slopes of Kailash from the direction of Dirapuk Monastery.
It was farewell Everest, and we were headed toward the sacred (in four religions!) Mount Kailash, which was to take us a full two (!) days. The route was as follows:
As you can see, we covered nearly 800 kilometers, which worked out at around 12 hours of driving. The views to be seen to both the left and the right along the full route were fantastic, but all the same, 12 hours – ouch! Read on:…
On our Tibetan adventure – onward; and today, our heads turned categorically – upward! Upward to one of my Top-100 Most Beautiful Places on the Planet, which happens to be the highest place on the planet: Sagarmartha, aka Chomolungma, aka Zhumulangma, aka Mount Everest! Oh my giant! Here she is, from the northern (Chinese) side, through a good long-distance lens (photos – DZ) ->
A little further, at dawn:
Further still – at sundown:
So, Everest is the tallest mountain in the world; everyone knows that, right? Thing is…
…It actually depends on how you calculate highest/tallest. Furthest above sea level? Furthest from the center of the earth? Or the highest peak of a mountain from its base? If we use ‘furthest from the center of the earth’, the highest point on the planet is Chimborazo in Ecuador. Its peak is a full 3.5km (!) further from the center of the earth than Everest. And if we take the ‘world’s highest mountain’ as the tallest mountain from its base to its peak, then the Hawaiian Mauna Kea wins: above sea level it clocks in at 4205 meters, but there are a further four to five kilometers of it under the ocean! That makes its total height some 10 kilometers! Locals in Hawaii even state it really is 17km high (!), since the weight of the volcano pushed the tectonic plate under it down by ~7km! More details – here.
But the true champ really is – as we all know – Mount Everest! It’s peak is the highest point in the world; the air pressure up there is the lowest on the planet; and from the center of the earth it is – after all – the highest mountain. It’s not a volcano ).
And that’s where we were headed – to Everest. Not up it – that is a feat requiring months of training; but at least to see it from down below. The first sign we were getting close to it was when we passed through these here gates – into Qomolangma National Nature Preserve (Qomolangma being the Tibetan name for Mount Everest).
That was the first gate; there’ll be more to come. Meanwhile we’re taking this here beaut-route:
Another gate; base camp – this way…
We had our documents checked (as we were used to by now), and then had a 90km drive ahead of us – to the protected territory, where we’d have to transfer to local busses to take us the last 20km to the base camp. Like this.
Here’s the mountain pass where we caught our first glimpse of none other than Mount Everest!
The colors change every minute!
One thing stays lit up by the sun after everything else is already in the shade – Mount Everest, of course ).
Here some of DZ’s kit taking a time-lapse vid:
And here’s the resulting time-lapse:
Duly hypnotized, no one was there to wake us from our hypnotic state – we were well and truly entranced! Actually, eventually our guide did manage to bring us round – with his almost hysterical exhortations for us to get going as it would soon be dark…
Sundown shade from the mountains!
It’s getting brighter and brighter!…
I’ll hand the reins over to DZ for the photos of Everest…
boris_prok informs us that besides Everest there are another three 8000m+ mountains here! And here they all are ->
And if you have a lens powerful enough – you can get a pic of the fifth 8000er – Shishapangma (8027m):
This is where climbs to the stop start out. It’s eight kilometers to the south of Everest, at the foot of Rongbuk Glacier. I’d love to come back here and simply walk around for a day or two. But climbing Everest? No thank you; not for me. I’m a volcano man, don’t forget ).
Unsold trinkets, and oxygen cylinders – frozen to the table! ->
Today, a few words about Tibetan roads and what it’s like to drive on them.
The first thing I’ll say about them is that they’re of good quality. Mostly asphalted, in places concrete; main thing: no holes or cracks. The only problem: for some reason, whenever a road crosses a bridge – any bridge at all, be it over a river, a stream or even just some water pipes – there are always installed some speed bumps. And since there are a lot of bridges, you’re having to slow down to go over these speed bumps all too often. I’m all for safer – slower – driving, but out in the middle of nowhere? After a while we got used to them: before taking our next photo-masterpiece we’d look up ahead to check there were no upcoming bridges.
Apart from those pesky sleeping policemen, however – the road situation in the country: excellent; and that goes for minor roads as well as highways – even real remote minor roads 5000 meters above sea level well away from civilization.
Here’s the highway that runs from Lhasa to western Tibet: