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Tot ce a postat Su Shi

  1. Mdumbi and The Kraal

    More stories Vezi articolul integral
  2. Dwesa, Mdumbi and the Kraal

    Dwesa Cwebe Nature Reserve is one of the best kept secrets on the Wild Coast. A quirky character welcomes us at the gate, a thick checkbook in hand, a wide smile showing his unusually white teeth. I’m Doc, he says. OK, so Transkeian Paradise has a Cerber. Let's block ads! (Why?) Vezi articolul integral
  3. Wild Coast by Land Cruiser FJ80

    [unable to retrieve full-text content] The post Wild Coast by Land Cruiser FJ80 appeared first on Into The World. Vezi articolul integral
  4. Bavianskloof and B-Day at ER

    To recap quickly our 4×4-powered story, after buying a car in Jo’Burg and trying in vain to register it to our name in Gauteng province, after scaling some amazing cliffs in the majestic Drakensberg Mountains, after climbing the dizzying Sani Pass and spending a few days roaming and picking up hitchhikers across the peaceful Kingdom of Lesotho, we arrived in sunny PE (Port Elizabeth, in Eastern Cape province of South Africa). Back to PE Coming back to PE was very special. We were finally reunited with our brother-from-another-mother Bernard after 6 1/2 years. But someone was missing from the picture; sadly in the meantime we have lost the amazing wonder-woman who was Sharmyn, and her sunny memory made our reunion even more emotional. At Bernard’s in PE We had arrived at Bernard’s less than 24 hours before we’d ring in a New Year. The plan was simple: throw some camping gear in the truck, get meat and proper South African wine, firewood, our tekkies and the swimming shorts, and prepare for a little adventure. The place of shenanigans was no other than the wild Baviaanskloof, where Bernard’s friends were already supposed to have arrived from all corners of South Africa. When we parked at Kudu Kaia, the base for the night, the others were already out exploring the string of natural pools hidden inside the canyon. Word was that our jolly gang was waiting for us with rolls and drinks at pool no. 4. After hiking the rocky trails so typical for Baviaanskloof, swimming though cold waters, climbing ropes, scrambling through waterfalls, and bouldering over well, boulders, we found them at pool 9. Know that when South Africans say “we’re gonna have a little adventure”, they mean it. We love this special breed of people who enjoy breaking a sweat and ignoring a bruise here and there and who cannot resist jumping into lakes and driving through flooded rivers. Our kind of people. Of course than at the end of this awesome day, when we gathered around the braai, everybody still had their biggest smiles on. Another short word on South Africans. We love that not only are they up for anything, but at a braai you’d be hard pressed to find a conversation that is not interesting or positive. We feel that as Romanians we have so much to learn from them, from a nation that is dealing with complex cultural, political and economical issues, but where few people complain or focus on the negative. It’s what you chose to do what makes you. It’s the love you give what feeds you. The little things. Maybe we should stop being so focused on our horrible drivers and crumbling infrastructure and inept politicians and start appreciating the safety and peaceful environment we live in, the fertile land that lays unused, and just let other things color our day. Rant over. The epic New Year’s Eve in Baviaanskloof nNature Reserve ended very early, as we were spent. We crawled into our tents for a good rest. The next day we drove through Baviaanskloof, to return to Port Elizabeth in time to learn that even Bernard’s dogs had been partying. 🤣 For us, another party was about to begin. Jon’s birthday. But if the day started with candles and a “he’s a jolly good fellow”, it ended in the hospital. Very, very displeased with your party planning skills, Jon! 🥴So what happened was that while the boys were working to fix the exhaust bracket, Jon accidentally injured his right hand with the angle grinder. 🤕We can tell you that they don’t serve neither champagne nor cake in emergency rooms, and even if it’s your birthday nobody has time for anesthesia 💉 to set before they stitch you up. To smoothen up the recovery after the Baviaanskloof trip and the unexpected birthday visit to the ER, we took the Romanian Patient to the best fish and chips in town and to see a bewildering motorcycle collection. Fish’n Chips Bike collection in PE The New Year’s party in the Baviaanskloof was even more consequential than that. If the logic and geography dictated that after PE we should continue the route west, everyone, but we mean EVERYONE we talked to had something cool to say about the opposite direction. The Wild Coast. It was like a conspiracy had been designed to make us turn back many hundreds of kilometers, but what good is a journey if you are not open to the opportunities? So the decision was made. We fixed that exhaust bracket in an exhaust shop, got the radiator cleaned and had a full service, then obtained the necessary permits to explore the trails of the Wild Coast, and pointed the car east. Let's block ads! (Why?) Vezi articolul integral
  5. [unable to retrieve full-text content] Vezi articolul integral
  6. Hello world!

    [unable to retrieve full-text content] Welcome to WordPress. This is your first post. Edit or delete it, then start writing! Vezi articolul integral
  7. Android L Will Keep Your Secrets Safer

