We did it! Yesterday our group managed the last, very easy, stage into Kathmandu, and we are finally having a good bed and a hot shower again in the Shangri-La hotel. And finally access to the internet again, although the connection is too slow to be able to get in my emails and even to open my own weblog (I hope to find a better connection later to post this). Also my mobile phone does not work in Nepal, so I am not able to make any calls or send or receive an SMS. Strange enough incoming calls get through sometimes, no clue how that is possible. On Thursday we will fly to Hong Kong and from there to Shanghai, I look forward to being in the office again on Friday and to be back ‘on the grid’.
The last week was not as difficult as the week before, but it certainly wasn’t easy. The day after my last post from Tingri we thought we would have an easy day over paved roads to the foot of the Lalung La. But as usual during this trip things were not as easy as they sounded. Already 5 km outside of Tingri the paved road suddenly stopped, and we found ourselves on a dirt road once again. The dirt road went slightly up for most of the 80 km that we rode it, making it a bit more difficult as well. But when after lunch suddenly a heavy storm (windforce 9) hit us right in the head, my dad and I were close to giving up again. We had to walk against the storm sometimes, because we could not bike against it. When we still had more than 20 km to go, a sandstorm came up and filled our clothes and mouth with fine pieces of sand. Shortly after that it also started to snow a bit, and we seriously started to doubt whether we could make this stage. But we went on and on and on, and finally around 7 pm we arrived in our camp, totally exhausted. We thought Gary and Jay were still riding, but it turned out that the wind had been too much for them, and one of the support vehicles had picked them up around 4:30 pm. The camp was in a beautiful location, on a piece of grassland next to a river, surrounded by huge mountains, but we were too tired to really enjoy it, and it also became dark quickly after we arrived. We had a bit of food and dropped into our sleeping bags right after.
The next morning we got up very early, because in the morning there is always less wind in the Himalaya. Around 7:30 we were having breakfast in the freezing cold, and before the sun had reached our valley camp ground (at 4600 meter altitude) we were already on our bikes. My hands and feet felt like they were from ice, but after 15 minutes we suddenly rode in the sun, and it got warm quite quickly. This day we had to climb two passes over 5000 meters, the first 13 km from our camp and the second 26 km, meaning that we started to climb almost immediately. The good news was that these would be the last two major passes of the trip, if we would make the second one we would have a 150 km downhill into Nepal right after it. We were still very tired from the day before, and already had to walk part of the first pass. We made it around 11, and had several Snicker bars and a can of Red Bull to get some calories and energy in. The second mountain pass was really hard, and I walked at least 3 km with my bike in my hand. Walking is actually more difficult due to the lack of oxygen, but changing from biking to walking sometimes can motivate you not to give up. Around 1 pm my dad and I managed to reach the top of the second pass at about 5200 meters. Our guide was there with hot noodles, but we were too tired to eat and decided to first descend to a lower altitude. After doing that we sat in the support vehicle for almost an hour to regain our strength, but our spirits were high: we conquered all the Tibetan mountain passes! Two hours later Gary and Sean also managed to reach the top, and when we heard that news we were very happy.
After the last mountain my dad and I started the descent and rode in the direction of Nyalam, the last city on the Tibetan plateau. However, the headwind got much worse once again, and we were thinking of camping and continuing the next day. Then we heard from our guide that the road ahead would be under construction for 50 kilometers (until Zhangmu / Dram, the Chinese bordertown), and most of it would be very difficult to navigate by bike. We decided to take the car and ride back to Gary to discuss what to do. We found him on the mountain, and after a short discussion we decided to take the car to Zhangmu. That was a good decision, because the road was in a terrible condition and even in the Land Cruiser it seemed like a dangerous undertaking. Basically the road from Nyalam to Zhangmu was a 2-3 meter ridge on the side of the mountain, with a 1 km deep gorge right next to it. One of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in nature, but not something to ride on bicycle when road crews are building it. We even encountered a small landslide right in front of us (we had to wait 30 minutes before the road was cleared), and at one point we rode right through a glacier with ice towering above the car on both sides. Even by car the 50 km took us over 4 hours, by bike this would have been much longer, even though it was all downhill.
