My good friends Mark and Bekk suggested we ride our bikes from Lhasa to Kathmandu - 1000km and high mountain passes over 5000 meters. I didn't own a bike other than a knock about weekender but I thought why not, sounds great - I better start training and also buy a better bike. This isn't a trip you can just do on your own, we booked a tour but had the advantage that it was just our group of friends on the tour - 7 of us in total. It was a once in a life time experience and I'll remember it forever.
Kathmandu – Lhasa
The craziness I guess starts at the airport in Kathmandu. Seven people and seven bikes all trying to get on a flight to Lhasa in a third world country. Thank goodness for Steve and his Nepali language skills as we learnt it was a one bag per person to fly and considering 4 of us had our bikes in a box and an additional bag it was a mass of re-organising and reallocating gear just to get on the flight. Then four security check points all involving a full body pat down, we eventually took of for the flight to Lhasa after a 20 meter bus ride from the terminal to the plane and 10 minute wait on the bus or what I’d prefer to call it – a sauna. Flight was about an hour, with the best bit being that we flew over Mt Everest and the most entertaining bit was the weird selection of food we got.
When we arrived in Lhasa (3500m) I got a headache almost instantly. Compared to the chaos of Kathmandu airport – this was efficiency and organisation here – as long as we did it in order. I am “tour leader” according to our Tibet visa. So I went through first and the rest followed in the order their name fell on the list. Two pieces of paper given in by me – lots of stamping action and Wendy who was last got one sheet of paper back. No stamps in our passport – rats. Then through to customs where our bike boxes where scattered around and a lady came and found us – are you the “group of seven from Australia?” – yep – that’s us. As “tour leader” I had to fill out the two customs forms. One for our group and one for the truck driving up from Nepal. The itemised list thing is a new thing as no one had come across such list before so it took a while to sort this out. Thankfully Tenzing our Tibetan guide came along to help and many stamps and A LOT of writing on all three forms later we left. WOW – Lhasa and party of seven from Australia had finally arrived! Airport has Chinese look about it – MASSIVE concrete structure and showy at the same time. Drove on a very impressive highway that went through two tunnels to Lhasa in about 1½ hours. Mountains and glacial lakes and fields and crops with people working them with sickles. The Hotel we are staying is nice, we all have a twin room including the couples, and they are both rock hard like planks of wood. Wendy and I got money out of the ATM next door and found a banana to eat as we missed lunch and I was starving and dinner not booked until 2 hours time. Headache not so much fun so I decided to take a nurofen tablet and finally 7pm rolled around and we all piled down to the hotels restaurant for dinner (All of China is on Beijing time, so 7pm feels like 4pm). I was shaking I was so hungry. Ordered Naan and when it eventually came it was doughy and I couldn’t swallow it. Next our mains arrived and by this time I was apparently looking pale and I also did not feel so perky. Started to eat the curry and then, unfortunately for the restaurant I ran to their loo and threw up in and all around that Chinese hole in the floor type toilet. It wasn’t pretty for anyone, so glad the staff were all so wonderful to me as I apologized multiple times. I felt so much better though and promptly sat back down and ate all my dinner, it was tasty. After dinner we took a walk and explore around town, heading back for lights out at the Mandalay Hotel at 10pm.
Day 2 Lhasa
Woke up and still have a headache, Steve and Wendy have one too, so omelettes, cereal, fruit, panadol and nurofen all around for breakfast this morning. Walking tour of town today and the place is a height of activity – lots of Tibetans circling Jokhang Temple at least 3 times – sometimes more and lots of Tibetans outside the palace praying on mats where you stand all the way up and then drop to your knees. Juniper burning from the middle of the square with lots of smoke making it hard to breathe. Very colourful square with lots of market stalls.
We went into Jokhang temple, it dates back to 647AD and it was packed with Tibetans all holding their flasks of melted yak butter to add a bit to each butter candle. Lots of statues of different deities, each with their own room – lots of smoke and people and darkness – hard to breathe already! We wound our way up to the top – to the view over the square, huffing and puffing our way up the stairs. Great view from the top with the smoke from the Juniper burning often coming our way – how does one breathe here?!