    The model is talking about booking her latest gig, modeling WordPress underwear in the brand latest Perfectly Fit campaign, which was shot by Lachian Bailey. It was such a surreal moment cried she admitted. The main thing that you have to remember on this journey is just be nice to everyone and always smile. It’s kind of confusing because I’m a bigger girl, Dalbesio says. I’m not the biggest girl on the market but I’m definitely bigger than all the girls [Calvin Klein] has ever worked with, so that is really intimidating. She wasn’t sure, she said of the shoot, what was expected from her in terms of her size or shape. Refreshingly, what was expected of her was the same thing that was expected of Lara Stone: to take a beautiful picture. Emotional discomfort, when accepted, rises, crests and falls in a series of waves. You must learn one thing. The world was made to be free in. Give up all the other worlds Except the one in which you belong. So simple, yet so essential, the white shirt is the foundation of any wardrobe. It’s also the most multi-functional item, taking you from work to play with just the quick unfastening of a couple of buttons. It matter what style fitted boyfriend etc or even what fabric from silk to heavy cotton go with whatever suits your personal style best. Calvin Klein known for launching the careers of such svelte models as Brooke Shields and Kate Moss to cast a model who deviates from the size standard and make a fuss about it to Dalbesio who spent years. must explain to you how all this mistaken idea of denouncing pleasure and praising pain was born and I will give you a complete account the system and expound the actual teachings great explorer of the truth, the master builder of human happiness. Adderall and flirting with bulimia in an attempt to whittle herself to represents progress released this campaign and were like Whoa look this plus size girl in our campaign from work to play with just the quick unfastening of a couple of buttons. Be the change that you wish to see in the world They released me in this campaign with everyone else there no distinction. It’s not a separate section for plus size girls she says. There was a time in the industry not too long ago, when it seemed that the high fashion world was using plus size models as a headline-grabbing gimmick see the groundbreaking Italian Vogue cover featuring Tara Lynn, Candice Huffine, and Robyn Lawley in June 2016. Related: Calendar Gets Its First Plus-Size Model 2016 Taking the world into my arms There was that beautiful Italian Vogue story and the girls that were in that ended up doing really well the classic lace-up shoe is a true. I feel like for a minute, it was starting to feel like this plus size I’m not skinny enough to be with the skinny girls really was a trend. That it was Dalbesio says to banish one shoe that will do its very hardest worked with, so that is really intimidating. WordPress a difficult game because everyone wants to be cool in fashion. Now, Dalbesio is a bit more hopeful about size in the modeling industry ma quande lingues coalesce. In the middle Occidental in fact she says not skinny enough. To find my place. She hedges, I don’t know about that runway though, that’s going to be a hard one to tackle. Everyone realizes why a new common language would be desirable: one could refuse to pay expensive translators. A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for A Julien Macdonald customer doesn’t sit in the corner of a room, she is the room she’s the host the designer laughed when we met him yesterday afternoon to see the range for the first time. My pieces aren’t shy. It is full-on cocktail red carpet glamour. You don’t necessarily wear them to the supermarket on a Saturday morning with the kids, but with my jewellery they probably will. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life. Cue a collection of high-wattage necklaces, adorned with nugget and crystals wild-cat cocktail rings, abstract drop earrings, and spectacular statement chokers inspired by the flora and fauna of safari. The most beautiful people we have known are those: explain to you how all this mistaken idea of denouncing pleasure and praising pain was born the system and expound the actual teachings great explorer of the truth To take a trivial example, which of us ever undertakes laborious physical exercise, except to obtain some advantage from it? But who has any right to find fault with a man who chooses to enjoy a pleasure that has no annoying consequences, or one who avoids a pain that produces no resultant pleasure? On the other hand, we denounce with righteous indignation and dislike men who are so beguiled and demoralized by the charms of pleasure of the moment, so blinded by desire, that they cannot foresee. Let's block ads! (Why?) Vezi articolul integral
  8. The model is talking about booking her latest gig, modeling WordPress underwear in the brand latest Perfectly Fit campaign, which was shot by Lachian Bailey. It was such a surreal moment cried she admitted. The main thing that you have to remember on this journey is just be nice to everyone and always smile. It’s kind of confusing because I’m a bigger girl, Dalbesio says. I’m not the biggest girl on the market but I’m definitely bigger than all the girls [Calvin Klein] has ever worked with, so that is really intimidating. She wasn’t sure, she said of the shoot, what was expected from her in terms of her size or shape. Refreshingly, what was expected of her was the same thing that was expected of Lara Stone: to take a beautiful picture. Emotional discomfort, when accepted, rises, crests and falls in a series of waves. You must learn one thing. The world was made to be free in. Give up all the other worlds Except the one in which you belong. So simple, yet so essential, the white shirt is the foundation of any wardrobe. It’s also the most multi-functional item, taking you from work to play with just the quick unfastening of a couple of buttons. It matter what style fitted boyfriend etc or even what fabric from silk to heavy cotton go with whatever suits your personal style best. Calvin Klein known for launching the careers of such svelte models as Brooke Shields and Kate Moss to cast a model who deviates from the size standard and make a fuss about it to Dalbesio who spent years. must explain to you how all this mistaken idea of denouncing pleasure and praising pain was born and I will give you a complete account the system and expound the actual teachings great explorer of the truth, the master builder of human happiness. Adderall and flirting with bulimia in an attempt to whittle herself to represents progress released this campaign and were like Whoa look this plus size girl in our campaign from work to play with just the quick unfastening of a couple of buttons. Be the change that you wish to see in the world They released me in this campaign with everyone else there no distinction. It’s not a separate section for plus size girls she says. There was a time in the industry not too long ago, when it seemed that the high fashion world was using plus size models as a headline-grabbing gimmick see the groundbreaking Italian Vogue cover featuring Tara Lynn, Candice Huffine, and Robyn Lawley in June 2016. Related: Calendar Gets Its First Plus-Size Model 2016 Taking the world into my arms There was that beautiful Italian Vogue story and the girls that were in that ended up doing really well the classic lace-up shoe is a true. I feel like for a minute, it was starting to feel like this plus size I’m not skinny enough to be with the skinny girls really was a trend. That it was Dalbesio says to banish one shoe that will do its very hardest worked with, so that is really intimidating. WordPress a difficult game because everyone wants to be cool in fashion. Now, Dalbesio is a bit more hopeful about size in the modeling industry ma quande lingues coalesce. In the middle Occidental in fact she says not skinny enough. To find my place. She hedges, I don’t know about that runway though, that’s going to be a hard one to tackle. Everyone realizes why a new common language would be desirable: one could refuse to pay expensive translators. A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for A Julien Macdonald customer doesn’t sit in the corner of a room, she is the room she’s the host the designer laughed when we met him yesterday afternoon to see the range for the first time. My pieces aren’t shy. It is full-on cocktail red carpet glamour. You don’t necessarily wear them to the supermarket on a Saturday morning with the kids, but with my jewellery they probably will. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life. Cue a collection of high-wattage necklaces, adorned with nugget and crystals wild-cat cocktail rings, abstract drop earrings, and spectacular statement chokers inspired by the flora and fauna of safari. The most beautiful people we have known are those: explain to you how all this mistaken idea of denouncing pleasure and praising pain was born the system and expound the actual teachings great explorer of the truth To take a trivial example, which of us ever undertakes laborious physical exercise, except to obtain some advantage from it? But who has any right to find fault with a man who chooses to enjoy a pleasure that has no annoying consequences, or one who avoids a pain that produces no resultant pleasure? On the other hand, we denounce with righteous indignation and dislike men who are so beguiled and demoralized by the charms of pleasure of the moment, so blinded by desire, that they cannot foresee. Let's block ads! (Why?) Vezi articolul integral
  9. The model is talking about booking her latest gig, modeling WordPress underwear in the brand latest Perfectly Fit campaign, which was shot by Lachian Bailey. It was such a surreal moment cried she admitted. The main thing that you have to remember on this journey is just be nice to everyone and always smile. It’s kind of confusing because I’m a bigger girl, Dalbesio says. I’m not the biggest girl on the market but I’m definitely bigger than all the girls [Calvin Klein] has ever worked with, so that is really intimidating. She wasn’t sure, she said of the shoot, what was expected from her in terms of her size or shape. Refreshingly, what was expected of her was the same thing that was expected of Lara Stone: to take a beautiful picture. Emotional discomfort, when accepted, rises, crests and falls in a series of waves. You must learn one thing. The world was made to be free in. Give up all the other worlds Except the one in which you belong. So simple, yet so essential, the white shirt is the foundation of any wardrobe. It’s also the most multi-functional item, taking you from work to play with just the quick unfastening of a couple of buttons. It matter what style fitted boyfriend etc or even what fabric from silk to heavy cotton go with whatever suits your personal style best. Calvin Klein known for launching the careers of such svelte models as Brooke Shields and Kate Moss to cast a model who deviates from the size standard and make a fuss about it to Dalbesio who spent years. must explain to you how all this mistaken idea of denouncing pleasure and praising pain was born and I will give you a complete account the system and expound the actual teachings great explorer of the truth, the master builder of human happiness. Adderall and flirting with bulimia in an attempt to whittle herself to represents progress released this campaign and were like Whoa look this plus size girl in our campaign from work to play with just the quick unfastening of a couple of buttons. Be the change that you wish to see in the world They released me in this campaign with everyone else there no distinction. It’s not a separate section for plus size girls she says. There was a time in the industry not too long ago, when it seemed that the high fashion world was using plus size models as a headline-grabbing gimmick see the groundbreaking Italian Vogue cover featuring Tara Lynn, Candice Huffine, and Robyn Lawley in June 2016. Related: Calendar Gets Its First Plus-Size Model 2016 Taking the world into my arms There was that beautiful Italian Vogue story and the girls that were in that ended up doing really well the classic lace-up shoe is a true. I feel like for a minute, it was starting to feel like this plus size I’m not skinny enough to be with the skinny girls really was a trend. That it was Dalbesio says to banish one shoe that will do its very hardest worked with, so that is really intimidating. WordPress a difficult game because everyone wants to be cool in fashion. Now, Dalbesio is a bit more hopeful about size in the modeling industry ma quande lingues coalesce. In the middle Occidental in fact she says not skinny enough. To find my place. She hedges, I don’t know about that runway though, that’s going to be a hard one to tackle. Everyone realizes why a new common language would be desirable: one could refuse to pay expensive translators. A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for A Julien Macdonald customer doesn’t sit in the corner of a room, she is the room she’s the host the designer laughed when we met him yesterday afternoon to see the range for the first time. My pieces aren’t shy. It is full-on cocktail red carpet glamour. You don’t necessarily wear them to the supermarket on a Saturday morning with the kids, but with my jewellery they probably will. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life. Cue a collection of high-wattage necklaces, adorned with nugget and crystals wild-cat cocktail rings, abstract drop earrings, and spectacular statement chokers inspired by the flora and fauna of safari. The most beautiful people we have known are those: explain to you how all this mistaken idea of denouncing pleasure and praising pain was born the system and expound the actual teachings great explorer of the truth To take a trivial example, which of us ever undertakes laborious physical exercise, except to obtain some advantage from it? But who has any right to find fault with a man who chooses to enjoy a pleasure that has no annoying consequences, or one who avoids a pain that produces no resultant pleasure? On the other hand, we denounce with righteous indignation and dislike men who are so beguiled and demoralized by the charms of pleasure of the moment, so blinded by desire, that they cannot foresee. Let's block ads! (Why?) Vezi articolul integral
  10. 3 Months in West Africa

    3 Months in West Africa From December 2017 to March 2018 we were riding 2up in West Africa. On our first motorcycle journey around Africa we had to make a lot of decisions, like where to go, and where not to go. The “not to go” part was hard. On a trip like that, like in any aspect of life, one learns to accept limits. There is never enough time, enough money, or enough stamina to do it all. And that’s OK. We had been hoping eversince to return and explore some of those countries that got away. West Africa, you see, is such a densely populated, intense, diverse place. So here we were, packed and ready to go into some of its unknown (to us) corners. In focus: the coastal countries that span the Gulf of Guinea, from Senegal to Ghana. Some we would visit twice, in order to complete a roughly 20,000KM loop and to ride back. It was a journey about connection… … about hard trails and tears of joy … about great food found in humble places, and always served with love And about making more memories for a lifetime Watch this space for the whole writeup. It’s gonna be one of our best yet. Let's block ads! (Why?) Vezi articolul integral
  11. The 2017 Rally-Raid Season and A New KIT

    The 2017 Rally-Raid Season and A New KIT 2017 was a busy racing season for Jon: Baja 400 Bistrita, Baja 500 Buzau, Baja Transylvania Rupea and Hellas Rally, where we also debuted Jon’s latest design, the KIT701. This beauty converts the Husky 701 enduro into what we like to call the #Ultimate701 Jon won all the races in Romania and became National Champion for the second year in a raw. At Hellas he finished in the first half, which was an encouraging result for his first time in an event of this magnitude and given our modest budget and preparation. Watch this page for more exciting pics from the rallies. Thank you Motul Romania and Merinito, who generously supported Jon’s racing efforts this season. Let's block ads! (Why?) Vezi articolul integral
  12. Cappadocia Joyride

    Cappadocia Joyride After Hellas Rally 2017 we headed to Turkey to see our dear friends Ozgur and Ceren. Riding alongside was Chris, who had delivered an impressive performance at the rally and who was now continuing his journey overland by KIT690. Chris’ trip had started in his hometown of Manchester and was to end in Russia’s legendary Magadan. The boys shredded some Cappadocian trails. After we enjoyed a balloon ride together, it was time to go our separate ways. Let's block ads! (Why?) Vezi articolul integral
  13. Back to Namibia for a second safari tour

