September 25-27; 14,315-15,481km; Lhasa-Naqu-Tuotuohe-Golmud
Time to finish off the final stretch of our Lhasa tour. With our stomach ailments all healed up after a good days rest we were ready to hit the road again. The day out of Lhasa started off with a bit of rain. We managed to get ahead of the clouds though, at least until lunch time at which point they had caught back up.
Freezer BurnThe temperature in Lhasa at the slightly lower altitude was tolerable and even comfortable, by lunch on the first day however when the rain caught back up, we weren’t so lucky. Most of the afternoon we were unfortunately having to put up with freezing rain which was not fun.
The town we ended in that night was very reminiscent of small towns in central and eastern China more than Tibet: small, dirty, crowded, and our hotel was one of only two in town that could register foreigners meaning that it was overpriced and in a bit of a state of disrepair. But, when you’re fingertips are starting to feel like they have freezer burn… beggars can’t be choosers.
The next day was much the same in terms of weather, except colder. We went through a couple of snow flurries going over some mountain passes. There was also a relatively strict speed control corridor that kept us waiting for our guide for over half an hour.
Sharing The Road
We had some pretty bad driving to contend with too during the day. The first incident was during the speed corridor during which, while going over a small pass one guy in a 4×4 kept tailgating us way too close for comfort and then would try to pass around blind turns including one where there was a bus coming from the other direction.
When we got to the police checkpoint at the end of the corridor where we were all stopped, I got off the bike, still with all my gear and helmet on, walked back to his car and confronted him (in Chinese): “Excuse me, can I ask you a question?”
“When we’re on the mountain roads, why do you tailgate like that?”
“I don’t know”
“I don’t know either. You know it’s really dangerous right?”
“On a motorcycle, we already have things to be afraid of. You don’t need to make it more dangerous”
Then, as I start walking back to the bike he mumbles after me… “You shouldn’t go so fast…” To which I yell over my shoulder in disbelief, “You were going faster than me! You were PASSING me!”
Later in the day, when it had gotten particulary freezing, we had another bad driver run-in and this one was actually quite scary. We had just come around a blind curve and there was a short straight away before the next which is where we saw two trucks coming round. To be clear, this is a two-lane road, with a rock wall to my left and steep drop off on the right. The only way there could be two trucks coming round this turn is if one was passing the other in our lane. This truck had no room to pass this other truck and had clearly not waited to see if there would be oncoming traffic around the corner before doing so. Rather than slow to a stop and move back over, he flashed his headlights at me to get me to do that even though, as I said, there was nowhere to move over to, just a drop. I came to a complete stop and moved over on the road as much as possible which still wasn’t enough room, but luckily there was a gravel shoulder not much wider than my tires right before the drop. Just enough room to let the jackass of a truck driver through.
Afterwards, I was just in complete shock. If I had been a car (and because of the blind turns he had no way to know I wouldn’t have been), there is almost no doubt that there would have been an accident as there was no room at all for a car to get out of the way.
We did have some positive events in the day, namely passing two big milestones: leaving Tibet and entering province #13 Qinghai and even bigger was passing 15,000km! This was at the end of the day when the weather was still quite harsh, so we stopped quickly for a few pictures before finishing up our 400km day in our first Qinghai town, that wasn’t much more than a truck stop, though our pre-fab room did have heating!
The final day of our Tibet tour, after which we would be saying goodbye to our guide and driver, was eventful only if for the drastic change in climate and scenery. The first half was still cold and at around mid-way we passed over one last mountain pass, snow covered and with a glacier off to our right. But as we made our way down, the weather started to warm. As we put the mountains behind us it really started to get hot and before we knew it we were in the desert. By the end of the day the desert mountains had even flattened out and the contrast with even that morning was pretty startling: barren expanses of brown sand, dusty construction sites, and temperatures way too hot for all the layers we still had on.
That night, we emptied the support vehicle of our stuff which we would have to start strapping onto the bike again and invited Cirang and Pasang out for one last meal before saying our goodbyes.
It will be different being on our own again, but I have to say I am looking forward to it. Having a guide and being able to lighten the load off our bike was great, but I also miss the freedom of being able to choose when to stop and where to go. The regulations that you have to follow throughout Tibet can be quite burdensome too, the speed controls, the PSB registrations, the permits, etc., and it will be nice to have a bit more freedom of choice when, where, and how we travel.
For any readers thinking of planning a trip through Tibet, I can highly recommend the company we used, Tibet Travel. They were very accommodating for the type of trip we wanted to do even though it was very different from what they were used to, and they were also one of the most affordable options we found during our research. Our guide, Cirang, had over a decade of experience in leading tours around Tibet (particularly in the areas between Qinghai Lake and Ali) and was extremely friendly. It’s too bad we couldn’t have more time for our tour as he clearly had a lot more he would have wanted to show us, both in Lhasa and on the road. Also, as a side note, if you’re looking for someone to help you arrange a Tibet and/or China itinerary, the people over at Snap Adventures, a Beijing based company run by westerners, were a big help too in planning the Tibet part of our trip.