Thursday, September 30, 2010

30th September
Reached Lanzhou with new guide… a bigger city.
Quite uneventful… except that the speeds one was habituated to in the past few days were unattainable as the 220 km road was profusely populated on either side and there was a great amount of traffic, making the pilgrims progress rather slow!
Now am on my own from tomorrow. The travel between cities is not difficult… the difficult part is getting directions within the city… finding the hotel for the night… people just don’t speak English at all. Spent the whole afternoon walking around looking for bookshops to buy a basic Chinese conversation kind of book… there are Spanish, French, German, Russian for beginners (Chinese beginners) but none for English speaking beginners for Chinese language.  All I could find was dictionaries in which meanings are in Chinese or the words are in Chinese and meanings in English! So Dumb Charades it will be all the way. Of course what one realizes is culturally gestures also have different meanings… a gesture that would be easily understood in India draws a blank stare.
That apart, whatever I have seen till now are much like us Indians… in terms of traffic sense…crossing / turning / stopping anywhere, in terms of civic sense… spitting / peeing anywhere. !!
In India, Nepal and to some extent Tibet what one saw that was heartbreaking was the landscape littered with plastic waste. Here though one has not seen plastic being carelessly disposed. They must have a very good plastic waste management and most importantly: awareness program in place.  
Some similarities… some differences what to do !

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

29th September
Left for Xining at about 9:30 in the morning. The 220 km road was quite the usual landscape now. Except from the last 70 km one could see trees on the hills. A sight one had not seen since about 15 days. The towns we were in had trees but they were planted by hand, trees in the wilderness were totally absent. I am now down to a height of 7217 ft. quite a relief actually!
Today crossed the Shanghai 2000 km mile stone. Tempted to go all the way to Shanghai!!
We entered Xining by some back roads but surely it is a big Chinese city with high rise buildings, flyovers, and big billboards. Even the way people dress is very different. Checked into a hotel, had lunch and had best of all had a bath after 3days!!
Mr. and Mrs. Mah say good bye to day and just for tomorrow, I have a new guide... after that I continue the rest of the journey on my own.
Walked around the neighbour hood till dinner time...

28th September
Found engine oil that is similar to the prescribed oil by Royal Enfield. Changed the oil and also decided to get the rear tyre and tube changed for safe measures. This delayed the departure to Heimahe but this pit-stop was most necessary.
The road was hilly in parts with snow capped mountains making their presence felt though they seemed at a distance. I looked in the rear view mirror and said to him … see how since the past few minutes how every oncoming vehicle never meets us on the curve but just before or after, never when there is an obstruction like some jay walker or that fallen tree or a pot hole, on our side but just before or after… usually one has to decelerate, brake or maneuver, but now everyone is just gliding along without ruffling anything… Like it was all perfectly timed?” “Precisely…it is about timimg” he said “Just imagine, if you had left 3 or four minutes before or after the time you left this morning, you would have met each vehicle at the wrong spot. Like when you go to work in the morning on your way to the office…” “Sorry” I interrupted “I don’t work I am an artist”, he continued like he didn’t hear me…” you keep getting caught at every signal, it is a cycle, and about the time you entered the cycle… if you keep fretting and driving at the same pace, you keep getting every successive signal…you have to either risk it and rush thorough to enter the cycle before it begins again, or you sit it out, have a tea and re insert yourself in the cycle midway… There is a master cycle where every rightly timed entry intersects… so it is not just your right entry but the right timed entry of every oncoming vehicle … there are only a few times when one enters this master cycle…that to by accident. But if you are in tune with the rhythm then you can time every entry accurately. So in the current moment you and some vehicles might have entered the cycle accidentally while the other vehicles or even the jay walking man why even  the fallen tree could be the ones riding the master cycle… traffic is just an allegory.
Now imagine more than one master-cycle… which also intersect so you could ride from one master cycle to another”.
It is never history but histories and time is not one but many cycles and history is  many intersecting  time cycles… that’s how I am here I was just taking a ride with you to transit from one cycle to another… this moment that you described as ‘perfectly timed’ is the intersection.
Suddenly, I had to brake as a tractor suddenly appeared on a narrow mud road wanting to get on the highway… I looked in the rear view mirrors to mumble expletives at the tractor I looked in the other and adjusted my helmet.
Eyes on the road - I cautioned to myself.
Haemahe is a small settlement along one km of the highway. About a kilometer to the right of the highway is the world’s highest salt lake- Qinghai Hu (10784 ft) 