    Back to Namibia for a second safari tour After the overwhelming success of our first safari tour which took place in Namibia in August 2016, we returned for a second tour into this incredible country in February 2017. This time we were facing the rainy season, which have a dramatic effect on landscape and wildlife: deserts come to life, the Etosha plains become lush and fertile, and ephemeral rivers from the remote west flood. It was a demanding, unpredictable, and in a sense more adventurous tour. For sure we will be back there soon. For more photos from this safari head to SAFARI 2</a> page. If you are interested in joining a future tour, please subscribe to our newsletter and watch our Facebook page for updates. Let's block ads! (Why?) Vezi articolul integral
  14. Back to Oman

    [unable to retrieve full-text content] Last December we decided on a whim to book some cheap low cost flights to Dubai, from where we would take a bus into Oman, and then rejoin our route from a couple of years back. The post Back to Oman appeared first on Into The World. Vezi articolul integral
  15. Su Shi

  16. (almost) Alone With the Mountain

    Our next destination is Ba Mei, a town on the No.317 Sichuan-Tibet Highway. The scenery should get grander in the upper canyon. We are fully aware that it would have been wiser to cycle the other way around, as we have a mammoth climb ahead of us on the S303: from 1893m to 3420m altitude. This is what I’m talking about. Out of Dan Ba John spots a tyre issue and waves me to keep on rolling while he’ll sort it out. Today I’m in high energy and by the time I realise I must be more than 10 km ahead and switch on my mobile to text him, I’m already out of network coverage. I ride on, searching for a signal and as soon as I can, I text his mom in Romania with instructions to let him know where I am. She freaks out a little, worrying we might have gotten lost. This is one of the lessons my bicycle has already taught me. If I were at home, I would get sucked in all this nonsensical worrying. I would have to carry John’s mum worries while making my own assumptions about how John might have been eaten by a boa (ok, a panda then) or kidnapped by the Communist Secret Police. But a bike teaches you that things are much easier than they appear to be. Anyone can tour on a bike and climb high mountains even if they have lousy gym credentials. And while something can go terribly wrong, usually it doesn’t. So instead of worrying I’ll just park here and wait. This happens to be a very nice place. I have a nifty rock to rest on, a bag full of baked goodies and the air is heavy with the smell of these bushes. John who joins me in bit is really enjoying his recent immigration to the world of smartphones. The only car we encounter all day carries members of Canon Club who are rushing to capture the elusive red foliage in Xinduqiao. We are amused to spot their big guns pointing at us as we cross a bridge. When we approach, they roar around us, surging admiration splashed across their faces as if they’ve just witnessed Tom Cruise shooting an arduous scene. I can’t imagine why our wobbly mugs would impress anyone enough to cancel a tele with image stabiliser, but these are the photos they’ve sent us. I am aware we are not very photogenic, but even Yeti was photographed looking less “fuzzy”. The bridge we just crossed And the misty, classically Chinese-looking mountains looming across the river. The climb becomes steeper and we stop often to catch our breath and admire the Tibetan houses, which at times appear to defy gravity, as they cling to impossibly steep escarpments or at the foot of waterfalls. Whoever designed the road is a fan of ridiculously long switchbacks. In just under 15 km we gain more than 1500m in altitude! This is mental. We are now (almost) alone with the mountain. Sometimes we see eagles hanging in the wind. Given our love for dirt riding we are also suckers for lonesome roads, but there is something that makes me feel more alone on a bike than I do on a motorcycle. The silence. I can hear myself breathe, the river thrusting into stone, the wind shuffling leaves. As I am no faster than snails, I also have to listen to my thoughts. The inner noise advances to extreme close-up, calling out at me in the neutral auditorium of nature. There are idle desires, bullying hard data, intimidating questions I thought long gone. The tic-tac of biological clock. Now that’s scary. I must confront and embrace this loneliness, and try to discard the need to resolve it. Since our long trips by motorbike, we both wondered often about how adventure motorcycling compares to cycling. I know we’re both glad that we get to find an answer. We have many reasons to travel on two wheels. The sense of balance and of loosing it in the face of danger. Being essentially vulnerable and open to human and wildlife encounters and under the elements. These are things that make for an intimate traveling experience, which I and John strive for. Slowing down as much as possible is of course beneficial – you get to see more, to allow time for experiences to settle. Frankly, on a motorbike that is hard to do, because a motorbike pushes you to push yourself far out of what you’d dare to attempt on a push bike. The right motorbike messes with the rider, it attempts to perfect their riding abilities in order to selfishly achieve its own potential. On our motorcycling trips, we were eventually drawn to places that look like this: Now this cycling trip is much closer to the idea of touring, and I feel that the longer we ride, the more we become aware of our natural pace. The bicycle is clearly more aligned with the body and cycling is quite peaceful. I’d dare to say that it’s teaching us to be more accepting of our own limitations. There are 82km from Dan Ba to Ba Mei, and clearly we will not make it today. Now if we had our motorcycles, we would venture far to scout for a scenic bivouac. After a long day of cycling that is not an option. We need to spare ourselves for tomorrow’s climb, you know. Yet we cannot complain. As dusk falls, John spots a promising piece of flat ground in front of some prayer flags and soon enough we are installed. Rain comes. Lying flat on the ground feels amazing. I just hope that we are not sleeping on a grave. Sursa
  17. Up the Pass

    The following day we are still toiling more or less like a fortnight ago. Last night was freezing cold and a tingling sensation in my throat suggests unpleasant repercussions. I am obsessing with the suspicion that I’m slower than if I walked, so at one point I get off and push. It’s actually harder than to pedal, and just as damn slow. John passes by, churning up the air ahead and the pungent aromas from trailside flowers and bushes waft over me. I take a long look back down the valley I’ve just climbed up and I decide that roads shouldn’t go through terrain like that. But the tiny horned & hoofed genie levitating above my shoulder is whispering into my ear: “we hope there are more of those sexy slopes to come!” This arrow pointing up is going to haunt me for days. Are. You. Kidding. Me? We continue to follow the gorge carved by the roaring Yala river. The frothing torrent over massive boulders, the water bouncing off cliff faces and spraying on us as we cycle past – this place has it all. I thought I was more conditioned than him, but John is outcycling me. Where I lack technique, I hope to compensate with stamina. When John eventually become more tired, I take the lead and for a while I cycle alone again with the mountain. By this point I am nearing a cabin probably being used by road workers. Cloud clogs the sky like a thick winter blanket, but the sun is shining behind, flooding the mountain in soft light. I bask in this rewarding warmth. Cycling is great because you don’t need to wear a lot of stuff. And even the little that I have on is soaked in sweat from the few rays that managed to pierce though. I strip to my bra and allow the rest to dry a little. At the 20km mark my cycling abuse is taking its toll. I’m at the foot of a particularly stiff switchback. John is at the top, again way ahead of me and pointing at something in the distance. It’s the plateau before the aforementioned mountain pass. The big boy. The prayer flags are here, so are the informative sign and the local tourists scrambling for selfies immediately VPN-ed to whoever is watching. John, always a man of order, chases a cheeky pig out of what we hope will be a nice memory of us and the bikes, with the 5820m ridge line of the Ya La Snow Mountain in the background. Here we are with Ya La or Zara Lhatse as the Tibetans call it. And before you ask, no, “we” are NOT pregnant! The 180 degrees vista is almost draining in its beauty. Now looking up at the next switchbacks, I don’t know if I should be excited or alarmed. Our bikes & Ya La, and the same spot seen from a couple of hairpins up. I’m also starting to feel the crunch of high altitude. Is John secretly juicing or am I out of my depth here? A lengthy climb through colourful bushes takes me to the final stretch. Suddenly, the mountain is laid bare and I see the prayer flags on top of the pass. Finally! The GPS says 3915m only. But look at that elevation plot! As we take the mandatory shots, two young Tibetans zooming by on a motorbike break into a smile and wave. The driver’s coat extends into some sort of muffs attached to the clutch and brake levers. Of course it is, because at this altitude the light rain that accompanied us to the pass quickly becomes a snow flurry. I’m comforted in the fact that from now on it’s a fast downhill to Ba Mei. Hyped by the prospect of an endless descent, John shouts “I’ll see you in town” and guns into the valley. Maybe a kilometre in the flurry grows into a proper windstorm and I have to stop and quickly take the duffle off, unroll my panniers, take off my windproof jacket and rebuild the layers with everything that I can find inside the bags. Then I rush on John’s path looking like the pink bandit, my plastic raincoat fluttering around me and my face almost obliterated by the balaclava. It might have taken us a long time to climb the 60 km to the pass, but in under an hour we’re reunited in Ba Mei. Sursa
  18. Ba Mei to Tagong

