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TIBET 06 - Kashgar to Lhasa by bicycle (Kailash, Manasovar) 1/5

Some monks are still here!!!

I have always dreamed of visiting Tibet and having enough time to explore it. And what could be a better way, then to cycle through it?! Well, motorbike would also be great, considering the road conditions, physical harshness of the place and distances beyond the imagination. Yet, due to Chinese policy, foreigners are not allowed to drive any motorized vehicles themselves. Not that you are officially allowed to travel in the Tibet either! At the time I've decided to buy a mountain bike in Kashgar and set on the way, it seemed the perfect way and I was truly excited to be on the way ....  In this part is my travel from Kashgar to Lhasa city through the Western Tibet.

ROAD BOOK and HIGHLIGHTS (Kashgar - Lhasa, 2.900 km, by bicycle)
Road condition on the Xinjiang - Tibet Highway is generally very rough, with many challenges coming from sandy patches, dust clouds created by passing vehicles (fortunately not too much traffic), rocky sections and always presented corrugations. This all in the altitudes around 4.000 - 5.500 meters, usually more closer to 5.000 meters then lower, with many passes ascending for a ten's of kilometres and strong winds pushing you around in the afternoon. And when you finally feel, it could not get any better - the weather change and brings you some snow to enjoy. During my trip the temperatures at night would drop down to - 15 degrees of Celsius (when a big river next to my tent would turn into a sad patch of ice) and during the day sometimes down to - 5 degrees of Celsius (when the heavy snow clouds would not let the sun to say hello).

Morning after one snowy night out in nowhere

"Have a good journey" - Bey, Bey Kashgar
Cycling out of Kashgar was nice, though my bike is more looking like a fully loaded yak then a bicycle (around 35kg). Also my body had to get use to the new exercise. First 250km to Yecheng (Karghilik in Uighur) went on smoothly on a good asphalt road. Some smaller hills, but generally through the very dry or desert areas and patches of greenery, where some Uighur villages could be found. The only really annoying thing on this way was the "Ramadan". There was not much food available during the day nor tea and also people I meet being friendly, but not knowing how to cope with hospitality, when nothing could be offered. Sometimes you could really see they would like to invite me. One even said: "oh, if not Ramadan, we would have a lunch together". And at night, when all the restrictions lift, I was already camping somewhere out of town.

"Wake up" - drunken Uighur - Kashgar

km 58 - Yengisar - A small town known by its knife production of famous Uighur knifes. They use them in everyday life, households, as a presents or even as a decoration. Every Uighur men has got one, usually hanging of his belt. Some of the smaller ones are carried above ankle or in the shoe. They are good to "slit a throat" as I was told. Sizes, shapes, decoration varies.

Uighur knifes - Yengisar

km 250 - Yecheng (Karghilik in Uighur) - The entry gate to Tibet. Joining the road 219 - Xinjiang - Tibet Highway. Karghilik is another Uighur place, where Han Chinese are just a little minority. For me it was one of the most touching Uighur places. Unfortunately I didn't spend there too much time. Even though I only met extremely friendly people, took lots of pictures and again enjoyed the wonders of the local cuisine.

Yecheng - from the streets

km 469 - second pass 4993 by GPS from one of the road books. A beautiful mountain scenery, all covered by a snow, including the pass. From this point is going to be cycling in high altitudes, with a minimum of 4.000 meters above the sea level. Some 2.000 km later will start slow descend to 3.600 meters in Lhasa.

From the second pass - mine bike

km 493 - Mazar - First more important place after Yecheng, where you can get some cooked food (good Chinese), restock on supplies.

From Mazar the road climbs many high passes and crosses huge high altitude plateaus - like the famous one - "Aksai Chin" - where all the distances are deceiving. It seems to be just a few kilometres, but in fact the mountains on the other side never come closer. Sometimes it takes a whole day to cross one plateau and then you realise, it was around 50 km. Unbelievable?! On the way you see many lakes and beautiful mountain scenery, enjoy a waste space and solitude surrounding you. Sometimes you see a few nomads in a far distance with their animals grazing on almost no grass lands.

