The 219 - The Road Sublime: Kashgar to Ali

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October 9th 2007
Published: October 12th 2007
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Chang ThangChang ThangChang Thang

Approaching Tibet at last.
High altitude, thin, freezing dry air; intense harsh sunlight, galeforce winds with sub-zero windchill, hundreds and hundreds of kilometres of the worst road surface imaginable; deep soft sand or gravel, rutted, corrugated dirt tracks, many stretches with no water or food for tens or hundreds of kilometres, dozens of high passes, no shower or even a wash for weeks, and nightime temperatures of -25 degrees C or lower.
Welcome to the 219; Not an Easy Road, in fact probably one of the hardest and worst roads in the world, but at the same time one of the best and most rewarding. And after 17 days of hard riding every day, setting a record of 15 days without washing, we are finally in Tibet!

We have been wind blasted and battered, endured nights camping at -25 or even -30, our water filter froze solid and broke, our tent was nearly blown to Mongolia, we are sick of instant noodles, the skin on my hands hads dried and cracked so that I have deep scars on all the folds of my skin, knuckles and around the finger nails. Erika has huge saddle sores and when we first arrived in Ali her face cheeks were swollen and browned by the wind so that she looked almost like a Tibetan woman. If I speak or try to smile my top lip splits wide open and my nose looks like its been sandpapered. And halfway across Aksai Chin I sprained my knee, spending a night in swollen pain and facing the certain prospect of having to take a truck the next day. But we are not complaining, we survived, cycled all the way, and it has been one of the best 2 weeks riding we have done on this trip; the scenery, landscape and wildlife were amazing and we were constantly forced to smile, even if our lips did split open every time.

We have had moments of intense happiness and joy, and also moments of such intense fatigue that we have been in tears or else yelling at each other in frustration over the awesome power of the wind. Arriving in Ali we were both happy and looking forward to the propsect of a hot shower, warm comfy bed and decent feed, but also sad to be leaving the life of being so close to nature we had been living for the last
Camel CrossingCamel CrossingCamel Crossing

On the Southern Silk Route, Taklimaklan Desert
2 weeks and returning to so-called 'civilisation'. Still, a shower was much in need...

From Kashgar we actually had 2 days long but easy riding along the southern silk route skirting the Taklimaklan desert, through poplar shaded Uighur village oases and past mile after mile of irrigated fields full of cotton, melons, grapes and fruit orchards. The modern highway is black smooth asphalt but when it runs through stretches of barren, flat, endless stony and sandy desert we pass a small camel train and are reminded that this road has been here on almost the same line for thousands of years, its just that now Dong Feng trucks have largely replaced the camel as the main freight carrier. We camp in the middle of the desert for the night, not far from the ruins of an old mud-brick caravanserai, another reminder of the old silk route. After another long ride we reach Kargilik, an Uighur city with only a tiny chinese minority but which for some reason has been renamed Yecheng (a Chinese name). After 2 days hot riding through the desert we swerve into town to find a cheap hotel and a shower - our last for some
Who's got the biggest beard?Who's got the biggest beard?Who's got the biggest beard?

Uighur elders emerging from Friday prayers in Pusa, the last village before the Kunlun mountains.
time. Unfortunately the cheap Uighur places either have no showers or esle wave us away as foreigners cant stay there because of the police! A reminder of strained relations in the supposedly Autonomous region of Xinjiang. We end up in a not-so-cheap but very luxurious hotel run by Chinese.

The next day we are up early to set off for the 219 towards Tibet, but heavy legs and exhaustion means we decide to rest for the day and look around Kargilik, which has a huge mosque still being re-built after the ravages of the cultural revolution.

The following morning we are off, cycling away early as everyone else cycles into town for the days work. It is a cold morning with steam on the breath, even down here in the desert, a reminder that winter is on its way and here we are turning off onto the 219 and heading towards the distant snowclad Kunlun Mountains and the Tibetan plateau beyond. After crossing the last stretch of desert we enter a broad shallow canyon, which gradually gets narrower and deeper as we push further into the mountains, passing Uighur shepherd villages and dry stream beds. The villagers have built large reservoirs to collect water for the many months of dry weather. Taking water from one such village we camp in a dry gully below the first of many passes.

