Trip Start Aug 18, 2006
149Trip End Ongoing
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10 days in tibet, from 9 sep to 19 sep
stay in Tashi Takgay hotel, despite smell of cannabis that permeates. begin to acquaint ourselves with all nearby restaurants. Eat in most of them, most days. Make base at nomad cafe- blue mountain coffee, omelettes, petr, nick; find place with dvd menu and watch shit films for free- red planet and da vinci code
see potala palace, where met chirpy cockneys. went whitewater rafting. saw jokhang. saw other monastery 6km away. losts of pics. bought thangka
leaving lhasa was a bit of a struggle, practically as well as emotionally. went to nomad for breakfast butfor some reason there was noone there to say goodbye to. set off for eastern adventure, but went wrong, as usual, leaving town. had to turn back after 7km, which wasn't such a bad thihng since i'd forgotten to withdraw any cash and had been wondering if 40quid would see me through 3weeks. I was delayed atthe cashpoint by a french cycle touring couple it was 2pm when i finaly set off in the right direction. folowing Yarlung Tsampo downstream, the road as goood and slightly downhill, and i still managed 100km before pitching my tnt in amonst brambles in the gloaming of 7.30pm.
100km from hidden in bushes to right beside river, over pass.
110km. road generally flat. meet austrians, but they are not very accomodating ppl to ride with, and objected to my road position while i objected to theirs . so we rode together for a bit, then they went ahead, I caught them resting and we rode together agian. v. green and pleaasant land. I wanted to get to within 100km of bayi; they wanted to ride 15km further. I left them when i saw a rickety 'suspension bridge', leading to what lookede like perfect camping territory on an island in the middle of the river. the bridge was missing several walkway planks which had rotted through and a few more looked on their way out, but most of the structural beams seemed sound. bike and i crossed safely, but once across i found that half the island, the half i was on, was primarily crops or dense thorn-thickets. the other half was perfect caming, but a fence made of dry thorn branches kepttthe two sides entirely sparate. someone, it seems, was v jealous of their bridge. Finding the lowest part of the the hedgeand droppping large rocks strategically to creat steps rendered it possible, with a lot of sc ratches, slips and swears, to shift everything over the hedge. not relishing the prospect of doing all that in reverse, only to be faced with the bridge of woe. my first job was to find an alternate route bact to the road. I wasn't too bitter when i saw the 'river' spanned by the bridge could be forded without removing shoes.
100km +30km. beginning by wheeling bike off my island, not over the bridge of doom but instead through t e shallowest part of the stream and up a pathin the bank. 12km later spot oliver and petra, and chatto them for 30mins. not being in a hurry, they'd decided to split journey to bayi into two days, so i would be alone tonight. they tell of having campofire last night and five men, alerted by the light, crept through the bushes a surprised them with rocks ("those rocks") in their hands.
Fortunately, seeing they were innocent cyclists (instead of... what?) they dropped the rocks, smiled, said 'hello' and wandered off again. 100km ride to 10km before bayi was more of the same- relatively busy, v. good road. river broad and blue beside. met Al and french couple who'dbeen arrested on the road 10km before bayi. heard that m and p got thru without trouble. after 100km pulloff road onto a strip of common land leading to river. found a secluded spot where i'd be unlikely to be noticed cooking dinner, reading and generally killing time until sunset. being impatient i only waited until 21.30, one hour after sunset, before setting off. with a lamp headlight attached to my handlebars and LED on head, i could see at least half the potholes, albeit too late to do anything about them. fortunately the road was pretty good, and apart from one collision with a kerb, unaccountably located in the middle of the road, and some near-misses with cattle and horses (livestock) the ride was actually quite relaxing and enjoyable- bearing comparison with night diving. I passed Bayi, an army checkpoint where several men were stationedand were overcome with indifference as i passed, and Nyinchu, all without incident. I knew that after nyinchu the road climbed to a fairly high pass, and after 2km slogging i had abandonned reckless ideas of doing the whole climb at niht. camping also presented a problem as locating a spotin the dark is easier said than done and the advice i had was to be 'well past nyinchu by daybreak' as the psb occasionally patrol the road. my solution was to stay in a tibetan-run truckstop, reasoning that if i overslept, which was likely, (it was midnight already) my bike and tentwould nto be attracting any attention. besides, i was knackered and it was there.
