About western and central Tibet I knew quite well what it would look like. But of eastern Tibet I only know that the valleys will be deeper and that there is a lot of forest. So I am curious what it will be like. Unlike western Tibet, this route is a bit more difficult in terms of the PSB (foreigners police). At some places I need to be a little bit more careful. From Lhasa I cross a 5000er pass on which eastern side there is already a totally different landscape. First it is only bushes and little birches, but then the trees become bigger and bigger until I finally find myself in a real forest. Trees! I have not seen trees for month. Cycling trough the pine forest I almost inhale the air. There is nothing like the smell of a pine forest!
I come closer to Bayi, a big chinese city. Here the police is said to be very strict. I camp before town and want to pass it by night. At half past two I start. The bright moonlight makes cycling easy. But after a couple of km it disappears behind a mountain. Now it is pitch dark. I am more affraid to fall into a whole then to be caught by the police. My torch is ok for reading, but not for cycling at night. There are no problems getting across town, except for some rishkas (with no light too of course) in which I nearly crash. What are they doing at four o'clock on the morning... they probably thought the same about me. 20km further, there is another place where I need to be careful. I want to pass that too. In between there is supposed to be a checkpoint. Ahead the road is lit up. That has to be it. Silently I get closer. I see two uniformed men sitting next to a fire while I roll by soundlessly. It was probably not the PSB, but I don't really want to know that. Everyone deep asleep in the next village, so off we go. Right after that the road starts to climb to a pass. I climb up a couple of switchbanks then take my sleeping bag and sleep for another couple of hours next to the road until the sun comes up.
Grazing Yaks and singing tibetians that walk by wake me up in the morning. Through a beautiful pine forest I climb up to the pass. For the vertical difference where I would have gotten two 5000ers in western Tibet I only get a 4500m high pass here. Atop there is one more time a beautiful sea of prayer flags. But when I look on the other side I gasp for breath for a moment. In front of me rises the 7756m high Namchak Barwa. It is the highest mountain east of the Himalaya. The mountains is known to be often in the clouds. But now the view is clear - and what a view it is! This is absolutely gorgeous. It is one of the most beautiful mountain I have ever seen!
The peak of Namchak Barwa has only been climbed in 1992. At that time it was the highest unclimbed mountain. The Brahmaputra that has its source near Kailash and then travels all across central Tibet now flows around this mountain (unbelievable 5380m deeper in a canyon!) and then turns south to India where it joins the Ganges later.
Several times I meet smal groups of pilgrims on the road. They wear leather aprons and knee and hand pads made of wood. They lay outstretched on the ground and get up where their hands reached. That way they cover incredible distances, mostly from theirs home village to Lhasa. They are accompanied by an assistant who carries food and blankets on a pushcart. When we pass each other we both look amazed and probably both think the same: "How long has he already been on the road like that?"
I cycle downhill to the Engadin. No, of course not. But it really looks like beeing there: wide forest on the mountainside, green meadows in the valley and snowy peaks in the background. The houses also look like the ones in the alps. Wood is now often used und the roofs are covered with stones.
But I don't stay for long in that valley. The road now enters a narrow gorge and it goes down and down and down. When I leave the gorge I am under 2000m in the middle of a subtropical virgin forest! For once even travelling by bicycle has been too fast, the landscape has changed so dramatically. More time to get used to the new environment I have in the following climb where I go back to more common altitudes. Fortunately I am not travelling here in the raining season. The steep valleys are often prone to big landslides. At a particular danger spot the cars have stopped. Everyone is looking up the steep slope, from where big stones are shooting down to the road. After half an hour it seems to have calmed down and I quickly cycle to the other side. Hardly there, yet some more stones come crashing down and where I have just cycled now lies a rock the size of a Yak.
Bomi is the next bigger town. This time I take it more relaxed and pass at daytime but without spending too much time there. But I have to buy supplies and so the visit in a little shop becomes like some sort of an raid much to the pleasure of the owner. With full bags and no problems I leave town.
I am now at 2700m again and cycle through an endles pine forest. Behind every corner there is again another fantastic mountain. I could go on for weeks through those forests, I like it so much. Only now I realize how much I have missed that. At home it must be looking very similar by now. If it has been snowing there already?
