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Nr.29 – China – Fantastic stretch of road on the way to Yunnan

Nov 4, 2014 | Asia, Blog, China

Shortly after Ganzi, I turned off the main road into a side valley. It was an excellent road that
led me directly along a swiftly flowing river. It was as beautiful as a dream. Fir trees – the entire
hillside was full of fir trees! The air was clean and fresh and smelled wonderfully of fresh wood.
There was hardly any traffic at all. Again and again, tiny villages would appear and, sometimes
I would only see houses that were beautifully decorated and painted. Most of them were made
of wood, or, at least, the gable was made of wood. It was like paradise. Every now and then,
even though I needed to pedal over a few hills, the road brought me slowly but steadily downhill.

Monasteries and interesting bridges appeared again and again, all of which I found to
be truly fascinating. Motor scooter riders sometimes overtook me and called loudly
“Tashi Delek”. The huge loudspeakers, which they had attached to their motor scooters,
were like moving jukeboxes. Children called to me and the old women smiled when I greeted

In the evening, I wanted to pitch my tent in a village square when a young monk came up

to me and invited me into his home. He lived in a very tiny house. He climbed through the
window, looked forever for his cell phone and then called his buddy to ask him to bring him
the house key, so I could get into the house. The door had a huge lock, and you would think
there must be bars of gold kept there. Instead, the entrance led into a kind of shed. It was totally
dark and, instead of gold bullion, only firewood was stored here. A tree trunk, which had
notches chopped into it for steps, leaned up toward the ceiling and led to the next floor.
A smoke-filled tiny kitchen and a room of about 5 square meters was hidden behind a heavy
sliding door made of wood.

The room was filled with Buddhist symbols, really nice to look at.



He put on some Tibetan music, lit incense and gave me a plastic bag filled with sweets.
His steam pot took about 20 minutes to bring a liter of water to boil. At his place, it looked
it were the day after a bomb exploded, but somehow the atmosphere was wonderful.
He let me know that he had to leave at the latest by 4 a.m. to pray in the temple, but I
could just continue to sleep if I wanted.

The village was absolutely beautiful. All the houses were wooden and were often brightly
painted or decorated. The people were very shy; children ran away from me and everyone
stared at me as if I were a green woman from Mars. The atmosphere was unbelievable
and I have to say that it was one of the most mystical villages I have ever seen.

The road took me further along the river, and again and again I would pass small settlements.
The grain had already been harvested and the farmers drove their tractors along their fields.
Suddenly, everything was full of life again. A myriad of colors blanketed the landscape and
somehow I could feel spring fever coming upon me after spending so many dreary weeks
in no-man’s land.

Yes! It was like emerging from a long, hard winter – when the birds begin to chirp in the morning
for the first time in the year. I suddenly arrived in an indescribably beautiful world. For the first
time the altimeter showed 3200 meters and instead of yaks, cows had finally appeared again.
My strength returned and my body was functioning again. But as everyone knows, what goes
down must eventually go back up again; but I didn’t want to spoil my mood, so I quit thinking
anymore about what tomorrow might bring.


In the evening, I asked the police about shelter, because it looked like a menacing storm
was on its way. Since Chinese people would never get the idea to go to the police, most
likely because people are really afraid of the authorities, the police were all the more nice
to me. I had the feeling they were looking forward to someone finally coming to them
voluntarily to add a little variety to their daily lives. They took care of me and allowed me
to sleep in their recreation room. That night, it rained non-stop and I was truly happy to be
able to sleep in a dry place.

The next day, the path branched away from the river and went slowly but surely upwards.
I rode toward the next pass through endless curves. In the evening, I was able to stay in
the attic of a home and set up my tent in the middle of the straw. The people in that
neighborhood were rather strange. I had the odd impression, although they were Tibetans,
they didn’t trust me, and I didn’t feel welcome.

