Journey of Tibet on a Bike
- Anzu

I went to Tibet with my friend, Yoshiko, three years ago. At that time, we were in third year of the university and we belonged to the cycling club. We had enjoyed cycling in Europe before respectively. And we also had been to Nepal to trek together and loved the Himalayan Mountains very much, so we then wanted to observe them from the other side. That’s why we decided to go to Tibet for a bike trip together.

We left Japan in the middle of February with our bikes and heavy luggage. Actually, we tried to make the luggage as small as possible, but we needed a lot of clothes that would protect us against the cold. In Tibet, the temperature would mark –30C at night. And we also needed a tent and many tools for fixing bikes. Finally it weighed 40kg!!! Fortunately, we could put them on the plane for free.
We arrived in Hong Kong on the first day and took a bus to Guangzhou. It was very hard to go through the customs in China in Shenzhen, but we finally managed to arrive at a big hotel in Guangzhou. We stayed there for three days to get an airplane ticket to Chengdu. It was a very energetic city with a big food market.

Chengdu is one of the gateways to Tibet. We applied for a tour to Tibet at a travel agency. Anyone who wanted to enter Tibet had to be in a tour at that time. The tour we chose included a one-way air ticket and three nights dormitory pass, and a permit to enter Tibet. We stayed there for four days and in the morning of the fifth day, we were in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet.

The sky was very clear and I felt like there were no particles in the air. The temperature was low and I felt it hard to breathe, because it was 3,600 meters high! We drank a lot of water so we did not get mountain sickness, but with that, we couldn’t help ourselves wanting to go to the toilet many times during the bus trip from the airport to the city!

After settling down at the Yak Hotel, we walked around the old town. There was the big temple named Chokan in the center of it and there was an old-styled shopping street around the temple. Curiously, all of the people in the street walked in the same direction, as if there was a custom to turn clockwise around a temple in Tibet. The clothes they wore were so gorgeous with animal furs and jewelry such as coral and turquoise. Some men made braids with their hair and decorated them with red strings. They seemed like very modern fashionable people.

Anyway, we stayed in Lhasa for a week. During the days, we visited the Photala Palace where the Dhalai Lhama used to live and some other temples, and we also bought a lot of food we would need after started to ride our bikes. On the 1st of March, we were ready to leave Lhasa to Kathmandu in Nepal.Between Lhasa and Kathumandu, there is one road which runs about nine hundred kilometers. There are some passes higher than 5,000 meters and the road conditions are not always good. Of course, in most parts it is a dirt road and landslides occur. But from the road, we could see silver-shining Himalayan Mountains including Mt. Everest and other fantastic landscapes of the Tibetan Plateau. Yoshiko and I started to go through the road.

On the first day, I could ride the bike only at the usual half speed because I felt it hard to breath although seven days had passed since we arrived in Lhasa. We went along the wide river, which was so beautiful with light-green colors and the shining reflections of the sun. The local people seemed to use a tractor as a bus, and we met a lot of people on it and we waved to each other. In the afternoon, we reached a small town which was sixty kilometers away from Lhasa and we settled in a guest house.
During the journey, we would usually stay at guest houses in towns which weren’t well equipped, only with small wooden beds. When we couldn't reach a town - because there were towns every 30 to 50 kilometers - we stayed at an office for road construction by begging for a one-night stay. We also had a tent for unforeseen circumstances. Anyway, we could eat good Chinese suppers at the cafe and we cetainly slept deeply on the first night!

Over the next two days, we went up and down beside the entire canyon. We struggled with the wind against us which blew after eleven o'clock everyday. But I would forget my tiredness when I looked back the way we'd come. There were white brilliant mountains beyond the valley!!
On the forth day, we parted from the river and the world surrounding us became a huge brown desert and deep-blue sky.

On the fifth day, the big accident happened. Yoshiko's bike was fatally broken in the middle of the desert. In fact, her bike wheel hadn't been in good condition since we departed Lhasa, but we thought it could endure during this journey. We looked for the part of her wheel's shaft for two hours which had suddenly flown into the air, but we couldn't find it. We decided to go ahead by dragging the bikes anyway. Unfortunately, a strong wind filled with sand began to bother us, and we knew there were no towns for the next forty kilometers ahead. I felt angry with these circumstances and I wanted to throw my bike away, but I also knew no one could help us except us. All I could do was to keep going ahead, believing this tragedy would be a funny story someday. (like now!)

Though there were few trucks that were going in the same direction as us, we decided to hitchhike. When we waved our hands at one, a driver of a truck got off and said '' There are forty kilometers to the next town, Shigatse, you can't reach there in such a strong sandstorm.'' And then he drove away! We continued to walk more than thirty minutes and then, found a building which looked like an office for road construction.

Yoshiko went there to ask if we could stay for a night. Fortunately, the truck driver who said something to us before was in there and welcomed us. He took us to his room and there were several men there. All of them were gentle and gave us hot Tibetan tea and apples. We chatted to each other by writing Chinese characters for a while. Yoshiko and I felt safe and relaxed after the nightmare and we were glad to get to a place to spend the night. Then, they offered to send us in their van to Shigatse. What kind people they were! We took some photos with them and thanked them sincerely. We got into the back seats of the van and left with two of them. I'll never forget the moment on the way to Shigatse; the Chinese pop-music filled the van and there was a huge desert around us and I felt anxious about our journey because Yoshiko's bike was still broken.In Shigatse, we had to do two things. One was to repair Yoshiko's bike, the other was to extend the visa. Luckily there were some street stalls for bikes, so her bike was barely fixed. But unluckily, we couldn't add any days to our visa so consequently we had to leave China in twelve days. We were very disappointed because we wouldn't get to the border of China and Nepal in twelve days. It was necessary that we decide to go to the next big town, Latse, by bus to gain distance.