Aksai Chin plateau

km 1094 - Domar - a military base and a place to get some food to eat, dormitories and a few shops to restock.

km 1199 - Rutok Xian - quite a big place with shops, bank, restaurants. Situated to a Tibetan part of the Pangon lake (104 km long). Pangong lake is nowadays situated between Tibet (China occupied territory) and Ladakh (under the India rule). From here the really bad road continues all the way to Ali.

From the road - locals waiting for a lift

km 1330 - Ali - Also called Senge Khabab (the Town of the Lion) is the capital of Ali prefecture. Big town, where you can find almost everything. Full of a good restaurants (Chinese, Tibetan, Uighur), public showers (hot water again), bank, excellent food supplies in the supermarkets. It is the first big break point on the way to Lhasa, where you can easily regain energy for the second part of the road.There is also a direct bus to Lhasa (on the North road), making the travelling far more easier.

Short patch of a good road after Ali

Small settlements on the plateaus, road views - Tibet

“PILGRIMAGE” is being practised all around the world and it can be found in almost every religion. It is usually a journey connected with some rituals on the way. The most famous might as well be the one to Mecca (Muslims), to Rome (Christians) or the road through the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela. For Hindu and Buddhist is one of the most precious ways the visit to Mt. Kailash. Pilgrimage in Tibet is very strongly practised and you can meet pilgrims from all over the country travelling to holy places like - Mt. Kailash, Lake Manasovar, Tirthapuri (hot springs), Yamdrok tso, Nam tso, Sheldrak and many others. Most of the pilgrimages in the Tibet include a circuit - "kora" around the particular place. The act of "kora" is stronger, if it is done at sun rise or sun set, at the time of full moon or if you repeat it 3 times, 13 times, 108 times. Some of the pilgrims also practise "Chaktsal" - the prostration, which is a powerful way to show their devotion. It is sometimes called as a "measuring the earth" as the followers move only by their body length each time. Lying down flat on the ground and then getting up and walking the distance of their body. This they repeat all the way. Pilgrimage for many Tibetans also means accumulating merit (sonam) and good luck (tashi).

km 1526 - Moincer - bigger town, great food, entry gate to "Tirthapari" pilgrimage and its hot springs. It is being said - no holly pilgrimage to Mt. Kailash is completed without visiting Tirthapari and having bath in its hot springs. They are closely associated with the "Guru Rimpoche". Pilgrims traditionally bath there after completing the circuit on Mt. Kailash. They are located 9 km of the main road from Moicer. Continuing on from from Moincer it is only 66 km to Darchen and Mt. Kailash (still one day bike ride though).

Traditional way of transport, Darchen

km 1592 - Darchen - Entry gate to Mt. Kailash Pilgrimage. One of the holiest mountains in the world. There are a shops, restaurants, hotels and dorms available, but generally speaking, it is a dirty and ugly place. All town looks like one big tip, with rubbish piling everywhere. Not really a wonderful entry gate to such a holly place you would imagine. Though, there is a recent huge development happening. Many new houses are being build and I guess they will pave it soon too. Yet, another one to be made presentable towards the forthcoming Olympic games.

Mt. Kailash - the North face
Mt. KAILASH “KORA” (circuit)
This place was considered as a myth for a long time in Europe. When the first news came about a holy mountain somewhere in the Asia, with a perfect shape, snow capped all year round and with beautiful twin lakes nearby - people could not believe it. Only in 19th century, one European traveller made the difficult journey through the Himalayas and there he found it. Exactly as described - not a myth at all, but reality! 

