Entering Forbidden Lands

Trip Start Sep 05, 2010
Trip End Aug 21, 2011

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Where I stayed
Sherpa Hotel

Flag of China  , Xizang,
Saturday, January 8, 2011

The alarm at 5.45 was not a welcome sound. Our room was colder than ever and Mikey was feeling terrible. Our Jeep arrived on time however and our guide loaded on the bikes without a problem. We then picked up Richard and Mirinae from their hotel and set off. As usual in Nepal a random seemed to have tagged along for a free ride, but as he sat in the boot we didn't make too much of a fuss.  The first hour and a half before the sun rose was bumpy and uncomfortable, the mist making us both a bit nervous and glad that the traffic was fairly light. When the sun rose and we stopped for breakfast some spectacular mountain views appeared and stayed with us for the rest of the day. Mikey used breakfast time to stretch out on the backseat and sleep while I wolfed down an omelette.

It was another three, bumpy but scenic hours to the border. The last couple of miles took ages due to traffic and hundreds of people wandering around in the road. Apparently there are some hot springs in the border town and they had come to bathe. We were also stopped by every policeman on the route who each asked what was in the bike boxes. There didn’t seem to be any reason for this beside nosiness however and they let us us through as soon as the driver explained our intentions.  Before leaving Kathmandu, we had been told that there was a 10 minute walk from the car park to the immigration point and that we would have to hire porters to carry the bikes. On arrival we couldn’t believe that most of the porters were women, one even carrying a toddler as well as luggage. A tiny woman put a rope round my bike box, looped it over her head and carried the bike hanging down her back, an equally small man swung Mikey’s box onto his shoulder and we set off. Crossing Freindship Bridge was pretty spectacular, but sadly photography is strictly forbidden. This will be the case in much of Tibet annoyingly.

The process was incredibly lengthy and it was easy to see why it would be impossible when not part of a group. The queues were enormous and our guide explained that lots of Nepalese cross the border regularly to buy Chinese goods as they are cheaper than those which have been imported to Nepal. Women porters in the queue were carrying huges loads back and forth  - for example,  8 enormous boxes of borbon biscuits or hundreds of loo rolls. The immigration checks  involved lots of standing around in queues, filling in random bits of paper and having them stamped by different people.  All of our luggage had to be scanned twice and was supposed to be unpacked. They did this to our group members who had back packs, but for some reason couldn’t be bothered with our panniers and waved us through. Fortunately they decided against opening the bikes as well and when we got to the other side we heaved a huge sigh of relief. Despite the tour operators assurances we had still been worried that we would be turned away because of the bikes.

                Arriving at our new jeeps and meeting our new guide, it became clear that they did not have roof racks as we had been promised and that our luggage would be a problem. Not only that, but there were not enough seats for 9 passengers and they were expecting 4 of us to sit across one backseat and one to go in the boot. Predictably our new guide said we would have to pay for a separate taxi ourselves. After kicking up a massive stink, (backed up by other passengers) we ended up getting all the bikes in and the guide sitting in the boot. Luckily Richard and his girlfriend are small like me and Mikey and it’s not too squashed in the back. Had we all been large they would have been in serious trouble.

                After all of the fuss it was a lovely surprise when we stopped for the night half an hour later in the first town we came to. The guide said that heavy snow meant that the lodge we were supposed to go to was shut so although it means a longer drive tomorrow we were all happy to stop. It also means that we are climbing more slowly and hopefully our bodies can have a bit of time to adjust to the altitude. I was completely puffed out when I reached our room on the 5th floor, which after all the cycling training was very disconcerting. The dormitory is at least clean although cold and Mikey got straight into bed (2pm) and hasn’t got back out. Hopefully the sleep will mean he’s better tomorrow.

With Mikey ill, its lovely to be part of a group and we all went out together and found somewhere fun to eat, although it was a bit of a lottery ordering.  I went for the safe option of egg fried rice, but other people’s Yak meat and noodle soup looked pretty good. Yak butter tea was less popular and no one could stomach a whole glass. We were surrounded by groups of men enjoying Saturday off work playing cars, smoking heavily and drinking tea filled with bizarre looking fruits and grasses. They all suddenly left at 6 – I think called home by their wives for supper. 

Wandering back through what had been a deserted town we saw some children out and about giving us shy smiles. Overhead the mountains looked enormous and I’m looking forward to getting up there tomorrow and hopefully seeing Mount Everest.
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