We began to ride our bikes again from Latse four days after the accident. The highest pass of the route, where the altitude was 5,250 m, confronted us. The altitude of Latse was 4,000 m, so we had to go up 1,250 m!

Just after going up a hill, I found it far harder than I had expected. The slope wasn't steep but I had to stop to condition my breathing every twenty meters. Some local people who we met along the hill helped me by pushing the back of my bike. We couldn't communicate enough through language but the action and smiles were enough to exchange our hearts.

Around noon, we reached the office for road construction. At the time we were below half-way point of the pass, so we decided to pitch our tent to keep our energy for tomorrow.
Next day, we started just after sunrise. We passed the frozen river and then, there was an endless slope. After noon, the wind began to blow against us again. It was so strong that we could hardly ride the bikes, so we pushed them with our whole body. The hills around us were gradual and some parts of them were patched with snow. The sky was clear with some big clouds. Every time when the corner of a hill emerged, I expected that the pass was behind the corner, and the hope was failed every time.
But finally, we found the place where we could see the opposite side of the hill. There was the pass which we had looked forward, and there were colorful flags which were full of suntra and they flap almost being torn by the wind. Those flags are a typical sign of a pass in Tibet. I was so exhausted that I felt much relief more than the excitement of conquering the pass. The time was nearly seven, the sun was going to sink. Though there were white mountains which I had dreamed of for a long time in my arm range, they didn't smile to me. Their expression was quite severe and they were sitting with dignity. We spent a short time there and hurried to go down.

The road was still a dart so we were troubled even in the descent. Suddenly, Mt.Everest emerged in front of us. It had a gradual triangle shape towards the foot. The shape was quite different from the one we had seen in Nepal. But regrettably, I couldn't afford to absorb the scenery. We couldn't find any buildings until nine o’clock and I felt maximum fatigue, so we decided to pitch our tent beside the road. We fell into the tent and began to sleep.

The altitude of this place was still 5,000 m, so I couldn't sleep well because of the clod, choking and headache, actually. When I waked up, I found frost inside of the tent and the water was frozen. Those situations told us that we had spent the night in the place equivalent to a freezer.
We left the place around noon and reached the office of road construction which situated five kilometers away. It was the best action I could do at that time. There were two middle-aged women and their children inside and they welcomed us to their warm living room. We spent whole afternoon playing a card-game with the children, sketching their faces, drinking hot tea. It was a brief rest time for us.Next two days, we went the terror dirt road. I felt like that the swing shook my stomach. In the afternoon of the second day, we arrived at a small village, Tingri. There were about a score of houses with white walls along the road, and children sniffling and wearing dusty clothes were playing around. We found a guesthouse and settled in.

Actually there were only more three days to the expiration date of the Chinese visa, so we decided to go to the border by hitching on a truck.
Next morning, we took a walk around the town and climbed the hill behind the houses. There was a ruin on the top of it, and from there we could look down the brown plain with tiny cattle, and beyond the land there were the spectacular Himalayan Mountains! We were overwhelmed and were just staring at them for a while. They were tinted with silver and black from the strong sun. The shine produced in a divine atmosphere. We admired them in union and we think about our journey until this day. We sketched them and stayed there all the morning.

On the return road, we found a truck stopping in front of a house. Unluckily the truck was under repair but the owner said he would fix it tomorrow, so we negotiated the price and came to an agreement.
We moved the owner's house and stayed there for a whole day. The house was full of the normal life of Tibet so it was really interesting to be there. There was only one room in the house and everything - cooking, eating, sleeping- was done in there. There were other guests in the room. Surprisingly, the men were from Nepal and on foot, spending three days. From their village behind the Himalayan Mountains, they could enter Tibet without passport. They said that they were concerned about crop trading. We enjoyed talking through broken Tibetan, Japanese and English, it was the most peaceful day in the journey.Next day, the truck had been fixed up and I felt very sad to leave the town. The destination was the border so this would be the final day to enjoy the air of Tibet. We waved hands at the people and I was moved to tears.

Luckily or unluckily, it wasn't so smooth to reach the border. The truck was broken again and again on the way so we had to wait till it was fixed for hours. Because of that, we couldn't see the scenery of the Himalayas from the nearest point because it was already night and so dark.

After arriving at the town twenty kilometers before the border, the driver suddenly rejected the idea to go ahead and we quarreled. Finally he returned some money to us and we agreed to be leave him there. But thinking after, it was a very nice accident for us because we could enjoy the last scenery of Tibet.
From the town to the border, the road was completely down. One side of the road was a precipitous cliff. We hung onto the handles gingerly and sometimes looked up at the mountains rising beside us. I was saying farewell to Tibet in my mind during the descent of the hill.

The border was a bridge on a rapid river. I looked back and found a hanging mountain. I thought about the people behind the mountain. We had met and been taken care of by lots of people during the journey. They must live their normal life under the deep sky of Tibet at the moment. When I think about them, I feel the time go around the globe and I feel something warm.