Inveraray and Auchindrain

Loch Fyne at Inverary
Loch Fyne at Inverary

Inveraray is an 18th century planned town which housed the Duke of Argyll’s estate workers. On a cold, July “summer” day, we had a quick stroll around before lunch, but it wasn’t our ultimate destination. By Loch Fyne is the war memorial and the puffer Vital Spark, which brings back memories of the TV programme Para Handy based on Neil Munro’s stories.

The main street is extremely elegant. These are views from different sides of the central building. If you enlarge the pictures, you can see the bell here:

And the clock on the other side. The George Hotel on the left is where we had lunch – and very good it was too.

Our destination was Auchindrain (pronounced Aach-anDRYan) a few miles along the road. Now an outdoor museum, this is a survival of the old farming townships that mostly disappeared after the Highland Clearances. Unusually, this one was still occupied until 1967 so many of the original buildings are intact. You could view them outside –

– and inside. I would not like to have lived here!

At one point, we found ourselves followed by a cat who was quite persistent in tracking us down and demanding strokes. Then, she suddenly disappeared. Looking back, we spotted that she had attached herself to another group. Feline fickleness! There was one occupied house on site (much newer than the others) and when we passed behind it we noticed a cat-flap in the back door, so the mystery of where she came from was solved.

From the museum carpark, a six-mile circular trail led off down one side of the River Leacainn to the village of Furnace on Loch Fyne and back up the other side. We hadn’t known this existed, but decided to go for it. Here are some highlights.

The High Bridge and Miller’s Falls.

More bridges and nice views.

The village of Furnace which, unsurprisingly, has an old iron furnace dating from 1755.

Uphill from there is Bridge Terrace, built at the beginning of the 20th century to house workers in the nearby quarry, and towards the end of the walk is the Wolf Stone. Some say that the last wolf in Argyll – or maybe even Scotland – was shot here as it stood baying at the moon.

We’d packed a lot into the day and still had an hour and a half’s drive home, but this is one of the beauties of the Scottish summer. We might complain about the weather, but it does stay light very late and allows you to walk well into the evening.

Linked to Jo’s Monday Walks.

Newhailes and Inveresk

Front view

Newhailes, then called Whitehill, was built around 1686 and extended in the 18th century by the Dalrymple family who added a library wing and the ‘Great Apartment’. In 1997, it passed into the care of the National Trust for Scotland. I can report that the interiors are magnificent (you can imagine me swooning over a whole library wing) but access is by guided tour and no photography is allowed, so I can’t show you. However, before our tour we followed the very pleasant trail round the grounds, and I can certainly show you that.

The Trust is busy restoring the landscape, but even in its current state you can still get an impression of how it might have looked to 18th-century visitors. The first curiosities we came across were the Shell Grotto and the remains of a Tea House, both dating from the mid-1700s.

We skirted the Cow Park (where I am standing) and the Sheep Park (where John is standing) which are divided by the Ladies’ Walk. This is the artificially raised path to the right of the other picture. It’s very overgrown now so you walk alongside it, but its original purpose was to elevate ladies in both body and mind, with views back to the house one way and out to the skyline of Arthur’s Seat and the Pentland Hills the other.

This is the view of the house from the back:

From here, we moved round to the front to meet the guide for our tour.

Our day wasn’t finished yet, because close to Newhailes is another NTS site, Inveresk Lodge Garden. We had another lovely stroll here, although by this time it was raining. That’s a day out in Scotland for you! Beautiful sunshine in the morning and cold and wet in the afternoon. Musn’t grumble – it accounts for the lush greenness. Enjoy!


Holmwood House

Holmwood, now in the care of the National Trust for Scotland, is a unique villa designed by Glasgow’s second most famous architect, Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson. It was built in 1857-8 for James Couper, a local businessman. Thomson’s original room decoration, based on themes from the classical world, is being uncovered and we’ve followed the progress of this continuing conservation work over the years.

Here, a piece of original wall paper has been uncovered in the dining room, and the barometer sits atop the fire-place in the hall:

A selection from the classical frieze:

Beautiful floor tiling:

Ceilings and dome:

When we first visited, it was empty, and although still not fully furnished, it now looks more like a home.

There are also attractive riverside grounds to explore and a small kitchen garden, planted with a range of Victorian herbs, fruit and vegetables. Unfortunately, while we were in the house the heavens opened so we didn’t spend long outside.

All the more time to spend taking tea in the small café!