Steep hairpin bends take us up and down the Kunlun Mountains, back towards the Karakoram and we are all smiles as we cycle past towering rocky bluffs and big blue rivers. Ibex scramble for the steeper rock slopes and little pikas dart into their burrows. The road is still good but after 2 days the tarmac has gone and we are facing 700km of unsurfaced rutted and sometimes very sandy slow going highway. For the next few days it is 'another day, another pass' as we climb slowly up and up towards the Aksai Chin soda plains, following river valleys between each pass, at first south and back towards the solid wall of the Karakorum (at the shanty village of Mazar we pass the junction to K2 base camp), and then east towards the Aksai Chin desert and Tibetan plateau. The Chiragsaldi La is our first big pass and it is a huge effort to cross it - at nearly 4850m high it is a huge leap up
The Kudi ValleyThe Kudi ValleyThe Kudi Valley

After the first pass into the Kunlun.
from the Tarim Basin only 2 days before. We arrive at Mazar on the far side for a very late luch and cannot muster the energy to cycle on as planned.

We can camp anywhere along this road and indeed we have to as it is somtimes hundreds of kilometres between any type of settlements and even then these turn out to be little more than shacks set up as truck stops and the odd army camp. However these truck stops become our total luxury, snuggled up under thick quilts we share nights with the hamsters (in Mazar Robin is woken by a hamster running across his face) glad not to be sleeping on the frozen ground outside in our tent. That said it has been fantastic to camp all the time. To sleep in completely silent high deserts and mountain valleys. Often having had to battle with fierce winds which appear just at tent pitching time then disappear to reveal massive, clear but freezing starry skies! Each morning in the tent we wake and fight our way out of our sleeping bags which we have drawn so tightly around our heads to stop the cold. Often there is
Blue Sky, Blue river, Blue MountainsBlue Sky, Blue river, Blue MountainsBlue Sky, Blue river, Blue Mountains

And yes, it is as cold as it looks... Upper Kudi Valley
ice on the outside of the bags formed from our condensed breath and always we have to be careful not to knock the "snow" (frost on the inside of the tent) onto each other as we struggle to get into cycling shorts whilst trying to stay warm inside the sleeping bags. If we have been careful to pitch the tent with clear views to the east soon the sun is up warming us and helping to defrost our tent and sleeping bags. We are resigned now to the fact that it always takes us a couple of hours each morning to pack up, warm up and eat enough for the cycle ahead. We started out with porridge from Kashgar but recently have had to eat up instant noddles for breakfast as well as for lunch and dinner!

From Mazar we travel slowly eastwards along deep, wide river valleys with water the colour of sapphire green and occaisional olive-yellow grassy river flats contrasting with the otherwise desert coloured sandy and rocky terrain. High peaks are visible clad in snow and ice and each day we climb slowly out of one of these valleys over another high pass, up to almost
At last the SummitAt last the SummitAt last the Summit

Chiragsaldi La, 4800m in the Kunlun Mountains. Aparently if we had climbed higher by foot we could have seen K2 again, which was exactly what I was ready to do after 5 hours hard cycling to get here.
5000m and into the snow and ice, before descending back into another river valley to continue eastwards. The road is rough and we start to cycle offroad in the flat desert valley bottoms as this often is easier going than using the road!

After a couple of days we climb up again out of the river valley, up and up towards our highest pass yet, the Khitai La at 5150m, only from this we do not descend much at all. From the top of the pass we have an amazing view out across endless flat plains dotted with torquoise blue salt lakes and small, rounded, red/orange/purple rocky hills. Only far off on the distant horizon are there higher, snow clad peaks. This is the beginning of the Aksai Chin, a huge desert plain at 5000m up almost devoid of fresh water and blasted by strong icy winds. Is this still planet earth? It looks like pictures of Mars except for the salt lakes, with the lunar style landscape of deep red rock. Given the freeze-dried conditons, lack of fresh water and low-oxygen levels it almost could be another planet. It is amazingly beautiful in a sharp, harsh kind of way.

