Friday, 10 June 2011

Week 28 Bamei to Daufu 75km cycled

Highlights: Interesting temples, exotic locals, friendly people
Low blows: 2 flat tyres, crappy ‘roads’
Music of the week:  Shaa mowne M.F –  its Michael Jackson’s Greatest Hits

Bamei to Daufu   75km
Had a good sleep. Chatted with an old Ozzie couple in reception who were doing a tour by 4wd, woman suffering from altitude with headache. Somehow managed to get a rear puncture the 100m up road to noodle shop, gave me opportunity to swop tyres over as rear using up more tread than front so did that before setting off by 9:30. Road soon deteriorated into base layer ready for surfacing - dust, pebbles, ruts and custard powder and stayed like that all the way, small patches of original road popping up now and then just to remind you how it used to be and would be again in the future, but for now you can just suffer this never ending bouncing along dust fest. Glad it was reasonably flat if nothing else but had bandana over face all day and covered in dust.
Pretty boring ride due to bad conditions. Scenery still Brecon Beacons green hills, yaks and horses grazing in the sun, although it clouded over for a few hours during hottest part of day. Bought a pot noodle for lunch and sat in a stone compound with 2 logs for table and chair. Half way through my lunch a load of workers arrived in tok toks and all went into an outbuilding, as it was lunchtime I knew there was food inside. Wandered over and got some rice, tofu and fatty meat dumped in my pot, which filled me up properly. Id had to pretty much invite myself in to get food here, but the several groups I passed later on eating under trees by roadside all shouted for me to come over and eat with them.
Bag bouced off a few times, and nose full of dust, wind blowing plumes away for a while. Laborious slog. Stopped off to take a pic of a new wooden house under construction and got waved over by two portly ladies to a hut. They served me bowl after bowl of hot tea they were brewing from a huge pan for the workers, and gave me a round flat piece of tasty bread. Chatted with them for a bit, one woman had beetroot red ruddy cheeks and gold teeth. A gaggle of kids soon appeared, each wearing a baseball cap, so chatted with them and told them the names in English of the motifs on them, Mickey Mouse, NYC, Rabbit, Flower. Good fun. Eventually set off again, road had been on a plain but now started to descend which made things a lot easier although still having to keep an eye out and brake cos of potholes and rocks everywhere. Refilled water from a flask on a table outside poilcebox – didn’t know anyone inside but they came out so we had a chat. A beautiful valley came up along with perfect smooth tarmac for the final 5km of ride, if only the rest of the ride had been this pleasant.
Lovely sturdy Tibetan houses and lots of characters wandering about the town. Had a look in 1st hotel, posh rooms for 160Y and shared toilet rooms for 30Y, would’ve taken it but no flask provided to wash in and only a sink on full view. Im caked in dust, grey from waist down so need a good wash. Carried on up road and found a homestay in one of the massive Tibeten houses. Only 30Y too for a room off the kitchen. Had a hot shower – first time Ive ever taken a shower with 2 large pieces of dried yak meat hung in the corner, did laundry, then ate a curry noodle soup up road. This is actually a big town, big police presence.
House made with thick wooden pillars, and everything else wood too, all painted with colourful motifs and patterns. Downstairs is an entry hall and storage area, upstairs a large landing, then massive living room, kitchen, a magical prayer room with prayers coming out of a small radio thing, picture of Dalai Lama and lots of buddhas in glass cases and oil candles burning. Really lovely house, maybe so huge cos they have to spend a lot of time indoors during cold months. Chatted  a bit with family using my book. One of daughters had just had a 2 month old baby. Old man of house said it wouldn’t shift during earthquakes when I was admiring the thick pillar in the kitchen (they had an earth tremor last month). Real treat to stay in one of these houses Ive seen all along the way and a nice reward for such a crappy days ride.

