Let’s start with the Tibetan monks shall we? There we were, up in the Grasslands, or should I say Snowlands, between Gansu and Sichuan provinces soaking up the vast landscapes, warmth of the afternoon sunshine and getting our first whiff of Tibetan life when we were overtaken by a procession of perhaps 15 cars filled with red robed monks, and at the forefront of the hazard light winking snake was a cattle truck full of teenage monks. Hmmm, could this be linked with the heavy police and army presence we experienced as we lunched in Hezou? The experiences of Khorog have taught us to heed advice on the road, so when shortly after we headed up a track to make camp and were followed by a police 4×4, we realised something was definitely up. We were advised to ride on an extra 10 kms or so as there was growing friction in the area, as it transpired, the act of self immolation had taken place, a horrifying way to protest against the governments restrictions on the Tibetan people. It’s not just colourful flags and ruddy cheeked children here, there is a harshness in this wilderness.
So the wilderness doesn’t come with out it’s tests and trials, an ever increasing altitude took our breath away, we felt the nip of jack frost, in my case Jack was biting off my digits as we camped in snow like he hadn’t eaten for a week. The cold was brutal during the night, our water froze and a layer of ice and snow cocooned us in our tent, but don’t feel sorry too for us, in the morning we emerged after hot porridge and coffee like pink and grey butterflies happy to cycle for a new day.
Even though the nights were cold, the sun shone during the day and we rode alongside grazing yaks, glossy horses and saw eagles and vultures spiralling in the thermals. Clusters of nomads dotted our route, their ingenuity to making the most to the sun intrigued me, reflective dishes heat their teapots and start fires while yak-pats splatted on tarmac dry out to fuel their burners. Nice.
We’re now in Songpan, over 1,000 metres lower than the Grasslands but it’s still cold at night. No yak-pats here though, it’s electric blankets and heat lamps all the way, which is great as Pete and I both brought colds with us down through the mountains. Hence the dash to the chemist this morning where the usual game of charades commenced and packets of tablets were dished out. Who knows what we bought but lets hope they do the trick!
Once again we’ve been hot on the heels of our good cycle friends Ramon an Hanne, who we last blew the froth with in Lanzhou. We’ll do the same again this evening and wave them off in the morning as they ride south to Chengdu. No doubt we’ll be seeing these guys again, even more likely as when Ramon strode in after lunch with a Lonely Planet for Vietnam under his arm he said ‘So let’s talk about Christmas…’