Spirit Animal

Spirit AnimalI’ve had the Spirit Animal Blog Award on my back-burner since May while I faffed about with perfected my Tibet series. Apologies Marcia! Anyway, here it is now, though, as is my wont, I haven’t quite stuck to all the rules.

1.) Thank the blogger who nominated you and link back to their page. Marcia Strykowski is a children’s author and librarian, but she blogs about all sorts of other things too – art, history, music and travel. Sometimes they combine – my favourite recent post is Girls Reading Books, a collection of artworks of (you’ve guessed) girls reading books. So many thanks to Marcia for choosing me, and please check out her blog.

2.) Post the award on your blog. Done!

3.) Write a short paragraph about yourself and what your blog means to you. I don’t want to write too much here because I’ve answered similar questions before. I’m a retired librarian and used to be responsible for buying children’s books, so you can see where Marcia and I find things in common. Basically, my blog serves as my travel diary. I want to look back when I’m 100 (why not have ambition?) and relive my adventures. Well, maybe not the Tibet one.

4.) If you could be an animal, what would it be? Although I would say I’m an animal lover, I’ve only had four pets in my life. Would you like to hear about them? Well, you’re going to anyway!

The budgie:

Boris the Budgie
Boris the Budgie
This is me, aged two. Look carefully on my shoulder and you will see Boris the Budgie. Don’t ask me why he was called Boris, he came already named. A few years later, he fell off his perch and we buried him in a shoebox in the garden. It was my first experience of death and I found the idea of burial very puzzling. Would I like to be a budgie? No, too bird-brained.

The dog:

Fast forward a few years, almost a decade probably, and we got a dog, Mandy, a beautiful Basset Hound. Beautiful, but daft as a brush. Would I like to be a dog? No, too many walkies in the rain.

The cats:

John and I have had two cats, Purdy (grey and white) and Sally (the black one). Cats are fascinating. Their brains are the size of walnuts yet can produce towering – and very different – personalities. There are tales to be told about both these cats! Maybe someday. When Sally died we decided not to replace her to leave us more free for travelling. I sometimes regret that, but eight years later we’re still holding firm. Would I like to be a cat? I think so! You know the saying, dogs have owners but cats have staff. I would be happy lolling around in the sun or on a comfy bed with a tame human to cater to my every need.

Back to the rules:

5.) Pick and notify ten nominees. I never do nominations. However, I like to give shout-outs to blogs that I enjoy on a similar theme. So for animal lovers:

Travels with Choppy. Choppy the dog is the star but she has recently acquired a feline sidekick, Schooner. You won’t believe the things they get up to! Sarah, their human, has a fertile imagination.

Zombie Flamingos. Great title! Emily lives in Victoria, BC, and blogs about all sorts of things. However, rarely does a post end without the most important thing of all: pictures of her kitties.

Brian, Ardbeg and Lily. I don’t have a dog, and don’t intend to get one, so why do I enjoy Alex’s blog about living with, and training, rescue dogs so much? The pictures, yes, but there’s also a lot of wisdom in it. Turns out getting the best from dogs can be very similar to getting the best from people.

So those are my answers. They’ve been fun to write because this is so different from my normal posts. Thanks once again to Marcia for the nomination.

Oor Wullie

Wullie the Cowboy
Wullie the Cowboy

I’ve seen many charity sculpture trails in different cities. The latest one is Oor Wullie (Our Willie) currently gracing Dundee, the city where publisher D.C. Thomson has produced a comic strip featuring Wullie in the The Sunday Post since 1937. Wullie was a staple of my childhood with his spiky hair, dungarees and an upturned bucket, often used as a seat. Now over 50 artists have given him a makeover, but I didn’t have to go to Dundee to see them. A small group is touring the country – I found Wullie the Cowboy in Glasgow Central Station and the ones below were all in the Kibble Palace at the Botanic Gardens.

In September, the statues will be auctioned off in aid of Tayside Children’s Hospital. Isn’t Wullie braw?

PS Paisley, the town where my Mum lives, also has a statue trail at the moment: Pride of Paisley. There are lions everywhere! Unfortunately, most of the ones I have seen have been from the car, but here are two captured on a recent shopping trip. There are big lions and small lions, the latter decorated by local schoolchildren.

These statues will also be auctioned in aid of two local hospices. I don’t think my garden’s big enough for a lion, is yours?

