China / Society

Miserable nights and enthralling days in Amdo

By Hu Yongqi (China Daily) Updated: 2014-05-28 07:55

After spending just one night in Amdo county, the crushing headaches and breathlessness caused by the lack of oxygen will be imprinted in my memory until the day I die. The pains in my head and bones made me understand the courage required by the highway maintenance workers as they battle to withstand the harsh environment. We city dwellers could learn a lot from these road crews, who maintain a cheerful disposition, even in adversity.

Miserable nights and enthralling days in Amdo 

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Altitude sickness is a trial for most visitors to the "roof of the world", and so altitude-sickness medicine and oxygen became my best friends during the trip along the Qinghai-Tibet Highway.

In April 2010, I was sent to report on the devastation wrought by a 7.0-magnitude earthquake that occurred in the Yushu Tibetan prefecture in Qinghai province. En route, I attained a personal record when I ascended to 4,848 meters as we crossed the Bayenkala Mountains before descending to Yushu, which sits 1,500 meters below the mountain pass, but I felt no sickness or discomfort.

The journey along the Qinghai-Tibet Highway was a totally different story. To acclimatize, I stayed in Golmud, 2,700 meters above sea level and the starting point of the trip, for two days to interview officials from the Qinghai-Tibet Highway Management Bureau.

On April 29, I squeezed into a crowded car to begin my journey along one of China's highest roads. A Tibetan friend told me that to conserve my breath I shouldn't talk or make sudden, expansive movements in the car. Da Qiong, the head of the local China Daily bureau, constantly asked, "Are you OK?" He gave me some pills made from a compound of red-rooted sage that helped maintain a normal heartbeat, and woke me whenever I felt asleep for more than 30 minutes. I was surprised at his constant attention because everything seemed fine. Little did I know it, but the nightmare was just beginning.

At the 5,231-meter-high Tanggula Pass, it felt as though my head were being pounded with a hammer. Four hours later, at the 109 Road Maintenance Station, the highest on the highway, I had to take altitude sickness medicine so I could conduct a couple of interviews. The station has no facilities for overnight visitors, so we headed for the county seat of Amdo.

A couple of Da Qiong's friends were waiting for us at a restaurant near Amdo, where we were offered delicious mutton and yak meat. However, the pains in my head, back and knee joints had left me without an appetite for these traditional local delicacies. Recognizing my problem, Bureau Chief Da Qiong handed me the oxygen bottle.

Getting to sleep was tough. The supposedly inaudible ticking of my watch couldn't have been louder as I counted sheep in an attempt to lull myself to sleep at 2 am. Two hours later, I awoke with a headache. After breathing oxygen for two hours, I slept from 6 am to 7 am, but when I awoke, pain shot through my bones, passing from my neck to my back and then my knees. What a night!

However, I had been sent to the region to do a job, and the desire to meet new people and learn about their lives distracted me to such an extent that I forgot about the aches and pains as soon as I began talking with the locals.


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