Published: July 27th 2010June 4th 2010
another day, another mountain view
now its the Himalayas that are our constant companiosn to the south
Tibet does have a different feel to it - I think its real and not just me wanting it to be real. There are the obvious differences in the faces, the architecture of the houses, the chortens & prayer flags scattered across the landscape. But also the Tibetans seem to smile more, when we ride past on the bike there's enthusiastic waving and joy. In Xinjiang Province the people were quite reserved, when we rode past they just stared open mouthed and almost seemed afraid to wave.
We are currently bobbing along the Tibetan Plateau between 4200m and 4900m making our way east. The climbs over the passes aren't that big, only a few hundred meters but at the top of each pass there are a host of multi-coloured prayer flags fluttering in the breeze. Don't know why but they are really comforting, they are like a mini reward for achieving a few more miles and do seem to help you on your way. Perhaps its just seeing the bright colours in the sea of browness.
We are now far enough east to have the Himalayas as our constant companions to the south. Predictably they provide a spectacular backdrop
the top of the pass
always marked by fluttering prayer flags now we are in Tibet
to the yellow steppe grasslands. Occasionally we come across a nomadic village with their herds of yaks. But here, the yurts of the Stans have been replaced by the oblong Tibetan tents decorated in colourful religious symbols. In the villages the same colourful symbols appear on the door curtains of each house.
From Douma to Ali we pass lots of salt lakes. At first you can't quite make out if its snow or salt but apparently its salt - I'm too lazy to stomp my way across the grasslands to double check. Then we skirt the northern and eastern shores of Pangong-tso. The southern shore is in Ladakh, India as are the snowy mountains we can see. The lake is famous for its fish, which is presumably why there are so many seagull hanging round. Anyway in the absolute middle of nowhere on the edge of the lake we come across and enormous fish restaurant. The locals tell us the fish is just like trout and cook us 2 large specimens - they obviously don't have a lot of trout in Tibet!!! Our resident fish expert said it was more like perch. Still it made a pleasant change from
all the ladies are wearing traditional drsss -
the childrens trousers always have a big split along the backside for easy access.
the usual lunch of top-box snacks.
Further down the road there is another treat in store - tarmac, and nice smooth tarmac at that. Its turning into a real day of treats; pre-historic petroglyphs at the side of the road, a real town with shops and restaurants and, after 4 days of wet-wipes, real showers and flushing toilets. We also passed some black necked cranes en-route, this is considered a very auspicious sign - so fingers crossed, we might make it to the end.
The treats keep coming the next day - from Ali to Lake Manasarovar we have a whole 180 miles of tarmac - luxury. There's no other traffic on the road, just the occasional truck and a few Tibetan motorbikes in their version of safety gear - see photo. This means we whiz along covering the miles which was the plan as we are headed for the most holy lake and mountain in Tibet.
Mt Kailash (6714m) might not be the highest mountain in these parts buts its certainly the most important. Its central to the mythology of over 1 billion people from 4 different religions: Buddhists (who believe the cleft on the south
face resembles a swastika, the symbol of spiritual strength), Hindus (who believe it is Mt Meru, the home of the god Shiva), Jains (who believe it is the site of emancipation of their 1st saint) and Bons (who believe this is where their founder, Shenrab, alighted from heaven). Many people spend their whole lives striving to come on a pilgrimage to this mountain, to make the 3 day kora round it. Some even prostrate themselves all the way round the kora circuit. And here we are just nonchalantly riding past. Compared to the pilgrims we have had a pretty easy journey here. Just to make us realise how lucky we are a tremendous storm comes in from the direction we need to go. It snows on us briefly then the skies clear and Kailash reveals herself in her full glory.
Nearby is Lake Manasarovar another pilgrimage site for Hindus and Buddhists and our home for the night. The lake is allegedly the source of Asia's 4 mightiest rivers which arise at the 4 cardinal point; the Indus to the north, a tributary of the Ganges to the south, the Brahmaputra to the east, the Sutlej to the west. Don't
the Lake stretches 110km into Ladakh, India. The snowy peaks way off in the background are in Ladakh
look at a map too closely though, they might not all arise for the lake but they do all start in this watershed. At the lake we're back to homestays, no running water and communal toilet block. When I say communal I mean communal - behind the concrete there are 4 little holes in the ground lined up next to each with no partitions in between!!
We wander up to the little monastery on the hill, its good to stretch the legs after all that sitting on the bike. We even help the monk to carry the supplies up the hill. Its very peaceful and restful up here. There are clear blue skies now and sitting by the prayer flags there are views in every direction; down to the lake, over to Mt Kailash, down to the stupas and prayer flags and mani stones, over to the snowy mountains way off in the distance. It just reinforces how privileged we are, some people spend their whole lives hoping to make a pilgrimage to this spot. A few days of no showers and communal toilets is a small price to pay.
There are more photos below