(If you’re wondering why we’re planning to spend the night on the road, check out previous posts in the Tibet Category).
The other vehicles backed up and prepared to spend the night. W was more resourceful. He knew of several places we might be able to sleep: the road menders’ hostel, the hydro-electric power station hostel and an army hotel. The first two were closed and the last would not (understandably) let us in. By this time we had reached a small village with a teahouse and, after some negotiation, we were invited in for tea with the possibility of using the place to bunk down for the night. It was filthy, buzzing with flies and the roof leaked. We accepted the tea (which was fine, untainted by yak) but declined the offer of accommodation, preferring to sleep in the Landcruisers. W and the drivers said they would use the teahouse, but a young, single woman ran it and she didn’t want to share it with three strange men. W then reported that the farmers had offered us the use of their bedrooms and I asked if they would be clean. No, he said worse than this. We declined again and all six of us elected to sleep in the vehicles, so W and the drivers went to the farmers’ houses.
To say we were the talk of the steamie at this point would not do the situation justice. The entire village, it seemed, was ranged against the teahouse wall watching us. This was actually very typical of the whole trip. Wherever we stopped, however remote the location and however bad the weather, within a couple of minutes an audience would materialise to stare at us. Sometimes they would come right up to the car and stick their noses to the window, and if the doors were open they would stick their heads right in for a better look. The only word they knew was “hello” which they would say over and over again with C, being blonde, attracting the most attention. It was quite un-nerving.
Finally, we got settled down for the night. The village had no toilets so W advised us to “go anywhere”, which we did. The down jackets provided by our tour company, which we had been lugging around reluctantly, were now pressed into service and proved very cosy to sleep in – and, surprisingly, we did sleep. At least we did after fits of hysterical giggles when C pointed out that a week ago we had never even met, and now here we were sleeping together. The fact that this was in a Landcruiser in Tibet, and a privilege for which we had all paid out thousands of dollars, just made us worse. John remarked plaintively that I was always nagging him to take more time off, and look what happened when he did. I gave him permission to shoot me if I ever again suggested anything more adventurous than a fortnight in Bournemouth.
We got up about seven the next morning so that we could attend to the necessary ablutions before it got too light and our audience got up. Having done this, and breakfasted on water and crackers, we waited for W and the drivers. And waited, and waited. There was no sign of them, but the rest of the village appeared as expected to watch – except one guy who decided to provide his own show. John suddenly hissed to C and me that there was a man masturbating across the road from us. We were too ladylike to look, of course, but this was another example of how, just when we thought things couldn’t get any worse, they always did!
We finally got away about 9.30, quite annoyed because we all felt that the sooner we got to Lhasa and were able to fix up flights the better. When we reached the washed-away part of the road again most of the other vehicles had already gone, but I was very relieved to see the Chinese minibus was there. The river over the road was still in full flood, but we got through it by driving upstream to a point where the bank was quite low, and onto the road at the other side from there. After this, it was plain sailing back to the Hotel Lhasa where we were met by a manager from W’s company and started to negotiate our way out.
Well, here I am 16 years later writing from Scotland so I can’t leave you with too much of a cliff-hanger. However, I hope you’ll come back on Thursday for the conclusion to my tale.