Archive for the 'On tour: SW China 07' Category

SW China Gallery

We’ve posted a first batch of pictures from North Yunnan and West Sichuan in a gallery over here, which we’ll be adding to – and captioning – as we work our way through the various memory cards. I hope you enjoy them.

Here’s a sample…

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The mountains around Litang were fresh with snow from a storm that we’d been caught in the day before. Cara was all layered up; only her nose peeped out.

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It was so cold as we descended, that spray from the road froze in a coating of ice around the bikes. We had to keep breaking, or ice jammed our discs.

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At times, the landscape had a Scottish feel to it. Scotland at 4000m, that is.

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Cara tucks into a typical steamed dumpling breakfast, washed down with a bowl of rice porridge and piping hot tea.

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A nomad boy in West Sichuan sees us and comes running over from his yak tending duties.

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Tattered prayer flags snap in the wind, sending prayers whooshing across the mountains.

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After a tough week in the saddle, we treated ourselves to a ‘luxury’ room, complete with attached bathroom and hot shower. A bedside console powered lights and the TV (the only English language channel was Propaganda News 24). But my favourite switch turned off the Bother. If only there was a switch like that in life…

Want to see more? Head to the Pbase gallery. When you open an image, click on ‘original’. All subsequent images will then default to the best version.

Indian Himalaya Tours 2008 – and dancing hairdressers…

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A brief glimpse of HH Dalai Lama, summer 2007.

Update on our tour schedule for 2008:

At the moment, it’s looking like we’ll be running two mtb-inspired Spiti and Lahaul rides and one mammoth, pass- crunching Manali-Leh via Wari La trip, from mid July through to the end of August. It would be nice to squeeze in a Leh-Manali self-supported journey too, if there is enough interest. We’re just waiting to hear confirmation from a group enquiry, then will post more details and dates.

In the meantime, I’ve updated one of our last blog entry in China with some photos, back from when we were riding with our German friend Christof. Don’t miss the new action shots of the Wonderful Dancing Hairdressers…

Read all about them here:

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En route to Leh 2007.

Pics from our first weeks in China

Here’s a few pics¬†we resized in our first couple of weeks on the road, but never managed to post in China – or rather, were blocked by the Great Firewall… Loads more to sift through when we get home!

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The road to Dechen is said to offer some of the best views on the Yunnan-Tibet highway…

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Dropping down towards Zhongdian¬†– I mean Shangri La, as it has been officially renamed, a marketing gimmick for the hordes of Chinese tourists… There’s an ‘eco-village’ nearby – cue convoys of tour buses.

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Every day in China was a banquet. The parents of this little fellow ran one of our favourite finds.

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Peckish? Dumplings don’t get better than these. Steaming hot. Just 3 Yuan a plate – that’s 20p. Continue reading ‘Pics from our first weeks in China’

It’s a concrete jungle out there…

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The road out of Simao takes us past villages where coffee beans are being sorted before roasting, and tea leaves are drying on tarpaulin in the sun; then we’re funneled down alleyways of banana plantations and papaya trees. The tea terraces are the most impressive though. Kilometre after kilometre of low, thick and neat hedgerows, curling round the land in tiers like an enormous Roman amphitheatre. Picking tea leaves must seem an endless, thankless task. Harvested througout the year, the pickers, with their wicker hats and baskets, are mere blips within the huge magnitude of the landscape. And they work late too. As the last golden light of day retreats across the land, a head pops up and looks around – it must be a disheartening to forever see these terraces wrapping round the hills.

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Sweeping up the coffee beans.

The natural rhythm of cycling, eating and resting is a satisfying one, and Christof and I chat away, swapping stories about our travels. Towards the end of the day, we turn up a red dirt track that climbs steeply towards the terraces. We’re camping tonight, and the search for somewhere to pitch the tent is always an enjoyable challenge – the last lingering minutes of light our stopwatch. Luckily, we find the perfect abandoned house and pitch the inner tent in the porch. Come morning, the mist has rolled in and the surrounding hills rise out like headlands at sea. Breakfast is in a quiet roadside restaurant, where a lady hurriedly fries up some delicious eggs, tomatos and garlic, as well as a plate of fresh runner beans. A bowl of rice fills us up nicely for just a couple of yuan more. As the saying goes in China: rice eats no money. Meanwhile, a puppy gnaws at my feet for attention then attacks the bicycle wheels. Unfortunately, like all the rest of the flea-infested dogs round here, he’s destined for life chained to a post, barking rabidly at anyone who passes. Not that many people travel through these parts. The villages are mostly forgotten, now that the new expressway nearby has taken away their much of their trade. Lonely curls of smoke rise up from chimneys, spiraling amongst the folded palm leaves.

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It was when Christof started chatting to this girl that I realised he’d been on the road alone for too long.

