Thanks for all the emails - it's really great to hear from home when
you're out in the wilds like this.
I'm now in Saga which is the first place of any size I've been through
since my last missive. It's about another 700km to Lhasa, but only
another 300km to do on dirt roads so it feels like I've nearly finished
- 10 days should do it I reckon.
Things started pretty easily after Ali. For reasons unknown the Chinese
have decided to build the best part of 200km of tarmac in the middle
of nowhere, so the distance ticked by pretty easily - for a while at
least. After that the usual mixture of corrugations, rocks, sand and
deep fords returned, but I've got pretty used it - and my backside
has toughened up a lot so it almost seems normal. I managed to cross
all the really deep fords without getting on a truck - the worst was
waist deep - and that was after camping on the river bank because the
water level is always lower in the mornings. The really notorious one
I managed to avoid entirely by taking a detour on footpaths through
villages to a footbridge.
As I get further east, it's getting much greener, much more populated
and a bit lower, which makes the riding easier. I'm so acclimatised
now I barely notice the thin air. Of course it's green because it rains
more, so I've had some trouble with deep mud and my stupidly light
tent not being that waterproof - but it's usually possible to stay
in a Tibetan house every few days and get things dried out, so it's
I was expecting getting food would be easier on this part of the trip,
but it's been surprisingly difficult. The Tibetans assume everyone
hates their traditional food so never offer it to foreigners - but
apart from instant noodles they don't usually have anything else. Their
food is quite challenging, but I've grown to like most of it - and
it's really nice to see the reaction of Tibetan people to a foreigner
actually asking for their food. They drink tea all the time, but it's
very weak and made with Yak butter and salt. As tea it takes a bit
of getting used to, but if you convince yourself it's soup, it's actually
OK. Most of their meals are Tsampa which is barley flour mixed with
Yak butter in a kind of dough. It's bland but full of calories so it's
pretty good for a ravenous cyclist. They add sugar and tea to it sometimes
to make a really delicious porridge which I eat whenever I can get
it. Sometimes I've stumbled upon some real treats. A couple of days
ago I was struggling along a very muddy road in the rain and saw a
Tibetan cottage with a sign above the door. I guessed it must be a
shop of some sort so I went in - and the whole family were making yogurt
- very creamy and slightly fizzy but incredibly tasty. I ate so much
I could hardly ride afterwards.
I met an English guy (Tim) about a week ago who's ridden from home.
We get on well and ride at about the same speed so we've been travelling
together ever since. It's great to have company of course, but I'm
glad I did the first bit alone - to really appreciate this place you
need a bit of solitude. Ina, the German lady on the one geared bike
is, I think, a few days ahead. She didn't do the Kora, so I expect
I'll catch up with her in a few days - that is if her bike is still
in one piece.
A week or so ago I did the Kora around Mt Kailash which I think I mentioned
last time. It's a pilgrimage around what Buddhists believe is the centre
of the universe and Hindus believe is where Shiva lives. The walk was
of course beautiful, but it was about far more than that. There was
an amazing sense of camaraderie amongst the walkers - a real carnival
spirit. Most of them are Tibetans who usually do the 53km in a day,
with foreigners and Hindus usually taking 3. Tim and I got round in
a day and a half because we were so acclimatised and because we were
too lazy to get up early to start the walk! We slept in a huge dormitory
in a monastery with lots of other pilgrims which was noisy but not
something I'll forget in a hurry. Of course being me, it wasn't entirely
straightforward. We left the main path to cross a river on a footbridge
because going that way has better views of the mountain. It did, but
after an hour or so the heavens opened which swelled all the streams
we had to cross into raging torrents. The last one was extremely difficult
to cross - I was pretty much swimming which isn't ideal when it's so
cold. We persuaded some nomads to let us defrost in their tent and
sell us butter tea.
The Kora washes away the sins of a lifetime, but just to be sure, the
next day we rode to Lake Mansoravar, which has it's own Kora - you
simply walk around the lake. We didn't have the time or the inclination
to walk 100km, so we rode/pushed one stage and swam in the lake - more
sins (and quite a lot of dirt) washed away!
Keeping clean is much more difficult here than earlier on the trip.
The Tibetans have no notion at all of privacy and all sleep in the
same room. For me that makes getting changed or washing impossible
- I just have to sleep in whatever I've been riding in. When I'm camping
it's easier, but it's so cold in the evening, stripping off and jumping
in a river isn't very appealing! Sometimes I manage to wash during
the day, but it's not exactly the daily shower I'm used to! Saga has
hotels but none of them have runnning water, never mind hot showers.
Fortunately though there are public showers where for a few pence you
can have as much hot water as you like. I enjoyed it so much I went
back for another shower a few hours later - and will be back again
in the morning!
I still haven't managed to shave so my beard is getting really bushy.
No mirrors in Tibet fortunately but it must look awful. Don't worry
though - it'll be gone before I come back to England.
It's nearly midnight here so I'm off to bed. Tomorrow I need to get
some supplies in for the next few days - food has been relly difficult
to find lately so I'm looking forward to having something decent to
cook in the evenings - then I'll be on the road again. I should be
on line again in 4 or 5 days, but don't worry, I won't be cluttering
your inbox with another one of these updates that soon.