After lunch (4 floors up – more huffing and puffing) and then a shop we headed to the Potela Palace. Got lost trying to find the entrance and almost missed our tour time and then walked up 200 steps to the top…..I feel so unfit here. WOW- How impressive is the Potela Palace. It is built up the side of a mountain that apparently used to look like an elephant. So impressive and sky clear blue – looked so great. All the Dalai Lama’s have occupied this place except the current one so it is more like a museum now. Lots of rooms and tombs and statues, so much gold, gold, gold. The 7th DL has a tomb made from 500kg of gold and jewels of diamonds, gems, pearls. That was nothing compared to the 5th DL whose tomb had 3000kg of gold! We were the last group through for the day, so as we wound around, the butter light candles were extinguished and each guard/monk from each room would follow us and shut the door behind us! By the time we neared the end we had a number of guides telling us facts. Other cool things in Potela where the scrolls or writings – so old. The pictures on the walls – so colourful. Very hot outside and the walk down was much easier than walk up!
Back at the hotel and it was operation bike assemble in every room and I was glad for the help from Mark, thanks.
Day 3 Lhasa
Headaches came back overnight – wish they’d go away! Breakfast same again – cereal and omelette and nurofen.
Today’s sight seeing started with the Drepung Monastery. Very hot today and the monastery on a hill so more huffing and puffing to get to the top. Derpung is not as impressive at Potola, but is more of a working monastery. Lots of monks, butter lamps and prayer wheels and statues of Lama’s, and the thousand eye, thousand arms lady we keep seeing. Lots of paintings of deity with very scary eyes too.
After a quick lunch with questionable toilets we where off to Sera monastery. Not impressive as far as looks go and we didn’t get to go inside the main building because it was closed but in the square the debating was going on. 100’s of monks debating (teaching) some sitting down and they looked like the students and the ones standing up where busy questioning them and when they got it correct they’d lean back and then slap their hands together in a forced downward motion. Fascinating watching. I had a headache – still. I’m sitting down leaning against a wall next to Renae and asked her if she had any Nurofen? Yes she says and then we lean back and fall into a stupor again for 5 mins before I ask her again….oh yeah, I forgot – hear you go” I’m finding this altitude thing tough to get use to. Next came trying to get inside the monastery and I gotta tell you I wasn’t very upset when I heard it wasn’t open – more really steep stairs to summit!
Back at the hotel the boys waited for the truck to arrive so they could forage at the supermarket for a couple of items and then buy 50 x 4 litre containers of water for the first 5 days of the ride! Us girls went shopping at the Tibetan Artisan shop. It is a fixed price shop and everything was beautiful and of high quality. Lots of beautiful purses all made out of the apron material that the Tibetan married women wear. Placemats and all sorts of well sewn things. I looked at the rugs and found one I liked. Then the girls looked at the handbags and bought one each. Bekk’s was the latest in Tibetan design apparently! Then I went back to the rugs and pulled out the one I liked – so nice – I ended up buying it – woo hoo. $300AUD and $100 to ship. I shipped it to Mum and Dad’s place, should take a week or 2 or 5, depending on when the freight goes. Very nice looking and official shop. [Rug arrived safely 6 weeks later].
Wandered the streets shopping in the square at the market stalls looking and buying till we met the boys at the vegetarian restaurant for dinner. The boys had fun at the supermarket buying 350 litres of water – 20 boxes x 4 litres x 4. The whole shops employees assisted with this task. Dinner was delicious, we ordered a couple of dishes before the boys arrived, snow peas and onion fried mash potato. Boys arrived and told us of their adventures and we gobbled up the meals in minutes. Ordered more dishes, broccoli, peppers and the mash dish again and when we finished these – we ordered more – the mash again and some mushrooms and other dishes. That mash was really tasty! 32 Yuan each ($5) Very tasty. Waltzed home, got our bikes, spent a while pumping up tyres – hard work – Then we took off to the Potala palace. Potala palace spectacular at night. All lit up – wow. Lots of tourists +++ stepped over the barricades and took a few photos. Gorgeous, photos won’t do it justice.
