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Seventh week

Next morning my bones are aching. But Lhasa is calling and we start cycling to Manasarowar lake around noon. First we have to say goodbye to the Swami and the Swiss couple. Getting a lift from here will be hard, there are no busses east from here and most trucks use the northern route from Ali to Shigatse. For us it is only 50 km (31 mi) to the lake over some steep sandy hills. A strong tailwind is pushing us through a crazy snow flurry. Only a deep river crossing is good for a surprise. My heavily loaded bike gets carried away by the current when a Tibetan on a horse comes to the rescue out of nowhere. Help was never so welcome. We stay in an empty Indian pilgrim´s hostel at the lakeshore. Temperatures drop below -10°C (15°F) at night. In the clear light of the next morning we see Mt. Kailash for the first time. So far snow clouds were hiding the summit from our view.

Our first view of Kailash

From the lake shore we get a ride on a construction truck back to Highway 219 and further east. On the open loading area we are sitting between oil barrels and are thrown helplessly back and forth. After an hour we are covered with dust and bruises and decide to keep on cycling. Two days later we are lucky to get a lift on a truck from a German-Austrian group. In the evening we are invited to dinner at a beautiful lake. Dinner is prepared by Sherpas from Nepal. It is the best meal we have had for weeks. Our food at night normally consists of rice with milk powder, nuts and raisins. My stomach doesn´t cope too well with Chinese instant noodles. One day later we arrive in Saga, the first town since Ali one week earlier. We check into the only hotel. Our room has running water (cold) and there is an internet café in the backyard. After a rest day we cycle to Raka where the northern truck route meets Highway 219. We hope for a lift from there.

Highway 219 near Raka

In Raka is a PSB (Public Security Bureau) control post. No truck driver wants to give us a lift before that. Not even past the village, only 40 kms (25 mi) down the road we are lucky and get a lift on an old truck. At dusk we reach Lhatse. The town is on the Friendship Highway between Lhasa and Kathmandu. This road is fairly popular with cyclists. Most of them are doing this on a package tour with gear shuttle, cook and toilet tent.

The next morning we take the first bus to Shigatse, the second largest city in Tibet. The countryside is densely populated compared to western Tibet. It is Tibet´s farmland due to relatively low elevation between 3500 m (11500 ft) and 3800 m (12500 ft) and summer rain during the monsoon in June and July. It is harvest time in October and everyone is out on the fields. Tractors or combine harvesters don´t exist here, harvesting is still done manually. Donkeys transport the barley from the fields and walk around in circles on the hay threshing the grain from the stem. In the next step stem and barley are thrown into the air and separated by the wind. The ground barley is the base for Tsampa. Besides rice and noodle soup our main dish on the road.

Harvest time in Tibet

Eighth week

The monastery city of Tashilunpo is Shigatse´s main attraction. It is the biggest and best preserved monastery in Tibet. It used to be the seat for the Panchen Lama, the most important man in Tibet after the Dalai Lama. The wall around the monastery is surrounded by prayer wheels. We spend the evening strolling through the city within these walls fascinated by the splendor of the buildings, the golden Buddha statues and life of the monks at the seat of the Panchen Lama. We quietly watch a hundred young monks during their evening prayers and follow the kora around the monastery below a rising moon. Afterwards we enjoy a great meal and the first warm shower since Kashgar five weeks ago.

Young monks in Tashilunpo

Potala Palace in Lhasa

Next morning we put our bikes on top of the first bus to Lhasa. The journey takes eight hours. The main road is closed due to road works. But we enjoy the scenery on steep roads and along the new railway line to Tibet. In Lhasa we get the last room in the Yak Hotel and go out for dinner in a fancy restaurant across the road. I´m having my first pizza in two months. The contrast to rural Tibet is overwhelming. Especially in fall, after harvest time Lhasa and Johkang temple are bustling with pilgrims from all across Tibet. But the holy city has become a Chinese city in the last 50 years. The ancient town has been cut by new wide roads with white glassy facades. The squares around Johkang and the Potala have been enlarged by tearing houses down and video surveillance has been installed. The former palace of the Dalai Lama is an empty museum, visited by tourist groups from mainland China and the west for 10 Euros. We didn´t see any pilgrims in the enormous building. The spiritual and vivid center for Tibetans is the Johkang temple. Every Tibetan has to visit it once in a lifetime. Here we watch pilgrims from all over Tibet prostrating, cueing and pushing through the halls with large Buddha statues and butter lamps. And take a view from the roof with golden drums across Lhasa to the Potala. We spend most of our time eating, washing, reading and relaxing.