I camp at the Ngan Tso, a beautiful mountain lake. When I wake up in the morning I am quite surprised: It has snowed about 15cm over night. Can I get over the next pass in this weather? Will the road be covered by snow? The answer for the second question I get right after the first bend: the road is snow covered and I still have to climb another 500m to the pass. But cycling is not even such a problem and to my surprise there is less snow, the higher I get. On top of the pass there is almost no snow anymore at all - strange world. The pass is also the end of the alpine vegetation. The following valley is already barren and very dry.
But something does worry me after this first serious signs of the winter: I still have to cycle about six more major passes (one over 5000m), until I have left the mountains behind me...
If you have a look at a world map you will see some deep valleys east of the Himalayas going north south. This is exactly where I am at the moment. In those valleys there are some big rivers of Asia: the Salween, Mekong and Yangtzse. Of course the road goes west-east in and out of these valleys offering me some real long climbs while leaving Tibet.
The night before the first pass it has snowed again a lot but during the day the sun is back. Because most of the climb is on the sunny side of the mountain there is almost no snow on the road all the way up to the pass. And what a pass it is! Like a snake the road winds itself up the steep slope in over 50 switchbacks to the pass, 2000m over the Mekong! In the downhill on the north side there is still a lot of snow and ice especially in the shady curves. There I have to cycle extremely carefully.
The ride over Deng La is surprisingly totally snowless. It is the 24nd and last 5000er pass on this trip In between I have to pass bigger towns from time to time. Always in the quick-shopping-and-and-then-off-we-go-style, without having problems. The PSB rather likes to sit inside where is is warm. Who is cycling by at this time of the year here anyway...
If I stop in a village to buy something there is always a crowd of curious around my bike. I wonder what they might think about me, maybe something like that: A stranger has just arrived on a vehicle and has disasppeared in the shop. Lets's have a look what there is to see. The handlebar looks interesting, I wonder what all these gears are(GPS, Odometer). I will press the buttons to see what happens. But the strange looking man with the skinny legs is already back and not happy to see me playing. He puts the food he bought into the bags that are already big. I wonder what is inside? But he sits already on his flying saucer and off he goes. Odd fish - where is he from and where is he going?
The landscape changes very quickly with all this ups and downs. I pass Desertlike barren gorges, dense forest, wide grasland and alpine meadows at regular intervals.
In my mind I start to say goodbye from Tibet. But this, totally unexpected, sets on for the 'finale grande'. In the long climb from the Mekong gorge at 2000m up to Yak La at 4360m, the view of Karwa Karpo get better with every meter climbed. This is not only a mountain, but a whole range of 13 peak, many over 6000m. Enjoying wonderful temperatures I cycle through a late autumn forest, admiring the gorgeous mountains across the valley. Die mountain range is an important pilgrimage place and a 14-day kora leads all around it. In 2015, the year of the sheep, this kora is supposed to be very important. Who knows, maybe I will be back here then. Maybe even in a free and self-determined Tibet then!
I stay on top of the pass for a long time. Somehow I don't want to go on, would just like to stop the time. Only when I get cold I realize that the sun has gone down. I know it is time to go on and I am also looking forward to warmer temperatures. The 20-day ride from Lhasa to Zhongdian with the cold temperatures at nigh and early morning and the long climbs during the day have cost a lot of energy.
I am now in the southern chinese povince Yunnan. Not less then 28 ethnic minorities are supposed to live here. Among them the Dai, Bai, Naxi, Wa... It is not easy to keep the overview.
On the same day that I see the last Yaks on the high plateau of Zhongdian, I already see the first water buffalos at the Yangtze river. Everywhere there are fields. Vegetables and rice are growing. I pass through many liitle beautiful, rural villages. But they soon get bigger and I have difficulty finding a place to put up my tent.
On the ride from Dali to Kunming there are now often damp clouds hanging deep over the hills. But at noon it is already warm enough to cycle in t-shirt. Next to the road bamboo and bananas are growing.
In Tibet orientation was mostly rather simple. Once on the right road I could follow it for a long time. But now it is a little bit tricky. I bought a chinese map. In the beginning I am often standing for minutes in front of the markers, trying to compare the signs. It takes a while until a manage it but then I am always happy when I recognize something again. But at the first bigger town I already get terribly lost, being sent by the locals from one end of the town to the other. I feel like I have never ever been to a town before...
Kunming is the first real big town in China that I come to. Getting there is not very nice with all the heavy traffic and the construction going on everywhere. But once in the centre, cycling is fun. China still is the country of cyclists despite all the modernisation. Everywhere there are wide bike lanes and masses of cyclists.
