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A glimpse into life of Chinese migrant construction workers (Days 9-10)


On day 10 of our journey, we ventured higher into the hills to get as close as we could stand to the base of the cold peaks of Amne Machin. After a quick breakfast we were on the road but it didn't take long until we came to a stream just wide enough that we couldn't cross it. Luckily for us it wasn't long before a truck load of some of the coolest looking monks I've ever seen appeared and offered us a ride.

After a while we parted ways and we started on a long walk through a massive avalanche zone we'd seen from a car days earlier. A marker said that the slide was the Qianlong glacial avalanche of 2004 caused by the thawing and freezing action and pretty much buried a whole valley and formed a lake high in the mountains. The slide was 2,400m long and 1,500m wide. The big black smear across the landscape was stunning viewed on foot and the first time we saw it from a car we thought it was a huge ugly construction zone. [Update; April 1 2019 - I was asked by a Swiss geologist to use these photos in his research paper on remote sensing and glacier collapses. Check out his interesting research paper here. And I am sure he explains this geological event much better than I did!)

The walk through the zone seemed to take forever and to make matters worse there were no nomad camps within reach. We wanted to camp near nomads so that we could meet them - partly in the hopes of getting invited into their always amazing tents for yak milk tea and bread. The only camp we saw (in the very far distance of the bottom right photo above) was too far to go since there was no guarantee that they would be hospitable or even let us camp nearby. Nomad camps near the road left open the opportunity to keep moving if they didn't want outsiders intruding.

And to make matter worse, there was not a flat soft piece of ground anywhere to be seen for kilometers it seemed.. so we just trudged along until finally we came to a small truck and a group of construction workers working on a ditch. We asked them if there was any chance they were riding the same sacrilegious way we wanted to go and luckily they were.. if we didn't mind waiting a bit for them to finish their work. By now it was getting late in the afternoon.

So off we went bumping down the road in the foreman's van (our bags in the back of another truck) until we finally arrived at a little impromptu row of three tents with smoke coming out of a stovepipe as one man came peering out of the tent. We chuckled at the thought that a construction worker had to play the role of homemaker even way out here in this remote area. I wonder if he'd just drawn the shortest straw or volunteered.

The men invited us in for hot water and a short rest and as it was getting cold and the air thinner the visit was welcomed. Especially for the chance to see how these men lived out here so far from wives, girlfriends, children and home. It was pretty amazing imagining their lives, going to bed early every night in their little cots crammed side-by-side in a little tent in the middle of nowhere.

After a little time making small talk in our very limited Chinese, we decided to wander off before it got too dark and find a place to set up our tent. This was more challenging than we'd imagined. Removing stones from frozen ground at a high elevation is just about as much as body can take. Besides there being very little flat ground soft enough to put a tent stake in, we also wanted to avoid a spot that had any few of the ugly construction zone or the workers' camp. We were almost too late but finally found a so so spot to throw the tent up - after digging up some stones from the very hard ground. In the end, we had maybe the most stunning campsite view of the trip, as well as the coldest night, which we were almost unprepared for, and probably our highest camping elevation of the trip at about 4,646 meters.

A few panoramas - almost like a moonscape

almost like a moonscape

The next morning, after a very chilly night of restless sleep, we decided to head back in the proper direction - clockwise around the range and back in the direction of the Tibetan school and Xia Dawo. But this night we were determined to camp near and meet some nomads. But first a day of walking lay ahead - and maybe a ride or two if we were lucky.

At one point there was a very scenic stretch of road that passed among what must have been thousands of cairns. But on both our passes through the area we were hitchhiking and couldn't stop for closer inspection. This time we made it a point to walk through the area and take some photos. (in another spot but on the day before we also saw where worshippers had placed tiny beads an trinkets into the faces of stones.. in the bottom photos of this gallery.)

After enjoying the odd beauty of this place we had the rest of the afternoon to find another campsite, with hopes it would be near nomads. Several more hours of walking and maybe a short ride or two we did end up at a place, just as the rain started to pour and dusk settled in. And so began another fascinating encounter with some very friendly nomads in their tent. That story next..

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