Mt. KAILASH (6714 meters) - Has all year round snow capped peak. Called Kang Rimpoche in Tibetan (Precious Jewel of Snow). Its four main walls match the cardinal points of the compass. It is one of the most important and holiest mountains in the world and it has been an object of worship for four main religions: 1. HINDU (Shiva, the destroyer), 2. BUDDHIST (Demchok, in Sanskrit = Samvara) - a wrathful manifestation of Sakyamuni (equivalent of the Shiva) 3. JAINS of India, 4. BON - sacred Yungdrung Gutseg - Nine Stacked Swastika Mountain.

Pilgrims, Mt. Kailash kora

The circuit around the mountain offers the possibility of liberation within three lifetimes and also one lifetime of your karma for each round. The circuit itself is about 52 km long, with the highest point to cross - Drolma La (5630 metres). It's nice to take the way in 3 relaxing days, but it can be done as short as 15 hours. This is usually done only by Tibetan pilgrims, who are repeating the kora for many times. They almost look like they were flying around. Also I feel I could make it in one day with no problems, but I chose the slow option to fully enjoy the place/passing pilgrims, ... It took me three days with just a few hours to walk every day carrying my big bag. Most of the pilgrims do it very light or have their stuff carried by yak.

On the Kailash kora

Number four plays an important role in all the events connected with the mountain. As I mentioned, its four main walls match the compass and they all have very special name: 1. South face - Lapis Lazuli, 2. West face - Ruby, 3. North face - Gold and 4. East face - Crystal. Mt. Kailash is also a place, where 4 big Asian rivers begins - Sutlej, Karnali, Brahmaputra (Yarlung Tsangpo) and Indus.

On the kora, Mt. Kailash

km 1614 - Barga - small and dusty place, entry point for the Lake Manasovar. If you cycling from Darchen, take a part of the kora - circuit first (anti clock wise) and then follow a small road across the bridge. It will safe you one river crossing and also quite a few kilometers. Eventually you will join the main road again, somewhere before Barga. And the most important, the road is really nice! In Barga we stopped for a yak butter tea and played a few games of billiard, with excellent panorama of the Mt. Kailash in the background.

Playing billiard in Barga, Mt. Kailash still in the background

15 km off the main road - Manasovar Lake (4560 meters) - also known in Tibetan as “Mapham Yum tso” - the Victorious Lake. The circuit (kora) around the lake is 110 kilometres long and take 3 to 5 days. Most travellers/pilgrims head to "Chin Monastery" first and starts their kora from there. We had skipped it and instead went off road towards the town of "Hor Qu". Believing in the existence of kind of a dirt road, making the kora possible to access by a jeep ride (I have red it somewhere), we arrived at the lake shore nearby the ruins of the "Chekip Monastery". Now only represented by a large chorten. Mt. Kailash is still visible in the background. There are a high cliffs by its side, with long prayer flags and many caves/hermitages. Some of them are so big and well equipped, they have become a permanent houses for a monks. Other are just as basic as a sheep skin on the floor for a meditation and stonewall covering the entrance. I have squatted into one of the larger one, situated high in the cliff face. Apart from the beautiful view I was astound by its comfort. There were a several rooms, wood and yak shit storage (full), teapots, thermoses, stove, tsampa, kitchen stuff, oils, incense, blankets, ..... On the walls religious pictures, thangas, praying wheel and beads next to the meditation seat. It all looked as the monk had just left for a short walk (and maybe he did :) Really nice place to spend a few years. As the road did not exist our expectation for the next day ride were not very happy. We pitched up the tents on above the lake shore with view all around and enjoyed this magical place. Our solitude was not meant to last too long. On our return from the caves, two nomad tents were erected nearby and few horses were grazing around. Those Tibetan pilgrims were walking the lake kora and kind of really belonged to the place. So it did not loose its atmosphere. They were curious and friendly.

Manasovar Tso kora is one of the most important pilgrimages in Tibet. The lake represents female wisdom aspect of enlighment and is a symbol of good fortune and fertility. It is said that circuit (kora) of Lake Manasovar can result in spontaneous buddhahood.