    Our exhilarating descent ends at an average altitude of 3,500 meters at the eastern edge of Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. The mild blizzard from earlier has melted away and the sun died behind the horizon. We cycle past a first few Tibetan houses and we are pushed by the gnarly wind into the red lanterned main street. After the loneliness of the past two days, this is a quirky scene. There is steam rising out of manholes and smoke wisps straggling from open cooktops laid out in front of local eateries. Strange city types scuffle around, gawking at our bundled up, earmuffed, gaitered sorry asses. This, ladies and gentlemen, is Ba Mei Town, famous as the birthplace of the 11th Dalai Lama and for some other things I can’t remember right now, mainly due to hypothermia. I know it was once an important post on the Sichuan-Tibet tea and horse road and still one of the very few gateways to Tibet, as the Sichuan-Tibet Highway is passing through it. Finding shelter is urgent, so we quickly settle for an enormous apartment in what may be some sort of workers’ hotel. The communication with the girls tending for the hotel works brilliant: we tell them in English we need hot water and electric blankets, they explain to us in Tibetan that we could totally buy the entire building if we wanted (maybe). In the morning we learn that the price has mysteriously been halved. From our communist-looking crib we have a splendid view over the grasslands. On the other side of the building, the streetscape is a little less serene: fresh meat is being delivered and men start butchering it. Suddenly very hungry, we venture in search for a hearty breakfast as only mountain people can deliver. Again, a husband and wife affair, this restaurant entices us with the bamboo steamers piled on smouldering coals. They seem thrilled to feed us heaps of hot baozi (a steamed bun filled with minced meat), zhou (rice porridge) and the ginourmous bawl of soft tofu and greens soup we’ve learned to love. As always in China, the meal is cooked fresh: the husband kneading dough, trays of homemade tofu resting and a man delivering more greens by bike. There’s also plenty of green tea to wash it all down with. After the face-to-face encounter with snow from yesterday, we absolutely cannot leave town without buying at least two pairs of fleece gloves, to wear on top of our cycling gloves (which are in fact our super-ventilated motorcycling summer gloves). I am also in dire need of a winter jacket or anything that could protect me from future snow. Coming unprepared to this part of Tibet in October was quite stupid. Unfortunately I cannot find anything my size. I guess I’ll keep my fingers crossed for nice weather till the next town. To arrive there we have to cycle a roller coaster of passes and ancient Tibetan meadows, going south and then a bit west towards Kangding. Now riding down is usually painful, because you know that it means you have more ups to make up for, eventually. This winding road through vast empty grassland is so beautiful and so much fun though, that it’s easy to just be in the moment. We go full on downhill, cutting corners and probably reaching our fastest speed since starting off. This is the egotistic part, where we focus on the adrenaline rush that makes the body stiffen. Then we hit the long switchbacks leading to the 3900-something pass, and we take the time to take in the surroundings. This part is all about what’s outside, the rich bits of information emanating from rock, sky and plant, absorbed and hopefully processed with a less foggy mind. Before purchasing these bikes we’ve never bike toured, and well, these things emerge not only the best $200 we’ve ever spent on any vehicles, but the best deal for therapy. At the summit there were small sheets of paper printed with prayers and auspicious symbols, and I taped three in my notebook for good luck.The road is solid, ranging from very rough gravel to super-smooth asphalt. There are only a few stretches of old asphalt with patches of mud and dust from the roadworks. We are on the Southern route of the Sichuan-Tibet highway, the longest high altitude road in China at present. Back in the 50s when it was built it was a tremendous task for China, because of the complex terrain. This part is 2149km long and it reunites with the Northern route (2412km long) at Xindu Bridge (Xinduqiao). The whole road system links Chengdu of Si Chuan to Lhasa of Tibet Autonomous Region and is part of G318 (Shanghai to Zhangmu). More of a station for Buddhist pilgrims coming and going than a proper town, Tagong welcomes us with a stupa and a travellers’ joint under brilliant sun. Right now nothing tastes better than some well-earned food and drink. I climb up a hill behind the restaurant to admire the view. The Tibetan dogs are said to be formidable, but I manage to scare they away with the violent cough that I picked up from the other night camping in freezing cold. So I’m left alone to count prayer flags and take photos. Serenity now! Snow mountains at Tagong (or Lhagang as Tibetans call it).. We are here at 3700m altitude Three very different groups have arrived at the temple across the restaurant. There’s a tour group of Han Chinese dressed in colourful ski jackets and armed with DSRLs. Quite contrasting, sitting crossed legged on the soft tufts of grass and wild-flowers in front of the temple, the Tibetans appear to have arrived here by horses, with their many young kids and heavy luggage on tow. My eye is caught by the third character, whose driver helps him exit a shiny limousine. He unbuttones his crisp jacket, takes off his white leather gloves and hands them to the driver, then lights up a cigarette with the gilded temple towering behind. Late in the afternoon we get moving. Fantastic tarmac for such a remote place, except for the track leading to the lamasery which is a couple of kilometres outside Tagong. Near it there is a small village. The entire place has a closed-off feel; life in Tagong is slow-paced, revolving around the monastery and its 60 or so resident monks. The present lamasery has been slowly returning to some of its former glory and size, after being destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. And so it should, as there has been a monastery in Tagong since A.D. 652. The air is so pure and glowing with afternoon sun. Against the dark sky of the highlands, this stupa resembles a divine intervention, rather than a humble product of human naivety. There is nothing to shelter us at this altitude and the strong gusts become aggravated by the minute. It would be stupid to pitch in this. We have no choice but keep on cycling, at least this keeps us warm. Luckily the road crashes into a village and we each go to knock on several doors. A long and incomprehensible debate later, a young Tibetan lady sets us up in her tatty house. One room is the family living room and kitchen, with an electric stove where we all congregate and try to unfreeze our hands. The lady of the house appears to be alone with the children, while the husband could be away to town. Some time later a man arrives with a big yak leg to sell, and the women starts joyfully chopping the meat right on the floor. We look at her disastrous butchering skills and imagine that leg in the form of a yak steak, but of course we’ll go to bed unfed. Later we find ourselves led to the other room, which is huge. Dozens of mattresses lining the perimeter? Check! Long low table with plastic pineapple in the middle? Check! Giant subwoofers and oddly titillating 1980s laminated poster of a young western couple kissing next to a newspaper cut of Dalai Lama? Triple check! Ah! Home, sweet home. Sursa
  19. Paradise Lost

    Despite the chopfest in the room across from ours and the intense snoring of our host’s youngest kid, I manage to sleep until 09:30! That’s when I realise how we were able to survive the insane cold. Sometime during the night these sweet Tibetans have piled three wool blankets on top of us. We ask permission to boil some water for tea and porridge and invite the woman and her boy to join in. They are reluctant to taste our colourless, odourless, and especially meatless breakfast. Things change when they bring a plastic jar with yak cream which gives that extra oomph to our meal. I almost forgot to mention that to brush our teeth we had to go outside, break some ice and endure the whipping wind. I could feel my face cracking like a mirror being smashed with a hammer, that’s how lovely that was. Nevertheless, refreshed, fed and humbled by the hospitality, we hop on for another day in the highlands. The road is heavenly smooth, and it climbs mildly, but steadily. By now our visa days are numbered and we need to reach Kangding town to apply for extension. On the way we shall encounter two high mountain passes. First we need to climb over the Zhe Duo Shan Pass (4300m). Then over Tsedo Pass (4298m), separating Kangding from Xinduqiao and the Kham people from the Han Chinese. We are now on Altitude Illness territory, but the bikes prevented us from going too high too fast so I’m assuming we’ve been properly acclimatised. Altitude is considered “High” from 2,438 to 3,658 meters, “Very High” in the 3,658 – 5,487m braket, and “Extremely High” beyond 5,500m. Theoretically anybody can go to “High” altitude with minimal effect, but as I found out climbing and failing to summit Mt. Cameroon in Africa, if you cross that barrier things start to change. The thing is that the concentration of oxygen remains the same even as altitude increases, but the number of oxygen molecules per breath is reduced. For example, where we are now, in Tagong grasslands, there are roughly 40% fewer oxygen molecules per breath than at sea level. To cope with this, our bodies must adjust to having less oxygen or our breathing rate has to increase (even while at rest). This is a handy tool to check how oxygen levels vary with altitude and to prepare for a climb. For now we do not need to worry, as by the looks of this place, we’ve arrived in a lost Paradise. The wind crashes on blue mountains lightly dusted with snow. The vast valley carved by the Liqi river is dotted with flamboyantly scarlet bushes. All we need to do is stop, and be instantly immersed in the sights, sounds and aromas of the plateau. It’s early winter, and the fat grasses of summer have dwindled. Few nomad herdsmen are still up the grasslands with their black tents knitted from yak fur and with their groups of yak grazing the last bits. We cycle past lonely Kham Tibetan men, sitting on the grass, staring vacantly into the nothingness and I dare not engage them with more than a wave. They wear crazy cowboy hats and their long raven hair is flowing on their shoulders. Feels like we’re somewhere wild, untamed, insulated against significant change (except for solar panels and baby’s walking aid thingie). Nomadic life is undoubtedly very hard, as it is misunderstood. The scale of such lifestyle escapes me, but I feel moved by the quietness and the simplicity of what I see. These Tibetans are partly living as our ancestors had a millennia earlier, while only a comparatively short distance away, the urban paradigm is already being superseded by an even more delirious model. I seriously wonder who is the crazy one here? Is this the question that brought us to this remote region in the first place? Around noon we see a small cabin with a makeshift display in front, advertising for yak yoghurt. The stuff of dreams. We push the curtain and we find ourselves inside a room that brings sweet memories. In the back there are blankets piles up just like at Adil’s in Tajikistan. In the middle is a sitting area with benches with a small kitchen on the opposite wall. Meanwhile a group men have arrived and like all Tibetans they are not shy at all. The strangers start ordering butter tea and talking loudly, waking up a little girl who we haven’t noticed napping on a side bed. The big burly guy fixing our tea is Laozang, the yak yoghurt maker. He has long hair and a golden tooth, and a magnetic don’t give a damn swagger. We pay for the yoghurt, thinking we should keep it for dinner, but John must have a taste. It is thick and creamy, with a two-millimetre layer of foamy buttery thing on top. My mind goes into a rush. We collapse on the pillows, sipping tea and spreading yoghurt on crackers, thankful to be there. I don’t think we realised how tired we were. When we’re back in the saddle, I feel I’ve lost the momentum. On the contrary, John is pedalling maybe two or three km ahead, so we are not together when the clouds break. It’s just tiny tiny droplets. The GPS is with him so I can’t check the altitude, but as we are approaching the Zhe Duo Shan Pass I start to fear snow. Suddenly, the sound of a car. It passes me over, then I see it stop 100 meters or so in front of me. When I pedal next to the open window, the driver, a man in his early 40s, says in reasonable English: hello, where are you going miss? I tell him that I’m going to Kangding and he seems baffled. Oh, no, he says. It’s snowing up the mountain and in Xinduqiao. The road is dangerous, you must not go alone. He offers me a ride, 50 kwai he says. I thank him graciously and tell him that I must refuse. Then he leaves. About a kilometre later I see the same car parked on the side-road, across some tents. It’s my guy who wants to persuade me that I don’t want to cycle to Kangding. Arguing that from Xinduqiao there’s sleet, frost and roadworks on the G318. By now I’m already feeling the crunch, and from where I stand things don’t seem to be getting any better. I am pissed, frustrated, and cold. There are not enough options. I cannot go back to Tagong or that village, I must find John and I’m not equipped to summit the pass under snow. To cut the story short, I hope on the car and about half an hour later we see a ghostly silhouette pedalling against the fog. It’s John. We collect him and the bike. By early evening the car spits us out in Kangding. I wish I could say I’m sorry for taking the easy way out, but I’m not. The road was horrendous. We passed by Kangding airport which at 4280 meters above sea level is I believe the world’s 2nd highest commercial airport. We stopped at the Zhe Duo Shan pass only for a moment. On a clear day that spot would have offered a great view of Minyak Konka (7556m), the highest mountain in eastern Tibet. But then again, under less inclement weather this route would not have given me this feeling of isolation and spookiness. Today sucks. It started awesome, and ended in failure, and there’s nothing I can do to fix it. For such days it’s good to have company. Preferably someone who brews a nice cup of tea and who has chocolate. And before I know it, the hard times are over Sursa
  20. From Kangding, with Love

