Marieke ten Wolde's blog

Documentary photography, and other things interesting enough to bother you with

Posts Tagged ‘transportation

Dangerous roads

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Roads in Tibet can be bad and slippery with mudslides or rocks falling down and the slopes very steep. Most of the time the local people seem to be totally at ease with this and the drivers confident and skillful. But when my Tibetan driver got very tense, and I saw Tibetans leaving the bus in front of us preferring to walk, I got a bit nervous.

Late winter the pass between Manigango and Dege was still covered with meters of snow. In the morning the traffic from Dege to Manigango was let through, from 14.00 onwards the traffic in the opposite direction was allowed to enter the pass. It was clear why: it would be impossible to pass an approaching car. A few unlucky cars broke down and it took hours to overtake those.

As we went up my Tibetan driver was suffering from the altitude, a headache and nausea. Apparently the difference between the 3000 meters he was used to and the 5051 meters (according to the sign) at the pass was too much of a difference. Maybe he spent too much time at the low altitude of Chengdu. He kept popping pills. I have no idea what kind of pills, as they came out of a non-descript white paper bag. He offered me some as well, but I was fine just a bit exhilarated from the lack of oxygen the cold and the clean air, but that was not unpleasant and I did not have to drive.

I never really considered the possibility of a Tibetan suffering from altitude sickness and this was worrying because the slope next to the road was pretty much vertical and going down hundreds of meters, the road was narrow and slippery from the mud and sludge so the wheels lost grip all the time. It was often not possible to look over the snow piles moved to the side of the road, which gave a misplaced sense of safety: where the water was seeping through I could see the slope going straight.

At the pass it was very cold and windy. Still most people got out of their cars to throw the colourful little papers with the wind horses (lungta) , which can bought everywhere in large piles for a few Yuan, in the air. Many of the colourful papers were flying around, each little paper representing a prayer that flies with the wind to the skies.

It is part of Tibetan Buddhism, but here it also felt like everybody was relieved to at least have made it to top and the colourful papers looked like a sort of celebration. It was gorgeous at that highest point, mountains all around, the snow,  the prayer flags and the sky so close it could almost be touched. I threw my wind horses as well and offered my driver a pile, but he was just cold and miserable huddled in his car seat. It seemed wise to get down as quickly as possible.

We again saw cars and busses that had fallen of the road, hundreds of meters down. I asked my driver what happened with the people, if he knew how many people died here. The answer was as simple as it was disturbing: many accident happen on this road and those people either died immediately or if they were unlucky it would take a while, as it would be impossible at this circumstances to reach them and rescue them. Bodies would be collected in springtime.

On the way back I gladly made a 3-day detour to avoid that pass.


Tibet Travel log 19: Looking for scrap metal along a dirt road

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The worst roads are not the ones with potholes; you can drive around them at speed or simply try to fly over the holes. Flying is faster, but when the driver owns the car he normally chooses the first approach. The worst is a road with constant little bumps. The first half hour is OK, then is really start to become irritating and even a short distance takes a very long time at 15 km an hour.

While I worried about my camera’s I found out it is really bad for cars as well. After a soft rattling noise followed by a loud rattling noise and then a bang, we stopped. Of course this happened far from any town, village or anything really but a house and a local stupa. Something around the axle of the front wheels had come lose. Apparently that wasn’t good, because the driver vehemently gestured we could not drive on.  First we had to find the screws that had come loose.

Really? yes

So I found myself walking up and down the road with my nose close to the dirt, while I couldn’t help thinking that it must be somewhat like this for Tibetan pilgrims doing prostrations. The family and the kids in the house helped searching as well. And man, we found a lot of screws and pieces of metal, all very valuable and received with gratitude. Everything we found was put in a bag with many other screws and pieces of scrap.

But we didn’t find the missing one.

I must have walked that stretch of the road at least 10 times, until pretty much all the metal was collected. Then I was allowed to give up.

I walked the road once more now looking at the environment, not very exiting, waved at the family in the lonely house, tried to have a conversation and drank tea, photographed all the prayer flags and the stupa, tested the macro-function on my tiny snapshot camera, collected nice round green stones in the river bed, stared at the stream, read my guidebook and wrote my diary. And the car still wasn’t fixed.

While there was no change in the car situation, my cheerful big Khampa nomad driver had turned into a really grumpy frustrated car mechanic, especially when I took a photo of him. Stupid tourist, can’t you see I have a problem, was written all over his face. But of course in the end he succeeded after literally hammering the right pieces of scrap into shape, using one of the screws I found (I had been somewhat useful after all) to connect some scrap with other scrap that went onto the car. He performed a true miracle; the car sounded right again.

He washed his hands, face and hair and produced a massive smile, his thick long hair sticking out in all directions. I grabbed another picture and this time he laughed when I showed him. Car repaired, good humor restored!

It took a few long hours that I would rather have spent somewhere else but I still have my green round stones sitting on my desk and below you can see a couple of the many pics I took.