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We had set our sights on this village at m for lunch before taking on the m peak. They were six days in to a contract to develop the roads, recovering from altitude sickness, and said this is where they were going to live for at least a year. Spirits were not high.
It was a pretty sobering exchange with some really lovely, genuine guys a long way from home.. Good to get there before the sun went down. Very different to the previous m peak we had done, like a lunar landscape compared to the jagged peaks surrounding that pass. But beautiful in its own way. After you get the expectations of jagged alpine peaks out of your mind it has a special kind of beauty The start of another descent in the dark.
Looking back at the mountains we had crossed. The penultimate day was spent pushing through headwinds on a long flat at about m. This viewing platform made it worth it though, just after an attempt at cooking lunch failed in a hailstorm. The last valley before Litang. Tempted to push on for the final 45k but eventually turned in at the final town. The start of the last day.
Amazing valley after an awful town. Dead flies on musty blankets. A long slog up a slight incline with headwinds is not nice, even if it looks nice Setting the precedent for night time ascents to the top of the mountains, Pictures dont come out so well.. The morning after the night before. Gutted I didnt get any pictures of this awesome family.
They invited me in after I asked if I could stay. I was ushered into a seat by the stove in the living room, which was packed full of all of their relatives, about 15 people. They were preparing to depart for the mountains the following day to pick chongsao, a root used in Chinese medicine.
They would be living in a tent for the next two months. I was following a river valley. The border of Tibet was a wall of mountains to the left.
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Another gravel road Long day, and I took a break before the pass at a clearing in the mountains. Suddenly about 50 little monkeys ran away into the hills. I only managed a few pictures of the last remaining few. This climb was to be a big challenge. All gravel roads. Very slow. In the dark. Day off in Baiyu. They were super friendly but didnt seem so keen on the picture.
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The monastery in Baiyu. First day off in Dege - these kids stopped jumping around in boxes to demand a portrait. Finally managed to go to the printing house - what Dege is known for, where Buddhist scriptures and thankas are printed in their thousands. It also houses many holy works.
There are locals and pilgrims perambulating all of the day. Despite the multiple nightmare ascents, there was lots of cyling like this along the river valley in-between. Ominous departure from Dege after two days off The last of the valley before the climb up to m - I stopped shortly after this small town. Me grumbling while others prostrate themselves on the floor every three steps Ran into some awesome people building an unfinished Tibetan hotel and museum - amazing building, and after huge hunks of yak meat on the bone, they gave me this little villa to sleep in.
Setting off towards the climb up to m. It wasnt actually that bad - as you can see there are long, gradual straights to get you up to the top. Road turned into a packed dirt track higher up. Pretty epic though to be able to look down. View of the top, after a few more switchbacks.. Looking down from the top! Not that dramatic compared to others to be honest, but a nice sense of accomplishment. The way down.. Day off spent joining some other travellers with a car for a trip to Yaqing temple. It is a huge site filled with ornate temples and shrines as well as vast districts of hand made wooden houses.
Home to about 10, monks and nuns, it is apparently the second largest Tibetan Buddhist institute in the world. There were a large number of pilgrims arriving all the time, many of them prostrating all of the way. This is the nuns district - men are not allowed to enter the site on this side of the river.
Was a bit spellbound and mystified by what was going on in the top right - huge number of people in bright orange emerging from the main temple to circumambulate the nearby shrine. I followed some advice to have an easy day and stop for the night in Zhuqing Town, home to a large temple hidden up in the hills. The entrance gate to the monastery in the distance, and the path covered in scripture-painted stones and rocks. Really nice town. Ended up staying another day. Regular breaks! Awesome dude! Went to a local shop and asked if there was anywhere to stay nearby and this guy, a customer, invited me to his home.
The three of them had just come down from the mountains, where their wider family were gathering chongsao for the summer moths. Great dinner of sausage, cabbage, and rice, and a long chat about Tibetan Buddhism. This was a really cool monastery town. Met two young monks when I arrived about 9 or 10pm, who treated me to dinner they were so excited to meet a foreigner. This is the next morning. Starting to really feel it now and keen to arrive in Yushu. Lots of late night riding, but also cool wild animals - deer, eagles, and, here, horses. The border between Sichuan and Qinghai - at the top of a m pass of course.
