Police

Trip Start Aug 18, 2006
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Trip End Ongoing


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Flag of China  ,
Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Sure enough, around the next bend was my first view of the bustling metropolis of Ali. It's an odd view. Mountains, plains, some sheep, and, for no apparent reason, like an oasis only in that it appears as a discreet whole totally out of place, a town. The aasphalt kicked in a full 100m from the town centre, yet there were more cars. My welcome to Ali was the sound of explosions as I passed a Chinese army camp in the middle of exercises. (Or an attack. Or a serious accident. It wasn't clear which.)

Yecheng was the last time I slept under a roof, 19 nights ago. I decided that this represented quite an economy, and allowed myself a 50Yuan (3.20GBP) room. For this I had a 'common room' in one of the town's smarter establishments, with a hot shower down the corridor. It was bliss. There were 3 beds in the room, but, apart from someone who came in at 5am and immediately checked out, I had it to myself. I spent the first day in Ali showering and eating alternately. (I'd have done them simultaneously if I could figure out a way). I didn't plan on staying long and I needed to accrue as many calories as possible before moving on. I managed at least five meals a day, but my efforts were somewhat counterproductive. One of the more suspect lunches turned traitor, and I spent much of the second day 'running', thereby burning off or otherwise jettisoning all the energy I'd consumed.

Apart from eating and showering (the first three showers were to get clean, after that it was pure indulgence. Do not undervalue the luxury of a hot shower) my only other tasks in Ali were to re-supply, and to get myself arrested. Having been evaded by the law as far as Ali, cyclists have two options: 1) to turn themselves in to the PSB office, pay a 300 Yuan fine and 50Yuan for an Alien Travel Permit and continue legally (unless received wisdom is out of date, in which case, who knew? Prison?). 2) to crack on regardless. I plumped for option 1. It seemed a small risk and cheap price to pay for peace of mind. Pawel and Magda, being more strict budgeteers, chose the other strategy and also made it through without any trouble. (They also argued that it wasn't fair that one couldn't buy the permit in advance, and thereby avoid the fine, which perhaps missed the point somewhat).

The PSB building was a huge dark block, with polished, echoing corridors and no people. I wandered into the first room on the corridor, which contained a huge, unstaffed desk apparently for three different officials, each with a job-description plaque in front of them, none of which said anything about ATPs. While I was loitering an enormous, immaculately turned-out police officer appeared and asked, in proficient English, what exactly I was after. This was the fateful moment. Should I weep? Fall at his knees and beg for forgiveness for my heinous crime? Probably overkill. Better to go for front, maybe I can dodge the fine.
-I was hoping to buy an ATP.
-Aha. Please, have a seat.
Maybe not.

I sat behind a plaque which had something to do with visas. I'm pretty sure I was in the wrong office, and dealing with the wrong person. I suspect he was bored. In later conversations other cyclists have mentioned a small office in the heart of the building where they'd been given tea. No tea for me. However, I was given the appropriate formes, including my confession, and a receipt for my fine. I was asked which destinations I wanted listed on the ATP. Now, I'd been given to understand that you could only have permission to ride from Ali to Mt. Kailash, and that you had to outlaw it again from there to Shigatse. (Shigatse/Lhasa is a permit-free zone). I'd therefore conjured an itinerary involving visiting Kailash and returning to Ali. So, when he asked "Do you want to go to Shigatse?" I was thrown. Was this a trick? Tread carefully...
-Erm... Is that possible? I'd thought only to Kailash was possible, so I was planning to go there and come back, but if Shigatse is possible, maybe I could change my plan. Please, can you list all the possible destinations so I can choose later?
-No problem.
Sorted. Painless.

I took my time leaving Ali, bought some 'tigmo' (steamed bread, basically dim sum buns with no filling) and 10 fantastic sweet pastries with jam inside, which lasted until the following morning. I met the Germans again, who'd arrived the previous evening, and had a second breakfast with them. The were kind enough to copy their route notes for me, since theirs were far more accurate and complete than mine, having been compiled by a Swiss man with a GPS system and Teutonic obsessive-compulsive attention to detail.

Escaping Ali was not overly complicated- simply ride south on the main street until there are no more buildings. However, the late start was followed by a slow day, grinding up a long pass; there was asphalt all the way, but after the descent a rainy headwind was waiting in the valley, so it didn't seem to help. The valley was a few kilometers wide, with a wall of mountains at each side and a river running throught the centre, flanked by twin strips of coarse grass poking through the sandy earth. It looked like one big campsite, but when I tried to reach the river, I found that all the fertile land was fenced off. Fences! In Tibet! I was shocked, and appalled. Clearly the 'civilising' influence of Ali stretched further than I'd thought. In the end I had to put my tent in one of the many ad hoc quarries that the road construction left, to find some shelter from the wind and rain.
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