Friday, 10 June 2011

Week 29 Dawu to Lijiang 319km cycled

Highlights: Quality scenery, BIG downhills, some lovely people
Low blows: Bust Spoke, map telling porky pies
Music of the week:  Atlantis (I need you) - LTJ Bukem

Felt comfy in house and wanted to have a look round Dawu, so spent the day here. Dumpling woman happy to see me again. Wandered around town in morning, then back to house for a bit. My sandals are stinking. Chatted with a visiting bloke and woman from house. Owner invited me for lunch – a big silver round metal washing up type bowl full of a gravy, some veg and meat. Theyd already eaten so I was free to trawl the bowl with my chopsticks looking for things that looked ok. Fished mainly for green leaves and slices of potato. Tried a piece of meat but it was of the matured variety so a bit funny tasting to me.
In afternoon went to look at the local temple. Massive stupa with Buddhas inside glass cabinets high up on the turret. In the ‘cellar’ underneath a load of small prayer wheels. Around the stupa an elaborate snaking set up of the 2.5m prayer wheels. I span them all (375 altogether), which took effort to get some going. Behind me a gang of old ladies was speeding along, turning all the wheels and soon caught me up so I let them pass, pro’s in the wheel spinning with far better technique than mine. Had a look inside main prayerhall, some beautiful murals on the walls. Behind the main altar a 1000 armed Indian goddess, each hand having an eye tattoo’d on it.

Massive stupa at Dawu

Behind the main altar a 1000 armed Indian goddess

Kanding to Xichang  by bus
Cold start. Off to bus station, just round corner at 5:30am. Woman wanted to charge me 50y for bike, but I made a fuss and eventually got past her and over to her bosses desk where they just let me go through. Really disorganized station. Passengers just left to wander a car park full of buses with a number printed on a small board displayed in bus window. This number corresponds with one on your ticket so you have a huge crowd wishing to travel wandering up and down a cramped area with baggage trying to find their bus. 
Set off at 6am heading down gorge, wild water tumbling down river and down a long way till we met another huge fast flowing river in the valley bottom. Road good but eventually deteriorated into dust as ongoing construction. Chinese cyclists braving this road.  Driver had an excessive hours break. I bought boiled eggs for bf and then we went along the worst section of dust road, so driver was probably holding back in anticipation of this stretch. A dust fest with tons of trucks, 4x4’s and buses all jockeying for position and several traffic jams where work was on going. On good road 2 hours later (as far as road had been completed) and zoomed along up the side of valley. Lots of tunnels and stilit sections under being built. Stripped off warm clothes as now v hot outside. Stopped off for tasty lunch for 13Y– liver and veg . Road eventually made its way up out of valley and onto a high plain joining expressway. 
Arrived Xichang 4pm, chain oil all over one of bags. Changed into shorts in a shop then in search of gh. Soon found a street with loads hotels/knocking shops with ‘well used’ rooms all at 60Y. Went a few blocks further on and got a crap room 50Y near mkt reasoning at least itll be quieter later on. Very hot here and flushed Chinese all wandering about, blokes in vest and shorts. Found a Bank of China ATM and went to eat noodles on whore st as loads of shops there. Fixed a bust spoke on front wheel (occurred on bus ride Dawu to Bamei I think), couldn’t get wheel perfectly true but reasoned a slightly wobbly wheel was stronger than one with a spoke missing! Had a few beers from an icey cold supermarket  fridge over road.
Turned out bed was knackered with a strange ridge in it where shoulders rest. Really uncomfortable. Pulled curtains back to reveal window popped off runners so managed to wrestle that back on. A/C also seemed to work but during night Id wake up sweating and it would be pumping out warm air as knackered. Mozzies also in action so eventually put up net during night. Groan!
Dog enjoying a nap 