The road went back up to 4600 meters again. Marmots ran across the grasslands and the
cows were replaced by yaks again. Eventually I made it to the top, and the next large city,
Litang, wasn’t far away anymore.

In Litang I really had no choice but to wash my clothes. My trousers smelled so disgusting
and they were so dirty that I could no longer stand the stench. But, as you might expect,
the power was out all the way into the evening. Power failures were quite common in this area,
so I stayed another day and enjoyed the break, and above all, I enjoyed the wonderful aroma
of freshly-laundered clothes.

Litang itself wasn’t worth mentioning. It was a place like so many others.

I was moving quite slowly, so I wasn’t able to make it to the next pass before
the darkness fell. Unfortunately, I had to sleep next to the highway and hid myself
behind some bushes. I was amazed how much traffic was still underway here even at night.
But what I really find great in China is that I really don’t have to worry about being safe.
I never had the feeling anywhere that anyone would ever want to do anything to me.
Camping in the wilderness is really not a problem here.

In the morning I was lucky and could enjoy breakfast in a small shop. To get in, I had to crawl
through the window. I ordered delicious dumplings (a kind of ravioli) as a soup and was happy
to be able to eat a warm breakfast.

Again, the road led me uphill in endless switchbacks. From one pass to the next, it became
more difficult for me to motivate myself to continue on. I love the mountains, but eventually,
even I had enough. I just had no real desire to continually cycle up and down anymore.

As I slowly but surely made my way up the mountain, I saw a cyclist coming behind me
and thought “Wow!” he is really moving. As I waited for him at the top of the pass,
I immediately saw why he was moving so fast. He was on a racing bike wearing a small
backpack and nothing more. Michael, from Ireland, was cycling from North-east China
to here and slept only in hotels. While he was complaining about the poor street conditions,
I could only say that it was the best road that I’d seen in the past few weeks. The guy was
spoiled. A Chinese man rode behind him, and to my big surprise, Michael could speak Chinese.


We continued the journey together, but the pace the two of them set was honestly much too fast
for me. We were at 4500 meters and my condition had deteriorated rapidly to zero. I could lift
Michael’s bike into the air with one finger, something I could only dream about.

The Chinese guy, like all other Chinese cyclists, were on his way towards Lhasa. It seemed a
crazy trend among the young Chinese people, but I had never seen a single woman on a bike.
They all had panniers, but only above the rear wheel, and all of them always stayed in lodging,
never in a tent. Of course, they all had much less weight than I.

The landscape changed and, everywhere, there were large boulders scattered about.

The descent was long and ended in a wooded area. The place was called Sanduizhen
and lay at 4100 meters. In a small hostel, there were three of us in a room and we ate
dinner together. As I had experienced frequently with the Chinese, Michael and I
had to pay nothing. We had been invited and there was nothing we could do to change
that. It seemed that every time I sat at a table with a Chinese person, I would be invited
without having to pay.

The Chinese rode further south, while Michael and I veered off to the west. I would really
have liked to ride on with him, but unfortunately, that would have made no sense. I would
have been constantly stressed out, because I would be forced continually to go beyond
my limits, and Michael would constantly be waiting for me. So, at the foot of the next pass,
we sayed to each other farewell.

The road leaving the next pass was endless – it was not only endless, but also magnificent.
It was simply dreamlike and changed drastically with every turn. Sometimes, it went along
a steep slope, then it brought me through a fresh-smelling forest along a deep gorge past
small villages and eventually, because it was pouring rain the ride ended for me at a police
station and I asked them for a dry place to sleep. As always, I was allowed to stay
in the common room. This time I spent the night together with Stalin, Lenin, Marx and Mao.

You can’t miss the police buildings in China. They are always the largest and most modern
buildings in a village. I was always surprised how many policemen there were everywhere I went.
No one had anything to do; either they would play cards, chat together for hours on end or take
their cars out for a cruise.