Monday, September 27, 2010

27th September
The road for the next 4 days is unfriendly and desolate, there’s not much traffic so just as backup in case of an emergency I have the guide trailing me. So my new guide Mah and his lady wife in hijab lead me out of Golmud and then he signaled me to take the lead. It used to be the same arrangement with the earlier team, we would decide to meet up at a check post or a mountain pass or when the destination came close, they would catch up with me and take the lead for the last 4/5 km.
The ride from Golmud to Tulang (or Dulan) was almost a straight line for the first 250 Km. on my right was the Burhan Budai Shan range and on my left was a desert like flat land. Then the foothills of the Burhan Budai Shan intercepted the road, and the last 100 Km, was a bit uphill and down.
In Tulang, got some welding and fixing done on the bike. My main worry now is that I have completed 6106 Km so I need to replace the engine oil. The oil I had got from Bombay is over as I had to change the clutch plates in Kodari (for which the oil had to be drained off and replaced). Have to get something as close to the prescribed oil.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

26th September
Today's goal was 430 Km to Golmud, it was also the last day of Bian Ba and Tenzin with me.
We left earlier than usual at 8:30. The initial part of the ride was bitterly cold It was the same landscape with browns, purples and ochres but as the weather had turned since the past 2 days, they were dry brushed with white. As we proceeded it looked like the left overs of chocolate and vanilla cake after a party… till finally the whole landscape was covered in fresh smooth sheets of white. After we left Lhasa, each day I feel has been more arduous than the earlier. My bones were aching with the cold but I kept telling myself- it was just a matter of a few hours. Each time I looked at the rearview mirror I could see the face of my pillion rider, his eyes looking straight at mine, without speaking I asked him how had he done this 1600 years ago? Here I was complaining at every opportunity about the roads and the weather… He does not answer childish questions.
Because of the cold and the altitudes, progress was slow. About 14.00 hrs all the climbing was done and the conditions improved and in fact only got better as the day advanced.
We reached Golmud a big town in the Qinghai. Here I met my new guide who was to accompany me for the next 3 days till Xinning. Handing –taking over was a game of Chinese whispers the new guide spoke only Chinese what he said was translated into Tibetan for Bian Ba by Tenzing and Bian Ba translated this into English for me and the same in reverse.
After dinner Tenzing and Bian Ba came to my room we had beer and bade a heavy hearted fare-well. We had after all been together for 14 days and had become good friends. 

25th September
Rocinante always happens to attract a lot of attention. Yesterday, when I got back from the cyber café, There was a crowd of people around it. The lady behind the desk was nervous about the safety of the bike she asked me to bring it in… this was a slightly difficult proposition… you have see the photo to believe,,, but we did it all the same! While doing that I noticed that the tyre of the side car was quite worn out.  Asked Bian ba if we could find a mechanic in the neighbourhood and change the tyre, he thought it could be done at Tuotuohe where we were headed tomorrow (that is today). I couldn’t agree more as I was exhausted and wanted to get a nap.
 But today I wish I had been a little less slothful yesterday as about 100 Km from Tuotuohe there was a loud bang - I instantly knew what it was. I wobbled to a side, got the tools out and put the bike on the jack. Bian ba and Tenzin (the driver) arrived. We replaced the tyre and tube fixed the wheel on the bike and took turns at pumping air into it but it refused to inflate. Finally we concurred on the opinion that in our amateur free style 3 versus 1 wresting match with the tyre and tube we must have punctured the new tube!! We had to redo the whole job again. In the bargain we wasted 2.5 hrs.
We crossed two ranges and so two passes yesterday the Thaur chu la pass (17,061 ft) and the Tangula Pass (17,262 ft). After we crossed the Tanula pass we were out of Tibet and in the Qinghai province of China.