Two monks

Ninth week

Wolfram hasn´t had enough of cycling and leaves Lhasa after three days for Everest basecamp. I take my time and spend two more days to explore Lhasa. Together with Talu from South Korea and Dirk from Hamburg we rent an old Landcruiser and Tibetan driver to take us to the Nepalese border.

We leave Lhasa on the paved road towards Shigatse. At the road construction we leave the fertile valley and cross a high pass to the holy lake Yamdrok. The lake is 4488 m (14427 ft) above sea level. Two steel Chinese fishing vessels are on the lake shore. Fishing is despised by Tibetans, for them the lake and its inhabitants are holy. We follow the lake shore over another pass into the fertile valley of Gyantse. The monstry there has the biggest stupa of Tibet. We are the first visitors in the morning and enjoy the silence on eight stories and have a good view of the city and the vicinity. Only the guards with their "no photo" comments are bugging me.

The following evening I´m back in Shigatse. The other two are not interested in the monastery so we leave early to the Rombuk monastery. After Lhatse we are entering Chomolungma National Park and cross Gyatsu La pass (5256 m/17244 ft). From the pass we have a stunning view of the Himalayas with five peaks higher than 8000 m (26247 ft) in front of us (Mt. Everest, Lhotse, Makalu, Cho Oyu and Sisha Pangma). The summit of Mt. Everest is much higher than any other peak and graced by a long cloud of snow from the summit across its eastern slope. In the evening I set up my tent next to a small wall in front of Rhombuk monastery. At the end of October night temperatures drop below -10°C (14°F). At the basecamp 7.5 km (4.6 mi) up the valley and 200 m (650 ft) higher in elevation the river bed is filled with ice. Otherwise this is a pretty desolate, cold and windy place. But the huge 3.5 km (2.2 mi) high north flank of the tallest mountain on earth is more than enough motivation to come here.

On the way back from Everest basecamp

We spend the next day driving from Rhombuk Monastry to Tingri on a miserable track. 70 km (43 mi) take over four hours. From Tingri we cross the last two passes on Friendship Highway to Nyalam - Tibetan for "gate to hell". Shortly after Nyalam I get back on my bike and start cycling from 3800 m (12467 ft) on the rough Friendship Highway over sharp stones towards Nepal. With every meter the air is getting thicker, warmer and more humid. Suddenly there is water next to, below and above the road. There are flowers, bushes, trees and butterflies. I haven´t heard the chirping of crickets since Pakistan seven weeks ago.

Friendship Highway downhill to paradise

The border bridge is in Kadori. The stream below me has grown to a raging torrent. Within ten minutes I get a Nepalese visa for 30 days. There are many friendly and cheerful faces on the streets. But the road is not getting any better. But I don´t care. I´m going through potholes and ruts, over bridges at 50 km/h (35 mph) and more. I´m amazed how much beating my bike can withstand. At 5 o´clock I have the first flat tire after 2500 km (1550 mi). The valve on the rear tube ripped off on a large pothole, I noticed that too late. I´m just fitting a spare tube, when a new Landcruiser stops next to me and offers a lift to Kathmandu. I like the scenery along the Bhoti Koshi, but don´t have any Nepalese rupees. So I get to Kathmandu within three hours. Stopped only by two military control posts by Maoists and the regular Nepalese army. But everyone is quiet, and there aren´t any incidents.

In Kathmandu I find a nice, quiet and cheap hotel in Thamel - the tourist district. I take a long shower and go out for a big dinner. This is so good compared to anything I have eaten for the last seven weeks. On the way back to the hotel I´m buying Mars bars and the Lonely Planet guide Nepal with my credit card. How far did I come within one day? I can hardly believe that Tingri and Kathmandu are only 100 km (62 mi) and 3000 m (10000 ft) apart.

Wolfram arrives two days later. He cycled from Lhatse past Everest basecamp to Kathmandu in six days. Until our return flight we spend five happy days in Nepal with shopping, eating, sight seeing and canoeing on the Bhoti Koshi.

Swayambhunath Stupa in Kathmandu

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