Hi Everyone,

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 been fine.

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.


See also