Friday, September 24, 2010

24th September
Today had only 140 Km to do but they were really taxing... It rained throughout making it freezing cold... I had a woolen body warmer, a t-shirt, a sweater, a fleecy and a heavyduty jacket ontop yet was shivering all through the ride!! To top this my helmet visor would get totally fogged because of my breathing so had to leave it open and bear the cold wind and icy droplets and drive slow. I refused to take even a single break as I wanted this journey finished as fast as possible. There were many photo op moments but that meant getting the helmet off, the gloves off (which are nicely tucked and fastened into my sleeves)opening the rain cover on the side car, opening to the bag and then the getting to the camera... not today...perish the thought!
We had to pass over several ranges and on top of the last one (10 km away from today's destination Amdo.) it was so cold that the water was turning to ice. I was covered with what looked like crushed ice...  just wanted to get to a hotel room as fast as possible and immerse my numbing face, fingers and toes in hot water.
Finally we reached Amdo, a small town; found a hotel and changed out of my half wet socks and clothes. There was no running water as it had frozen in the pipes!  But they gave me a big thermos of hot water so freshened up with that.
Lunch was at a typical Tibetan restaurant. These are really cozy as they have a long stove in the middle of the room on which big pots of tea, water, soup etc are boiling making the whole room nice and warm. Sitting closest to the stove, had a wonderful meal- rice, soya noodles with yak meat, bamboo shoots with yak meat, and a big bowl of steaming soup.  I felt alive again and headed straight to a cyber cafe to shoot this off. As I mentioned ... no images today!
There is thunder, lightning and heavy showers out side...Tomorrow I have about 300 km and day after 400- I hope the weather gods are mercifull !

Thursday, September 23, 2010

23rd September
Yesterday we had taken a detour of 60 Km to camp at Namtso. So to get back on the route we had to climb back over La Gyan La. But today’s ride across the plateau was made difficult by really high winds blowing against my course. Because of the drag how much ever I raised the throttle, the bike refused to go above 50KMpH! And was it chilly!! Up the mountain was not easy either because of the winds and the clouds that had descended reducing visibility.
Now I have reached Naqu. Also today it’s been exactly one month since I left home.

22nd September
Todays ride was the coldest the day was cloudy and we were moving towards higher altitudes again. As there were no points of interest on the way I was just killing kilometers. It was a bit disorienting as I just remember leaving Lhasa at 10:30, (since the batteries of my watch have ran out, a quick glance at to see the time is not possible) and when we reached it was 15:00 hrs I just don’t remember 4.5 hours in between.
We climbed over the La Gyan La pass at a height of 17,127 ft. Over the windy pass we could see our destination, still 40 Km away the Namtso lake. At 15,570 ft. it is the world’s highest lake.  Once we went down the pass we drove on an enormous plateau circled at the horizon by a ring of snow capped mountains. A good part of this flat land was covered by a massive crystal blue water body almost like an ocean. Namtso means Heaven- Lake. That’s where the title of Vikram Seth’s book ‘From Heaven Lake’ about his travels in Tibet comes from … which I tried high and low to get before this trip but failed.
I took a walk by the lake, sat and watched the clear blue waters making waves like the sea on a pebbly beach… and wondered what I was doing here?!… I am more a beach person than a mountain person and detest even the hint of cold weather! Next time I think of an art project it should be about lying on a beach…a real beach sun, sweat and all, and the only thing cold in the picture should be that bottle of beer!
Namtso is only a tourist destination. It was never a settlement so there are no permanent houses- just tin sheds for restaurants and living quarters, even the people who run these businesses live in tin sheds. It is awfully windy and freezing cold, and I have that pounding headache (altitude sickness). The light faded at 20:00 hrs and the electric supply is from then till 23:00. Now I will put a full stop, have dinner and try to sleep.
Incidentally today I have completed exactly 4100Km from Bombay…not a km less nor more!!
Couldnt get connectivity... hence could not sent blog material to Sharmila... also she is now traveling for her show so this gets uploaded via Walsall, UK!
21st September
Today visited the The Drepung Monastery, the Norbulingka Palace, (summer Palace of the Dalai Lama) and the Sera Monastery,(biggest in Tibet -  It has 7700 resident monks).Every day at 15:00 hrs, the monks have a  one to one debate in a courtyard. The monk who is asking the question stands and asks the sitting monk questions. The questioning monk does a particular step work and with a flourish, claps his hands and kind of hurls the challenge to answer his question towards the sitting monk. This he does till the question is answered. There are about a hundred monks doing this simultaneously.
In the night as we were having a beer in the room before leaving for dinner Bian Ba asked me if I would like to go to a nightclub. I jumped to the offer. I had to see the night life in Lhasa. Since the place picks up late we went to ‘Pu Pu Kao’ around 23:00 hrs. Bian Ba’s local friend who took us there told me it was the best in the city. The club had a stage with performers singing karaoke to Tibetan and Chinese songs. Mostly slow music to which couples –men and women, women and women and men and men (…only for lack of the right partner in their company) waltzed around on huge a dance floor. The live singing was interspersed with women in traditional costumes performing various folk dances on the stage.  Not exactly a swinging place for youngsters but one of the few that has a dance floor, the others just have performers doing the traditional bit on stage, while you sit around and drink beer. A few beers later we decided to call it a day.