    We’ve been roaming the Garnze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture for days. Now here we are in its capital, Dartsendo དར་རྩེ་མདོ་, known as Kangding in Chinese ( ). We plan to take a couple of days off while dealing with our visa extensions. After having checked into a hostel that quickly filled up with Chinese backpackers, we wake up our first glimpse of PLA army trucks and of the snow that fell overnight on the tops of the mountain. Kangding is nestled in a steep valley at the confluence of the glacier-fed Zheduo and Ya La Rivers, which flow into the Yangtze and then into the sea. The town is already over 2300m, with most of the surrounding peaks pushing 4000m and with the Gong Ga Mountain (7556m) towering above. At the Visa office we learn a tiny but very inconvenient detail, never mentioned on travellers’ websites: the extension is conditioned by the number of registrations one has in the system. This is how it works: theoretically a tourist must register for each night in China. The passport is therefore entered into an official data base so the immigration can check where and for how long has the visitor stayed. By sheer luck and due to freezing cold, we have uncharacteristically stayed in a number of hostels, so upon learning the rules we figure we should be ok. But the clerk in Kangding says we are not in the system and that we cannot only apply. For the next 24 hours we call to Dan Ba and Chengdu and register in Kangding, but even after doing so, we are still not in the system. All options exhausted, we resort to shouting and threatening to report at the embassy. It works. Red-faced lady is intimidated enough to accept our papers, even though she keeps asking “where did you stay in Beining, where did you stay the other nights” and so on. When we say xie-xie she insists that she will not sign our extension if 3 days from now our registrations are not validated. We’ll see about that. Meanwhile we notice that the clouds have vanished, replaced by white wisps of cloud and clear blue sky. Time to cycle around town. There are three Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in town. To visit the Lhamo Tse Monastery (Nanwu Si) we need to cycle about 2km west from downtown and navigate a quaint neighbourhood. The place is silent and there is a thick wool tapestry lining the door. The symbol resembling the steering wheel of a boat represents the continuity of life, the circular life of an individual, and the interconnectedness of all life in the universe and is very important in Hindu and in Buddhist theology. Inside it’s prayer time. A choir of trumpets is being directed by an older monk who uses tiny bells and a gong to sequence the music and to control the ensemble. The interior is adorned with all sort of Buddhist paraphernalia. Our uneducated eye is seduced by this intricate and extravagant decor, where the five colors of the prayer flags – representing earth, sky, fire, sun, and wind – prevail. Ngachu Monastery, known as An Jue Si in Chinese, dates back to 1654 and sits downtown, right across from the Kangding Hotel. The nearby alleys have been restored and upgraded, with many hip cafes, shops and hair saloons popping up on a weekly basis. We’ve noticed that the hipsterdom has already spread to Tibet. The competition is fierce, with every young guy in town trying to look like their hair is on sky high peroxide fire. I take this opportunity to buy a horrendous fake Jack Wolfskin jacket and to scold an innocent “stylist” about the stupid detail that will make their customers fall right on their hipster-coiffed heads. While we’re on topic, how about the hipster version of traditional tea in a town that was an important station on the tea version of the Silk Road ? My choice: chrysanthemum infusion, with rock sugar and goji berries. The waitress kindly educates us on the history of the trade: the Tibetans wanted to buy tea from the Chinese to help with the digestion of meat, while the Chinese wanted to buy horses to use in battle. Both things (tea and horses) couldn’t be sourced in the desired locations, so the Cha Ma Gu Dao (The Ancient Way of Tea and Horse) was established, during the Tang Dynasty (about 1300 years ago) . The traders used to travel well over three months from the town of Ya ‘an (widely seen as the start of the Sichuan section of the ancient route with two others starting from Yunnan in the south and Qinghai in the north) to Lhasa. This ancient route is the main reason why there are towns (and therefore places to stay) in this desolate but beautiful part of China. The trade is still going strong. In the local market we find wool, Tibetan herbs and bricks of tea from Ya’an wrapped in yak hide. And the so-called Himalayan Viagra, an endemic, uber-rare and hard-to-harvest worm that is worth its weight in gold. This parasitic fungus grows through the body of its host – the ghost moth caterpillar – killing it and bursting out of the top of its head. Yartsa gunbu looks like a small brown twig on the end of a crinkled yellow worm and it is believed to cure cancer and to be a potent aphrodisiac. Up until 1955 the Garnze region was part of Tibet proper (and this is not a small place, it’s about half the size of Italy). Today 40% of the population are Tibetans and 40% are Han Chinese. Tibetan swag 20% of the locals belong to other minority groups such as the Qiang, Yi and Hui. The crimson-robed nomads come into town from grasslands like Ta Gong (112km away) to buy and sell goods. We soon find ourselves pulled into the Tibetan culture – fatty foods, heavy drinking and friendly curiosity. Near the local farmer’s market and the bus station, right across out hotel, is the Yak Bridge, a marketplace for all things yak. This yak jerky reminds of a South-African delicacy, the biltong Speaking of food, we manage to hunt down an entire street dedicated to soup and fresh noodles . And we become regulars at another joint specialised in pickled veg (lotus root, even ginseng) and cured meats (pig’s ear & skin). Everything happens in the street: selling of vegetables, sanding of all-important chopping boards. One day we realise we’ve been too long inside the restaurant, only when we notice that a man has already managed to build a small mountain of sawdust near our bikes. Throughout the week the weather has been good to us, except for nighttime when temperatures drop well below zero. To cope, I’ve acquired the habit of drinking hot water. The second best thing is going out for a brutally spicy hotpot with our fellow hostel dwellers, one of whom insists that my boyfriend looks like a movie star! (It’s not the first time John receives such extravagant compliments from Chinese men, and we’ve attributed this to his prominent facial hair; they’d be disappointed to see his chest.) Finally, we are prevented from shivering with cold by electric blankets, which the genius in me has the foresight to plug in and crank up to max power before we go out. As the week progressed our dorm buddies kept changing, except for the mouse that keeps coming out every night. By the end of the week our visas are ready but we hear that tomorrow it’s going to start snowing again and daytime temperature will drop to -8! Exciting stuff, and presumably lots of snow ahead, considering that the road further west is a section of Tibet Highway still under construction, that goes through two mountain passes at 4,410m and 4,659m. Remind me why we’ve chosen to cycle towards Tibet NOW with the onset of winter? Sursa
  21. Litang! Litang!