Nomads, Manasovar Tso (lake)

On the road :)

km 1639 - Hor Qu - another ugly town, built in the Chinese style. Despite all, still important stop on the Manasovar Lake. You can hire horses for the kora here, restock on supplies or find some hot food in the local restaurants. After lunch there, we cycled over the smaller pass to make some more kilometres before sun set. Soon after we were forced to camp quickly near the road by coming snow storm. Once in the tent and with the stove running, it was all good. In the morning we "very much enjoyed" (a word starting with F.... was the first thing that come on my tongue, when I opened my tent that morning. And same I heard once Lars peaked from his tent later on) a couple of centimetres of the fresh snow.

View before Raka, South and North road joining

km 1873 - Paryang - place with good Chinese food, some hotels and shops. There are many nomad tents on the plains before and after this town. Also impressive sand dunes can be seen along the way. It is nice to see all the livestock (animals) on the surrounding planes. Some areas are rather sad, when you see Chinese attempts to settle down the nomads presented by many houses through the plains or shabby/dusty villages build next to the road. Most of them empty at the moment, but this will probably change in the future.

km 1945 - side road to New Zhongba - new Chinese style city with many shops, good restaurants, Internet, petrol station and the asphalt road (7km) connecting it with the main road (dirt road).

Behind the hotel - New Zhongba

Billiard is everywhere - streets of Saga
km 2109 - Saga - Important town where you can find everything - shops, Internet, bus connection to Lhatse, Lhasa, many restaurants, big hotels, hot shower. For many cyclists also the place, where they take the turn (shortcut) towards the Nepal, joining the "Friendship Highway" some 180 kilometres later - near Tingri. Tingri is one of the bigger places in the Everest region. My way took me to Lhasa instead.

km 2180 - Raka - small place with a few shops and restaurants. It gain its importance, because the North Road from Ali is joining the South Road just a few kilometres before the town. The North Road is used by most of the trucks and also the direct bus from Ali to Lhasa goes there.

km 2210 - Beginning of road construction, really bad road (the worst since Kashgar) for next 150 kilometres or so. Almost all the way to Lhatse.

Also a way to get through the really shitty road

km 2463 - Lhatse (4050 metres) - Finally joining the "Friendship Highway". Bigger town, but not very interesting. Nice asphalt road starts from here and there is only one high pass on the way to Lhasa left.

km 2615 - Shigatse (3900 metres) - Second biggest city in Tibet, after Lhasa. The capital of Tsang province. Shigatse is known as the seat of the Panchen Lama, who is traditionally based in Tashilhunpo monastery. Nowadays it has been rapidly expanding Chinese town, with many new buildings, shops, restaurants, ... There is daily bus connection to Lhasa. Altitude is slowly lowering and the weather is becoming milder. The road follows the "Yarlung Tsangpo" river, also known as the Brahmaputra in India.

From the road - Tibet

km 2884 - LHASA - The capital of Tibet and traditional home of the Dalailama (Potala). It is an ancient city full of religion, pilgrims and tourists, with a dominant castle of the Dalailamas and several big monasteries in the neighbourhood. First news about Lhasa becoming a capital of the Tibet is from around 650 AD, but its status had changed through the following centuries. It has stayed in its status since the fifth Dalailama built the Potala palace and re-established Lhasa as a capital in 1642. There are several circuits/koras in Lhasa. One is around the Potala palace. Other called The Barkhor circles the heart of Lhasa and Tibetan old town - the Jokhang temple. Linghor kora - traditional route circling the old city and it is almost 8 km long. It does incorporate the new Chinese developments nowadays as it use the old route walked by the pilgrims for centuries.

Potala Palace at night, Lhasa


Fashion said...

what a great experience you seemed to have.... I would really love to ride through the mountains of Tibet too... these people also have a very unique fashion. It seems they wear styles of clothing that keep them warm, but both literally and physically. I love the photographs and the fashion.



Anonymous said...

Beautiful photographs. Please share which camera was used ?
Vishal , India

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