Xichang to Pingchuan   105km cycled
Light rain in morning but looked like it would blow over and it did. Found a dumpling shop. Set off 9 ish across the city which turns out is quite large and Id just landed on the northern tip. Soon alongside a lake then through countryside, rice paddies and vegetables in this warm Thai like climate. After 28kms arrived at a village, according to my Nelles map this was where my turning was. Stopped and asked some truck drivers where road was – they said there wasn’t a road and Id have to go back to Xichang to get on right one! Looked at Chinese map and what they said was correct, although I spied a small track marked on other side of river so asked if it was possible to cross over and get on that. Driver said I had to go 7kms up road to a bridge. Thanked them and set off.
Kept checking along way for bridge as couldn’t see river from road but eventually arrived at cable bridge 7kms later as bloke had said. Asked motorbike bloke if there was a way down and he said yes. Decided to double check with people in another shop and they said there was no way and would have to go back. I sensed they didn’t have a clue so decided to go over bridge anyway. Had a rest and ate yesterdays bread then off along a narrow concrete road. Stopped at a junction and flagged down a bloke on a motorbike, who said the way was right then straight all way (lucky I asked cos the larger road went wrong way).
Followed this smooth lane for next 17km, through small villages and fields Loads of onions being grown here and air filled with tangy scent.  Rode through a small town, road now broken up and trucks arriving to load up sacks of onions. Eventually arrived at a junction and had food in a small resto, 4 egg omelet and rice 7Y.  Asked the way, there was the old road marked by signs, but everyone was urging me to go a different way. Was gonna ignore them at first but when I got to junction 2 other blokes were pointing me up road so decided to trust them as quite insistant, and that way was along smooth black tarmac which seemed a good idea.  A few kms along that arrived at a smooth concrete road. Bloke had caught up with me on his motorbike and pointed me left up the hill, said thanks.
Up this brand new road, fairly steep, schoolkids and adults wandering home through fields and up road. We are back in ‘look and stare with a blank expression’ territory as no one acknowledges my hellos or smiles. After only 6kms, surprised to come to a 3.5km long tunnel. Put on lights and then started a 15km downhill on brand new road. A rock kicked off hillside by a goat landed just in front of me – another fraction of a second and Id have been hit! Nice cruise downhill and into a steep narrow valley. Eventually hit bottom and had to climb for a while, then another tunnel, steel barrier only allowing vehicles under 2m, trucks having to go around the mtn on another track. Some bloke decided to park just inside lip of tunnel in shade (and Ive seen this before), no lights on and practically invisible to approaching traffic – nuts. Uphill again and then nice downhill into valley bottom and over a large bridge.
Final 10km uphill beside sediment brown river. Tired and glad to arrive at Pingchuan at 5ish. Found a gh. They showed me 60Y room on 4th floor, wouldn’t haggle and I couldn’t be bothered pushing it so took room, showered, then went and ate. Chatted with friendly resto owner and his policeman friend before back to room and rest. 

Ortlieb's new 'tank proof' range panniers

Rural scene

Would this bridge lead me the right way? 

Almost out of a long tunnel

Pingchuan to Yanyuang  59 km cycled
The creased forheads and blank disbelieving stares I received cycling along were comic. Also no hellos. Uphill for next 30kms, gradient only easing off towards end. Lots of beekeepers on corners of upper stretches selling roadside honey and clouds of bees buzzing in and out of lined up box hives. Set off feeling strong and decided to stop to rest every 10km, knees aching. Some pretty blossoming flowers, including rhodededrums, which actually look good scattered about the hillside. Up, up up, dates are no good as a snack food, no energy from them. Feeling tired for last 10k, rain across valley and spots just making it over here, luckily wind blowing it away from me.
Hill topped out at 30km then great downhill for 20km, first part light rain so sped on to pass that and onto a wide plain full of fields planted with all sorts of crops, and strips of plastic with new plants poking through. The last 10km of ride was an uphill on a pine tree lined road, no energy now and really flagging. Stopped for a rest as town nowhere in sight, but 4km up road and out of pine trees the town appeared! Stopped in first place I saw and got a massive serving of egg fried rice and a free bowl of veg soup. V friendly owners, so we all had a chat and their kids came to inspect the foreigner too and gave me a fresh nectarine, people had been selling these in small baskets by roadside along the way. Nice people. Seems like the hill was another magic boundary cos everyone in this town really friendly and helpful). Soon found a brand new gh, room 50Y and made yesterdays efforts overpriced. Showered, had a look at bus times for tomorrow and ate in busy resto, aided by a gang of young Chinese who came straight over to help me order as I was having trouble when I got in there and too busy to walk into crowed kitchen to point at stuff. This is quite a big town and people look far more switched on than in last nights place.
 The older women here still wear traditional clothing which consists of a large black hat, a bit like a big kite stuck on their head draped with black cloth, a pleated skirt, some with thick horizontal bands of colour (blues) and embroidered waistcoats.