100km. woke up in truck stop, skipped breakfast and cracked on climbing the pass at 8.30. It was a long hard climb. 25km took until 3pm, including a rest for porridge with remaining (free) apples (after biscuit/apples exchange) and some raisins. Views were stunning all the way up though, looking back down at the valley with every 100m climbed. 80km descent on the other side of the pass was a thriller. Once again I simply couldn't believe how long it is possible to roll downhill without reaching the end of time. 60km/hr at one point, making me fearful for my new rear hub and rebuilt rear wheel. Descending the valley wall first could see some pine forest spread out below, and a thin strip of cultivated land and a river; then before you've taken that in your in the farmland, passing traditional tibetan homesteads and frightening the cows.
68km. v. jungly day. from camp below road by prayer flag, only a few hundred meters to stream where i washed and filled water. humidiity more than anywhere else on this trip, though not unbearable by a long chalk. Moist air carries the scent of leaves, grass, earth, everything. Taking huge lungfuls of oxygen-rich, thickly scented luscious tasting air. Nostrils flaring. Streams bring smell of snow and cool relief. Many different birds and butterflies, all colours, some as big as your hand. Hard riding though on dust road, which occasional traffic turns to thick choking cloud. And steep. v. steep in places. Cross bridge which is under construction, so only one car at a time allowed. Meet chinese girls who immediately give their email addresses and mob no.s. I must be very handsome.
68km From campsite- little grotto in woods, just off road halfway down mini-descent. Met american and had a chat, then went on to Bomi where 'risked' internet usage. Day of ups and downs, green forest, slightly less humid and jungly than yesterday. Met m and p as soon as left Bomi, and rode with them for 20km. camped in a copse among bracken and by a woodpile.
64km along parlung tsamp gorge, from pleasant spot to waake up- sun on tent! low on food and not many habitations, but manage to buy noodles and biscuits. long stretch without tarmac. v. beautiful gorge between high peaks, some white. Stop in field full of cows. Pitch tent and cook in record time- so hungry!met 4 catalonians and 1guy from 'buffalo, new york!' . 15003km first thing in morning!
Police park up and watch for a bit as we pack up. Slow day, m. coughing a lot. 20km more of dust through the gorge. River exciting looking but still brown. Get to lake which was (inevitably?) a disappointment- brown water not blue. Trees are colouring hillsides every stunning shade of green, yellow and orange, a glacier interupting the verdant (resplendent?) colours with shocking crystal white. Stop for first restaurant meal in a week. Pavel rejecting communal food sharing option, on the basis that they'd already ordered the only 2 things on the menu he's prepared a)to eat and b) to pay for. Consequently I 'have' to order 2dishes for myself and have little sympathy when the aubergine emerges covered in dreaded chillies. After dinner and supplies rode 5km more, the beginning of a pass, and stpped between the river and road. 45km day.
Say farewell (again) to M and P and crack on up what turns out to be a relatively easy climb- the pass is long and flat at the top. The descent was not unbroken, but still made rapid progress down the valley. Even clocking the frightening pace of 75.2km/hr (the maximum speed for the trip, I hope!) A few km before baxoi I met a french couple on a tandem and chatted to them for some time. AFter wasting an hour in the town, m and p turned up! I left them, planning another 20km or so. AFter 15km I saw a route down to the river and, concerned that there might be no stream before my planned stopping point, decided to fill my bottles. I scrambled down to the waters edge, using a large stepping stone reach nearer the middle of the river. Unfortunately, the stone was itself precariously balanced, and slipped, dumping me bodily in the drink. Now cold and wet, further cycling seemed a very bad idea, so I pitched the tent on rocky ground opposite a small village. m and p passed me but understandably rejected my campsite.
29 sep - sat
woke up early and made reasonably quick start. After ony 15mins riding I met Delphine and her fella, an austrian couple who I believe were on push-bikes, although it was impossible to be sure what was under all their luggage. Their load included self-made panniers (d: i was thrown out of sowing class! me: you don't say) Friendly couple though, he v. taciturn, poss because beard was weighing down his chin. she v. chatty, so spent 30mins or so with them. 30km of descent / flat through narrow gorge brought me, at midday, to the first of 72hairpin bends. I knew this was coming, but that didn't help much. Trying to keep over 5km/hr, not stopping too often- abt every 10km; dust, dangerous drivers, drained muscles. Finally made it to the top in the final minutes of dusk, and pitched tent behind the strings of prayer flags that adorn every pass in tibet. The views were amazing, which compensated for the v. unexpected onsetof mild altitude sickness- headache and trouble sleeping. This was Not supposed to happen! Did, however, mean I could take a naked piss at 2am by the light of the full moon. Looking out over peaks and valleys, visible by moonlight for hundreds? of miles, stark bollock naked, pissing. This is freedom.