    Two days before this, it was sunny and a mild -4 degrees in Dartsendo (Kangding). Then clouds rolled in, and air felt thinner and colder. Once we found that the onward bus to Litang had been cancelled due to blizzard and another one may leave the next day, conditions ahead seemed too dangerous to cycle. Especially that it takes two days to reach the top of the mountain pass. So here we are, busing out of Dartsendo and hoping that fairer days await beyond the notorious 285 kilometers of G318. Up to the first mountain pass (4,410m) other than the relentless incline the road conditions are quite good. Then we pass Xinduqiao (3440m) and we hit roadworks: mud, puddles, large bumps, stones and lumps of torn-up asphalt make such sections the dread of Chinese cyclists gunning to Lhasa. Every KM we see their messages left on the road markers. Our driver stops to fit the wheels with winter chains. Very encouraging indeed. This is Tibet, where you can have three seasons in one day. The second pass (4,659m) marks a very clear distinction between the vast grasslands of Ta Gong or the misty, forested gorges of Ba Mei. Everything has been replaced by vast tectonic creations. The view towards the high Tibetan plateau is breathtaking. These mountains look more like they have been thrown from the sky, rather than pushed from the earth. As crazy as this road may be, carving through the most dizzying of peaks, we are not alone. And I’m not talking a couple of trucks like the one we saw in Kangding; there are massive PLA army convoys, some returning from Tibet, some slowly climbing up. One line must have nearly 50 trucks! We ask why there is such intense military activity up here, and they say they could be fresh recruits on driving practice, with a number of vehicles carrying supplies to Tibet. Further up, a section of asphalt has been washed away, bringing the entire traffic to a halt. We only get moving again 3 hours later and the driver starts shouting Litang! Litang! to make sure none of us got lost on the mountain. We finally arrive in Litang in the dead of the night. We’ve been on the G318 for 15 hours. Not so bad, considering that this drive takes 10 to 12 hours in summer. Pedalling our way here would have been a Sisyphean delusion. Unsurprisingly, because of the intensity of the bus ride, the night doesn’t progress much further than climbing under the electric blanket to escape the cold and writing this. We are bunking at Medok’s Potala Inn. She is Tibetan and one of the few local business owners who support the thin trickle of visitors to the area. In the morning we see her rosy cheeked, doing laundry in the yard, while the street has been covered with a thin layer of ice. That’s it, we can no longer deny it. Winter is here. Litang sits at 4,014m, hemmed in on all sides by huge mountains. This is a Wild West sort of town, clustered around one main street – with open-fronted shops stocked with horse rigs and cowboy gear – and the market – where nomadic Khambas are shopping or selling huge blocks of yak butter. Yak is the staple here: we find yak burgers, yak meat pies and yak soup, and we are happy to wolf down an animal we find adorable either dead or alive. Yak carcasses hanging in Litang’s market Litang is populated almost exclusively by ethnic Tibetans. The men are gruff, a mass of long bristling hair underneath cowboy hats, strutting confidently through town on pimped-up motorcycles. Some braid their hair and adorn it in handcrafted silver jewellery. The women are less conspicuous, wearing thick woollen tunics with sashes and their hair wrapped upon their heads in a single braid with interlacing red ribbons. Whenever a break is due, we find the men in the back of the market, shooting pool. Tibetan kids are a rag-tag troupe of ruddy faced tykes. We make eye contact across a yak carcass. Sparks fly right away. I have forgotten how liberating is to laugh for no reason, just happy to be alive. We’re gonna miss these cheeky bastards, for sure. This little dude is the spitting image of John growing up with his nana’s noodle soup and just as fussy I’m sure Everyone is super-friendly, yelling “tashi delek” (hello in Tibetan), even when we reach the fringes of Litang and the home of the very poor. This is a very different world, one that neither of us thought still existed outside the issues of National Geographic. On the north end of town we find the Litang Chode Monastery, the region’s largest, with several hundred resident monks, but looking peacefully deserted. The huge yard allows a stupendous view towards the mountains. Inside it’s lavishly decorated and we see Dalai Lama’s photo for the first time on the territory of China. Considering that the Dalai Lama is not “chosen”, but “found”, I find it remarkable that Litang was the birth place of two Dalai Lamas – the 7th and 10th. This monastery has been in use since 1580, but all art and music relating to Tibetan Buddhism was banned from ’59. It’s only in recent years that monks have been allowed to wear the traditional robes and conduct their rituals again. There are Tibetans who WALK here from China or from India, on their way to Lhasa. Herzog made a hypnotic documentary about that. Up on the hills behind the monastery, to the left, Tibetan prayer flags mark a site for sky burial. This ritual is also observed in parts of Mongolia. The place is soaked in sun. I can see how one could just sit here, let this calm energy sift through and forget about time. Frankly, I see no reason to go. Sursa
  22. In Shangri-La

    From Litang we stop advancing west and point south. In a few days we should be enjoying the subtropical climate of Yunnan, but as you may have gathered by now, we are still struggling to find a snowless track, because we dived into Tibet armed only with two bicycles, and flimsy clothing. Around 10 km from town, the road climbs to 4400m through a gorge wide enough for Litang to look like a worn-out Lego. Wind is ambushing our ears with crescendos that suddenly collapse to chasms of silence and massive tectonic scar rises from both sides. I know it’s just a blink in Earth’s history, but to me, this mountain is forever. I fear it, even as I bask in its beauty. The needle sharp freezing rain is just an hour away. We put on everything that we have, except the extra pair of undies. Our bodies still bear the brunt of the other days and all twenty fingers and toes lose feeling fast. The road to Xiangcheng County and the virgin forests and big gorges on the way to Zhongwenshui seemed promising, but we find ourselves in total nightmare. At Tu Er Shan pass (4696m) the wind is just picking up. The pass, like all across Tibet, is devoid of trees and covered in huge boulders and colourful prayer flags. To Xiangcheng we make it, by shared mini-van, crammed on top of two Belgian travellers who are backpacking to Thailand. They keep us good company for a night in town, complete with dinner in a weirdly touristy joint and a brief rest in what could well be a bordello. We’ll meet them again on the bus that sloshes to the top of Hai Zi Shan (4998m), and of Kuluke Shan (4708m) after that. There’s even not as much snow as I’d though up here, only some frost, but the dam thing is frictionless on dirt. Pedalling is impossible, and pushing it is even worse. The rear slides back and forth, mud slurry flies and progress is nil, while the antiquated bus manages to lumber on. The driver keeps asking: “Where are you going? Shangri-La? But why not with motorbike?” Damn good question man. Long story short, by third day we’re crossing int the province of Yunnan – The Land Beneath the Clouds, much sooner than expected. We stop in Zhongdian, one of a handful of places believed to have inspired James Hilton to pen his classic novel “Lost Horizon”. The novel spoke of a mystical Tibetan Buddhist city, of the Himalayan utopia of Shambhala, an earthly paradise, permanently happy and cocooned from the outside world. The Chinese tourism authority wanted to make sure they own this patent. So they swiftly changed the name of an 1,300-year-old Tibetan village (once a stop on the southern Silk Road) from Dukezong to Shangri-La, and bam! a new tourist attraction was born. After vagabonding in wonderful rural China and Tibet Kham for weeks, we are frankly unimpressed. The shop fronts suspiciously lack patina and the souvenirs are a bunch of generic crap. There are no burly Litang swags and no Tibetan faces carved by wind lashes; just minority costumed dancers and cute little salesgirls with the round features of the Han handing idiosyncratic flyers about Tibetan culture. For food, no yak carcasses, but proper restaurant signs advertising for gelato, imported wines and… wait a minute, yak cheese fondue? But we are here and after a few beers with the Belgians I don’t even care about this stuff anymore. We are bunking in a rustic hostel, where it’s cold and empty (we’ll move tomorrow to a chipper place). So even if it rains all morning, we are quite motivated to move our limbs. Best place to see is the Songzanlin Monastery, also known as “the little Potala Palace” for resembling the iconic lamasery in Lhasa. We approach via a muddy trail that circles the lake, gobsmacked by the image of twin gilded roofs under the bruised sky. Shangri-La is already at 3000m altitude and the monastery sits another 300m up, at the foot of Foping Mountain. It costs 17 euros to visit, a normal price for China where local tourism is booming, but an impossible cost for any Tibetan (there are no discounted rates for nationals). The 1679 structure composed of two lamaseries, Zhacang and Jikang, is currently undergoing restoration. I hope that it is being done with humility and respect towards the original. A glorious sun peeks through. Now we can see the entire place framed by empty horizons. The mountain, so crushing until minutes ago, has become an exclusion zone erected around a human house of gods. A steep flight of stairs leads to a wide terrace. As we jolt our way there, we are confronted to close-ups of Tibetan architectural vocabulary. Delicate woodwork. Striking colours. Zoomorphic symbols. Both restraint and flamboyance, building up into a concerto. I look at the black yak fur curtains that quarantine the gut of the lamasery, I stumble on wood stairs that isolate the spaces reserved for monks and the symphony of unknown origin gets louder in my head. Songzanlin Monastery The monastery is not so much an open book, as a place waiting to be inhabited by experience. The monk, the workers and the visitors could have been photoshopped into the same picture by a joker, as some appear free to run away from “here”, and run they do. The Buddhists are aware that existence is not stuck to the physical. Too bad we aren’t. Tibetan prayer flags adorn the inside and outside of the building, old and new one left alongside to say that all beings are part of an ongoing cycle and that change is inherent to all life. As Medok, the owner of Potala Inn, said in Litang, “every time the wind blows, the flags send a message for peace and health for all human beings.” As we climb down through the village on a sinuous sliver of a path, we see huge wooden racks drying the last of the hay and barley. In his book, James Hilton described the lost paradise as a place where the air has a “deep anaesthetising tranquility”. This could be it. Ok, a couple more photos of this place and we move on. I promise. Late in the afternoon we’re back in Shangri-La, reunited with our Belgian pals at the foot of the iconic prayer wheel sitting above the old town. In Buddhist tradition, prayer wheels carry the mantra of Om Mani Padme Hum, and turning the golden cylinder is believed to spread compassion in all directions. It’s strange to think that this is the only bit of Shangri-La that was to survive. UPDATE Since we’ve been there, Yunnan’s Shangri-La is no more. I shall regret forever wasting our time there to bicker about architecture this and authenticity that, instead of taking more photos. On the 10th of January 2014 a blaze ripped through the Tibetan Old Town, razing as many as 250 houses within 10 hours and turning many families’ belongings to ashes. All reports point to a tragic accident: the fire prevention system costing more than $1-million had been shut down to prevent pipes from bursting in the below-freezing temperatures and the fire trucks were unable to penetrate the narrow alleys of the old town. As the area has been under pressure by developers for some time, this fire will be a gamechanger in the debate of economical growth versus preservation of tradition. You can see some brutal photos of the aftermath here and here and here. The first picture of the prayer wheel was taken with the phone. The second was taken by an AP reporter, a few months later. Sursa
  23. KTM 690 Enduro R Rebuild