Highly productive fields surround Yanyuang

Yanyuang to Lijiang    by bus
Worried that if I don’t get issued a visa I wont have sufficient time to get out of China. Having determined there was a bus I bought a ticket for 110Y. Funny to see most of townfolk wandering round like its really cold in morning and gawping at me in my shorts – they should head further north for real cold! Soon warmed up with the glaring sun. Ticket said bus left at 11, so went up road at 10:30 and waited. Bus eventually arrived at 11:30, ended up with seat over back axle and opposite an ocean of spew from the previous passengers. Jolly good. Driver attempted to slot my bike in in an impossible space, so I rearranged a few bags, took front wheel off and it went in easy.
Bus rattled along at high speed. The route was supposed to be 370km (according to bus station chart), which seemed excessive, but all became clear as Lugu Lake came into view, much to the excitement of the Chinese couples on the bus who started madly snapping away as the lake whizzed by the window.. Route went on a new road around the north of the lake then up tiny windy dusty tracks through the pine trees, occasionally joining bits that had been finished as most road here still under construction. Took 2 hours to almost circumnavigate the lake and now 4:30.
Once out of lake, heading down steep windy mtn road, rocks, pine trees and blossoming flowers, lots of clumps of pink bushes dotted amongst the green, really beautiful. Up and down valleys. Bloke with bad guts got off and disappeared for a long while then as he was coming back to the bus clutched his stomach and went for round 2 in the bushes. I fished out some Imodium and fed it to him on his return or the bus would never get to Lijiang. Road improved and driver got even faster, bombing round hairpin bends with precision. Knew we were getting near when we headed into a valley with a huge dammed river, thick stringy oil slicks? in some parts. Whizzed up over onto a plain and yellow lights of Lijiang in distance – hallelujah! Bus stopped on a corner, so I got out happy to be off the bus at last 9pm. Found a gh opposite where Id alighted and got a room for 40Y. Grabbed a cold beer from a few doors up road and then ate in cheap friendly resto next door. Finally crashing into bed at 10:30, taking buses is more exhausting than riding!

