Trip Start Aug 18, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of China  ,
Tuesday, August 14, 2007

11:PQ appears and shits in campsite. ride to ford before darchen. too deep to cross so wait til morn.
12:ride to darchen. many fords. arrive 2ish
13:1st half kailash kora, with swim..
14:2nd half KH, with pass and long day

We made a slow start in the morning, since we had catching up to do. Before we made it back on the road another cyclist appeared. He pulled over as soon as he saw us, so he was clearly another soloist. He said a quick 'hi' and then shat in our campsite.

He was another English cyclist called Peter, we found out when he'd recovered. A university lecturer on a two month skive, riding from Kashgar to Lhasa. He was also an environmentalist and a vegetarian, and yet was not insufferable. We ended up riding all the way to Lhasa together, in which time he managed to make eating less meat seem like a reasonable proposition. Vegetarianism remains self-evidently daft. We reached a small settlement, Moincer, in time for lunch, and took advantage of our numbers to eat in the Chinese communal style, sharing a variety of dishes. Peter broke ranks and ordered an additional plate of noodles for himself, which act of shameful defiance of the communist ethos would cost him dear 45minutes later, as he spewed them all back up again.

We rode on, Peter and I so immersed in conversation we left Pawel and Magda behind again. We were heading for Darchen, the town at the foot of Mount Kailash, the holiest mountain in the Hindu, Buddhist and Bon religions. Kailash is a very recognizable mountain, a cliché of all things mountainous, having a pyramidal peak, permanently snow-covered, with sides facing north, east, south and west, and flanked by two 6000m peaks. Kailash has never been climbed. A while ago, the Chinese government, with typical cultural sensitivity, granted permission for a European team to attempt the summit. When the climbers arrived and saw how important the mountain was to people, they called off the expedition. The proper way to treat a holy mountain, it turns out, is to walk around it. Not to avoid it, that is, but to circumambulate it. There is an annual quota of Indian pilgrims allowed into China, assigned by lottery, to complete the 50km circuit (called a kora) as well as a steady stream of Tibetans and occasional tourists. One full kora of Mt. Kailash will wash away a lifetime's sins. 118 Koras will get you instant enlightenment. I felt one was enough. I didn't want enlightenment before I'd had the chance to commit a lifetime's worth of sins.

Unfortunately, before we could wash our souls we had to wash our feet. About 30km before Darchen a ford had risen to potentially dangerous (and certainly cold) levels. The time required to ferry all our gear across would have precluded reaching Darchen before dark at the best of times, so we pitched our tents on the river bank. The ford was swollen by the day's snowmelt, so it would also be lower by morning. Peter and I chatted 'til pretty late, occasionally interrupted by Peter's noodles.
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