Zhanghmu turned out to be subtropical city, at an altitude of only 2300 meters. We had a not-so-very-clean hotel right on the border with Nepal, where we had a good night of sleep anyway. The next morning we went through all border formalities, first on the Chinese side, then a steep 8 km dirt road down (over 1000 altitude meters down) to the Nepali town of Kodari, where we crossed the Friendship bridge and had to go through Nepal customs. This took us several hours, but there were no big problems. The sight and sounds changed within these 8 km, and we were suddenly in a different world. The people not only spoke a different language, but even looked different, and we were suddenly in a tropical third-world country. New smells in the air from all the spices that were used to cook, and a warm wind because of the lower altitude and different climate. We even had to ride on the other side of the road, which we only figured out after several hundred meters in Nepal. It felt like a new adventure!
From Kodari we rode about 20 km to a great place called The Last Resort. A small resort consisting of relatively luxurious tents, set on the side of a mountain overlooking the valley below it. You had to cross a 100 meter hanging bridge to get there, giving it an even more special feeling. We spent the afternoon relaxing in the gardens and in the bar. For the first time in weeks we allowed ourselves a couple of beers, and we talked the whole afternoon and night about our experiences of the trip and ideas about the future. Gary, my dad and I developed a new business concept as well in a few hours, for a likely very successful new venture. Gary and I won’t have time to work on this, so we will only be involved in the fund raising and using our Chinese network to make it happen. If the idea still sounds good in a few weeks you will likely read about it on this blog. A memorable day for all of us I think.
The next morning at breakfast we decided to take it easy and instead of riding the 70 km along the river to Bhaktapur, to take the car and do some sightseeing along the way. Jay went bungy jumping after breakfast, and although he tried hard to convince all of us to join, none of us thought this was a good idea. If I ever go bungy jumping I prefer not to do it in a place where the closest hospital is a 3-hour bumpy ride away! The car ride to Bhaktapur was very nice, and we made several stops along the way. We had lunch in a mountain resort, before the final descent into the valley where Bhaktapur and Kathmandu are located. Bhaktapur turned out to be a medieval city, that had hardly changed over the past hundreds of years. During daytime there were some tourists from Kathmandu, but at night they all went back, so we seemed to be the only foreigners here. We had a hotel right on the main city square, with great views over the market and the temples around it. The only bad sid
e was that people started worshipping around 4:30 AM and they did so by ringing a big bell in front of the temple. So we decided to get up, and by 6 AM we were strolling around the old town. An unforgettable experience!
A few hours later we had breakfast and then started our last stage from Bhaktapur to Kathmandu. That turned out to be an easy ride, although the heavy trafffic slowed us down a lot. When we arrived in Kathmandu we had the bad luck to end up in a demonstration, and people had closed the road. My dad decided to talk to the mob, and they eventually agreed to let us through. Our Nepali guide, however, was scared, and he wanted us to take a different route. We had to follow him, which was a pity because now we were back on congested streets again. Later we found out that there are several demonstrations per day, because Nepal the struggle against the Maoist rebels left the country virtually bankrupt. It is strongly advised to stay away from these demonstrations, because they easily turn violent. I guess we were lucky!
In the Shangri-La hotel my wife and Gary’s girlfriend were waiting for us (they had flown in the night before), and it was very nice to see them again. They had been a bit worried, something I did not realize while bike riding. I did not really see it as a dangerous undertaking, more as a test for myself how far I could go and as a good way to look at my current life from a different perspective. The trip is too fresh in my mind to be able to really grasp what we did, but it feels like I made the right decision to do this bike ride. It was good to go back to nature, to feel its force and to live a less luxurious life for a few weeks. It makes you appreciate your normal life a lot more. And at the very least I lost about 5 kilos, which is also not too bad. Although I am afraid that the kilos might be back after a few days in Kathmandu: we are all eating twice as much as we used to!
Note: I made hundreds of pictures during the trip, some of which I will start uploading this weekend to http://www.flickr.com/photos/chijs. I had planned to do that here already, but the Nepalese Internet turns out to be about 10 years behind the rest of the world, so I have given up on that idea.