Awash with spew. Fortunately not the only spare seating on the bus 

Lugu Lake whizzes by

Dawu to Xinbuqiao  63km cycled
Up at 6am, quick wash then up to bus. Very cold this morning. Eventually got bike into hold after a song and dance from driver wanting 20Y just to put bike in. There was loads of bag space in bus and no one brought much cargo anyway so driver just being an arse. Young pop star looking Tibeten sat next to me with Tina Turner hair do, diamond earring with spike on back, aviator sunglasses and silver puffa jacket. He sang along in a high pitch deaf mute whine to his mp3 player. Got my ipod on and bounced along the road, which was icey in places and dust solidified to ground for most of way. Hills all dusted with snow and valleys that sun hadn’t warmed yet. Mustve zoned out while riding this section as couldn’t recall a lot of it.
Arrived Bamei 10am. Had a massive steaming bowl of ravioli type stuff, then found a quiet tree lined lane to change into tracksuit and riding gear. Despite sun out Im still wearing wooly hat, wooly socks and fleece. Set off, beautiful smooth cement road almost all the way. Gentle uphill for first 30km, lots of shales, some grey clay and some coal near top of pass, then a descent and flat to Tagong. Like riding through peak district.
Stopped off at resto near a large monastery, load of horses outside. Sat in yard eating fried rice and admiring view of snow covered mtn range and temple, as tibeten pop music blared from resto’s loud speaker. Some Chinese in 4x4s posing for photo’s and a gang of local kids posing with them. Young girl from resto came to talk with me, think they were all bored as parents didn’t seem to want owt to do with them. She helped push my bike off when I left. Down hill around corner was Tagong town, one road lined with shops and a massive monastery at the end, the hill behind adorned with prayer flags and writing. I had expected the Tagong grasslands to be vast areas of tall grass wafting in the wind, not the harsh moorland type environment I actually encountered. Nice downhill section outside the town, massive boulders in river and up the hillsides amongst the pine. Then onto a floodplain for rest of way, shallow gravel riverbed. Lots of colourful castle like houses along the way and some homes using local slate for roofing, just laying layers on top of each other. Road came to junction heading to Litiang on Southern Tibet Highway route and immediately turned to dust and rubble. This is a really busy route cos there’s hardly been any traffic all day and as soon as I ventured onto the broken road there were tons of 4x4s and trucks all going along and churning up the good stuff ( maybe theyd been waiting specially for my arrival!) got the bandanna dust mask on and carried on.
Was trying to establish if the town marked on my map was this scattering of housing. A bloke said he had accom, but didn’t want to stay here if there was a larger settlement nearby. Carried on for a look, and more houses. Stopped at a grubby place that wanted 100Y, didn’t even bother looking at room. A load of police had stopped outside so asked them and they said carry on up road. 2kms further on was the actually town, fairly large and soon found a comfy place for 60Y after haggling from 80. Covered in dust from the last 7kms so into a welcome hot shower.
Chatted with 2 girls with really good English at dinner. They say road to Kanding is good – we shall see.

The Tagong grasslands not unlike the Peak District

Pleasant lunchtime view

Friendly local kid

Hillside adornments just outside Tagong town

Typical Tibetan rock carvings

Xinbuqiao to Kanding   78km cycled
Cold start to day. A lot of Chinese cyclists in town en-route to Lasa. South road must be ‘the one’ for some reason. Had dumplings up road and a rip off small bowl of broth (on their suggestion) with some slices of beef in it (no noodles or owt else). It cost 15Y a bowl so no wonder they were punting it out. Several people balked at the price when they came to pay. Set off down valley passing a few Chinese cyclists Id seen in resto earlier. Flat for 25km then started to head up valley, lots of people selling the caterpillar fungus along way (just stood at side of road holding plastic bags up), Yaks grazing too and a lot of purple flowered heather like shrub although it wasn’t heather. Also saw some large fat ferret like creatures bobbing across a field – think they were ‘snowpigs’.
Soon turned up another valley and heading toward snowy peaks of pass. Workmanlike cycle up the winding road. Heard and saw a cuckoo sat on phone wire.  Reached top of pass by noon. Loads of Chinese cyclists up there so went for a chat. Theyre all heading to Lasa. Good to see them with all sorts of cheap mtb’s, dressed in whatever clothes they happen to have and just getting on with it. Lots of Chinese still making their way up the winding road. Lobbed a snow ball at top and  posed for photos, then superb 35km downhill all the way to Kandging, where I had a much needed bowl of noodles.
Located bus station and got ticket for tomorrow then in search of accommodation. Looked at several crappy places but all wanting 60 – 100Y, the 60’s were bad. Tried haggling but no! Eventually found a cubbyhole room for 20Y and shared bath. Pleased to find there was hot water so sat in a big plastic bowl and had a good wash. Wandered up food street nearby. Kanding is a dump of a town, but apparently it is popular spot cos of a love song.

Trucks use water stations like these. The water drips onto their brakes and cools them on long descents 

Before the uphill, snowy peaks and pass in the background

Scabby Yaks along the way

Getting closer

At the top of the pass with a bunch of Chinese cyclists heading for Lahsa

Start of the long downhill for the rest of the day

Still going down

Colourful bed in my box room, which they still managed to cram a TV into, just

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