rolling down the pass annoyingly only got me to a village 15km away. after this the road was decending, but in a lazy, undulating way. Taking a wrong turn for 2km didn't help. Followed a broad, sluggish river for 115km through farmland, villages, pasture. rural idyll of first order. met 2 chinese guys, both of whom had passed me at least once already. Frustrated convo exacerbated by us constantly catching each other up, overtaking, being left behind etc. The downside of idyllic rural villages: These creatures, that run out in front of your bike, chase after you yelping and squealing, smell; chew everything; drool; go after your luggage; and are in everyway a menace; which nonetheless half the world seems to find unutterably cute and adorable; even my own parents and grandparents have taken these into their homes, fed and housed them, even considering them 'part of the family'! I refer, of course, to children. Lock 'em up! Lock 'em up I say! At least until they can divide by fractions.
Stock up in Zhogong and camp 5km out of town, in nice spot below road by river, opposite grotto of stream and prayer flags. Had to clear some broken beer bottles though.
1 oct mon
Fairly slow morning, but was back on the bike by 10am, after on of those 'I wish I'd gone a little further from the tent for my shit' moments; Only a couple of km to start of climb. which was more of a monster than I had anticipated, 30km climbing 1200m. This was exacerbated by the dusty road, thoughtless, careless 4wd trucks speeding past and kicking up a thick choking cloud. It was mitigated, however, by the perfection of the scenery- crystal clear brook running alongside the road, occasional small hamlets of traditional tibetan houses with the harvest stored on teh roof and the animals housed on the ground floor, the family living, insulated and centrally heated, in between. I stopped after 7km to wash in the stream, which was glacial but the sun was warm and the icy water refreshing and i even washed my sweater for the first time since lhasa. Took until four pm to climb the pass, but the reward, forty km uninterrupted descent down a gorgeous valley, from wide marshy unpeopled moor at 5000m, down to lush forest stream, narrowing into a gorge but with villages whereever the land shelved, and assorted livestock and children on the road. (May have scared another juvenile yak off a cliff) Get to a tiny village at 6.20, after 70km and 6.5hours, and decide to treat myself to a bed in a hovel. The 2 chinese cyclists, whose tracks i'd been following all day, were already ensconced, and helped me to get food and lodging. Even patiently waiting while I fished in the phrasebook, trying to make conversation. 1) cash register. 2) david beckham. Pisser in this establishment was a 'long drop' built overhanging the river, which always makes me feel somewhat queasy about the amount of river water I drink...
woke up and got out at what seemed to me to be the rediculously early hour of seven thirty, only to find that not only have the two chinese cyclists already left, everyone in the guesthouse has gone. Quickly feel pleased about my decision to stayin the village; only two km more descent then thirteen km climb to the Jyo La, with no suitable campoing spots that I could see - the ground rose sheer to the left and fell away to the right. At the top of the the pass I met and oxford educated economist and his wife , and their new friends and had five mins of celebrity. gotr a bottle of water and can of red bull out of it. 25km descent to the mekong river. let too much air out of tyres for the rough road and 'bottomed out' a got a flat. Reached mekong at midday, quickly leaving it again to climb a side valley to the lao la, 4275m, another 25km climbing did for me, and I camped about ten km before the pass on a sedcluded patch of grass by a stream. 65km in eight hours, and a hot sunny day. hard.
climb to pass took 2hours. I left at ten am, after a lazy morning was spoilt by being surprised by a 20ish year old tibetan in leather jacket messing with my pot that i'd left outside. when i heard him and emerged from the tent, after yelping in shock and having a minor coronary, he tried to beg food. I indicated that the pot in his hand was empty and clean and hoped he'd go away. Casting around I spotted my knife lying on the ground between us, nd retrieved it into the tent, a geture which cannot have gone unnoticed. Eventually he wandered off and I broke camp. The other side of the pass was pastures quickly becoming agro. I'd been warned to expect viscious dogs, as well as possible arrest, on the outskirts of markham, so my descent was abetted by a pocketful or stones, the anti-canine missile of choice. In the event i was bothered by no dogs and noauthority figure of any kind. Markham was the biggest town I'd seen since Bayi, it looked like it must have all the acoutrements of a big town- ATM, internet, even restaurants and bars, and the thought occured that it would be fun to return to a land where such amenities are frequently and affordably available, and can be used without fear of the PSB. Passing down the main street I spotted Jyen Ye and the other guy's bikes outside a noodle bar, and went to say hello. They bought me noodles, and phoned an english speaking friend to tell me that the road ahead was shit, which i knew. We took our photo together and then I cracked on, understanding the jyun ye was staying in markham for a day and the other was headed for changdu anyway. The road out of Markham was indeed shit. It is a tough call which is the worst surface to ride on- sand, mud, cobbles, corrugations, gravel, but a road under construction has to be a contender. Hwy 214 is being rebuilt along it's entire length, and it tis a boneshaking 55km form markham to my camping spot halfway up the next pass. The roadworks meant that almost all level ground was occupied by a roadbuilders camp, so it took a while to find the spot, a barely level patch of ground below a bend in the road. 73km.
