Friday, December 10, 2010

Tibet - Grasslands, Amdo

The grasslands of Amdo are shades of light green, yellow, and purple; it's a sharp contrast to the red clay mountains and dense forest that we had driven through previously. On this particular day the weather is perfect: in the distance we can see mountains rising from the horizon and fluffy white clouds hang from the bright blue sky. Our initial plan was to find a nomad settlement and spend the next two days camping with them, however, we pass a horserace track and discover that we have arrived a day before the annual horse festival. Nomads across the plains gather in this field to race their horses over two days each summer and it's an opportunity we can't miss. We decide to camp on the field overnight to catch the festival in the morning. Surprisingly the field is littered with broken bottles, bone fragments, bits and pieces of garbage, and yak & horse dung. It takes a little while getting used to, but after a few hours we barely notice anything. We set up camp near the back of the field, just infront of a nomad camp. Behind us are a herd of yaks grazing - it's quite the surreal sight.

Many nomads were already at the field preparing for the races - the photos of the racing horses are from the practice runs late in the afternoon. As the sun sets the air becomes cool and in the distance dark foreboding clouds hang low. Not long after, thunderstorms move above us - it's one of the most terrifying nights I've experienced. Our tent shakes violently from the wind and the sound of the heavy rain and thunder makes it impossible to sleep. At times the lightning is so bright it resembles car headlights flashing infront of our tent. I remember thinking over and over how silly (read: stupid and dangerous) it was to be camping in an open field, at an elevation of 3500m, with a thunderstorm literally right above us. I don't know exactly how long the storm lasted, but in the morning the temperature is around 5 degrees (freezing cold!) and we decide that staying another night is probably not the best idea. 

We planned our trip with Snowlion Tours, a Tibetan-owned company based in Xining. Wangden, the owner, is a great guy and  I would highly recommend them :). The provided us with the tents pictured (so much more convenient that bringing our own) and they withstood the crazy storm!! 

More photos from my trip on flickr

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