Essential item for every Tibetans dashboard - a mini spinning prayer wheel

Yaks graze the pleasant plains that line the dusty road 

No pleasure here - Custard powder dust makes this a real arse of a descent

All the village helps out with the solid construction of a home

Colourful prayer room in a wealthy Tibetan  home

Daufu to Ganze   by van
Slept really well, probably cos quiet in this solid house. Washed in a bowl using hot flask. Old woman owner of house in prayer room, chanting and laying out in full across floor facing Buddha images and pics of Dalai Llama. Rained a little bit as I went round corner for dumplings and rice soup.
Set off, quite warm although a strong wind. The promise of a good road ended at edge of town where it was more of same from yesterday except today there was a constant head wind with strong gusts that blew blinding clouds of dust straight at me. Worse when a car /truck went past. Did about 6kms then decided to go back, no way I want to do this all day. Went back to gh and left bike and a bag there, then up to van stop as no buses from here. Waited about an hour for passengers to turn up. Off we went. Road completely destroyed up till 1st town of Luhuo and then about 20% tarmac all way to Ganze. Scenery a bit like driving through Peak District. 2 pilgrim blokes walking along and lying prostrate in road in prayer and one in front pulling a cart with flags on it and solar panel, another group doing same further up road.
Scenery became impressive after the pass, grey rock mtns with jagged snowy peaks on top of round green hills. Came down onto a plain and the road became a runway wide wacky races dust fest, bit like a scene from Paris Dakar rally, as vehicles zoomed along all over place with huge trails of dust behind them. Took a while to find a hotel and not easy lugging bags about. Really disinterested rude in 1st place hotels, 2nd one a dump and 3rd one ok but took a fair bit of haggling to get room for 75Y.
Now 6:45 so decided to go and eat in case everything shut. Loads inquisitive red robed monks wandering about and strange looking Tibetens who stare at you. One bloke actually came into small resto to see what I was eating and just stood next to me staring, (probably what I look like when checking out people’s dishes when trying to decide what to eat at night). Some look like something out of a spaghetti western, all wrapped in shawl type clothing with dark weathered faces. Nice long hot shower to take away the pain of today’s journey. Glad I left the bike behind.

Had a wander round the town. Lots of religious supply shops selling prayer flags, insense, prayer beads, and other essential associated paraphernalia. Monks outfitters with all different types of monk clothing, undergarment vest things, robes, jackets, hats, and so on. General shops with thick smock type jackets with extra long sleeves, other fur lined jackets, brass pots and all shapes and sizes. Other more general stores with sleeping bags, thermals, waterproofs and other field items. Lots of colourful fruit and veg in mkt although pinapples looked a sorry state all shriveled up and bananas looked really out of place all the way up here. Went to inquire about a bus to Dege and got chatting with a bloke with fluent English. He said only one bus from Kanding gets here at 9am and is usually full so either take a van (groan) or can pay a bit extra and get in a big 4X4 as long as it’s full. Double checked bus info with woman at bus station and she said same thing.
Wandered up to a temple in the town. Very atmospheric inside with a dark covered outer corridor one wall lined with prayer wheels and pilgrims walking along spinning them as they past, some people chanting or singing, others just mumbling as they went along. Some spinning all wheels, others in a hurry just doing one or two, and some just walking with prayer beads in hand. At front of temple 2 large wheels either side of entrance which also got turned on the rounds, the wood squeaking as they turned and on top of one a small metal rod that makes a bell go ‘ching’ as it passes each time.  As people passed the doorway to temple they would raise up their hands, then back onto the wheels again. Interesting to see some of the older pilgrims had a professional glove on their right hand.
Up the steps to the temple and either side are people praying and then stretching out body length wooden boards polished smooth by disciples efforts, and a small piece of cloth to rest the forehead on as they repeated the action again and again.
Into the temple main hall, very dark, a few more boards at the back in use by people at prayer. Walls adorned with colourful murals, rows of Buddha images behind glass at one end of hall. Up small steps and more prayer wheels around an inner sanctum. Then into inner sanctum, lit with yak butter candles in large golden dishes, very colourful inside with photos of Dalai Llama, and deities in glass cabinets. 1 red robed monk sat on floor and another behind a small desk thing. Both monks had handlebar moustaches. I gave some money and he held up a fancy silver teapot to pour scented yellow water into my hands, signaling for me to drink a bit and put some on my forehead too. There was another small corridor around this inner sanctum which was covered in fading murals, dimly lit by bulbs.
Interesting to see monks working in shops, begging in the streets (several sat near mkt ringing bells and chanting or spinning a metal thing round a drum on the end of a stick) and some actively walking around asking for money. I tried to use an ATM in the town and there were several monks there withdrawing massive amounts of cash so a bit hard to figure out really. Also seen monks working on roads, driving tractors and working in fields too, selling beads and eating in the afternoon. Mahayana Buddhism seems a lot less restrictive than the Theravada variety practiced in Thailand and elsewhere.
One street corner was the bead selling area with a gaggle of blokes gathered around men selling various necklaces adorned with coloured polished stones. Interesting to see them haggle and it appears that when you are negotiating here you hold tightly onto the others clothes or some other item. One bloke had a monks sleeve in a tight grip while they negotiated a price, and this explains the death grip a hotel woman had on my book that she wouldn’t let go of while I haggled for the price of a room a few days ago.
Further up the road a bloke selling yak skins from the back of his motorbike.
Really interesting town to wander about. Later on went to a view point overlooking river giving good views up and down valley, then clambered up the hill behind to where a may pole thing was with hundreds of prayer flags fluttering in wind and a small shrine with an old dog asleep on steps.

