Lhasa/Tibet – Kangding/China

Tibet – difficult dirt roads, altitude sickness, bad water, difficult food supply, only salted tea with butter, rabid dogs, military check points all over. I meet about 6 chinese cyclists daily, students in semester break. “You will not get through there with your bike. It’s dangerous!” Not at all! Everything much easier, than reported repeatedly. It seems it has changed a lot within the past years. Often the roads are in good to very good condition. At none of the check points they check me. The supply is sufficient, no problems with dogs. There are some parts with dirt road, also when they became less, but they are all relatively easy. No comparison with that, what Maik and I experienced in Africa. With that background my level of (pain) acceptance seems to be already quite different to the one of the cyclists I met here. A real challenge it becomes what so ever, when it rains heavily – slippery mud, destroyed bridges, some river passages with water up to the top of the low rider bags underneath my seat. It becomes even more unpleasant, when it’s cold.

Already before I had a lot of respect for the profile of that route. More than 20 passes, most above 4000m, some above 5000m. In between a permanent up and down between 2500 and 3500m, but also never lower, so that you could escape from the risk of altitude sickness. Ascents can be as long as 60km. That means mostly work for two succeeding days. Generally these ascents are long but not very steep. Still, with the low oxygen-partial pressure I crawl up with 5 km/h hour by hour. The highest pass is marked with 5013m and 25 cm, on a stone, which lays next to the road on top of some rubbish. So I can not tell exactly how high I am. The scenery is marvellous. I am motivated, but sometimes it is hard to get up and to push yourself and the bike up and up, again and again, day by day.

Especially in Lhasa I felt closer to the western culture, than in the months before – huge supermarkets, internet cafés, like I haven’t seen them before – more then 200 work stations, wide flat screens, leather chairs, high speed connections. In spite the very good equipment the first contact with Chinese information repression. No access to the blogspot-pages of my US American travelmates from the group to Lhasa and other travel logs. No access to Wikipedia or information about Tibet, inclusive Tibet weather. I stay on more day in Lhasa. The limits of the Tibet permit push me to go on. I am also happy to ride my bike again. After Kenya, Tanzania, India and Nepal we are back on the right side of the road. The last night in Lhasa I want to take a picture of the Potala-palace at night. A Riksha-rider jumps around in front of my lens, doesn’t want to understand, that I don’t need a ride. Finally a free view. A first shot, then the lights are turned off. The monks want to sleep, the Riksha-rider makes me understand.
Beside the physical challenge communication is a big issue. At least I rarely have to ask for directions, because mostly there is only the one road. At the restaurants I often just stand in the kitchen, have a look in all the pots and point at what I would like to have. Not all of what I see there, is good for your appetite. One story goes like this: I am ordering in Tibetan language. Nobody understands what I want and there are more and more people gathering, trying to get the sense of my sounds and signs. At some point, everything seems to be clear, I get something to eat. Now the exciting instant. How the foreigner uses the chopsticks? I do quite well and everybody around is happy. They push their seats even closer and half of the village is watching me eating.
Difficulties arise with certain dishes and the use of chopsticks, if you are concerned about the good manners. The locals just put their faces close to their food bowls and with a sounding slurping they push the food over the edge of the bowl into their mouth. Nowhere else on this tour I was invited so often as here in Tibet. Several times I have the chance to enjoy the popular Tibetan food – tea with Yakbutter and Tsampa (roasted flour, mostly barley), which, together with the butter and tea is kneaded to dough. No culinary highlight, but well edible. About the Yakbutter-tea you don’t hear many good things, but it’s far away from the taste of salty tea, maybe it’s closer to unsalted, not floury noodle water.

I am invited at the restaurants, from people, who prepare their food over a fire beside the road, I eat in nomads tents and typical Tibetan houses. Normally they just have one room for the whole family, which is used to cook, to eat and to sleep, decorated with some wood carvings and painted very colourful. Along most of the walls there are wide wooden boxes covered with rugs. They are used to sit and to sleep. In front of them are tables, same height, also wooden boxes. Doors, tables and boxes are decorated colourfully. Important is a big oven, heated with dry Yak dung. These Yak dung pieces are formed by hand and lay all over to dry. I spend the nights mostly outdoors, but also in a monastery, a school, a road worker camp, and farm houses. I am always again enthused with such experiences, because they offer me a close look into the lives of the local people, human beings as you and me, who want to help me, or simply show a friendly smile, no tourist-shows, no expected service in return.
What might be the reason for all the invitations can also be stressful – an expected Asian aloofness is often missing. As soon as I get off the bike, somebody else tries to get on. I try to let them have their fun, but the problem is, that the bike suffers. The people climb the bike without sense, because they don’t know better. Permanently everything of the bike is touched and tested. It’s a phenomenon, that this behaviour is almost identical over large distances, the same sequence – to squeeze the cushion of the seat, to pull the breaks, to steer, to turn the grip. (originally the grip was fixed) At some point there is a rip. Now everybody tests, how easily this rip can become bigger, before I cover it with tape. Also the front tire shows some rips. Over and over there are people who try to widen them, in order to make me aware of them. So I take the bike inside the supermarket or the internet café. That is one of the points where it is more difficult with a bike, when you travel alone.
I am reaching the border of the autonomous region Tibet. To the first town, where I can get my China-Visa, it is still a bit to ride. Meanwhile my Tibet permit has expired. I call the responsible authorities, they make notes of my personal data and that I will arrive a bit later. Who would have expected that from the Chinese authorities. Some days later, when I arrive in person, they are still unhappy about my delay. So at first they just want to give me a Visa for a few days, enough to get to the next airport and to leave the country. I want to talk to the highest authority, then at the end it’s a arbitrary decision. After some debating, at least they let me talk, I walk out with a Visa for 1 month – supposedly the most they can do in this town. The chief in service, to whom I was talking before, tells me later, that I was very convincing. The fact, that they don’t date the Visa back, gives me some more days.
1 month from here, for this huge country – not enough. If I can extend the Visa is not clear. So again there is no time to loose, if I want to cycle all the way. That also meant only short stops for the internet – the reason for the long pause in the blog.


translated by Maik

pictures to this article: Lhasa/Tibet – Kangding/China : Fotos

26. Oktober 2007 - Tom & Maik | english texts | Kommentare :: comments :: comentarios | Inhalt drucken

Leave a Reply


deutsch :: english :: español

Rubrik :: category :: categoría

Archiv :: archive :: archivo