Monday, September 20, 2010

20th September
Visited the Potala Palace- the winter residence of the Dalai Lama, the Bakhor Street Market – selling mostly beads and curios for tourists and the Jokhang Temple- built in the 7th century an important place of worship for the Tibetans.
At lunch met another waiter who spoke in Hindi. He used to work with a travel agency that organized tours to Mt. Kailash, which of course has majorly Indians as clients. All the restaurants at least in tourist areas, right from the small villages serve Indian as well as Nepali cuisine. I have though avoided this totally and have a staple diet of Yak meat in the form of curry / chowmein / steak / rice etc.
Indians here are liked and respected whereas in Nepal I wasn’t sure. In Nepal as I had no internet in the room, I used spend a lot of time in the lobby (where there was wifi) The night guard used to keep me company, he had served in India for thirteen years before coming back. He used to speak fondly about India and Indians but some others told me there was a slight rancor due to the migration from northern Indian states. Presumptuous me had thought only Nepalese come to India!
About 15 days before I had left India, I received a mail saying there were major mud and Landslides in eastern Tibet, hence my route had to be altered. I would have earlier from here, (Lhasa) gone west wards but now I will be heading north wards and then coming back south wards see diagram…this has increased my travel by about 1300 km !

19th September
Today was going to be exciting… had to do 260 Km through partly mountainous terrain We were to cross the Kanola (Kharola) Glacier 16665 ft, to reach our destination-  Lhasa.
Since we left Shigaze, there not only is a speed limit but to ensure that motorists stick to that there are check posts where you are issued a slip with time of crossing. If you reach the next post before time you are fined! I being on a bike was exempted from this regulation. Talking of regulation every mountain stream I have seen by the road, till now has a cemented path to run down on… no meandering rivulets or waterfalls!
The first point of interest was the Gyantse dam. This has been put across the Nyang river it mainly generates electricity. For pumping back the water into the Yamdrok lake… read on to know what I mean.
As we rode on, on a landscape that no longer overwhelmed me after 4 days, suddenly after a bend standing in the back row was the Kanola range covered with snow. Either it was very close or my sense of time has collapsed, before I knew it I was climbing up the slopes getting closer and closer to the snow. The Kanola Glacier earlier touched the road but of late, since the roads have been made of asphalt, they absorb heat and cause the glacier to melt. It hung now half way between the top of the mountain and the road. Riding on we crossed some mythical looking landscapes… valleys between mountains with serrated contours and at other places mountains that looked like huge piles of mud and ash. I was sure I would soon hear the whoop whoop whoop of the wings of some fantastic flying beast swooping down on me! The road then circumvented an unending lake of azure water. This I was told by Bian Ba was the Yamdrok lake literally- ‘Turquoise Colour’, sacred to the Tibetans. This lake is in the mountains…water from this is brought down by huge pipes on the other side of the Gambala Pass to turn the turbines and generate electricity much to the consternation of the indigenous populace. The waters after turning the turbines are let into the Yarlung river (Known to us as the Brahmaputra!). This way the lake would get depleted, so the (muddy) water from the river will be pumped back into the (fresh water) lake. This requires a separate power supply… generated by the Gyantse dam.
The Gambala pass is at a height of 15826 ft. On one side is the serene landscape with the Turquiose lake (just 1174ft below the pass… so that seems the ground level) nestling in the soft green folds of the mountains and on the other side is a harsh brown and purple rugged mountainscape that goes down three times more than the other side. The road that leads down from this pass is not a la-di-dah type of a road that passes you from the lap of one mountain to the other. It is a rather impatient road that zig-zags down for the most part on the face of one mountain. As I began the descent, I looked over my right shoulder and seriously froze to see the sheer drop of at least 3000 ft. I refused to look again and lest my eye balls wander- forced them (at the cost of going squint) to focus on the road in front of me for the next 30 minutes. 
90 Km later,we were ushered into New Lhasa by a 6 lane road that had business houses  and show rooms on either side. Lhasa looks like a really big city… will explore it tomorrow and day after.
Got a six pack of Lhasa beer and invited Bian Ba to come a little early to pick me up for dinner so we could chat a bit and have beer in the room.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