Since Lhasa I have a new goal. I would like to be in Hongkong for new years eve. That is a little bit tight and the reason, why I have been going a bit faster for some time. When I did the planning, that was about 1550km from Kunming. But the distances on the map I was using where obviously very wrong and now it turns out to be rather 2200km! My goal is already a bit in question, but at first I keep going for it.
From Kunming I cycle to Shiling. Here there is a stone forest, up to 30m high limestone formations. If you can forget that you have to pay a hefty entrance fee, it is quite a nice place.
From one day to the other the weather changes totally. The sun that as been my trusty companion for the last month, is getting unfaithful. Foggy clouds appear and the temperatures are dropping close to the freezing point again. Along the road the are lots of coal mines. The whole surrounding has taken over their colour. everything is black and dirty. The road is often wet and because of the many construction sites constantly muddy. The bike and I soon are just as dirty. For days I cycle across the west of Guangxi in the fog, dirk and moistness without ever seen further then 100m. The fun factor has dropped dramatically. Had I been going south from Kunming, I could already be in the tropics! The only thing I see of the region, is that it is extremely hilly.
25km to go for the next town, where I want to stay tonight.. No problem with still 3 hours of daylight. Unless 20km of it are in a climb... 10km before the town it's starting to get dark. The thought of a warm, dry hotel room keeps me going. 5km before town it is pitch dark and yet another climb starts. When I see the the road high above me, only 2km before town, I give up. More than 2300 vertical climbed meters have added up on my computer. After almost 10 hours in the saddle I am beaten and put up the tent only 2km before town, 2km before the warm, dry room and the hot shower. That's never happened before to me.
The fog gets slightly thinner and I can recognize the landscape. It looks just like a giant egg carton: everywhere round hills and not a single flat spot. No wonder it is such a roller coster ride.
Soon I realize that I won't make it for new year to Hongkong. No problem, I take it a bit easier from now on.
Guiyang is a metropolitan. Mostly it works quite well with the orientation now. But these size of towns is always different. This time I am looking for the correct road for over an hour until I realize that I am not yet in the right town yet...
Unfortunately the weather stays gray and cold. One day is like the other and I cycle from one town to the next.
Often I wonder about the huge differences between countryside and towns. I pass many small villages where all the houses are made of wood only and the roofs covered with tiles that are being burned everywhere along the road. The people, their clothes and houses remind me of the hilltribes in Thailand. And then, only a couple of km's further on I come to a modern city.
When I go eating I look twice here what I order, for the local speciality here is dog! But otherwise the restaurants make it easy for me, often displaying all the item the have in front, where I can only point to what I would like.
The scenery around Guilin along the Li river is one of the most spectacular in China. Out of the flat plain there are countless steep carst hills rising. Unfortunately I don't see very much of it, as is rains most of the time when I am there.
This morning it happened. Like every day I fold my map to have the next part of the road in view. When I did that today, Hongkong appeared for the first time at the bottom. But one more look showed me, what is lying ahead of me: like a defense line the mega cities are placed all around the pearl river delta.
The ride across this seemingly endless single mega city is not too difficult and I get lost only few times. But 80km before Hongkong, exactly one year after I started for this journey, I suddenly have terrible pain in my stomach and have to stop in a hotel. After several days in the hotel room I finally find a doctor who examines me properly instead of giving me pain killers and infusion. I don't know yet what the problem is, but surgery is necessary - immediately!
14 days later I leave the hospital on shaky legs. Behind me lies a intestine operation and on my belly a brand new 'XL-zipper'.
I had decided already to go on cycling for another couple of month towards south east asia. But now thing are different and I will fly back home from Hongkong.
So I don't reach Hongkong by bike. One day was missing, incredible only one day after almost 23,000km! It is not such a big thing. At the moment I am happy that I feel better again and I am looking forward coming home.
Finally I would like to say thank you. To you the readers that you have kept following me and the many feedbacks I got. They often made me feel I was not travelling alone.
But most of all I want to thank the countless people I met on the road. Those who invited me, gave me food, helped me and made me laugh. Without them this trip would have been only half as fantastic.
If you have lost faith in the good in humanity in those days where we get blitzed with bad news constantly, I can only say: take your bike and go cycling the world. It is one of the great experiences to see that most people are incredibly friendly, helpful and hospitable - everywhere!