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The search for the perfect camping spot… Continue reading ‘It’s a concrete jungle out there…’

Goodbye Simao, Hello Puer City

A day off in dusty Puer is about all we can handle, even though Cara barely stirs from our hotel room – surrounded as she is by a pile of snotty and phlemy tissues, and nursing a pounding headache. We decide to leapfrog onto Simao on the more direct highway rather than the sinewy backroad, as a widespread diesel shortage means fewer trucks are prowling the roads. There, a fellow cyclist is nursing his own wounds. We first crossed paths with Christof, a mathematics teacher taking a year’s leave from his school in Germany, on the road to Litang in West Sichuan. Just the other day, he emailed to tell us he fell of his bike, split open his head and badly bruised some ribs – and is now resting up in Simao.When we meet up, Christof tells us more about his accident. He was working his way down a muddy, potholed descent when his bike slipped out from under him. Judging by the thick, uneven stitches in his head, it must have been pretty serious – “a fountain of blood was coming out”, as he put it in his deadpan, Germanic way. A few cars stopped and their drivers watched events unfold through their windows. But when this muddy, bloody figure walked over to them, they hurriedly sped off – as did a police car that he tried to flag down! There was nothing else to do but get back on the bike and ride to the nearest city. There he found a hospital. But again, no one wanted to get involved. Communication is always a problem here and this unwillingness to get embroiled in an uncomfortable, potentially confusing situation seems quite typical – perhaps it’s an issue of losing ‘face’. Even the nurses refused to deal with him, until he had a rant in German, cajoling them into action. Not the kind of story a cyclist (or any parent reading this blog) likes to hear… Continue reading ‘Goodbye Simao, Hello Puer City’

Following the jungle roads – Nanjiang to Puer

The last week, we’ve been putting in the grind in our efforts to get to Laos. With every metre we drop in altitude and every kilometre we head further south, the landscape becomes greener and lusher. The mornings are cool and shrouded in mist; the afternoons hot and hazy. Skyscraper bamboo trees have appeared, their bases as thick as drainpipes, leaning over the road like giant foxgloves. There’re banana palms and papaya trees adding to the tropical flavour too. Outcrops of rock poke out of the forest canopy, and some curly rooved, wooden houses are even built into these imposing walls.

Every once in a while, rugged mountains give way to tier apon tier of terraced, waterlogged fields, glinting as they catch the afternoon light. These parcels of land are too small for tractors, so waterbuffalo drag simple ploughs, turning the earth. In fact, there’s far more of an agricultural feel to where we are now. Most people walk the roads heading to or from the fields, hoe over a shoulder, and straw hats on their heads. From a cyclists point of view, it’s good news as there’s very little traffic to worry about. Just a few of the popular tractor pickups (a pickup with an exposed tractor engine bolted on the front) put-putting around. Some water buffalo, their bellies swaying this way and that. And us. Continue reading ‘Following the jungle roads – Nanjiang to Puer’

There’s Tai Chi, and then there’s Ballroom Tennis…

Our evening food forrage takes us past a small concrete clearing, where various unfamiliar exercise devices are bolted into the ground – like spinning wheels for limbering up wrists and poles for dangling off. Despite all its changes in the last decade, not to mention the upheavals of the Cultural Revolution, China is stills rich in traditions that I really admire. Daily exercise, in some form or other, seems built into the psyche, as well as the body. We often see large groups of elderly men and women engaged in Tai Chi at sunrise or in the early evening, in town squares or parks. The graceful lilt as they bob backwards and forwards, stepping lightly this way and that, is wonderfully peaceful to watch. Not least because my mum and I have tried it ourselves and know how hard it is to make it look so easy. As our teacher said: Tai Chi can take a year to learn, a year to consolidate, and a lifetime to master. In fact, their concentration runs so deep that even the jarring ‘music’ from nearby Karaoke halls, the ear bleeding blast of a truck horn or incessantly barking dogs can’t hope to break it. And that’s saying something.

But China is never short of surprises too. In Jinghong, people walked barefoot on crazy paving stones in a park to massage their feet. We tried, and it hurt, a lot. There’re groups of dancers boogying to techno tracks in the squares at nighttime. There’re rows of girls doing musical exercises in the street. Come sunrise and the badmington brigade are out, as shuttle cox flit above the heads of moped riders.

What we hadn’t expected was the curious dance we saw tonight, set to music, that uses bats and balls as props. Think of it as tennis meets ballroom dancing, if you can imagine that. Everyone moved in perfect syncronicity, waving bats balanced with balls, turning and arching their bodies elegantly. They twirled round partners in their evening slippers, and vollyed the balls to each other like a Wimbledon final.

Yes, like so much in China, undoubtedly weird, but certainly captivating…


Please check out our main website for details on our bike trips to the Indian Himalayas.

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