18th September
9:30, after breakfast, I took my foot pump, filled in air and drove to a puncture shop with Bian Ba  hoping the air would stay till we reached. On reaching found the tyre was fine, we checked the pressure and gave it 10 minutes. Got some greasing cleaning done as we waited. Checked the tyre pressure…it was still the same… so it was some prankster who had let the air out! An unnecessary delay by an hour, but todays was a short ride only a 100 Kms.
First stop was the Shalu Monastery, built in 1027. It has an earthy Grey front hall with green glazed roof tiles. The interiors have incredible murals and racks and racks full of old manuscripts.
 Most of the architectural details even in the cities and villages that we passed as also the furniture are hand  painted with exquisite patterns, I wanted to see a workshop where such work was done, I was lucky as an extension to the monastery was being built and there were painters working on the façade. Some of the murals are still in good condition considering the monastery is a living institution with monks living, learning and carrying out daily rituals uninterrupted for the past 10 centuries.
The Next Stop was at Gyntse where we will spend the night. We checked in, had lunch and went to see another important Monastery the Palkor Monastery (20 minute walk from the hotel). On the way passed the monument to the people of Gyanste who were slaughtered by the British army in 1904 for gaining control of trade in Tibet. Behind it perched on a jagged hill of oblique sedimentary rock was the Gyantse Castle. The Palkor Monastery and a Stupa on the side (with 77 shrines), both had most exquisite paintings and wooden sculptures.
All the three Monasteries I have been to since yesterday are important places frequented daily by scores of worshipers and tourists, yet they seem unchanged from the time of their inception.  They have been restored, but have not been turned into marketplaces that sell religion or exotica.
In the evening the driver knocked on my room door and told me in sign language, the only way we could communicate; that the back tyre was once again flat. We took the bike to a mechanic just out side the hotel gate. After much effort he did find two tiny pin pricks, and fixed them. I am not very happy with the job, but hope it lasts.
One of the waiters of the place we went for dinner, a young chap, came up and started talking to me in pidgin Hindi, He had been in India ( near Bangalore) for 5 years (1995-2000). He Joined our table with a tray of glasses which he wiped as we spoke about the Dalai Lama and Hindi films. He got up and played songs from Hindi films. He told me how much he loved watching them as he struggled to keep up- humming the lyrics. I offered to send him a parcel of some Hindi films and took his address as I left.


Saturday, September 18, 2010

17th September
Went to the Traffic control office hoping the test would not be too hard! The officer instead just gave me instructions of caution and wished me luck for the journey. We waited a bit but some papers were short, the Travel agency had to translate details on my passport and license into Chinese and fax them from Shanghai. The work in all the govt. offices even in Tibet is always carried out in Chinese language only. So while Bian Ba waited I went off with the car and driver to the Tashilhunpo Monastery in the heart of the city. It is one of the Six Big Monasteries of Gelugpa (or Yellow Hat Sect) in Tibet.

It is a stunning complex with living quarters, tombs, temples and a mammoth 86 ft. Buddha. I am not going to give here anymore touristic information…if you want more details go to Wikipedia!
At 16:30 hrs I got a call from Bian Ba asking me to come to the office again as they wanted to check my eyes. I went and saw Bian Ba running from one window to the other frantically trying to get all the formalities done before closing time. Finally managed to get a license to drive a motorcycle in Tibet !
Had dinner and was about to turn in when Bian Ba called to tell me that one of Rocinante’s tyres seemed flat. Went down to check the back trye was totally down, what can I say except lucky it happened here and not on somewhere on the way. Have to get that fixed tomorrow  it’s 22:00 hrs too late now. 