Spent the rest of the evening organising our stuff. Lots of stuff – need a bag for the truck, bag for jeep (van), day pack stuff (water) and snacks and the pannier bag – phew. Considering we didn’t head to the palace till 10pm (it only gets dark at 9:30pm) It was after midnight when I shut my eyes. Took one more nurofen after dinner as headache was starting to return.
Day 1 Bike Ride Lhasa – to near Gamba 85km – flat mostly
Great sleep last night because instead of trying to sleep on a plank of wood (the bed) I got out my down mat and slept like a baby. I woke at 7am to another sunny Tibetan day. Shower/wash/pack and deliver of bag for truck down to Lobby by 8am and then leisurely breakfast before back to the room and seeing all the rest of the stuff that needed carting downstairs too. Bike box, bike, day bag and the camelback – oh dear. At 9am the truck and van were packed and everyone’s tyres got pumped up and multiple photos from every angle taken and we set off….on our way to Kathmandu 1000km away.
Took us 15kms to ride out of Lhasa, riding past the Potela Palace again and waving at all the tourists and them waving at us – we are THE tourist attraction!
Then continued along a flat road next to a river before arriving at lunch at a picnic stop under a tree. Lunch of chipolatas/rice/curried cauliflower and potato and warm cheese bread sandwich. Yum!
Continued on a further 32 km along the river, over a bridge and then up to our campsite to get in at about 3:30pm. We all “drafted” for the most part of the day – allowing us to do about 23km/hr on average.
We went over a bridge at the 70km mark and then soaked in the view. From here it was only another 15km into camp, which we all straggled into separately after Mark and Bekk sorted out a flat tyre. Congrats all around for a successful first day and “easy” 85km. Got in at 3:30pm and it was as hot as hot in camp, blazing hot. Everyone took off for a swim, except for Wendy and I. We became the main attraction to a couple of car loads of Chinese tourists who got out to look at us and then take photos of us.
The others got the same treatment down at the lake. Too many people watching so they all went in for a swim in their riding gear! The shower tent got put up and it thankfully cooled down and dinner was served in the dining tent. Delicious. Started with soup and poppadum’s and then Dahl baht, rice, chicken curry, mushroom mix and rice. Smelt and tasted yum scrum. Another nurofen after dinner – headache unfortunately returned when we got in. Bed after a few card games at 9ish.
Day 2 Near Gamba over the Khamba Pass(4790m) to Next to the Lake – 49km’s
Wow- big thunder storm last night. Very hot before bed and then we saw some clouds and lighting and then pitta pitta patta then voom – hail! Lots of it, about the size of bean bag balls. Then lots of rain and then a river coming through our tent! Tent re-organization done, everything up higher and then I slept well after that – ear plugs, and high up on my foam mat and then the down mat. Wendy on the other hand did not enjoy such a great slumber with her mattress soaking up all the water and she slept on a water bed of sorts. Sounded horrid actually. I was woken at 7:30am by a breakfast cup of tea (Wendy already awake) and then set about reorganising what was an organised tent. Took some time to find all the bits chucked in anywhere last night. Breakfast was cereal and eggs and then at 9am we got ready to go and set off at 9:15am to tackle the 23km of the Khamba pass – phew! Wow.
Team Wendy, Kate and Steve took it on together up to the half way spot. Team “Skandy” was tough going, but gradient gentle and winding. Granny gear out in force. Was a hard slog, but I took it easy and never tried to get out of breath as I had a long way to go yet. It wasn’t until about 200 meters before the half way mark that I hit the wall and really had to work hard and dig deep.
Lots of tourist 4WD’s and busses (all Chinese) at the half way point and lots of pictures too, the view was amazing. Now – all we needed was to do another 12km. Higher and higher, hairpin bend after another – oh dear. As we got closer to the top the harder it became. Steve rode with me. He could have gone a lot faster I am sure. As we got closer to 4790 meters the stops became more frequent. I gave every excuse I could find to stop – ie. Need to pee (x2), hungry, just need a break- ahhh. I wanted to walk my bike the last bit – Steve wouldn’t let me.
