Sunday, 28 April 2013

On the road from Kangding

Little did we know but riding on the Southern Sichuan-Tibet Highway is akin
to the Central Otago Rail Trail! Well actually it has not much in common other
than the masses of cyclists encountered. We were fortunate to meet a friendly
team of Chinese on their month-long two-wheeled pilgrimage to Lhasa, one of
whom had studied in Hamilton for three years. For three days we were blessed
with their cheerful company and their English language skills. With them we
climbed our first big passes, we rode through sun, snow and hail, we bathed
in natural hot springs, and we entered the Tibetan highlands. They were truly
fine companions! In the small town of XinDuXaio we shared a final meal and
celebrated the miles we’d covered together. Then our new cycling buddies
carried on their westward journey while we swung north onto smaller rural

For the first time we experienced quiet, peaceful Tibetan villages, and we were
struck by the fine stonework and the stunningly vibrant decoration of their
homes. The roads continued quietly ahead with the exception of the odd section
of road works, these now come as no surprise! We have enjoyed passing by small
towns bursting with friendliness and the striking maroon of Tibetan Buddhist
monks walking their streets, some sporting Nikes beneath their robes and ipods
in their ears!

The variety of landscapes has been a wonderful treat as we pass the km’s by,
sometimes surrounded by rolling hill country, other times lonely high country
expanses. At times we’ve sidled deep gorges with tumbling rivers, or enjoyed
whizzing down winding mountain roads amongst forest clad slopes. We’ve gazed
out on desert-like plateaus backed by jagged high snow-clad peaks. We even saw
some monkey’s dash into the forest as we flashed by on a fast downhill cruise!

As we entered the DaoFu county we were blown away by the sudden change of
housing. In this region the local people use predominantly timber rather than
stone and the small villages were incredibly beautiful and uniquely tidy. The
locals seemed proud of what they had!

In the small village of YaDe just 15km north of LuHuo we were spoilt by the
hospitality of a Tibetan couple, along with their adult son. They took us in for the
night, warmed us around their fire, gave us a bed on which to sleep the night, and
most special of all we all sat around ‘speaking’ of home and family with very few
words, many creative gestures, our treasured photos, and what felt like a whole
lot of love and interest!

We’ve enjoyed the smoothest of roads for the first 10 days. We knew things had
to change. On Day 11, our final day before a rest day in GanZi, we hit construction
like we’d never seen before. The smooth seal abruptly ended, finished! For the
next 60km we bounced and crashed our way at snails pace amidst the trucks, the
diggers, the shovel and pick wielding work parties, and the clouds of dust. The
big picture was stunning as we climbed high and enjoyed huge mountain vistas,
but the travel was hard grind and the micro view an ugly one. GanZi has indeed

been a haven from which to rest, plan and anticipate what the next stage will

The Chinese approach to road construction means the way ahead is a huge
mystery. It may be fast and smooth, but the odds of that are low. My money’s on
more of the bounce and crash style. So tomorrow we continue on our northwest
journey, aiming for ShiQu/SerXu in a few days and then swing northeast toward
Xining. The pace is unknown, but if we just keep pedaling then we will continue
moving forward!


Andy is posting for Ollie and Anna while they are behind the Great Firewall of China.

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