Entering Tibet

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Posted by Giom | Posted in Asia, China, On the road | Posted on 03-05-2013

Last day in Golmud. We are preparing for the big adventure ! To enter and pedal in Tibet. The highest plateau in the world is waiting for us. The Golmud Lhasa road is 4500m high in average.

We start with Fernando, a daring and adventurous Spanish guy who travels by bike like us. We met randomly at the Golmud’s hostel. A guy full of energy who loves mountain, and bike is to him the way of travel allowing to reach the closest to the tops he wants to climb ! And not any of them ! Tops still not climbed, there would be a lot around. Crazy Fernando !
The 3 of us leave to go shopping at the supermaket to get supplies for 10 days. We’ll try not to stop in any town on the road and not to sleep in. To enter Tibet is hard for foreigners because the Chinese government imposes a special permit which is financially out of reach. This government is using Tibet for nuclear tests, to pump gold and other resources in the ground, not talking about the oppression on tibetan’s culture…
So you understood, no permit for us but check-points ways by crossing roads…We knew it would be difficult and risky, but it’s the price to pay.
We have the chance to have an English friend, Jude, who is a few days ahead us and let us know by sms about the check-points to pass.
With these informations, good maps and researches from Bishek, we know where to go and put all chances on our side to travel along the “Golmud Lhasa Highway”, to see Lhasa and reach Nepal and then India !
It’s like a game, we play, and we can loose. It may be difficult : altitude, mountain passes more than 4600 or 5200m high, snow, km to line up without stop, no possibility to stop in cities…
We pass the first check-point by night with Fernando, pushing the bikes in a sand field 500m east from the road. When we get back to it, our hearts beat like 100/hour ! First step to clandestinity ! We are motivated, we got through, we feel good and full of energy !
The following days succeed each other like usual : we pedal freely enjoying the landscape, wild animals, wind behind our back (sometimes), nature… although it’s a road where a lot of trucks travel, it’s quite calm. We enjoy the company of Fernando to exchange stories and tricks.
Little by little we get higher and we can feel it ! We left from 3000m in Golmud. When we make a simple effort like pushing the bike, we are out of breath very quickly. We have to slow down every move and breathe deeply.
At the tops, Tibetan flags are flying. Multicoloured, with prayers in Tibetan, they’re hanged to statues or posts. It’s already a great reward to see it in the top of several km ! The landscapes are inspiring, at more than 4000m high, their purety calm us down. We feel like we are closer to the clouds, it’s easier to guess the shapes they take !

We have to pedal against the wind during hours and we get tired quickly. Little by little we move forward. The snow is adding itself, but we are lucky because the temperature rarely go down under zero. We camp at night hiding from circulation, exhausted by our day, but it’s difficult to hide, there’s always someone around ! Once we tasted the delicious dehydrated noodles soups (irony), we are the happiest ones to slide in our feather sleeping bags !
We avoid check-points in any way, covering our faces with a scarf, going through very fast, by night, or by far… Everything goes well thanks to Jude’s indications. We even cross the way of lots of police cars without problems, even lots of army trucks invading this road, by rows of 28 (we counted !)
One night, while Felix is stuck with tiredness, we eventually ask hospitality to a yak shepherds family. Aware of the danger it implies for us and them, we try to stay discrete. Tibetans received us naturally. The welcoming Tibetan culture reminds us Turkey, Iran, Ouzbekistanor Kirghistan. We are amazed by the paint’s colours inside the houses and traditional clothes. The typical hats, brown long sleeves jackets, belts and stone ornaments. Tibetan people have a warm, sensitive and calming look.
The decoration of houses is amazing for our occidental eyes. Attracting colours combined with harmony with what surrounds. Dragoons are protecting the house, mountains and mythological beings live in the beams holding the roof made of fiber. The houses are big inside, calm and welcoming, and warm thanks to a typical stove.
We also could taste lots of products from the yak : dried meat, milk and salted buttered tea ! For breakfast, we discovered a dough made of wheat (which one ?), sugar and rancid yak’s butter. Not to my taste, but full of energy ! They make it with butter in a mixer, boiled water, and that’s it !
We enjoy every km on the Tibetan plateau, despite the pressure of the visa’s days decreasing…We can’t renew it in Lhasa and we have still no choice but hurry up and pedal, pedal, always pedal !
One night, after having climbed a pass at 5100m high, and got a snow shower, a truck suggested us to take us to 300km from here… that was tempting, but there is a chek-point in the middle….We board and we’ll pass it walking behind the night police, with the driver as an accomplice. He will let us in Tangula at 5200m high, in the middle of the night, by -15°C.

We’ll continue passing the check-points and other police controls, everything’s going well and the landscape is still crazy !

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