Glasgow’s Clyde

Squinty Bridge (Clyde Arc)
Squinty Bridge (Clyde Arc)
A few weeks ago, our Sunday afternoon plans fell through so we took a walk down to the Clyde instead. So many times I have walked in other riverside cities and marvelled at what they have made of their waterfronts. Glasgow always seemed to be lagging behind – in fact there were parts of the Clyde Walkway I just wouldn’t have felt safe walking along at one time. Thankfully, in recent years we have been catching up with the rest of the world and the Walkway is a very pleasant stroll. It also allows for a trip down Memory Lane as you shall see.

We started at the old (1870s) Hydraulic Pumping Station on Yorkhill Quay which used to power a swing bridge over the dock entrance. These Victorians really knew how to dress up their industrial buildings! It’s been used as a restaurant recently, hence the much newer conservatory. From here, you can look back to the Riverside Museum and the Tallship Glenlee.

Across the river, on the south side, is the Science Centre flanked by the BBC building, just visible on the left, and the Glasgow Tower which opened in 2001.

Glasgow Science Centre
Glasgow Science Centre
According to the Science Centre website:

Glasgow Tower is the only structure on earth capable of rotating 360 degrees into the prevailing wind and holds the Guinness-World-Record for the tallest fully rotating freestanding structure in the World. At 127 metres high, the equivalent of over 30 double-decker buses, the Glasgow Tower is the tallest freestanding building in Scotland.

You should be able to take a lift up to the Tower’s viewing platform. However, it has been closed for about 80% of its life because of a succession of structural problems and the fact that it can’t operate if it’s too windy. To be honest, I’m not that keen to try it…..

Near here, two pedestrian bridges cross the Clyde. We took the Millenium Bridge across the river, pausing in the centre to look upstream to Bell’s Bridge (the blue one) and the Clyde Arc, better known in Glasgow as the Squinty Bridge.

Bell's Bridge and Clyde Arc
Bell’s Bridge and Clyde Arc
This is where Memory Lane kicks in. Bell’s Bridge was built as the entrance to the Glasgow Garden Festival of 1988. I have wonderful memories of this – we had season tickets and visited often over the summer. Once the festival was finished, the site lay derelict for years until it slowly re-established itself as a media quarter. Here’s Bell’s Bridge in 1988 (with a bearded John) and a view of the site from the festival’s tower. Bell’s Bridge is visible at top left.

We only walked a little way along the south bank so that we could cross back over at Bell’s Bridge. We got a good view of the Clyde Auditorium (aka Armadillo) on the north bank and saw a poignant memorial to a firefighter.

The BBC Scotland Building is fronted by a sculpture, Poised Array, by Toby Paterson and displays a fabulous reflection of the other side of the river in its glass walls.

In 1988, Bell’s Bridge would never have been quiet enough to get a shot like this! Once again, we stopped in the centre of the bridge, this time to watch jet-skiers tearing downriver.

Back on the north side of the river we came to the Finnieston Crane – you’ve possibly spotted it already in both 1988 and 2016 pictures. It was erected in 1931 to load huge locomotives, a major export and Glasgow’s second most important engineering industry.

A little further on, we reached the North Rotunda. It and its southern companion mark the ends of the Harbour Tunnel built in the 1890s and long since fallen into disuse. The North Rotunda has been a restaurant for as long as I can remember, but the South Rotunda is boarded up. However, during the Garden Festival it served as Nardini’s Ice Cream Parlour.

Across from the Rotunda is a Hilton Garden Inn with a riverside bar. It was a very hot day, so we couldn’t pass that could we? Behind me, you can see the South Rotunda and the STV building. It seems that drinking beer in the sun was a 1988 pastime too!

Just past the Hilton is the Squinty Bridge. We didn’t cross it, but I’ve included this shot so that you can see why it got it’s nickname. I’ve never heard anyone actually calling it the Clyde Arc.

Squinty Bridge (Clyde Arc)
Squinty Bridge (Clyde Arc)
The next bridge down, we most certainly couldn’t cross. The Kingston Bridge carries the M8 over the river. We could stand under it though and admire the mural by Smug (Sam Bates). It’s one of several around the city celebrating the Commonwealth Games of 2014 which were held in Glasgow. There’s also a memorial to another fire disaster.

From the Kingston Bridge we decided to head for home. First we had to negotiate the bridges and walkways across the M8 and the Clydeside Expressway, both very busy roads.

On the other side, we came across this lovely old building, a former savings bank.

We walked past the splendid new Central Gurdwara and the building it replaced…

….before heading home through the greenery of Kelvingrove Park.