16th September
Off today to Shigaze (12,600 ft) via Lhatse (13,287 ft).Today we are doing what was to be done over two days. This is to make up for the one lost day at the border. Also I have to get a new license made at Shigaze so we have to get that done before the approaching weekend. Shigaze is the second largest city in Tibet. First one of course being the capital Lhasa.
Most of the population of Tibet my guide tells me are or were nomads. Some of these tribes have now settled down. He also told me the most amazing thing that every village in Tibet has electricity.  Provided through Solar panels which I did see all along. 
The road we took from Zhangmu has a count down of Kilometers to Shanghai, we crossed the 5000km to shanghai mark today.
I have been taking pictures but when I go back to the room I always get so disappointed. I am carrying a small aim and shoot which is no good for capturing the vastness and magnitude of the landscape that currently surrounds me. The Himalayas look like sand mountains made on the beach by Kattya and Kashyap!

On arriving at 15:30 hrs, we had lunch and went straight to the Traffic control office. The vehicle had to be inspected and some paperwork done. I was to give a test tomorrow.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

15th September
At 9:30 Bian Ba came to collect my passport, he had to take it to the customs to get some additional papers before we could leave. In the meantime I had breakfast, and packed the bike. We had actually moved the bike into the foyer of the Hotel as the management and Bian Ba feared theft of small parts… so with the help of a hotel attendant moved it out and ran the engine to warm it up.
We left at 10:30. For New Tingri which is 250 Km away but considering the roads all being uphill it is expected that we will take about 6 hours.
Kodari  (Nepal) is at an altitude of 5,841 ft. from there I had climbed to 7,590 ft when we went to Zhangmu or Dram. Today we climbed to 16,896ft at the Nyalam Pass….Quite a jump in one day! New Tingri our destination is lower - 14,107 ft from sea level !
About 20 Km after we left, we stopped for the first check-post (there were 4 on the way) to get our passports and permits examined. Here I noticed that there was a pool of oil where Rocinante stood. I shuddered as I had already changed the oil at 3000Km and then at Kodari as the clutch plates had to be changed. I had brought the oil with me from Bombay as only a certain type of oil has to be used. I have only 1 liter left! The guard told us we could get this fixed at Nyalam- 15 Km ahead. We stopped at a mechanic’s but he was clue less. Finally I called Ziad from Spark Motion Bikers in Bombay and he told me what to do over the phone! It was not serious… All settled we resumed the journey. And what a journey it has been today! I have crossed some of the most amazing landscapes. I kept stopping to click photographs every now and then. The weather had quite naturally changed, as we proceeded I kept adding layers of clothing… I had to now wear my heavy duty snow shoes, 2 jackets, and gloves with all this and my helmet I felt like a cosmonaut!
Now surrounded on all sides, the first range around me was of brown muddy mountains backed at places by snow capped mountains. Soon after Zhangmu, as we ascended the vegetation had disappeared from the mountains, they were now greys purples, golden browns…sometimes with a patina of blues and greens- incredibly breath taking. There was a spot from where Mt. Everest can be seen, but today there was only a huge cloud. There is only this one road that runs through the landscape, no crossings, no bifurcations so there’s no way one can lose the way even if there are almost no signs,(what few are there are in Tibetian and Chinese). There are no brooding, meditating cows, baffled sheep or rather Yaks in the middle of the road. It is quite desolate save a very very few villages with a single row of houses on either side of the road. Near inhabited places, as clichéd as it may sound, golden barley stood ready for harvesting.
We had lunch at old Tingri at about 16:30 hrs and reached new Tingri at 18:40 hrs. We were on the road for 8hours. And today I am really exhausted and have a blasting headache- the last 2 hours were really killing- it is also because of the altitude, the oxygen is thinner…My body should have adapted by tomorrow. It’s going to be another long drive tomorrow.

15th Sept

Since I have entered Tibet, I have with the help of Bian Ba found places with internet but only my blog refuses to open. So I have been sending on e-mail the text to Sharmila who has been uploading the blog from Bombay. Here are the images of the 11th, 12th, and 13th and 14th
11th In Kathmandu with Family

12th Kathmandu to Kodari

13th Kathmandu to Kodari second attempt

14th Finally crossing the border