Today is a resting day in Shigatse, Tibet’s second biggest town. We were all very happy that we did not have to ride today, because we are all tired and suddenly everybody is getting injuries (mainly knee injuries: the joints in my knees cause me a lot of pain, but once you’re on the bike you try to forget about it). We have covered about 350 km so far, and we are getting close to 1/3 of the trip.
Yesterday we rode from Gyantse to Shigatse, a distance of about 95 kilometer at an average altitude of 3950 meters. Compared to some of the other stages this was an easy one. Even the altitude is not a real issue anymore, if you don’t ride too fast you don’t even notice it anymore. The next days we will be camping between 4500 and 5000 meters, and I hope that also there we won’t have any altitude related problems anymore. The ride yesterday was basically one straight road through a valley with high mountains on both sides. This is a fertile part of Tibet, and everywhere farmers were busy ploughing their land with yaks or horses. We stopped a couple of times to look at what they were doing, and sometimes they then also came to look at what we were doing. Communication was impossible, they did not speak any Mandarin only Tibetan. But all of them screamed ‘hello’ at us, followed by a big smile. My opinion is that Tibetans are extremely friendly people, at least in the part of Tibet that we have driven through so far.
The nature in Tibet is so beautiful: most of the time it is like you are riding on the moon, because there is hardly any vegetation at this altitude, and you are surrounded by snow covered mountains. It is very quiet, and you really feel the power of nature. Especially when it becomes windy or when the temperature suddenly drops 10-15 degrees (this can happen in a matter of minutes). The part we have ridden so far was very quiet, with hardly any people or cars.
And we have not seen any other bike riders so far, we seem to be the only ones who do this long-distance high-altitude ride on a bike. This is understandable of course, but actually the people who do this in a 4×4 miss out on a lot of interesting things that happen along the road or that can be seen along the route. I am really happy that I have chosen to see Tibet this way. And I am happy that I am still managing it, it is certainly not an easy ride.
Shigatse, the town where we are now, is quite nice. It has an old Tibetan part, where people live their lives like they have been doing for the past hundreds of years. Not much has changed, except for the fact that they now have electricity (water they still don’t have). Shigatse, like Gyantse, has a Dzong (fort) overlooking the city. This one was destroyed in 1959 during a Tibetan uprising, but is now being rebuilt. We took a look at the Dzong today (officially not allowed, but we just walked up the mountain and into the fort), and only the outside is finished so far. After that we went to the monastery, which is about a kilometer away from the Dzong. This is the official residence of the Panchen Lama, and all the former Panchen Lama’s are buried here as well. There were hardly any other tourists (amazing, considering that this is one of the main sights in Tibet and it is May Holiday now here), so we could take a good look without being rushed around. This monastery was the nicest one we have seen so far, especially because most of it was saved during the Cultural Revolution. It is almost like a town within a town, and there are hundreds (or maybe thousands?) of monks still living here.
Today my wife and Gary’s girlfriend left, they are off to Lhasa and then fly back to Shanghai. Someone has to earn money 🙂 They will pick us up in Kathmandu in about 2 weeks from now. It’s probably better that they are going back, because from now on the trip will be getting really difficult. No more hotels, and probably some really cold nights (and snow) high up in the mountains. I think it’s better we face these hardships alone, instead of letting them ‘suffer’ with us.