Sunday, September 19th, 2021

Day 4 – Lhasa – Chingtong


Distance – 90kms
Max Alt – 3600m
Riding time – 4 hours

The first real day on the road. Being relatively
short, and on paved, flat roads, I set of at 11am
rather than the preferred early start. Before leaving I visited the Jokhang Temple in the Barkhor, and was confronted with absolute pandemonium with pilgrims everywhere. In silent protest at the police presence the pilgrims had stoked the incense furnaces and the whole city was a sea of smoke (pictured). The temple is magnificent, and I can see why monasteries attract monks to them with their silence and serenity. The thought of lounging around, drinking tea and doing the odd chant looked appealing, though I’m not sure the commitment’s as simple as that.

The next task was packing my bike. Having never carried so much gear on just two panniers (on my long trip 15 years ago I had front and rear panniers) it was a struggle to work out how to keep the bike balanced and secure. Much of the weight is from food – three days worth – and books which I am determined to read quickly and dispense with. I took the obligatory photo in front of the Potala Palace (below), but was moved on by two police officers who obviously considered me a threat or menace or both. I didn’t linger…

Stopped at a service station on the way out of town to fill my fuel bottle, and started the long ride into the imposing mountains ahead. It was flat but warm, and I got extremely sunburned. You are pretty close to the sun up here and so burn quickly. The ride itself was different to what I expected, with lots of trees as I snaked along a river. Travelling along the valley I was dwarfed by mountains on both sides, with even larger ones ahead. This is pain country for a cyclist.

I went through my first military checkpoint – successfully – about 10 kms from the bottom of the first major climb the Kampa La. This climb is reportedly the most difficult of the trip, partly because you are still acclimatising and partly because it’s 34kms and rises 1400m to almost 5000m. I spent a bit of time trying to find a reasonable campsite, and though the one I selected was not ideal I didn’t want to give back any of the kilometres I had ridden. From the campsite I I can see the road snaking above me. Gulp.

Cooked myself a passable meal on the campstove. Actually it was terrible. I overcooked the noodles and undercooked the flavour. One of the mistakes was adding spice to the starchy water instead of draining it. The concoction tasted like a wet book.

Just as I pitched camp (pictured right) a pack of dogs – maybe 10 – came towards me. These things made Cujo look like Benji and were going absolutely berserk. One of them sprinted towards me, teeth gnashing, and I took the closest thing to me (a water bottle) and squirted it into his face. It had the desired effect luckily but made me pretty edgy. As I write this I can hear them outside the tent and just took a peek to confirm it. As I lay here I realise that this is not going to be a particularly restful night’s sleep. It’s now 8pm, dark and the only sound out here is the barking of hounds and ever-faster beating of my heart…

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