Kelvingrove Park
Kelvingrove Park
I hope you’ve enjoyed this Clydeside stroll. The best bit for me has been looking out my 1988 photographs, though my memory failed me in one thing. I thought we had so many – but there are only 55. For the whole summer! We take more than that in a day now: how times have changed. I also went looking for our Glasgow Garden Festival whisky miniature but, unaccountably, that seems to have gone. I did find our Festival Friends lapel pins and this photograph of me hillwalking the following year in my Festival T-shirt (another non-survivor) so I’ll leave you with that while I go off and nurse my serious hair envy. Can you have that for your younger self?

Ben Chabhair 1989
Ben Chabhair 1989
Linked to Jo’s Monday Walks.

Tibet 2000: Lhasa to Kathmandu

Hotel Manaslu, Kathmandu
Hotel Manaslu, Kathmandu

(This is the final episode – find the rest by selecting the Tibet Category.)

We were happy to have made it back to Lhasa, but desperate to arrange the next stage of our journey. Incredibly, even though the advice the company had given us the evening before (to continue to Shigatse) had been so plainly wrong, W’s manager was still trying to insist that it was possible to get overland to the Nepalese border (in fact later that day the whole road was officially closed by the government.) However, they would get us flights if possible and W would meet us at 8 o’clock that evening to let us know the result.

After the manager had gone, W told us that the German party had priority and would get out before us – they were a bigger and more profitable group. However, he himself “knew somebody” at the airport and would try by his own methods to get us flights because he liked and trusted us. I have mentioned before how much we valued W, but it is true that this worked both ways. Several times, W had commented on what “nice” or “strong” people we were, by which I think he meant that we accepted adversity with good humour, no-one complained (well, we all did a little bit) and certainly no-one got angry or pointed the finger of blame at him. We knew he was doing his best for us under difficult circumstances, but a different set of people could have given him a really hard time.

At this point, we parted with our drivers. W gave us guidelines on what to tip them, and we did so at the lower end of the scale. Afterwards we felt a bit guilty because they had driven well through horrendous conditions, but overall we had got quite annoyed with them. The Landcruisers themselves were dodgy – apart from the axle incident, I’ve lost count of the number of times they had to be started by lifting the bonnet: not good in the back of beyond. Also, the two drivers did not seem to like each other very much and were very competitive, always wanting to be in front. Sometimes we didn’t know where the other vehicle was which was particularly worrying for us because W usually travelled with the other group leaving us vulnerable if something went wrong. We couldn’t decide whether our own driver was just trying to be friendly, or whether his interest in C was getting unhealthy – she sat in the front the first day, but after that we thought it safer to put John there. He didn’t mind – the front seat was much better sprung! Finally, we made the mistake of applauding our driver when he negotiated a couple of particularly difficult bits of road and this seemed to go to his head because his driving got very aggressive after that and we suffered the consequences.

That afternoon, we tried phoning various agencies we thought might help with tickets and got a gloomy response from all. It seemed the next two or three flights might be problematic, and John and I started planning what we could do for the next few days if stuck in Lhasa and we also considered if there were any alternative routes out, for example through Hong Kong. However, it all proved unnecessary. When we met W at 8pm, he said his manager was “more powerful” than he was and had secured us a 90% chance of tickets. It all depended on air temperature. Apparently, 20-30 seats were usually kept free, because with the air being so thin at that altitude, there might not be enough lift for a full plane to take off if it was over 10° C. If the temperature was right, we could have some of those seats. We told C not to feel too lucky; we could do without her sort of luck!

At 9.30pm, W summoned us again to say that his own negotiations had now borne fruit and we could definitely have the tickets if we gave his friend at the airport “a good present”. This amounted to $50 apiece – we paid, and kept our fingers crossed about the air temperature. The next morning, we got away.

Arriving in Kathmandu felt like coming home. The people there, as before, were friendly, colourful and, above all, clean. The horrors of the previous three days faded away and didn’t seem so bad after all. This was Saturday – the Fs invited us to a lovely farewell dinner at their hotel, C left on the Sunday and we left on Monday feeling that we had had a good holiday after all.

So what did I learn? That as I expected, I am a tourist not a traveller, but when things go wrong I can still cope. I don’t panic, and I keep calm and cheerful. The value of comradeship was also brought home to me – the experience was so much better for being surrounded by sympathetic people. I also saw at first hand the dirt-poor lives that people in some countries live and know I have so much to be thankful for.

