Sunday, September 19th, 2021

Day 6 – Ngartse – Gyantse


Distance – 110kms
Max Altitude – 5040m
Riding time – 6 hrs 15 minutes

I have never come so close to crying on a bike.
But more on that later.

If the dogs the night before had robbed me of sleep, the management, guests and tradesman at the `Clean Hotel’ (it’s actual name) more than matched them. They shouted, sang, slammed doors and even shattered a window til 1am. The paint fumes were so bad that I was delirious and close to hallucinating, not quite sure if the dull headache was paint or altitude induced. Because of my paranoia about police and visas I did not want to make a scene, and so I stewed, and stewed.
Woke up early and was on the road by 8am. The morning was freezing cold – well below freezing – and I was wearing all of my gear except my goretex. From the first km I started a steady climb to the base of the Kora La, a pass which crests between two glaciers, creating a windblown, harsh and inhospitable summit.


Nearly crying? About halfway up the pass (ie one and a quarter hours in – pictured above) the wind was howling through the valley at around 40kph. The temperature was around -10 and the gradient averaged around 8%. I used every mental trick in the book to keep going. I set myself time limits between rests (ie ride the next 15 minutes without stopping), picked out points in the distance that I had to reach before I could rest (ie ride to that bridge before you rest) and even counted pedal strokes. In the end I stopped only twice, and the second time I doubted whether I would be able to make it to the top. The elevation and cold sucked all of my energy and the wind took care of my morale and confidence. I pride myself on mental strength but 200m from the summit I wanted to cry, turn around and return to the relative warmth of Ngartse. Eventually melodrama subsided and I muscled my way to the top in the faint hope that I might get some acknowledgment at the summit. Unlike yesterday where there were a few people there to applaud, the Kora La offered just a windswept emptiness and some self congratulation.
The sight of the glaciers just metres above made up for some of the disappointment.
About 200m down the descent I ran into a French guy cycling the other way (pictured right). We had a chat for half an hour or so (much warmer on this side of the peak)) – he’d ridden from France. The descent was windy and turned to gravel roads, which would be the story of the day. The landscape in this canyon is like nowhere else in Tibet and reminded me more of the US than Tibet. Stopped for lunch in a tiny village across the river from the main road and instantly had an audience of 20 or so young kids under 5 huddled around. They watched intently as I ate my noodle soup, with hands grabbing at my clothes and bike. The adults also started to gather around and seem to be entertained by my eating. It appeared that most of the village had been put to work on the road project, and were sitting in trenches along the road eating their lunch as I rode away.
I left the town to applause (for what I’m not sure) and on to one of the most frustrating stretches of road I’d cycled. In some sections where they were paving I would have to carry my bike around the road-making equipment. For about 20kms they had put in dirt speed humps every 50 metres which is a nightmare on a fully laden bike. The packing arrangements were revealed to be inadequate and several times the stove worked its way loose and catapulted off the bike. Eventually I took the time to reconfigure everything and seem to have found a far more stable packing set-up. While I was doing this a young girl and elderly woman whom I had passed ran towards me, perhaps thinking that I had stopped for them. They motioned to their mouths craving food, and I handed over two army biscuits which they needed more than me. 

The final pass of the day was only 400m of vertical but I really struggled over it (the ruins pictured below were at the bottom of the pass). Lack of sleep, lack of oxygen and cold conspired to hurt me. I encountered and passed through my second police checkpoint today and simply looked straight ahead and rode through confidently. I pedalled into town at around 4.30pm and did a loop to check out hotel options. Ended up at the Jin Shin Hotel which was palatial compared to last night, and made use of the bath and cable TV. Enjoyed a Yak Chilli and fried rice for dinner. I plan to linger here in the morning to have a good look around and visit the famed `Kumbum’ monastery. Tomorrow’s ride is 100kms but flat – a word I won’t be able to say very often on this trip. A rest day is planned for Shigatse which the body is already craving.

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