(A mix of travel notes and comments added later)
06-09-2014 - Saturday
After packing our luggage into the bus at the Yak Hotel we rode along the main street for a group photo outside the Potala (
must get got that shot, thanks Kirsten!).
(L to R) Ollie, Paula, Me (behind), Jan, Craig, Bob, Nic, Helen, Kirsten, Eric, Andy, Ian (behind), B, Robbie, Tim.
We then rode out of Lhasa at breakneck pace, matching the traffic, with the bus leading the way. Unfortunately this pace proved to be a mistake as some missed a turn resulting in a bit of confusion and delay later as they had to catch up to ensure the hot cooked group lunch worked for all.
The cycling was easy, flat following the river, with the city outskirts giving way to more impressive mountain scenes somewhat reminiscent of Central Otago NZ.
Some more unusual memories were;
- The sounds of shooting as we passed a military base, target practice?
- School buses with Police escorts.
- A vast service station, canopy area about the size of a soccer field, but with only 9 pumps!
We waited by a small temple for the lost souls to turn up entertained by the everyday rural life passing by. All manner of vehicles from huge, massively overloaded with sand, trucks to little 2 stroke ride on engines pulling trailers of grain, fire wood and building supplies. A lovely elderly Tibetan lady was grazing cattle on the roadside, she seemed as interested in us as we were with her!
After a re-group we set off again heading for lunch, the first meal on the road!
The lunch stop was impressive with a kitchen tent already emanating lovely smells by the time I arrived. First up was a hot/warm lemon drink followed by a main of green beans, little sausages in a spicy relish and hot bread they'd baked!
Somebody asked the name of the river so I fired up my off-line Windows Phone Nokia HERE map. Not only did have that “Lhasa River” but also showed a number of ‘places’ including restaurant & service centre just 2.7 km away. After lunch I found it was accurate as we cycled past them although, from the roadside, ‘restaurant’ appeared to be quite a generous description!
I’d downloaded the maps at home (off-line maps are free with HERE) and found them really good both in Nepal & Tibet.
The only problem was they had proper Tibetan (Chinese?) names as the supplied trip notes were anglicised. It was sometimes a challenge to find upcoming locations as was searching for the wrong name!
From lunch the scenery was much the same as before, huge mountains guiding the river. The large red striped blocks marking drop offs were a feature of the road.
I thought they were crash barriers but a, harmless, test later in the trip proved that wasn’t the case!
There were small rural villages and more rural scenes; fields planted, greenhouses (plastic) and a small village market.
One strange town was brand new; seemingly built to support a medical manufacturing facility which had something to do with gold. Presume it was there because of the mining in Tibet but odd to find in the middle of nowhere and a bit spooky empty feeling!
We had been told not to photograph the Police check points, we passed through several per day, but I got a photo of one not in use (below right).
Tibetan’s travel is very regulated but we were waved through the Police checkpoints past lines of cars & trucks on the busy roads. The less frequent Army run checkpoints were another matter entirely demanding passports and that we went through in the order listed on our group travel visa. I was “Number Nine’ in every passport check line-up.
After the road turned and crossed the river the traffic reduced and the scenery improved even further. Traditional villages with only the occasional modern building and expanses of farmland. The road itself was still excellent with good sealed surface.
As I approached a hill I was quite glad to find our campsite at the base. I had ridden about 80km and the hill could wait till tomorrow!
The camp was in a grove of trees, with the mess, kitchen and most of our tents already set up when I arrived. It's about 30 years since I last camped on a bike ride so a nice site, ready established camp and warm fine weather is a very mild introduction to camping on the Tibetan Plateau!
I have a tent to myself tonight,as there are 3 of us non-single supplement rotating the second room/tent.
Dinner was soon ready and was great: rice, daal (or is it dal or dhal?), chicken and hot chocolate, tea or coffee.
The rest of the trip showed this wasn’t a first night special effort as the camp food was very good. In fact it was far better than some of the hotels we stayed in yet was all produced in a tent with gas rings, oven and pressure cookers (needed to get anything to boil properly)!
Just as well I was in my own while sorting out what was and wasn't needed for the night camping. I kept my kit bag in the tent so it was easy to ferret out forgotten items.
When sharing it proved easier to put it in the bus as it is tight in the tent with two big bags.
I slept alright, but was glad I had brought a Therm-a-rest (self inflating mattress) as the World Expedition mats are pretty thin. I used both but found the supplied mountain spec sleeping bad rather warm. I guess it might get tested later in the trip!
The only annoyance was a couple of barking dogs and that I had to get up to pee. It’s not (yet) an age thing, supposedly one side effect of Diamox altitude medication… honest!
Quote of the day:
"Where are the Americans?"
Turned out they'd followed ‘do not turn’ route instructions precisely and not turned where the main road did in fact turn, across a bridge, and a minor road went straight ahead. I would have done the same if hadn't been told by Bas as I approached the corner. They were too fast for him to catch before it went a bit wrong!
'Where' turned out to be about the same distance from Lhasa as us, but on the other side of the river valley. Fortunately they were soon retrieved by the truck as you can’t just jump in the vehicle and drive anywhere in Tibet, got to have the right passes!
- Camp altitude 3605.500 meters
I was using my wheel magnet cycle odometer for distance tracking. At home it matched GPS to within 100m over 100km. It seems running the tyres at 50psi, vs. 40, and maybe the reduced air pressure up here made a real difference as it was more like 1km/100km short!