June 5, 14:30: Highway just outside Shigatse, 3860m
We’ve stopped here to wait for the rest of the group so we can ride together to our hotel in Shigatse, the second largest city in Tibet.
We’ve ridden 90km to get here, and our total ride will be 93km. The ride was easy and fun. Straight roads that looked flat but were mostly a slight downhill. And when I say straight… we rode over 5km before the first turn.
The roads ran through fertile land with farms on either side. Over half the traffic on the road was tractors. People were incredibly friendly as usual, and there were lots of children out too (it’s Caturday, so they’re not in school.) The farmland smells great too, apart from the occasional whiff of diesel from a tractor or bus. One part smelled vaguely of cinnamon, then there were smells of burnt coal, which is quite nice in small doses (i.e. not Beijing). Plus the smells of the crops and the livestock…
We got a slight headwind about 15km out of town, and the road got really rough 10km out, but that’s why they invented sucking it up and suspension forks (respectively.)
June 5, 16:00: Shigatse Hotel
This is a really nice hotel… but it still doesn’t have WiFi! It turns out I don’t mind stopping our ride early if we’re sleeping in a city. I took a shower, washed some clothes, and now we’re going to see the local monastary before dinner. Much nicer than sitting around camp!
June 6, 18:00: China-Nepal Friendship Highway, 4997km from
Beijing Shanghai, 4120m altitude
Today was the hardest ride of the trip so far. 97km over rolling hills, 2 small mountain passes, and a huge headwind all day! Luckily I had lots of things to motivate me: friendly Tibetans, beautiful mountain scenery, playing number games with the milestones (kilometrestones?), my inherent love of cycling.. and chocolate. Lots of chocolate :)
Shortly after Shigatse, we turned back onto the China-Nepal Friendship Highway (we were on it for the first day before turning off towards Gyantse.) There are fewer buses but more trucks. But the trucks are fine. They’re used to dealing with slow vehicles farm tractors, yak carts, and so on, and they pull into the oncoming lane to pass. If they can’t, they slow down to your speed and pass when it’s safe. The only downside to this is that you get to breathe diesel fumes for a few minutes after they pass you, as they groan their way back up to speed.
I’m happy with today’s ride. It’s the first day that really challenged me. There have been difficult things in the past (the second day’s mountain pass for one) but they were always followed by easy things making for a short day.
Nobody else (that’s arrived so far anyway) is happy… oh well.
To finish up with Shigatse, we went to see the monastary which was nice enough but not mind blowing. Somehow the world’s largest gilded Buddha (almost 23m) didn’t look that big – I think his building was badly designed. Then we had dinner at a nice restaurant with slow service, then I tried unsuccessfully to get on the Internet. Shigatse is a shabby town overall. Everything looks rundown, and it doesn’t have much going for it. I don’t know how it managed to become the 2nd largest city in Tibet – who would want to live there?
June 7, 16:30: China-Nepal Friendship Highway, 5060km from Shanghai, 3860m altitude
We climbed to 4520m first thing this morning – a fun mountain pass topped (as usual) by prayer flags. Apart from that, the ride was mostly downhill and we only rode 63km, stopping for the day at lunch time. I’m counting this as a good thing.. I’m still hurting from yesterday’s ride (and so is everyone else.)
Shortly after leaving camp, I passed the 5000km marker on the Friendship Highway and discovered that it starts in Shanghai, not Beijing. I don’t know how far it is to Kathmandu.. I guess I’ll find out soon enough :) We’re about halfway there by the route we’re cycling (which has 2 side trips.)
I finally got on the Internet – my roommate/tentmate Richard speaks fluent Chinese, so he talked to China Mobile and got them to switch on GPRS on my account. So I can connect (very slowly) using my cell phone. Gmail is still loading (after 5 minutes) but I can easily post blog entries.. that’s all that really matters, right?