We sit on the pass taking it in and watch a huge Chinese military convoy climb up from the plains and descend back into the valleys we have just left. Despite being almost inhospitable to all life-as-we-know-it the Aksai Chin are fiercly contested by 3 countries - India claims the area as part of Ladakh (and as Pakistan claims Ladakh as part of Kashmir then I guess they too claim it as thier territory) and indeed it was technically part of India until 1960 when the Red Army built a road across it (the 219) and several large army bases. It took the Indians 2 years to even notice this, a short war followed, India got their arses well and truly kicked and I guess it will now be forever part of China (except on any Indian map). It seems a ludicrous peice of land to fight over.

We descend from the pass into a ridiculously strong wind that tries to blow us off the sandy road and far to the north. We make it to a fresh water spring at the base of a rocky outcrop and decide to camp for the night. I find a
Room with a ViewRoom with a ViewRoom with a View

Breakfast at our high camp just over the Keycha Daban/Shahidulla La, the pass is at 4900m, our camp is maybe 4600m.
relativley sheltered spot behind the rock and try to pitch the tent while Erika goes to filter the water from the spring. Half an hour later and I am still struggling with the tent, the wind is conspiring to blow in every possible direction almost all at once; at one point the plastic ground sheet we put under the tent for extra insulation is ripped out from under 10 sizable rocks I had used to weigh it down and blown uphill behind me, at the same time the same wind tries to take the flysheet in the opposite direction at great speed towards Mongolia. Somehow I manage to retreive them both and use even bigger heavier rocks, but the tent is still no closer to being up. The thought then enters my head from nowhere to check my foam Karrimat - pinned down under another rock - I look over only to see it has gone, I spot it rolling away across the desert at least 500m away and still accelerating. Without this I will probably freeze to death sleeping on the already frozen ground. Last time I sprinted at this altitude I got about 50 metres and collapsed wheezing

The photos on this blog are brought to you by the power of the great Fire in the Sky, Atum Ra/Suriya, not to mention a bizaare chain of people including the Indian Govt., a Ladakhi named Lobsang, the CAT in Corris, Cymru, a clumsy Yak and our Polski freind Robb!
like an old obese man, this time I catch my mat. Fear and adrenaline are great things I guess.

Erika returns with a frozen hand and bottles of unfiltered water - the water was not frozen in the spring but as she was pumping it through the filter the wind was freezing it in the pipes. She helps me get the tent up and thaws her hands out, while I check the filter. Stupidly we left it on the ground and it is covered in ice, we thaw it with warm water and dry it out over the flame of our stove but it is too late, huge holes have appeared in the ceramic and we can no longer rely on it to purify the water. It is an expensive lesson; we thought we had been doing well camping in sub-zero temperatures until now, sleeping with our filter and even water bottles inside our sleeping bags to stop them freezing, but we were simply not prepared for the increased harshness of conditions on the Aksai Chin. As if to rub it in as soon as it is fully dark the wind dies off completely, but at least it means

Ahh when deseet tracks like this are preferable to the road, you know its bad...
we have a chance to sleep. We also have plenty of fuel so boiling all our drinking water is possible.

Sleeping at over 5000m is also a challenge. Several times in the night (and it gets no better by the 3rd or 4th night) we would wake breathless, feeling like we were suffocating. I would rip my way out of the stuffy sleeping bag in an attempt to get more air only to realise how cold it is outside the bag and just as quickly pull myself back in!

On our second day across the Aksai Chin we reach a big military base and laosd up with pressure boiled water from the soldiers. Carrying over 20 litres between us we hope to survive the longest stretch of this road without any freshwater, but we are heavily weighed down by it on the soft sdand and rutted tracks. Trying to push our bikes off the 'road' and inot the the smoothness of the desert to find an easier line to cycle something clicks badly in my right knee and I am hopping around in pain. It doesnt feel good, its not as bad as tearing my cruciate but its
Colours of the KunlunColours of the KunlunColours of the Kunlun

From a river camp between Shahidulla and Dahongliutan, on the road to Aksai Chin.
not so far off either. Fortunately making ice to put on my swollen knee is no problem and after 10 mins of this and putting on a bandage I can mange to stand on the leg and bend it, and keep cycling for another hour before camping.