Fell off the back of bike - locals haggle for the fresh Yak pelts for sale 

Colourful strong boxes for sale

Local medallion man and amulet trader

A solar heating device, possibly picks up satellite transmission too

Spin that wheel - prayer wheels surround Tibetan temples (note pro wheel spinning glove on right hand)

Mahayana Buddhist monk at his stall

Snowy peaks surround Ganze

Prayer flags on a  hill nearby the town

Ganze  to Dege 
Dumplings for bf. Was just leaving hotel compound to go to van stop when a bloke came out and got in a 4x4. Turns out he was going in my direction so hopped in and picked up 3 lads further down road. One spoke a little English and they were off to build a house at Serxu. Driver was a pot bellied bloke and seemed a bit all over the place to start, music cranked up full and chugging on cigarettes. He stopped off for a pot noodle in a small village and then just as we set off outside there we had mechanical problems – handbrake cable had jammed pads on. Got it fixed after about 25mins and away we went, bouncing along the ruffled tarmac. Scenery Brecon Beacons/moors. Some interesting looking small towns, one with a main temple on top of hill surrounded by uneven rows of adobe walled, colourfully painted wooden fronted houses and the whole town surrounded by 5m defensive outer wall with large wooden gates in it.
Arrived in Maniganga at 10:30, gave bloke some money and had a look around for transport. Nothing as yet so went to eat food. Can feel altitude here. Had curry flour chipping things with odd tasting meat and matured ‘off’ tasting lumps of gristle in it. Bloke in resto said no more transport to Dege, but woman said some at 2pm. Decided to be proactive and went up road. All around the Y shaped junction lots of men sat or stood around tables rubbing dirt off the small fingers of caterpillar fungus with plastic brushes. Once cleaned up, revealing a yellow caterpillar with a thin hard 4cm spike of fungus coming from its bum, they would be laid out of a table for display. Was beckoned into one tent where a bloke had a huge carrier bag full. Several people who’d come down from the hills were approaching the vendors, unrolling small wraps of plastic, or opening dirty plastic bags to see if they could sell what they’d gathered in the hills. Some really weathered black faces around, wrapped in thick blankets/coats.
Stood in road and flagged down a passing black car. Turned out to be a police car so I asked if they were going to Dege and they said get in. They weren’t but there boss was, so we waited at their roasdside checkpoint where all trucks had to stop and present a carnet. All young in their 20’s, some spoke a little English, but we got by using my phrasebook. Had a laff.
The boss eventually arrived at 1:30 and off we went in a brand new 4x4, Michael Jackson’s greatest hits on the stereo. Soon out of the 2 street town and heading up valley at speed. Stopped off for photos at a beautiful turquoise white lake, then zoomed up valley, frozen patches of snow and ice in valley bottom, road turning to gravel and start of switchbacks up to Chola Pass. Bloke stopping to chat with municipal workers all way up mtn and really nice guy.  Narrow mud and rock roadway, snow all up hills, thick in parts, trucks winding their way up and us going pretty quick, although his driving good. I feel bit sick, probably due to hungry and thirsty plus altitude and driving fast.  Old wreck of a destroyed truck down below, logs scattered down hillside above it. Passed through goal post prayer flags at top of 4800m pass and then down other side, the way narrower here with steeper drops, but great views of surrounding snow covered peaks.
Once off the dangerous switchbacks, bloke really got going and we zoomed along past small homes amongst the pine trees. Group of villagers loading fresh cut pine trees onto a truck which they would sell. Valley narrowed into a tight rock walled gorge, river running in bottom, prayer flags scattered all over the place especially across bridges. Arrived Dege 5ish, then the hunt for accommodation. Looked at some crappy places wanting 80/100Y room. Luckily a small town so kept looking. Bumped into a monk who suggested I try just up road where Id not been yet. Beds there were only 20Y so got my own room for 40Y (2 beds). Share bathrooms a bit grim but room fine and owners really friendly so the price is right!
Started chucking it down so waited for it to ease off before having a wander round the town, took about 10 mins as tiny place. I imagined Dege to be a larger more traditional looking place, but its actually a bunch of high rise buildings packed into a gorge/narrow valley, with some traditional housing up the hillsides of the old part.
Met same monk again in resto later on. Chatted with him (his English really good) and his mentor kindly bought me dinner. (beef here is actually Yak meat which is dark brown and rich in flavor, very tasty). There’s been lots of Yaks grazing along the way today. Yaks are basically cows with fur coats on, but they are slender, nimble, intelligent beasts with sharp horns, and they know how to cross the road!