Eventually made it to the top, Mark and Bekk had been there about an hour. Hugs and tears and squeezy holding hugs and more tears – what a feat. What a view. One side is of the arduous climb up and the other of a magnificent lake. Up the top are vendor’s and Yak’s and the Tibetan huge husky dogs with their red flashy wool collars. Got up the top at 1:50pm. 23km in just under 5 hours!
About 25 min later Wendy arrived, we cheered her on, and then she almost collapsed, the altitude affecting her badly. We fuelled her up with the hot cordial and some food and she came a lot better, but remained spinning in the head for the rest of the day. Renae and Tobi rocked up about 10 min’s after that. More tears of joy and relief and photos and then we cruised down to lunch about 2km away.
Another fab spread of hot food as we lay in the sun on mattresses. 8km of down after lunch and then 16km more after that to camp. We stuck in a draft line with Mark calling the km rate at the back. This kept us all going for about 8km, although it was a little fast for me and I was exhausted.
Got in at 5:30 – an 8 ¼ hour day – no wonder I was stuffed. The next hour was spent sorting ourselves out and then sitting in the mess tent eagerly awaiting first the toilet tent to be constructed and then ahhhh… the shower tent. So good. Dinner was soup and then we all could not believe our eyes…chips and battered and fried eggplant. So yummy. Cold up here tonight – puff jackets are on. Played a couple of games of cards by candle light and then to bed early.
Day 3 Lake to Near Lungma and over the High Karo Pass(5039m)
Terrible night’s sleep, I tossed and turned and woke a couple of times with the driest of mouths and a headache – my old mate the headache returns. We are also camped between a lake and a gravel road that is a short cut to the bitumen road and all night long the trucks rattled past our tents – often we could feel the earth moving. That and the dogs barking…..!!!!! I went to bed last night feeling so good at 4490m – “wow how tough am I!” But felt pretty bad in the morning. Struggled through breakfast and then popped two nurofen – my new best friends and before long was feeling loads better. Cold this morning brrrr everyone with leg warmers and arm warmers and gortex jackets on as it looked like raining. Left at 9:15 into the chill. Didn’t have enough layers on for this. Down and flat and up in bits and into some wind. Should have been easy but with not much sleep it was not easy – no way. At 15km we stopped in a wee village for morning tea. Nice to stop and it was in the sun.
Onwards we rode – oh it was exhausting actually, trying to draft all in a line and keep up. I was struggling but nevertheless doing it somehow. We stopped some and rode some and changed clothes often and rode in the rain and more or less kept going for 40km to lunch. Through lots of little towns, saying hi to the locals again and again.
We were dwarfed by massive mountains and in the distance behind where snow capped mountains with the last of glacial activity on them. Stunning. Came around a bend and spotted the truck – LUNCH. Oh yeah. Fab again – a cabbage dish, potato and cauliflower dish, cheese sangas and spam! The spam not such a hit, but the rest was gobbled up. Relaxed on the mats for sometime before eventually leaving to tackle the High Karo Pass.
Before lunch I was thinking no way am I doing that, I could barely get up the little up bits along the way, but after lunch I thought I’d give it a bash- it’s is only 6km and 300 meters more of elevation from lunch spot. We stopped every 50 meters of elevation and that was great. Surprisingly it was not too hard – before lunch was harder I thought.
Bit by bit we got to the top at 5039 meters high – woo wee! More tears, what an achievement again. Lots of photos taken in the middle of the road.
1 km ride down and we got a magnificent view of a glacier. Watching it we saw a huge chunk fall off and drop down the mountain – awesome.
I went down the hill and the road was not smooth the whole way! I didn’t have a headache at the top but soon felt it the whole way down, bumping over the rocks. Was a great down hill – makes up for the tough up hill slogs.
Camp is by a river and we just got the tents up in time before it rained. Cold too, but not as cold as last night. Stuck it out in the tents and relaxed for a while until we heard the shower tent was up and we all filed through it. So good and so hot tonight was the water. Played some cards and then dinner arrived in the form of pizza. Mushrooms and greens – so yummy. Then our favorite – battered and fried eggplant and some chow ming dish. Then chicken drum sticks. Then came apple pie – home made. We are eating really well. Played some cards, tied up the bikes and went to bed.