All that night every time I move in my sleep I wake with stabbing pains from my knee and I try not to think of the inevitable and obvious fact that I will not be able to cycle onwards. By morning it is not much better but slowly moving around packing uo the camp it eases and I can move it more and more. I also take some strong Ibuprofen painkillers and manage to cycle the rest of the day - without any muscle pains or tiredness at all. Not that I would really recommend this as a way to cycle at high altitude .....

This day we are finally drawing closer to the snow capped ridge of peaks that marks the far side of Aksai Chin, and as the road begins to climb slowly up towards them it turns and finally the huge crosswind we have battled against is behind us and we fly up and off the plains towards one beautiful lake after another, a wide flat pass and then another amazing torqouise blue lake and the truck stop of Tielong - a warm stove and fried rice. As we climb off of the Aksai Chin vegetation begins to appear - short green-yellow sedge grasslands and even some animals - for the last 3 days the only lifeforms have been us and the ravens and vultures hopefully following us with a glint in their eye.

From Tielong we cross 2 more low passes between wide grassy bowls of valleys with small salt lakes, passing groups of Tibetan gazelle and even a herd of the rare Tibetan Antelope close to the road (only 9 of them mind, these animlas are mercilessly hunted for thier fur which is used to make Shatoosh shawls - apparently the herds here used to number tens of thousands), before we reach Lungmo Tso and the gate into Tibet - well more of a big sign with lots of Chinese propaganda (and only a single line in Tibetan script) than a border gate. We rejoice- we are finally in Tibet, but we are exhausted too. We have another 2 high passes to cross and the whole day has been above 5000m. Climbing the last pass we are hit by the most feirce headwind imaginable and descending is much harder work than the climb up was. At times we are forced to get off and push to avoid being actually blown back up the hill.

We finally crawl into Sumxi, the first Tibetan village, where we look forward to another night in a warm hut and hopefully some rice to eat. Instead we get no welcome from either the Chinese road workers or the Tibetans, nowhere to sleep and no food. Eventually they give us boiled water and sell us some instant noodle packets for over 3 times the normal price before chasing us out of the village. Welcome to Tibet! Actually I dont really blame the Tibetans, scraping around the village for animal dung to burn in their stoves they were the poorest people we had seen for some time. The Chinese soldiers and road workers with their expensive landcruisers who laughed in our faces didnt have such excuses, and it was ultimately the Tibetans who gave us the water and sold us the
Alien Life Form?Alien Life Form?Alien Life Form?

Beating the dust, dryness and freezing wind on Aksai Chin.
food anyway. We camped on the edge of the village, ate our instant noodles and looked forward to the highest pass of the route to Lhasa the following morning.


Two dots appear high above and framed by the long wide valley as they approach quickly. I yell to Robin "Ducks incoming". But wait a minute, these are not ducks - they are still 10 km away and flying in fast and getting bigger and bigger and then, wow, We realise it's a pair of Black Necked Cranes! These massive birds have just flown with ease along the valley that took us hours yesterday to cycle. They glide past playing and jostling with each other. The wildlife here is certainly well adapted to the huge distances, high winds, the extreme temperatures and the harsh sun.

We are camped by a stream in the middle of a wide valley in Western Tibet. We had thought that we would make it easily to Domar (the first sizeable Tibetan Town we encounter on highway 219 from the West) however despite it being downhill the state of the road and the massive headwinds stopped our progress. All that and the fact
The Road???The Road???The Road???

Aksai Chin
that we just crossed the Quishan La, the highest pass on this route at over 5200m and our energy levels definitely feel it!.

That day after packing up the camp with numb fingers and donning full windproof layers we only managed 48km to arrive in Domar for a late lunch. The wind, the sand, the corrugated road, the WIND and a bit of snow for variety!!! It's certainly tough, but just as we round the corner to the town we are distracted for ages by really close up views of a family of Black Necked Cranes, these extremely rare, endangered and scared Tibetan birds are completely unbothered by us and we sit for ages gazing in wonder as more interesting birdlife flits around us. Just at that moment I look up and astonished realise that a big Kiang (Tibetian Wild Ass) Stallion is wandering across the marshes straight towards us! We are amazed, up here above 4000m, where man struggles to make a living from hardy sheep and goats, and we struggle each day to make every kilometre on the tough road, the local wildlife roams free, strong and seemingly unafraid of us. Unafraid that was until a truck
Water Water EverywhereWater Water EverywhereWater Water Everywhere

But not a drop to drink, unless you like it reeally salty that is. Aksai Chin.
blasts its horn as it rushes along the road in a huge dust cloud panicking the Ass and causing him to run and run and run. It is then we realise the true strength and speed of this creature and we cycle back along the road to glimpse the Ass still running, with his neck outstretched way away on the far side of the valley- magnificent!

