If you took away the 20 or so Chinese army trucks from the scene you could have convinced me that we were in the mid-19th century. It was like a small, back-of-beyond town with knee-deep mud and several handfuls of small mercantile businesses, a couple of restaurants and a couple of bars. There were hitching rails in front of the businesses and they were filled up with horses and riding yaks – bull yaks with saddles on them. Gyantse was an amazing window in time. You knew it was going to change but it hadn't yet.
The ancient Kumbum Stupa (the Stupa of 10,000 images of dieties) which is a conglomeration of 70 chapels) is a part of the Pelkhor Chode Monastery in Gyatse. It's famous for its well-preserved 14th-century paintings.
We continued on up into the fort. As we walked we could see down into the village compounds and enclaves and got a much clearer understanding of how the people there lived.
I decided to continue on up to the little watchtower building at the tippy tippy top of the fort – the one with the 360-degree views. The rest of the Landsliders were beginning to "slide" right about then. It had been a long trek through the dry hot Tibetan summer.
I wasn't paying attention when the Landsliders walked back down to our accommodations in the village. I was having too much fun. The Chinese gatekeeper lady thought everyone had left and she locked the gates after them.
Once I realized I was alone in the fort, that I had been "fortified," much to my dismay, I discovered that the fortress was just as effective keeping people in as it was in keeping people out. I was trapped.
I finally got up on top of the gate which was about five feet thick and 20 feet high. I paced back and forth on the walkway above the gate, looking at my options. It was about 3 p.m. in the afternoon.
On one side there was a sheer cliff. In the middle there was the rocky, very hard road. On the other side there was a natural vertical stone wall. At the bottom of that wall was maybe a two-foot pile of scree and rubble that scarcely looked softer than the road. Those were my choices.
So, I took choice number 4. I started screaming. The gatekeeper's house was way down the road. Nobody could hear me. I decided that the obvious thing to do was to take a nap on top of the gate and wait to be rescued.
I went to sleep until I heard a voice and woke up. The gatekeeper was there with a key and she let me out.
The next day we boarded the rented bus and headed out towards Lhasa. Midway down the road the bus broke down outside a village at Turquoise Lake, Yamdrok Tso.
We had been there about four minutes when four little kids showed up. The biggest was about eight. The little guy was about four. He was cute in his hand-knitted pink vest and a Jimmy Cagney hat. The kids had handfuls of peas they had picked on their way down the hill which they gave to us as a present.
The older kids were fascinated by us, but the little guy was terrified. He would not shake my hand. By the time we had eaten the peas, there were about 20 grown-ups coming down the hill. They had containers of food and big Chinese pump thermoses full of hot tea. Nobody on the bus spoke Tibetan and they didn't speak English, but we did our best. Afterwards, they went home.
The bus had blown a rod so we knew it was going to be an overnighter. The Landsliders went back into the bus and started trying to make comfortable nests for themselves in the bus.
Sam looked out the bus window up at the village and said, "Hey, I bet those guys have someplace we could sleep in the village. Let's go." It certainly sounded better than being stuck in the dubious make-shift comfort of the crowded bus.
Sam and I hoped off the bus and walked up to the village. The dogs started barking and someone came outside. They invited us into one of their buildings.
In the large, windowless, dark room that was lit by the flickering light of oil candles, there were rows of stuffed Tibetan sitting cushions, one wide along two of the walls. Everyone was sitting on the cushions. It had a feeling of the room depicted in Van Gogh's "Potato Eaters," dark and crowded.
The villagers had a pile of wool clippings that they were making into cordage. Each person had a different carding comb or set of brushes. They were all working the wool, each person refining it. The raw wool was on one end of the line. At the far end the fluffed-out wool was arranged in balls that were placed into bags that fitted over a person's shoulder. These bits of fluffy wool were then spun onto the drop spindles that everyone carried around and worked throughout the day.
When it was time to sleep, the villagers took us up the hill to an open building which was apparently a rug-weaving building. There were two big looms in there, each about seven feet high and 5 feet wide. The floor was covered with carpets. The villagers indicated that we could spread out our sleeping bags and sleep in the space so we did.
The next morning the bus driver and his partner repaired the bus by beating in a torn metal piece of the piston bearing that had stuck up like a shoe tongue and scraped against the rod of the bus. This repair was effected with a claw hammer. The "tongue" was beaten flat and we were on the road again….bang-bang-banging all the way.
We eventually completely ran out of steam at the bottom of the final part of the pass that goes over the mountain and then down into the Lhasa Valley. A army truck came along and hooked onto the front bumper of our bus with a rope. The truck got the bus up to the top of the pass with the bus banging all the way.