4 oct thurs
A sad and exciting day loomed, as this was my last day in Tibet, first hte 2km climbto the pass, during which time I met 2 aussies on a jeep tour, but they just giggled inanely when they saw me and offered such limitred prospects for conversation I sacked 'em off almost immediately. The 43km descent, that most wrong of things: a hard descent. Bad road, dust, dangerous driving and landslides, caterpillars clearing landslides and the occasional Boom as dynamite cut another roughly road-shaped chunk out of a mountain. Eventually reach Yencheng, where it is, according to conventional wisdom, inadvisable to loiter. Only 13km further I reached the large, modern, breathtakingly ugly sign welcoming me into Yunnan province. Although I'd now descended the valley wasll and was much closer to the river, still the road was cut with a cliff to the left and a drop to the right. And i had no water. had to ride for an hour after I started looking for a campsite before ai found one that would do. By half wheeling half dropping madeleine a rocky embankment I made it to a stretch of sand, with thorny bushes at he northern end. Among these I found a patch of earth that would serve and made myself at home.
5 oct friday
within ten mins of setting off i bumped in jyen ye again, and despite our different speeds we managed to keep mostly together for the rest of the day. Stopped for lunch in Foshan, before commencing what i hadn't realised in advance would turn out to be a 1400m climb. Took till eight oclock for me to reach the small tourist resort where we planned to sleep, and it was already dark. Exhausted I stretched and drank water for thirty mins until jyen ye made it to the top. AFter some toing and fro ing he managed to find us a dorm, dinner and wonder of wonders! a shower! Went to bed clean, fed, and knackered.
6 oct sat
woke up feeling ready to go. around 7.45 we made a pretty quick start, via some v. insufficient noodle soups. 12km lvel ish to Deqin, then the dreaded 'triple pass', 33km to Yak La were not imporved by tarmac turning to cobbles half way up. neither was this helpled by me coming over distinctly queasy 5km from the top. AMS? surely not. The downs and ups to the next 2 passes were expected, though disappointingly only the first was properly ornamented with flags- a sign of things to come? From five ish til seven thirty we descended over 2000m. Cobbles for 20km then smooth asphalt. Except a pot hole i didn't see had put a sizeable kink in my front wheel, so whenever I braked it felt like cobbles again. Stopped, exhausted, famished, and dehydrated at Benzilan, a nowhere village witha room with TV but no electricity. Had en suite however- with a bath!
7 oct sun
Down a bit to low point of 2000m, then, once again, we climb. Zhongdian is at 3500m and the road oscillated so we muct have climbed nearly 2000m over 85km getting there. Final descent was v. cool, passed by a big lake, (only the 2nd i've seen in e. tibet.) Zhongdian / Shangri La is huge. Like a proper village. STay ina dive at the end of a piss-smelling corridor. Food and net. 1st time Jyen Ye ordered something I didn't like- pork fat in sauce. Also he has no sympathy at all for my cries of 'no chilli'.
Get up and go for breakfast. Tearful farewells with jyen ye, as he goes to get bus to kunming. Overcast rainy weather, depressed after fighting with yols and have heard that Zhongdian has an old town worth seeing, so decide not to move on, but ot stay one day. Also reality check reveals that I can't ride to HK, just isn't possible, so takes the pressure off. Have another breakfast, wander old town and meet justine. Slightly scatty/ dithering but charming English girl who was v. excited by my trip so we had coffee and arranged to have dinner. She read pol/phil at Edinburgh. Dinner was usual mixed veg. Justing was chatty, open, friendly and certifiably neurotic.
The 1400m descent I'd been given to expect took it's time appearing. and the open flat regularly inhabited and farmed scenery and wide hwy made me feel i'd finally left tibet, and my mood was reflected in the clouds. I rode as far as Tiger Leaping Gorge Town, 105km, and decided to stop, leaving the decision whether to visit hte gorge open. The town had nothing much to offer.