We wave happily and shout "Tashi Deleg" to the Tibetan women we pass by on the way into Domar. The women smile broadly back as they pause from collecting dung to stare at these weird dirty foreigners cycling by. The women apppear as small bright red, green and fluorescent pink pyramids dotted around the grazing lands on the edge of the marshes which surround town. I say pyramids beacuse that is how the huge and brightly coloured layers of shawls and scarves make them seem. In town some women have small children strapped on to the back of these huge shawls and bright colours are definitely in. We cycle through town staring at young guys sporting cowboy hats with cool big decorated motorbikes. Old guys wander around wrapped in endless layers of dusty
Distant HorizonsDistant HorizonsDistant Horizons

Aksai Chin. Land worth fighting over eh?
clothing and big padded coats worn with one sleeve loose and fastened with big bright handwoven belts. Everyone looks very wind blown and haggard, children's dirty snotty faces peep out at us from behind large drapes decorated with tibetan buddhist knots that cover the doorways. The faces of the people are browned and wind blasted, their hair is wild and matted, these are the Khampa nomads of the Chang Thang plateau. We look around and realise that dirty, dusty, wild looking, well wrapped up in layers of tattered clothes and with wild matted hair sticking out from under our hats we do not look too disimilar!

We have just spent 2 weeks cycling on one of the highest, windiest, dustiest, bumpisest roads on earth. We are really tired and spend that afternoon in town eating and eating. The last 2 weeks we have survived on instant noodles sometimes eating these three times a day and this first proper town is a dream. There is a bakery and shops and we munch and munch determined not to loose kilos like we hear is common for most cyclists who attempt this route.

There is hardly any traffic on this road, only trucks and the occaisional high speed landcruiser filled with chinese tourists. I wonder what these tourists actually see on their trip as they rush past so fast in a cloud of dust. Some of them occasionaly stop to watch us... yes it seems that we are a tourist attraction not the vast open and beautiful landscapes full of wonderfully changing light over icy blue salt encrusted lakes, not the big herd of Wild Ass we were looking at, nor the beautiful Lammergier with his bright yellow beard feathers that is gliding overhead.. but us! At some of our truck stop rests we spoke to a few of these tourists and realised that they have seen none of the amazing Tibetan Wildlife that has stopped us in our tracks. We have been metres away from Tibetan Gazelles, Tibetan Antelopes, Tibetan Fox, wildly dancing Altai Stoat and of course the Cranes and Wild Ass.

So far we have not really been in contact much with people; there just aren't many around up here in the very far west of Tibet. Our main memories are of massive blue blue lakes, huge expanses of sand and salt, wind chiselled mountains and the
Red MountainsRed MountainsRed Mountains

Mars? On the climb off off the Aksai Chin plains towards, well, even more 5000m high plains...
fantastic Pangong Tso.

Pangong Lake itself is amazing; that morning when we woke near its shores for once it was actually warm! A huge change from the previous evening when we had struggled to pitch the tent in a gale force wind that was bending our poles and pushing the tent flat to the ground on top of us. We were back down relatively low again at around 4000m. Loads of ducks, geese, grebes and gulls fly overhead and we were woken that morning by the sound of wind rushing through wing feathers as flocks of ducks splashed down right beside our tent. Robin was able to use the tent as a bit of a hide and get a few nice veiws of early morning birds with lovely light in waterdrops on feathers, however the minute we emerged from the tent properly they flew off.