Day 4 Near Lungma to Gyantze
Woken again at 7:30 to breakfast tea and the wash bowl. I finished my tea and chucked my cup out the tent and it landed in my wash bowl – such skill. Another headache today – when will this end? Nurofen after breakfast cured it again. Left at 9am this morning – first time we left on time. Lovely rolling down hill – beautiful. Some little ups, but mostly down. Through valleys and beside big hills (called mountains in Australia). Hills looked barren but when you stopped to have a good look they had sheep on them. More waving to the locals and riding through little towns and past people sweeping the road with home made brooms.
We rode up a pass today – not a big one but still a good climb (100meters). At the top we carried our bikes over to a rocky outcrop where we got sweeping views of the dam below and the mountains. Customary shopping also available at the top of the pass, it’s as sure as finding prayer flags. All the girls bought some jewelry – bracelet’s, earrings and silver chains.
Then down the pass we rode. Beautiful riding again.
Nearly at bottom when the beautiful days bike riding ceased. Tobi smashed his wheel – didn’t hurt himself, and Wendy’s brakes came on too suddenly and threw her over the handle bars. Wendy on side of the road in agony. Steve road down to get the van, we were only one bend from the bottom. Lots of pushing and poking of poor Wendy, her handle bar went in to her lower abdomen and we decided that Wendy would live for a while so put her in the van with Tobi’s bike. He rode Wendy’s bike to lunch about 8 km away, so thought we’d see Wendy in 20 minutes. Lunch actually closer to 15km away and while we rode Bekk and I formulated a plan. At the lunch stop which EVENTUALLY came I grabbed a delicious plate of goodies and got in van and we went to the Gyantze Emergency Center. Nema and Tenzing there too and between us we spoke to a nurse and found a doctor and had Wendy looked at in the vacant waiting room. Nema and Tenzing so helpful and lovely. An x-ray doctor came and we all walked up the corridor. Mark and Bekk had ridden there by this time as well (so fast). I stripped off all Wendy’s many zips and she stepped in front of an erect x-ray screening table. I tried to find the light to position the tube as it was pointing at her head. The bloke had started screening already and I came behind to see him randomly going from side to side and holding down the screening button. Looking and screening. I said, please stop – we take real picture. Apparently that can only tomorrow! So we checked above her liver – no free gas and checked her left pelvis – no huge fractures, but who would know on such a poor screening image. Wendy has good colour and no rebound tenderness and she’d just done a pee before falling so no ruptured bladder so we decided to sit on it and see. Hopefully all soft tissue, hopefully. We went back to hotel and Nema got some ice for Wendy from across the road and we sat in the hotel room to rest. About 1 ½ hours later, Wendy had had a shower and was moving around so that was grand. We all had a tour of the town and visit to another monastery “Gyantse Kumbu”. Very impressive yet again. Lovely little “country” town feel.
We went all the way to the top of one temple with 77 room, up lots of stairs and I am no longer huffing and puffing. Then back into town we stopped and took a photo of the fort and had a shop.
Before dinner we found some dodgy internet place and a pharmacy so I could buy more of my new favorite new drug – nurofen – found none. Went to a yummy place for dinner, where Tobi’s Yak burger looked great and tasted great too. Wendy and I shared a vegie curry and dahl and we all ordered the buttered Nun (Naan, we guessed). Back at the top hotel we sorted stuff and checked out Wendy’s bruising. She’s sore and has a great looking bruise going down her leg and around where the handle bar dug in. Ouch.
I forgot to mention, when we first got back from the clinic, Nema had got some ice for Wendy. Later, before we went to monastery I thought I’d get her some more. Nema told me the word for ice and that he got it from a restaurant to the right. No problem….yes problem – with my Aussie accent I have inadvertently asked for some SHIT! I asked very nicely – I even checked their freezer and found no shit. No wonder they all giggled at me. I tried 2 more restaurants and got same giggle and found no ice or shit. I gave up.