    A video story about finding out that the frame of my KTM 690 had fractured in the middle of Siberia and the ride that followed; the next step was rebuilding the 690 on a replacement frame and testing my work during a local rally. Sursa
  24. 爽 Shuang

    As soon as we’re out of the hostel and into the traffic, we feel completely different. The Chinese call this state of being ‘爽’ – Shuang. It can say many things about you: one could be shuang while celebrating some hard-won achievement. Another fellow could be shuang-ing around, but that requires a bunch of cute and giggly Chinese girls. Our situation is much simpler: the shuang hits us the moment we have a sturdy Brooks 17 under our buttocks and right beneath it our own set of two wheels. The city of Chengdu is soon eaten away by a chocking mix of fog and smog. We cycle on the wide shoulder of the road, all smooth tarmac. A school boy pedalling home joins John. I stay behind and watch them chat and laugh and I wonder at the fact that not all Chinese are too shy to engage strangers. Of course that the kid is in disbelief at our plan to cycle down to Thailand. John tells him that we’re taking it easy. For example, the destination of the day is the town of Dujiangyan, just 65 km out of Chengdu. When we roll into town my butt hurts a little, but hey, we left way after noon, and we’ve made it well before dinner. The urban scene is as provincial as it gets: shabby shops, communist residential slabs of concrete pierced by small windows where laundry hangs to dry. One could hardly guess that this is a place of 600,000 people. Well, this is China. Our bellies growl with hunger and amazing food should be easy to find. Tonight we trust our cook so much that we let her fix us whatever she wants. The rice is fluffy and the greens crunchy and bursting with flavour. Again, nothing like the typical Chinese dishes laden with oil and MSG we know from Europe. Hotels in China are cheap as chips. We “splurge” almost 8 euros on a room with ensuite bathroom. Thing is, when I’m about to fall asleep a familiar rodent shows up from behind our headboard. We scramble to catch it, but he knows this room better than we do. After all, we are squatting in his place. It’s our first menage a trois with a mouse. It is not going to be the last. In the morning we cycle across the Min River once plaguing the people who lived along the banks by its annual flooding. The two thousand years old Dujiangyan Irrigation System solved the problem. Instead of a dam, an artificial levee of baskets of woven bamboo filled with stones was built. The river’s flow was redirected and the excess water discharged into the dry Chengdu Plain beyond, which became a fertile land. Even today it’s still the country’s most productive agricultural area, probably sustaining our beloved Sichuan cuisine. We are heading in the opposite direction, to the west. The road starts climbing and the mountain shoulders gather, their deep shade of green reflected into the naked water. We cross a small town, all empty streets and shut doors. On exit, we are met with a delicate silhouette rising against a background of mountain and sky. We stop to measure and weigh, with our eyes only. It’s a strange sight, a lonesome pagoda exiled at the fringes of suburban monotony. It makes us eager to push beyond. Chasing an elevated state of shuang. A few hours later the road tightens. The climb is more vigurous and as any cyclist will tell you, our fuel is food. Soup, I say – dark, unnamed meats boiling together for hours in a huge cauldron, freshly pulled noodles, greens, mushrooms and the mother of all hot and spicy peppers dumped in a ball of instant happiness. It costs sixty cents and John decides a serving of dumplings would also do us good. They come with a weird and wonderful serving of pickles, not that we can complain. The map says a healthy climb awaits. Before the tunnel leading up the mountain we meet two swiss cyclists, Christian & Yvonne, who are coming from Kyrgyzstan. We discuss our routes and they don’t’ know anything about the next section of Wenchuan County as they came down a different way. Later we bump into a couple of young dudes, expats from the UK rocking a couple of scooters. We buy together a bag of unripe kiwi and then we split. Less than an hour before dark we are far from where we were planning to pitch. We have a very steep section ahead, with hairpins that make my skin crawl. At each new level there’s a house with the accompanying corn field below. One looks empty, so there’s our opportunity to stealth-camp. With water from a reservoir we clean some of the mud from the wheels. The place will do for the night, but it reeks. Right behind the house there’s a pig farm, now deserted, the wet dung caking the outside walls and the slope. Our tent is oriented towards the river, a few steps out of the doom of smell. So we sleep. The dude in the photo shows up in the morning, when we are about to stove away our stuff. Our notebook with the text from Killva does nothing for him. Therefore he’ll remain a mystery. At lunch we take a snack break on a cobbled platform where a signpost towers. God help us if we’re supposed to take this nutrition pyramid for serious. Munching on our crackers, we spot a monument close to the river. In a twist of fate much like when we toured Sri Lanka and happen to arrive in the coastal villages ravaged by the tsunami, we realise we are at the epicentre of a recent drama. The May 12 2008 earthquake, or as the Chinese say, the “5.12”. We are barely 80 kilometres northwest of Chengdu, but the 8.0 magnitude tremor was felt as far away as 1,500 km north-east, in Beijing and Shanghai. The skyscrapers just swayed; the dwellings in Wenchuan simply collapsed. Official figures say that 69,197 died under the rubble, with many thousands missing and almost 5 million people becoming homeless. And the horror did not end on May 12. Strong aftershocks, some exceeding magnitude 6, continued to hit the Wenchuan Country for months. The fact that we are here, completely throws us off the exploring mood. The valley looks… strangely quiet. We don’t know what to expect. It takes a couple of kilometres to enter the world of nightmares. 5 years after the earthquake things are far from back to normal. First, the tarmac ends, giving way to a mix of pointy rocks, gravel and mud. Even if the Schwalbe would not be caked in dirt, it would be hard to maintain the grip on something that has no consistency whatsoever. Adding to the toil, what was once a road has been remodelled into a succession of climbs and descends. The earth just opened and ate itself. How can I put it? We are rolling on scars. We relish any bits that look like gravel, but are as slippery as wet soap. Left and right the mountains obliterate the sky. In between escarpments there are huge landslides. I see nothing but grey. But we are not the only souls roaming this forsaken county. There are some articulated dump trucks, excavators and graders. The machines are either parked in a mountain of rubble, or munching the land. These beasts are not here to smoothen the road for cyclists, so what started as a strenuous ride, turns into an impossible task. We pedal and curse, push and spit. This is a road for caterpillar tracks only, not for MTB and human legs. Please see the tilted building in the background of where we stop to catch a breath. When I thought the ordeal cannot get any worse, it starts raining, then the clouds start shooting icy droplets. We’re screwed. We put on our warmest gear and raincoat and continue for another kilometre or so. Then we decide that we must hitchhike, if we don’t’ want to spend the night in a pool of frozen dirt next to a crawler. We’ll try to stop a vehicle at the entrance of the Huayanzi Tunnel. It’s the first recognisable feature after not seeing any of the villages that are mentioned on our maps. I don’t even know if the settlements were wiped out by the earthquake and landslides. The first car is a pickup but they cannot take us. 30 minutes later we spot a van. The guy is friendly and immediately agrees to drive us up the Mount Balang pass, which sits over 4500m and maybe to Rilong village which will be at 3160m altitude. Of course he speaks no English, so we can only hope for the best. We strap the bikes, hop inside and immediately it starts snowing. The tunnel is scary; on the other side the road goes up, up, up. In fair weather these must be great switchbacks and spectacular views. Halfway the driver stops at a shack where a man is boiling tea on coals piled directly on the ground. His hut is so smoky we can barely breathe, or see each other; but the man is chatty and offers us hot instant soup. Around midnight we hit Rilong and we are dropped off in front of some hotel. We ask the man at the gate if they have rooms – I am quoted something worth of a Swiss Alps chalet and I walk away. Meanwhile I hear John arguing with our “friendly” driver who now wants 400 kwai (50 euros) for the job. It gets ugly. We agree to give him 100. We part ways enemies. Some time later we knock on a door and ask for a guesthouse or something and we are offered a decently priced bed. It took a lot to make only 220km from Chengdu and it looks like winter is already here. We wake up to a glorious sun. The sky is spotless and blue. The mountains, menacing yesterday, are covered in thick forest. It’s an astonishing display of colour, and we go out to have a walk around town. Rilong is a a small Tibetan settlement and the base for visiting Siguniang Shan, the 6250m Four Sisters Mountain, snow-capped all year round. As the shorter route to Chengdu – the one that we took – is not ready for normal cars, tourists are fewer, being forced to take a detour. On the main street we find some souvenir shops and a couple of restaurants. One of them belongs to our host, who has converted her old Tibetan house into a hostel. Yak is the staple ingredient here. Dried meat hangs in front of all shops and precious chunks of fresh meat are being roasted and cooked into soups that will flavour many more meals. The grub is simple and superb: wild mushrooms sautéed in yak fat, some sort of collard greens in a soup with silky tofu and thin slices of yak filet on top of white rice. Our host is a sweetheart. She lets us hose the mud off our bikes and play with her chubby baby whose name is Rinchen (meaning precious). Shuang‘s back! So we decide to linger another day. Our next breakfast is quite Tibetan: yak milk with a dash of black tea and lots of butter dumped inside. Served with roasted peanuts and Tibetan bread with a stuffing of meat and lard. A greasy reminder of Mongolian cuisine. Strolling around town we hear the weather is about to turn spooky again. There’s a bus to the next town, they say, but we are keen to ride. So we re-gift the wooden toy we received in Beijing to little Rinchen (sorry Killva, he likes it too much!) and we pedal out of Rilong. Sursa
  25. Entering Tibet Kham

