Sunday, September 19th, 2021

Day 5 – Chingtong – Ngartse


Distance – 85kms
Max Altitude – 4810m
Riding time – 6 hours

Zero sleep last night – who said camping was peaceful. The barking of dogs was incessant and a few times I could hear their breathing right outside my tent. I tried not to breathe, but they knew I was there.
Woke up this morning to two nice surprises: the tent was covered in ice and had frozen into place and the same pack of dogs that had harassed me all night were staring menacingly at me from 50 metres away. Rolling up a frozen tent with one eye on the beasts I managed to get on the road by 8.45am (it doesn’t get light til 8am). The climb started 100m into the day and I would spend the first two and half hours crawling up the Kampa La. The climb was absolutely relentless and I forced myself to do 17.5kms before stopping for break and some food. When I say food it was an army biscuit I had picked up in Lhasa. Do they sound appetising? Worse than you think…
The next 7kms to the top were incredibly steep and with the rise in altitude oxygen was at a premium. The strong headwind in some sections made it difficult just to keep upright. But oh was it worth it! The view from the top (pictured) was the most magnificent I have ever seen. Below me was the might Yamdrok Tso (Scorpion Lake), in an amazing shade of turquoise, flanked by mountains and with 8000m snow covered peaks in the distance. At 4800m it was cold and so after a few photos I plunged down to warmer climes for about 8kms to a still-high 4500m, an altitude that I would remain at for the rest of the ride.
The road followed the lake for the next 30kms or so – a truly magnificent setting dulled only by the ferocious headwind. I pulled into the town of Pede Dzong for lunch and was absolutely spent. I had been on the bike over four hours with no sleep and one army biscuit for sustenance. Lunch was a scream. It was in a mud brick hut with one window and four armchairs. The only food on offer was instant noodles – a meal I would come to expect and loathe – but they did have Coke which was what I needed more than anything. As I ate the place slowly filled up with interested passers-by, until eventually the armchairs were occupied and the room crowded with chain-smoking farmers. My Tibetan and their English were of a similar standard, so conversation was limited to a few chuckles. The focus of the `discussion’ was them poring over my maps and taking great delight in me pointing out their own little hamlet of Pede. Even they couldn’t believe this place was on a map.
The next hour continued to follow the lake (pictured right) but progress was slow with a brutal 60kph headwind that threatened to blow me off the edge of the road in places. I hadn’t experienced a headwind like that since Iceland, though expect I will feel it again before this trip’s over. It seems the westerlies pick up in the afternoon and I’m heading west for the whole trip.
About 10kms from my destination I ran into a Canadian couple cycling the other way. Dave and Arlene had ridden from Denmark – putting me in the shade – and were looking forward to hitting civilisation in Lhasa. A 15-minute chat and I was off, making my way into Ngartse six hours after I left the hounds. A paltry 15kph average but a 1000 metre gain in altitude. Checked into a dodgy hotel complete with pit toilet and a draft that would have made Mawson uncomfortable. Good news is that I can bring the bike into the room with me, where I have been trying unsuccessfully to dry out my tent which was still covered in ice. The mess in the room is considerable but I figure the place hasn’t been mopped for a while and is due. To top things off there was no shower and so my cleansing took the form of putting my head under an icy tap with an audience of people chuckling at the sight. The place is also a construction zone and sleep is going to be difficult between the paint fumes and incessant hammering.

At dinner I sampled my first yak butter tea. You are supposed to drink it quickly while it’s hot, as the butter eventually sets and tastes ordinary. All I can say is that I’d hate to taste it cold. Hideous stuff that tasted like an armpit strained through a tin of sardines. Will have it again no doubt…

It’s 8.30pm, I’m tucked in bed and contemplating two passes that greet me tomorrow. In a strange way I cannot wait to get on the bike again and amongst this scenery.


One Response to “Day 5 – Chingtong – Ngartse”
  1. Tom and Nancy says:

    Brad: You are one of the most interesting writers I have encountered….I’m anxious to read about the rest of your trip.
    Nancy Burnham. Tom’s wife