As I said at the beginning of the series, I wrote this account at the time of our trip – in fact, I started as soon as we got back to Kathmandu and continued to write during the flight home on any scrap of paper I could find. I originally ended with some political thoughts, but I want to steer clear of that here. We won’t be going back to Tibet, but I’ll certainly never forget it.

If this has whetted your interest in Tibet, you might like to look at Travelling Rockhopper’s blog. Each month, she chooses a country and posts one photo a day with a little information about it. In April she covered Tibet – here is the first post, so take it from there!

Tibet 2000: the sleepover

Tibetan village
Tibetan village
(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.

Teahouse and our Landcruisers
Teahouse and our Landcruisers
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.

Waking up
Waking up
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!

The road is under here somewhere!
The road is under here somewhere!
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.

Tibet 2000: escape from Gyantse

(Part Five – to find out how we got into this predicament, check out Parts One, Two, Three and Four.)

The road from Gyantse to Lhasa consisted of little more than a dirt track over three mountain passes – one small one and two very high ones (over 15,000 ft). In many places, the track was churned up mud or a river ran over it. C said she felt lucky, and we knew we needed luck. We set off at 10, and 50 minutes later were sitting at our first landslide. The Chinese minibus and a convoy of other 4WDs were also waiting, including the Germans who had been there for two hours already. Two diggers were working on the landslide and I asked W how long he thought it would take to clear – about 3 or 4 hours. So what should we do? Wait. At first, progress was discouraging as every time some rocks were cleared, more fell down. We didn’t envy the drivers of the diggers their jobs.

Eventually, after 3.5 hours (more respect to W) it was clear and we all set off again. Passing the site of the rock fall was scary as we felt more could come down at any time. Neither were we too happy that one of the diggers had already gone off ahead of us, indicating another slide in front. Sure enough, after less than half an hour we stopped again, but this time it was just mud that had slipped and it was easier to clear. After only 20 minutes, we were away again.

Things then set into a predictable pattern. The convoy would move along fairly quickly until it hit bad mud or running water. The 4WDs would get through, but the Chinese minibus would always get stuck. It didn’t have sufficient clearance or power and shouldn’t really have been on that road. The other drivers treated it with a mixture of exasperation, jockeying for position to try to ensure it was behind them, and solidarity – there was always someone prepared to help pull it out. Often, the passengers would have to disembark to make it lighter and I felt very sorry for them as they seemed to have had far less idea of what they were letting themselves in for than we did. The ladies had nice shoes and handbags and were very reluctant to jump out into running water.

In this way, we made it over the first high pass, which had snow at the top. It was now late in the afternoon so W was beginning to think we would not make Lhasa before dark, and none of us wanted to be driving mountain tracks at night. There was a village in between the two passes which we would reach about 6pm and he thought we should spend the night in a guesthouse there. We looked it up in the guidebook and shuddered. This reluctance was not expressed in words, but must have communicated itself because by the time we got there the plan had changed to dinner only. We really wanted to press on, but as W very fairly pointed out, the drivers needed a break. He guaranteed we could still reach Lhasa that night so we trooped into the restaurant. It wasn’t very nice, but we saw worse later, and anyway we trusted W not to take us anywhere that would make us ill. It was not in his interests to have two car-loads of sick people!

Things were going well, we felt optimistic – and then W came back with some very bad news. He had just phoned his manager and the flight on Saturday was full! Not only that, the next flight on Tuesday was not certain either. Incredibly, the manager was still suggesting we should carry on to Shigatse the long way round that night and continue our overland journey. We were aghast. We didn’t believe we’d get through in time by land, and if we didn’t get flights to Kathmandu on Saturday, C and ourselves would miss our flights home. The Fs were not returning to Austria till Thursday, but were no keener than the rest of us to spend two extra days in Tibet. We’d had enough. W indicated subtly that there were sometimes plane tickets available “by corruption” and we all told him to ask his manager to acquire these if at all possible at whatever cost. This is how low we would now stoop.

Sometimes the scenery was beautiful!
Sometimes the scenery was beautiful!
A subdued party got back into the Landcruisers, but we made it to the top of the last pass easily and cheered up a bit. The road from here was reckoned to be quite good and W had never known it to cause problems. However, the weather on the other side of the pass was poor. It had been snowing, was now raining, the roads were icy and it was getting dark. There were so many tight bends we felt we could have slipped over at any time had our drivers not been so skilful. When we got below the snow-line the relief was almost palpable – until we turned another corner and came upon the whole convoy again, stuck at another landslide. This was a bad one – right on a bend, deep mud all over the road and about a foot of water running across it. Worse, the minibus was ahead of us.