Still the ride round Pangong Tso was great: the vast expanse of water stretched out to our west, over 100km away the far shore lies in Ladakh, India, where we were 3 months before. We cycle round the beautiful shore and are really happy to find no wind and a fish restaurant. However the staff at the restaurant promised us rice and fish in 30 mins and then 45-50 minutes later still were serving a large group of chinese landcruiser tourists and had not cooked any rice at all. We were really disappointed, the fish was extremely fresh, in fact many prospective lunches were jumping out of the boxes and back into the lake and freedom. Realising that they were never going to get round to cooking our lunch we cycled on, but by this time the wind had returned with its normal vengence and we were hungry so we had a tough 10 miles to the next town for lunch.

At Rutok we rediscover the apshalt road - a brand new road surface built only this summer, and even with the by now normal headwind we are able to increase our speed easily. From Rutok we climb up a narrow river valley on the amazing road, doing over 20kmph, no over 25kmph, even over 30kmph. Mr MacAdam you are a genius (just shame the stuff can only be made from fossil fuels....). In only an hour and a half we make up the time lost in a slow morning and cover
Lungmo TsoLungmo TsoLungmo Tso

A 5100m high lake marking the boundary between Xinjiang (Turkestan) and Xixang (Tibet).
well over 30km, camping by another marshy lake full of roosting geese and cranes. Along the new road are crews of Tibetan workers putting on the finishing touches; concrete road edging, centre lines, painting the km stones etc. and we are thankful to them for building the road but also feel a bit guilty - for every group of such workers there are 1 or 2 Chinese soldiers standing guard making sure they work, often perched in the warmth of a truck cab, almost as if they are prisoners being out to work under armed guard. We have heard that such work groups are often unpaid forced labour, and the soldiers and whole vibe certianly gives this impression.

From this camp it is one last, long pull over another high pass (4800m) into the usual strong headwinds. We don't reach the top until late afternoon but the wind then decides to help us down the other side and combined with the smooth tarmac descent we fly down along a beauitiful dry valley, past another herd of Kiang and finally turn into a much wider valley that is home to our old friend, the Indus. We also meet the same
Lungmo TsoLungmo TsoLungmo Tso

From the climb over the next pass. The small black dot is Erika. the descent after this pas was even harder than this climb thanks to the most ferocious wind we had ever encountered. Until the next day that is, then the day after....
westerly headwinds we knew from the Indus valley downstream in Ladakh, but just before sunset we reach the town of Ali, the biggest settlement we have seen since Kargilik.

We have now been resting in Ali for 3 days, eating lots although everything here costs 2-3 times the normal Chinese price. On our arrival we expected to be caught by the PSB (Security Police) and fined for having illegally entered Tibet, but there was no checkpoint on the way into town and we cycle around looking for a hotel trying to avoid the numerous police cars and army soldiers that are eveywhere. We soon realise there is no need, in order to pay our fine and buy our permit to allow onward travel into Tibet we actually have to go an own up to the PSB office! So we don't, until learning that without the permit we will probably have to dodge checkpoints further down the road, cycling around them at night and suchlike. Not really wanting to have the hassle of this we finally find the PSB office, they are nice and ask if we have come rom Kashgar by bicycle. Yes we say, and the female officer

Nice grasslands, nice grazing, not so nice village. The first 'valley' in Tibet, though since its at 5000m it doesnt seem very valley like.
shakes her head and tut-tuts. We expect a lecture on how we have broken Chinese law etc. but instead she continues,"very hard, very cold, tut-tut". Our permit costs 50 yuan but we have to pay 350 - the 300 is a fine for already crossing 2 districts without the permit. She doesn't make a big thing about the fine though, just says each permit is 350yuan. It is a bit of a joke - in Domar,the first place we entered illegally, we actually went to the checkpoint and had to knock on the door to alert the soldiers we were there. They just waved us away as they did not want to 'know' we were there. Bit of a con really. Anyway, now we are legit and dont have to worry about any more checkpoints, except maybe at Everest.

Ali is a wierd town; the main streets are all modern, wide, concrete Chinese style. The Indus has been imprisoned between concrete banks and is full of rubbish and crap (literally). There are Tibetan prayer flags hanging from the bridge so the true locals obviuosly regard it as a sacred river but this is not a view shared by the
The Highest PassThe Highest PassThe Highest Pass

On top of the Quishan La.
Chinese authorities. The end of town with all the hotels is very Chinese, all the shops and businesses are Chinese owned and run, on the road out towards Kashagar and Xinjiang is a small Uighur enclave, marked with restaurants with kebab grills outside. Tibetan people walk the streets, the men with big cowboy hats and long braided hair wrapped coiled around their heads. The women wear embroidered or brightly coloured padded waistcoats and flourescently coloured stripy wool aprons. It is quite a sight.