The architecture changed, including the faces of the people. There were no longer any
North American Indian faces to be seen and, suddenly, the people looked more like you
might imagine a Chinese to look like. They wore green or blue Mao flat caps and had round
faces – and they were also significantly smaller in stature.

Their gait also changed; they no longer walked upright or appeared to be self-confident;
no, they seemed to be bent more forward and displayed an insecure demeanor.
The change had happened suddenly from one valley to the next.

Somehow, I never really had the feeling I was cycling in China. First, I had met the Uyghur
in Xinjiang, and afterwards, the Tibetans. Now, I was so far south in the country that everything
seemed to change.

The houses were often so beautiful that I dismounted and pushed my bike through the villages
so I wouldn’t miss anything about the splendor of the impressive homes. The people were
so friendly that I wanted to say “Hi” to everyone. Some even gave me fruit and everyone gave
me a friendly hello. That also changed just as suddenly. People didn’t say “Tashi Delek” or “Ni Hao”
anymore, instead, they said “Hello”.

Now and then, the “nouveau riche” Chinese would come along with their wide jeeps
and speed past me. Sometimes, they would stop and wanted to photograph me.
Most of the time, however, they roared through the villages like they were mentally
disturbed. Not caring about what might happen; they honked nonstop, as if they wanted
to say, “Out of the way! Here I come!” But then, it seems that all of the Chinese practiced
this driving style.

The horns on the trucks are so incredibly loud that I would cringe every time one of them honked. You could estimate that of 100 vehicles, 98 of them were honking their horns. The translation is as follows: if someone honks forcefully, it means “get out of the way.”

If they honk briefly, it means “Hello” and if I didn’t respond, they would honk again, it would mean, “Hey, take a look this way.” When a truck drives into a village, it honks incessantly from the beginning of the city limits until it emerges on the other side. Even when children were on the street, they wouldn’t even dream of slowing down.

The astonishing thing about it is that it doesn’t seem to bother any of the people. Sometimes, they would drive within hairs-breadth past me. And if I got unlucky, as an extra thank you, I would even get a face full of diesel exhaust.

At one temple, I observed a group of nouveau riche Han Chinese who were abusing a large
prayer wheel by using it as a carousel. Several of them hung onto the dial and pushed off
and they were all laughing themselves to death.

It’s unlikely that anything could be more irreverent and primitive. I couldn’t keep my mouth shut,
because that was just too much for me. The Tibetans are deeply religious people; they are
kind-hearted and therefore they deserve far more respect. To my surprise, they apologized
to me and, afterwards, they wanted to photograph me.

Because it was raining again, I knocked once more on the door at the police station.
And again I was warmly welcomed and even allowed to take a shower there. The police
station lay at only 2800 meters, the lowest altitude in ages. On the road to Shangri La,
there were only two more passes, and finally, the high mountains would be behind me.

Often there would be a table in the room with an integrated griddle in the middle of it,
where water could be heated or where the people could warm their hands. In China,
people drink hot water continually throughout the day and so there are full thermoses
sitting around everywhere, ready for anyone to use at any time with no help.
Cold drinks? You really can’t find them anywhere.

The landscape became more and more impressive. The road spiraled along beautiful serpentines up the side of the mountain and often provided clear vistas of small villages and colorful fields below. On the other hand, the road was much worse than before and sometimes I struggled with the many stones that were plastered all over the road.

A storm moved in and a short while later, I was rewarded with a fantastic rainbow. At the summit, at 3800 meters, it had already become dark and I looked for a place to pitch my tent in the woods. I had barely gotten into my sleeping bag when a creature came to visit me. I figured it must be a rodent that could smell my delicious food.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t see it, but I could clearly hear it. I pulled everything out, packed it again in a plastic bag, and stuffed it into my panniers to eliminate the odor. A short time, everything was quiet again …until… another much larger animal came and began to make strange noises, which I really couldn’t place. Luckily, it also disappeared after a while.