The drivers went off to investigate, followed by John. C and I had long since abandoned getting out to look, and fortunately John seemed to enjoy his role as roving reporter (or so he said). He took his torch but came back without it, astonished that not one of the drivers carried one. This didn’t inspire confidence. However, the news was reasonable – the water level was dropping and the drivers seemed to think it would soon be “safe” to attempt a crossing. I tried not to think of the mud slipping further down the mountain taking our vehicle with it. Before this, there was still the problem of the minibus, which was bound to get stuck – our drivers thought so too and decided to overtake it. I could only close my eyes. The road was just wide enough and half an inch to the left and we’d have been off it. This was the moment when I most thought I might die. Still, we made it past the bus and over the landslide – and predictably, the minibus stuck. Our driver just carried on. There were now two more 4WDs behind the bus and I suppose he thought it was up to them to come to the rescue. I felt bad, but didn’t object.

A problem now arose with the other Landcruiser in our party. It had damaged its rear axle and could only limp down the pass. Eventually, we reached a flat, metalled road and the drivers stopped to make a temporary repair. Spirits rose again. It was only half past ten and we could still reach Lhasa by midnight. The road from here was easy – we thought, but as had happened so often that day, every time we thought the worst was over, an even bigger disaster happened. The metalled road we were on had been swept away by a flood just before the junction with the main Lhasa/Shigatse road. A couple of vehicles were trying to get across but it was too difficult in the dark. We would not get to Lhasa till morning.

Where did we rest our weary heads? Find out on Monday!

Tibet 2000: in Gyantse

Gyantse from hotel roof

(This is Part Four of a series. If you’ve just joined me, and want to know how we got to Gyantse, check out Parts One, Two and Three before reading on).

I should have mentioned we were having torrential rain every night. The next morning, W told us the road to Shigatse had been swept away, the bridge was gone and the river in town was flooding. We had two choices. We could go almost all the way back to Lhasa and take an alternative route to Shigatse, but there was no guarantee the roads further on were any better and we might get stuck again. Alternatively, we could cut our losses, go straight back to Lhasa and get a flight out. There were three a week to Kathmandu – Thursday, Saturday and Tuesday. This was Wednesday, so it seemed sensible to try for Thursday so that we could get out before the rush. No doubt every tour group was going to attempt the same thing. W called his manager, who called back to say that he had booked our flights but we would have to pay for them ourselves. There was a lot of argument about this, but eventually at 11:30 we set off along the road we had just come the day before. The difference this time was that we knew exactly how bad it would be.

Gyantse Dong
Gyantse Dong

Within an hour, we were back at the Gyantse Hotel booking in for another night. We had met a convoy coming the other way, which had already turned back from a point where the road was blocked. Part of the problem was vehicles stuck in the mud from the night before which had travelled later than we had and whose occupants had had to spend the night there. We realised how lucky we had been. W phoned his manager again and he agreed to change our flights to the Saturday.

The rest of the day became surreal. Everything we tried to do went wrong. We went to the monastery. It was closed. We went to Gyantse Dong (the castle). It was closed. Everyone in town was away helping to dam the river. We went to check on their progress and to see what the water level indicated for our chances of escape the next day. The military police stopped us. Our guide was taken away for questioning for almost two hours while we sat in the hotel, drank beer (not good for the headache) and sweated. W got a huge cheer when he returned, which he accepted with his usual modesty. We all respected him a lot by now, and this respect increased later that evening when two other groups, whose guides had not looked after them so well, returned dirty and tired having tried to find a way through to Shigatse – these were the already-mentioned Germans and a minibus full of Chinese. When W told us Shigatse was impossible, we believed him.

That night was my lowest point. I lay awake listening to the rain and worrying. When would we get out? Landslides and bridges could take days or even weeks to fix. What if the river flooded and we were trapped in the hotel? What if one of us got sick? What if we tried to get back and had an accident en route? – a distinct possibility given what I knew about the road. Should I be ringing home to remind people where our wills were and to get someone to adopt the cat? Things got really bleak – but next day dawned bright and sunny and W was optimistic. We met him after breakfast and he reported that the Germans had left at 8am to go back to Lhasa and, as they had not yet returned, he thought we should follow them. We rushed off to pack.

Find out how the journey went in Monday’s instalment.