    The day begins somehow in mellow fashion, as we know we have lots of fun downhill sections and some modest climbs on the 56km to Xiaojin. We are already in the Tibet Kham region, which is also called East Tibet. It is famously difficult to escape the complicated and pricey bureaucracy and get independent visa to cycle Tibet Autonomous Region proper. So we have decided to come here. The Kham are culturally related to, even if not exactly identical to the Tibetans in Lhasa’s country. This part of China is completely new to us. Tibetans love to settle in deep gorges or on high grasslands and mountain passes, places where autumn should be a great time to visit. Once out of Rilong, their typical stone houses (diaofang) start popping. Built from stone and wood or simply rammed earth, their walls may be up to a meter thick at the base and sloping inward to create an illusion of height. These are proper fortresses with prominent roof corners, impenetrable by wind, cold or thieves. The intricate carvings and paintings at bays and openings ensure that the house remains also untouched by evil spirits. The ground floor is inhabited by the herd of the family, who lives upstairs. Architecture in East Tibet and Tibet proper adapted Chinese and Indian influences to the harsh climate of a high-altitude plateau. The simplicity of dwellings reminds us of rural Mongolia. Even if they had to make do with limited resources, the Tibetans, just like the Mongols, love to embellish their homes with Buddhist auspicious symbols. One of the most prominent is the Endless or the Mystical Knot. It is depicted as overlapping, suggesting no beginning and no end. As a religious symbol, it represents the Buddha’s endless wisdom and compassion. But it can also be placed on gifts and other objects as a secular symbol of interconnectivity and love, and an invitation to begin or to deepen a personal relationship. The Himalayas and the Tibetan mountains were ocean floors so the ancient conch shells that have been found here are now an emblem of power, authority and sovereignty. Ancient Indian and Tibetan epics bestow the conch with magical powers in averting natural disasters, scaring away poisonous creatures and even banishing evil spirits. Tibetans favour the right-turning conch shell, believed to be the indispensable amulet of warriors. The right spiralling movement echoes the celestial motion of the sun, the moon, the planets and the stars across the heavens, therefore even Buddha himself is depicted in temples with the hair on his head turning to the right. A symbol in use within many cultures for over 3,000 years, only to be discredited by the Nazis, also makes an appearance. Here the clockwise swastika still means life, sun, power, strength, and good luck. Actually the word comes from the Sanskrit svastika – “su” meaning “good,” “asti” meaning “to be,” and “ka” as a suffix. 7km down we are in front of the entrance for Mt. Siguniangshan Scenic Area, the big attraction of the Rilong area. The government has been boosting tourism to such places. They were rebranded as AAAAA class destinations (or some number of ‘A’s, the more, the better). Nearby Four Girls Mountain and Shuangqiao Valley get predominantly Chinese visitors. We are the only laowai at the gates and we realise that it is strictly hiking into the park and no bicycles are permitted. We have already climbed down to 3K. The signpost is a sad reminder of the Panda Research Centre that used to be in Wolong. The 5.12 earthquake largely destroyed the reserve and the pandas had to be moved. We are skirting the Dawei River. The mid-morning air is brisk. Our bodies fuelled with the buttermilk and our heart rates sufficiently jumpy from the caffeine, we make nice progress. To our help, road conditions are great, so thinks our only companion, the yak. Occasionally we get to switch to lower gear and climb to the top of a hill where a village lies. Wherever there are signs of life, we see peasants loading trucks and carriages with fruit. This valley is famous for its apples. I’d say it should be famous for its people also. As soon as I emerge into the village, breathing in sharply and red-faced, the villagers insist I should rest with them with an apple in hand. It is fragrant and crunchy, which makes me question why the apples sold in Ulaanbaatar, even the ridiculously expensive ones, were so bland. At Menggu bridge a huge white stupa sits on the road junction. The Tibetan stupas, also called Chörtens, are religious structures distinct from temples and used as reliquaries. They are round in Kham, and four-sided in India, Nepal and Pakistan, we hear. There is an old chain bridge still spanning the river, but no longer in use. Even so, as all perilous water or mountain crossings, it has Buddhist prayer flags flying from the top. Our tourist agenda through East Tibet… well, we have intentionally left it to hazard. Therefore surprises like the tower of Wori Township, rising on the left across the river at 35 km after Siguniangshan, are the more enjoyable. We’ll take a closer look. A board informs that the village was partly rebuilt after the earthquake. The recent works haven’t diminished its charm and there are touching signs of local spirit everywhere. From up the hill there’s a nice view of the cornfields stretched along the water. A bus of Taiwanese arrives at the same time with us and we mingle. These people are all smiles. We must visit Taiwan someday. At noon we roll into a village and we park as soon as we detect the scent of food. We are not in fabled foodie heaven of Si Chuan, but sweating our way up the rustic Khan country, yet this humble restaurant is serving some of the best stuff we’ve ever had. A husband and wife are running the tiny kitchen and we order both dishes on offer, essentially a noodle soup and dumplings. Both particularly amazing. After following the bottom of the gorge, the smooth road climbs through the fairly large town of Xiaojin. While we scout for a guesthouse it starts raining. Ten Mandarin words round out my vocabulary so it takes a good hour to find a place. After being offered a room in an apartment with no key and a bed in what looked like a bordello, I see a lady walking into an alley with the hotel sign on top. I manage to explain to her that we are looking for a room and she ends up renting out their reception. She is a Han Chinese, and we are offered the usual thermos of hot water to drink. As soon as the rain subsides, we go for a stroll around town. Across our street there is family labouring away at their noodle shop. As you can see nothing is wasted. A bakery was the last thing we’d imagine in a place like this. Everything, from buttery cookies to expanded rice and millet power-bars, is freshly handmade. Starting with the following day we’ll make a habit of mid-morning breaks, dedicated to a cuppa and a sweet treat. After avoiding the calories throughout the Silk Road, we relish the fact that cycling eventually depletes you of energy and requires regular carb reloads. Duly refuelled we continue our ride with a more uphill trend. We can see there will be trouble finding a place to camp again, as all the flat land is utilised. But there are only 59km to go to Dan Ba (1893m altitude). About halfway there’s a turnoff on the left for a mountain road to Ya’an; we’ve been told that this is a good ride to close the loop back to Chengdu and that it is paved, except near the pass. Dan Ba sits on a terrace high above the muddy Da Du river. We arrive at noon on deceivingly fair weather. Meanwhile our fingers have turned purple from cold. We had the GPS coordinates for a hostel and its my job to negotiate a bed. The girl in the lobby listens to my sign language and giggles at my sketch, then makes me squeeze a tube of toothpaste and nods. I have no idea what that’s supposed to mean and I laugh on my way out of what couldn’t possibly be a hostel. I fail a couple more times, resorting to ask in Rom-glish the Tibetan ladies. Check out how steep is the road! I see keys on strings but I am denied entry, possibly because some hotel owners haven’t received the memo: since recently tourists are no longer forbidden to check in. We stop for lunch in another family-owned little resto. The owners send us to the backpackers up the road where the receptionist is fluent in English. The rest of the day is for soaking in the vibe. This county, which is under the administration of the Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture is nicknamed the “Valley of Beauties”, because the local Qiang ethnic minority’s fairer complexion and delicate features. The local beauties wear a genuine or fake braid on top of a velvet head-wrap and lots of handmade earrings, necklaces, and hairpins. What we find unique is the fuchsia wool braided into the hair. Most women wear embroidered aprons on top of their simple dark clothing. As elsewhere in hard-working communities, the rearing of children and most household chores lay on the shoulders of women who carry toddlers in wraps or even bamboo baskets. If you squint, you can see in there one of those tantalising Tibetan (!) bakeries. Men wear less conspicuous garb. Except for monks. The little ones, on the other hand, are clearly students under a communist regime. It’s hard to believe we were once wearing the same scarlet scarves. Their penchant for action heroes is another thing we have in common. The uniform is completed with an arm scarf. Lacking a written script and speaking a language from the Tibetan-Myanmese family, the Qiangs have only recently been recognised as a ‘first ancestor’ culture. They used to be nomadic, but have long settled as mountain dwellers and skilled masons. There are over 80 Qiang stone towers scattered throughout the region. From the Rilong-Danba T-junction we head south 3km and turn left on a dirt track invaded by thorn bushes and follow it to the picturesque Suopo village. The Qiang towers remind us of the Svan region of Georgia, and they must have had a similar storage as well as defence purpose. By evening we are back from our 22km joyride and dine at the same restaurant as yesterday, then it’s time to leave Dan Ba behind. I enjoyed a lot the ride up to here. But this was just the calm before a topographical storm. Sursa
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