Beautiful turquoise lake along the way

Woken by blaring of horns at 5am?, and then a bloke banging on my door at 6:30, wondering if I wanted to go to Ganzi. So much for a lie in. Went for dumplings at 9ish. In a foul mood as really tired. Wandered about the shops – prayer paraphernalia, outfitters, cornershops etc. Decided to have a nap after lunch and felt human again.
Went to have a look in the Tibeten printing house, the reason Id come to Dege. 50Y entry and ticket bloke gestured there were 3 levels and I should just wander about. Bloke in courtyard scrubbing wooden printing paddles clean in a large trough, water thick red/brown colour from the ink, his hands red too. Colourful prayer hall downstairs, walls surrounded with Buddhist statues, including a female one, and a monk chanting in the middle of room. 1st floor was a huge dimly lit by natural light library/storage area, all the paddles stacked in rows of shelves. More on next floor up and then a trap door leading up to printing floor. 3 pairs of blokes working at a speed that looked like a dvd on fast forward. Paddle placed between the two, one would dip a sponge into a tray full of ink and rub it down the paddle, long thin paper then placed on paddle and a roller run over top to make the print, paper then put on a pile and process repeated. All this done at a ridiculous speed, the men actually looked like mechanized machine parts with their stiff jerky repetitive movements. Paddles changed every so often, but process the same. Must be piece work to be going at such a pace. Why don’t they just get a printing machine?
Had a wander up onto roof adorned with golden turret things, birds and a wheel of life. Small shrine on the roof with a monk in it. Nearby a large pole adorned with 4m long braids of Yak hair, quite strange looking.
Sky darkening as a storm blew in, the pilgrims circling the building outside now huddled in the doorway out of the driving rain. I went and sat back in library area then had a second round, till it stopped 30mins later.
Wandered up road to a 1000yr old temple, huge walls all way around it and big wooden door to get in. Lots of red coloured dogs wandering about and stone courtyard full of red puddles as rain had leached the colour from the temples walls. Went up steps and inside prayer hall. Sat inconspicuously at back while monks, being led by chief monks seated high up at front chanted, bells being tinkled every so often after each verse. Other monks sat on rows of low benches, reading from scriptures on tables in front. Two monks behind a pillar, away from gaze of senior monks, chatting like naughty school boys.
Some young novices sweeping or mopping the floor, others serving drinks from a flask, coming and going through the curtained doorway where I was. Common to many young kids the world over the cheeky little buggers said ‘fak yu fak yu’ as they passed jostling each other excitiedly, but I didn’t react (some English they’d picked up from a film no doubt).
Chatted with same monk again in resto at night, then arranged the front seat in a van tomorrow back to Ganzi. Checked out tread on tyres and reakoned a smaller vehicle is better than a big bus over the pass, no 4x4’s available.