Then a motorcyclist showed up, “Crap,” I thought I had put my tent where no one could see it. But then, immediately I thought “Oh, what the hell! Nobody’s going to do anything to me here anyway.”

A beautiful mountain panorama accompanied me the next day. It reminded me of the Limestone
Alps in Europe, and as a rock climber, I would have loved to traverse that world of mountains.

Just before dark, I met  Amaya und Eric.

Those two cyclists had already been traveling for seven years and had made a goal for
themselves to cycle every country in the world. It was a really nice encounter, but
unfortunately it was far too short, because darkness was approaching and none of us
had found a place to camp yet.

That night, I slept again in the forest. They had given me some oatmeal, and shortly before
that, another woman had given me a few pears and some apples. So, that evening, I made
myself some delicious porridge and I had the same thing again the next morning for breakfast.

Fog and rain enveloped me in the morning, but at some point, I packed everything together
and disregarding the weather, I pedaled up the last 4000-meter mountain pass!!! Wooohoooo!
It was like Christmas. Finally! I was at 4200 meters and from there I headed downhill –
through a lush forest where it was obvious that it rained all the time. Autumn was in full
swing. The leaves began to turn all kinds of colors, and there was already plenty of foliage
lying on the roadway.

The scenery in the surrounding landscape became even more spectacular and I felt like I
had been beamed over to Yosemite National Park in the USA – and I was in the middle of it.

I camped in front of a barn, hidden from the road, and the next morning I enjoyed the sensation of the fresh fog and the fresh scent of the forest. I sensed a feeling of being home. This cool, damp autumn morning riding past a colorful forest reminded me so very much of the forest close to my home town. But the giants of granite in the far distance caused me so much enthusiasm that I quickly forgot about home and lost myself in the enchanting landscape. It was breathtaking.

I was invited to eat breakfast at a campfire on the side of the road. A few female workers
were sitting there nicely together in circle. There were dumplings filled with potatoes and
mushrooms to eat. Very tasty! Along with it, there was an undefinable tea, which was also
very delicious. I warmed myself by the fire and then eventually rode onward with new strength.

I reached the province of Yunnan, the last province on the road to Laos. Many experts refer
to it as the most beautiful province in China.

It was a good distance yet to Shangri La – it had already become dark and I was still on the road.
The road had been a construction site for many kilometers and was traveled, once again,
by umpteen material supply trucks, which caused it to be viciously dusty. The road seemed
to have no end and there was still no Shangri La in sight. When I would ask someone about it,
they would always point me to continue straight ahead. Covered with dust, I eventually

Although, by Chinese proportions, Shangri La was quite small, but for me, it was like a large city.
There were huge supermarkets, wide streets and plenty of hotels and restaurants – much
of the city was brand new. I had arrived back in civilization again.

To my surprise I could to stay overnight anywhere I asked. So, I opted for a 10-person
room for 20 Yuan (a little over 3 US dollars). Clean hot showers, toilets, clean beds,
I was allowed to wash clothes, and there was even a community room with video evenings.
I was suddenly in a completely different world.

The place was very touristy, so much, that it got on my nerves again.
“Old Town” was full of souvenir stands, but more for the Chinese and not for Westerners.
Although, there were a few “long noses” who strayed through the maze of alleyways.
I met some Chinese people there who spoke English, and from then on, it appeared
that everything would be much easier.

Once again it was time to renew my visa, so I went to the PSB.
A super friendly female police officer, who spoke English excellently, received me
with a very nice “Hello”. I couldn’t believe my luck. I had heard previously that Shangri La
was a good place for visa extensions, but I didn’t expect in the least that it would be so simple.
She grappled with the computer and apologized to me a million times that it was taking so long.

How much easier life can be when we support each other! Not only the friendly nature
– no – not  even the super luck that I got a proper extension – for a full 30 days from the
expiration date of the old visa. Brilliant!


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