The road now leads closer to the Himalaya. On the next section I pass very close at the foot of Mt. Shishanpangma (8012m) until I finally meet the Friendship Highway. This, while not paved yet (in a year at most it will be, because there is now a lot of construction going on), really reminds me of a highway at first: lots of traffic, dusty and almost daily an organized biker group.
From the last trip I have the night on top of Lalung La in very good memory, so I cycle a little extra-loop to camp there one more time. I get rewarded with an unforgettable view into the mountains while the sunset colores them in the most spectacular colors. Pictures, colors and moods that you can impossibly ban on photographs.
In Dingri I have to charge my and the cameras batteries, before going to Everest base camp. I do that mainly with eating the menues up and down in the restaurants.
I take a not often used road and am soon not so certain anymore whether I am still on the right way. Finally a truck comes and I stop it to ask for directions - everything OK. But when the truck goes on I stand motionless there watching the disaster happen. The truck simply drives over my bicycle! I am shocked and unable to say or do anything. In this moment a world collapses for me. When I finally can react again, the truck has long gone and I look at the result: the back wheel is totally twisted, at one point the rim is squashed and the flank is broken out for about 8cm, the rear derailleur is broken off and fallen in pieces, the whole frame is shifted about 8cm, one pedal is twisted, the mounting of one paneer is ripped of. It is the worst case scenario! Fortunately soon a Jeep takes me back to Dingri. When I arrive at the same guesthouse everyone stares speechless at the wreck, I bring back.
When I cycled past here, 8 years ago, only 30km before the turn off to the Everest base camp my freewheel broke. I didn't want to risk to go there anymore and had to skip it. And now again? No this cannot be. The event has triggered sort of a act of defiance. During the next 8 hours I am hammering, screwing and welding like crazy without a break. After the sun has gone down I am really going for the first test ride. The people are quite surprised to see me as this morning no one would have bet a single Yuan that I would soon cycle again when they had seen my wreck.
Of course it is not perfect. Worst while cycling is the pedal that runs out of true and the gear shifting that hardly works at all. The rim supported by a coke can does not give the most convincing impression and because of the rim I have to cycle without back brake. In Shigatse I am sure to get some spare parts. But what to do now. Should I go there directly and skip Everest again? Against all rationality I decide to go to Everest
I try to cycle as carefully as possible, but the road is everything else but gentle to my bike. On the way the back rack breaks off and the rear derailleur falls into pieces twice again. But I arrive. It is a pure victory of the will against all odds.
That Everest is a big mountain I knew of course. But when I finally stand in front of it, it does take my breath away. The dimensions here are very extreme:I am at the base camp at 5170m, but in front of me the Rongbuk face rises up yet another almost vertical 3500m!
Actually it is not allowed to go higher then the base camp without a permit. But because it is already end of the saison, there is no more official controlling. No question I go a bit closer to the mountain. In one day I walk up to 5900m, just below camp 2. Especially the last part is very spectacular, where I walk on the middle moraine while admiring the big seracs of the Rongbuk glacier on both sides and looking up to the peak with first & second step clearly visible.
On the way back to the Friendship highway I cycle over Pang La. It looks like someone here wanted to make a record. Climbing up the 62 switchbacks to 5200m I almost get dizzy. Atop I get rewarded with one of the most spectacular panoramas: the view goes from Makalu (8463m) to Lhotse (8501m), Everest (8848m) until Cho Oyu (8153m.
Until now I was very lucky, having no problems with my health. But now I get Giardia, something I keep getting every time I am back in the region since my first visit here. Fortunately I have the necessary antibiotics with me and so quickly get rid of the evil.
Shortly before Shigatse, after more than 3200km on mostly bumpy road (except for the 80km after Ali) I am on paved roads for the first time again. Only now I realize again, in what state my back wheel is...
In Shigatse I take a longer break, get a new rim (chinese standard type) and can adjust the pedals so that changing gears is actually possible again and riding the bike fun.
Because I have cycled the southern route from Shigatse to Lhasa already, I take the northern one this time. As soon as I have left the main road I am again passing beautiful villages, the children are friendly waving and don't stretch out their hand for begging anymore. I have the road almost for myself, as I see about 3 vehicles a day.
If the west of Tibet is the land of the nomads, then central Tibet is the land of agriculture. In the narrow valley almost every possible space is used as a field. Mostly barley, which roasted as Tsampa is traditionally one of the main foodstuff. In the villages the harvested barley is thrashed, while the fields are being ploughed to make them ready for the winter.
The clima in this part of the country is considerably more rainy then in the regions that I have been until now. I see this mainly as there is now far more snow on the hills. Also it hase become colder. Not at night but in the morning it now takes many hours until the thermometer rises over zero degrees.
While climbing the Suge La Pass, I pass very close at Jomo Gantsen (7043m). The fantastic view lets me totally forget the hard work.
The higher I get, the more snow lies all around and shortly before the pass the road is snow covered. The sun has hidden behind a cloud and a brutal wind blows when I reach the pass at 5430m. As I feared, there is even more snow on the northern side. Carefully I roll down but after two falls I decide that it is probably better to push the bike down on the slippery surface. As fast as possible I run down with the bike. I've been having no feeling in my hands for a while now already, despite the 3 pairs of gloves I wear. I have to get as fast as possible to a place more sheltered. A hot bath would be cool now. The thought comes not from nowhere, there is supposed to be a hot spring in about 50km. It is going to be a long day but at sunset I really am soaking in the hot pool, slowly defrost.
I meet the main road leading to Lhasa again. But just before there is a huge damm all across the valley. What's that? Of course, the railway, it has now really reached Lhasa. Once operating it will no doubt change Lhasa and central Tibet even more.
But I am not going to Lhasa yet, but first want to visit Namtso, the second biggest saltlake in Tibet. To get there I have to cycle over the 5185m high Largen La. Here there is even far more snow then on the last pass. But because it is so cold I can cycle on the hard pressed snow. The view of the lake from the pass is breathtaking. But one view is already enough to decide that I will not go down to the lake (I would have to come back the same way): the whole area around the lake is deep under snow. for the time being I have enough of the cold and head back to lower, warmer Lhasa.
On the way to Lhasa I leave the main road for a last time to visit Tsurphu monastery. Tsurphu is the seat of the Karmapa. The currently 17th Karmapa (born 1985) is equally recognized by the Dalai Lama and the chinese officials. He was for long the highest lama living in Tibet until he also flew 1999 into exile to Dharamsala.
Then I finally arrive in Lhasa. I could now go on lamenting for a whole newsletter, about how Lhasa has changed... but I better don't. I enjoy a couple of very peaceful days, good and lots of food and life in town for a change. The area around the Barkhor is still a great meeting place for pilgrims from all over Tibet. Here I sit for hours and watch people.