We eventually find the Tibetan part of town - at the east end, behind the concrete Chinese shop fronts are grids of mud-brick tibetan houses and one of the main streets is full entirely of Tibetan shops and stalls - loud music blares out into the street, huge Tibetan guys play pool in the street and it is definetly the most happening part of Ali compared to the dull sterile end of town where we stay. Inside Tibetan tea-shops we find comfy sofas and a warm, freindly atmopshere - a change from the hard plastic of the Chinese places. These places are screened off from the street and recognisable only by the thick Tibetan drape with the everlasting knot symbol that hangs across the doors. This seems to act as some kind of anti-Chinese membrane as it is only Tibetans (and us) inside. Drinking butter tea and eating noodle soup, the walls decorated with Thanka style paintings and posters of bollywood movie stars it is almost like being back in Ladakh, Nepal or Sikkim.

Anyway, there is lot more of the 219 to cycle and more of Tibet to discover, and winter gets closer everyday. We are 1300km from Kashgar, with some 1700km still to go to reach Lhasa, with a small pilgrimage and side trip to the Axis of the Universe and Home of the Gods, not to mention the Highest British Mountain.

Cycling Information: if you are planning to cycle this route then we have made a detailed roadbook which you can downlaod from cyclingnomads

Additional photos below
Photos: 34, Displayed: 34


Khampa Nomads, DomarKhampa Nomads, Domar
Khampa Nomads, Domar

Our first real encounter with Tibetans
The Valley of SaltThe Valley of Salt
The Valley of Salt

Between Domar and Pangong Tso. Nomad families were digging salt from around the edges of a huge series of slat lakes.
Pangong TsoPangong Tso
Pangong Tso

The huge sea that stretches across the Chang Thang plateau between Ladakh and Tibet. Looks inviting eh? We hadnt washed for nearly 2 weeks but we weren't about to dive into the icy waters.

14th October 2007

what a great adventure! Can't wait to see more of Tibet :)
23rd October 2007

Hello Tibet!
Hi Erika and Robin We are in total agreement for once - you two are definitely off your trolleys! Just looking at the photographs made us scared, but you just keep on going. The scenery is stunning. We have just had some really bad news; our landlords are throwing us out 'cos they can make a lot more money renting the house to tourists. We are trying to get a mortgage on a property north of Skiddaw. At our age! Take care of one another. Much respect and lots of love, Shirl and Dave
26th October 2007

guys .. thanks for the pictures ! thanks for the Polski Friend :-)))))) read you later !! we arrived home .. yesterday ... looks funny ;-)
1st November 2007

You've done it!
Congratulations guys! This is again the season, and I could picture everything you wrote. Especially the wind ;-) But I guess you can only know when you've been there! I'm having a short pause on my trip, before heading to south America. Except this time, the bike stays home... But no worries, I'm not gonna sell it, anad it will be used again for sure! Well, I wish you the best of luck for Tibet itself. You must be somewhere near Lhassa now. Enjoy and see you down some road somewhere sometimes.... Cheers, Stephane
6th November 2007

Well done you two. Your trip is amazing to read about. You must have good blood cells to get you up that high. We have had another baby girl, Emma. Lots of love, Will and Julie
14th November 2007

what a great story, thank you guys for a lot of information.I am planning to make this trip by hitching, next summer.I just dont know if to get to Kashgar will be better from Beijing via Urumqi, or to cross chinesse border from kazachstan,travelling by trans sibberian train first to Alma Ata..anyway, i wish you a good luck,may your spirits be blessed by happiness. Milan from Slovakia
18th February 2013

Seeing is believing
Wow! Unlike Marco Polo, you guys actually went there! An amazing feat of hardihood and determination!
18th June 2018

Beautiful story and beautiful photos from a place I have long been curious about. Thank you!

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