Roof of Dege printing house and some of the remaining traditional homes that cling to the hillside

Pilgrims walk around the printing house

One of many thousand wooden printing blocks

No mucking about, faster then xerox here at the printing house

Local outfitters - pots, pans, fabrics and quality tents for every occasion

What do you get if you cross Burger King with Nike?

Dege  to Ganzi
Up at 5:45 and went up road to claim the front seat in the van as arranged last night. Hung around munching on the mooncakes Id bought while the van filled, heading off at 6:45. Overcast sky, light rain on way up valley, turning to light snowfall as we got higher up. Track going up the pass had a few cms of snow and thick churned over mud in a few sections from yesterday’s rain and trucks. Driver taking it nice and steady thankfully and 3 monks in van so feeling quite safe. Arrived at top of pass, where all the blokes got out to throw playing card sized coloured paper with prayer prints on each one, a monk handed me a wad and we all threw them up into air to be carried on the wind through the goal posts at top of pass, the Tibetens chanting as they did so. Driver was lobbing his so they blew across and over the stupa.
Then down other side and onto Madeganga for a rest stop. Got ‘chatting’ with a really exotic looking woman and a bloke. She was tall and slender, with gold teeth and dressed in a long black robe-like dress and fancy small purse hung at the waist. She had long braided strands of hair interwoven with blue or yellow coloured stones and with several kind of mini bowler hat things made from metal and coloured fabric as a hair pin. One of blokes in van had bought a bottle of ‘wine’ and was grinning as he swigged away on it.
Driver seemed to have relaxed now and we ambled along back to Ganza, being passed by the other vans from Dege. Crossed over a suspension bridge and carried on down old road for last section of trip cos there had been a mud slide on a section of the new road. Had a look in a new place in Ganzi and checked in there as 80Y, newer than other hotel and had a water heater in bathroom so hot water when I want it! Also well insulated from noise and no potentially barking dogs to be seen. Some monks wandered the corridor shouting into their mobile phones and had tv blaring later on but it was quiet at night thankfully.
Had a wander around town, loads of beggars after cash, had 2 helpings of fried potatoes from mkt, big chunks dusted with chilli powder at 1Y a bag. Bought some of that ‘wine’ the bloke from van had this morning, 3Y for a 600ml bottle, tasted of weak grape juice combined with redbull.

Slippery slushy road on the way up

4800m and a tad nippy. Driver poses by the van at the top of the pass

Locals ponder a purchase at the haberdashery

Tibetan man ourside his home

Ganzi to Dawu (or Daufu as locals call it)
Didn’t fancy getting up at crack of dawn for the bus so didn’t set alarm. Overcast sky and raining in morning. Had dumplings then headed up to van stop at 10:30. Big bloke wrapped in a blue silken fur lined robe ushered me to his van and explained wouldn’t be going till Dege vans arrived (which would be at one). Sat in cold van and waited, played on ipod and listened to music, had more dumplings.  Eventually filled up and left at 1:30, my front seat position being relegated onto other seats by a man who was ill. Bounced along road, stinking bloke next to me needed to brush his teeth. Bloke in back smoking in van too just to add to ambience. Arrived Louho 4:30, driver reakoned I was gonna pay 50Y but he got the regular fare of 40Y. Had to wait an hour for van heading back to Dawu, same driver as Id come with a few days ago. Chatted with a passenger while we ate boiled eggs up the road, then time to go at 5:30. Not pleasant being bounced around in the back over the bad road, but journey made better by fellow passengers, one woman spoke good English so we all had a good natter along the way with her translating.
Van needed radiator filling twice and driver had bad stomach so we stopped several times and progress slowed somewhat. Arrived Dawu 8:30. Girls invited me for noodles so checked into family house first then we got a cab up road to noodle shop. Chatted with family of house till 11, they were using a google speech translater which was pretty good and the woman was asking me all sorts of questions about UK – funniest one was about wife swapping.

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