Looking back towards Sichuan at the border to Qinghai. Getting back into the groove after three days stumbling around Yushu eating cake. All I had the energy for Beautiful scenery here - and even this high you can see all of the tents full of Tibetan families spending May, June, and July gathering the root chongsao. Always a good welcome from the kids as you cycle past. The first bend of the Yangtse river.
Not as breathtaking as it sounds unfortunately. The first bend of the Yellow River. Nice statue. Shame about the bend Living it up About to enter a very, very sparse part of the world. Same same but same.. Eagle day! I literally saw 20 eagles in one day. All gliding down the valley on the wind in the opposite direction to me.
Even saw them take off from 5 metres in front of me while I fumbled unsuccessfully for my camera.
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Finally a close enough picture.. Pushing hard this day to make it within a days ride of Budongquan. Nowhere to stay here - got a bit worried when I realized I had loads of yak meat on the bone in my bags in my tent. Nice spot for the night.
2 China is still a cycling nation
Felt like camping on Mars. This is the most sparse place I have ever been. It was more or less flat at or around m - m for a few days. High altitude, headwind, and just nothing. Its part of the Kekexili area - 83, square kilometres of plateau at an average altitude of m.
Top 10 cycling routes in China
Made it to Budongquan about 10pm. Overwhelmingly crazy experience arriving from one of the most sparse places in the world to the industrial behemoth of the Qinghai-Tibet railway and all its ancillary parts - aka truckstops, KTV joints, and bright neon lights. No photos of that. But this is the next day - final peak of m after 20km, and ready to descend all the way to Golmud. Liked this guy. That would be factories, busy roads, densely populated areas and quite possibly, pollution. The flipside to that of course, is that where there is population, there are lots of roads and also, where there are people, there is culture, visual activity and stories.
So where in China do we go to find a satisfying ride on well made roads, through scenic landscapes, where we can connect with locals and hear their stories, and learn about their cultures? Yunnan is a province with a medium to low density of population, with great roads through a mountainous landscape, stunning scenery and a diverse mix of ethnic groups who all have their own unique cultures.
It also has a very agreeable climate for cycling. The mountainous areas outside of Kunming feature a much more varied climate, but through the spring and fall months, this area is perfect for cycling. The weather in Yunnan is just so nice. The provinces further east, tend to be more humid and subject to more rain through spring. Sure, it rains in Yunnan too, but the crisp clear air and blue skies that you can experience here are less frequent in the provinces towards the coast. It makes for the perfect backdrop when riding for several days from Zhongdian, through Tiger Leaping Gorge, Lijiang and onto Dali.
There are actually 25 ethnic minority groups in Yunnan, so while you might have an expectation that China is somewhat homogenous, Yunnan is far from it. It is one thing to see some sort of cultural performance in Lijiang or to see people dressed up in their traditional clothing for show, but it is entirely another thing to be riding down the road and be regularly passing people dressed in brightly colored, ornate costumes, not because you are there, but because that is basically how they dress every day.
You can only really experience this on a bike trip, because you are passing through these communities instead of seeing staged examples being imported into a city location for your gawking pleasure. The food is terrific. I mean food throughout China is really great, but with the tribal elements of Yunnan and the availability of fresh ingredients, and especially an abundance of vegetables, you can expect a great variety of dishes during a trip in Yunnan.
This is important when you are on a bike ride as you are usually eating more than you would be at home. China as a country has a long long history obviously, and Yunnan is no exception. The difference is though, that until the mid 20th century Yunnan was essentially a patchwork of semi-autonomous zones, mostly identifying along tribal lines. The cultural exchanges that this route facilitated, shaped much of the cultural identity of the region and was instrumental in the interchange of Buddhism between China and South Asia. Today, you can actually cross sections of the route in Yunnan, in fact two sections of the route, converge in the city of Dali, an incredibly atmospheric place to visit with its stone paved streets and its auspicious positioning according to the Feng Shui principles.
A cycling tour in Yunnan is a true adventure! There are some great hotels waiting for us in these cities and also in Zhongdian known often as Shangri-la where the tour starts. These are the places you will likely remember the most though. The city hotels are for comfort, and the in between places are for adventure.
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