From the 14th of August to the 5th of September Jerry and Will (together with a friend of Will’s) biked from Golmud in China to Lhasa in Tibet – about 1,200 KM and mainly at about 5,000 meters of elevation.
We flew from Seattle to Bejing with three bikes and two big duffles full of gear. We put the bags in left luggage at the airport and took the subway to our hotel, only to find that the reservation had been cancelled. We walked around in the dark for a while before we found a place that could host foreigners. The next day we walked and went to a Peking Duck restaurant for lunch (a place we’d eaten at in 2008) before catching a flight to Xining.
We took a cab (actually two cabs) from the airport to the train station in Xining. Our first experience with a sleeper car went pretty well (the girl who shared our compartment may not share that assessment.) Two more cabs got us to our hotel in Golmud where we checked in at about 9:30 in the morning and then proceeded to assemble bikes. The attachment of the front rack to the brake pivot bolts on the Franklin took some extra time, but Will and I got all three bike put together in time for lunch. Will arranged to ship the cases and duffles to our hotel in Lhassa and then we went shopping.
The next morning we rode something like 20KM to a police checkpoint where we spent several hours trying to figure out if we were going to have to return to Golmud to wait for a permit. Eventually, between Extravagant Yak and the cop that Will was talking to, we were told that we could proceed as far as Tanggula as long as we didn’t deviate from the main route. We did an extra 30 KM that day to make sure we would be out of range if somebody changed their minds. We spent the night in a dorm (the third one we tried) with a couple of very inquisitive Tibetan kids. We filled water bottles from the spring even though it violated everything we knew about sanitation while traveling in the third world.
The next day we biked to Kunlun Mountain Resort, a group of truckstops and a mineral water bottling plant. The place we stayed was run by Muslims but they seemed to be on good terms with the cops and military. I never did figure out how to make the shower work. Leaving that town in the rain was remarkable for a valley with low peaks on either side featuring glaciers between each peak. The valley was a military exercise zone and there were tanks and other vehicles on the road and maneuvering around on the valley floor. We spent that night in Xidatan and then climbed to Kun Lun pass the next day. The final kilometer up to the pass was strenuous. After the pass it was downhill to Budong Spring (the sign on the road pointed to hot springs but the locals told us that none existed.) Chris had a headache so we spent an extra day there.
When we got going again we were up on the Tibetan Plateau so the climbs didn’t involve a lot of additional elevation but they were still plenty strenuous. We got to WuDao Liang and then to Hoh Xil before arriving at Tanggula where we met our guide. One of those night (WuDo Liang?) was spent in a dorm at a road construction camp where we operated a coal stove to boil water and heat the room. By the time we got to Tanggula we and our bikes were muddy and tired.
There was only one place in Tanggula that was permitted to house foreigners and we got run around some before we found it. We connected with the guide and driver and took showers. The next morning we cleared the checkpoint now that we had the requisite permit and headed for YanShiPing. Just before the town Chris fell off his bike and decided that he couldn’t ride any further. The next morning we took the van for maybe 10 KM to get through a checkpoint and then had a miscommunication where Chris and the guide went to a restaurant and ordered lunch without coordinating with Will and me. We were tired and annoyed and rained upon and Will prevailed on me to load the bikes in the van and ride over the next pass – the highest point on the route. We ended up riding the van over two passes and spending the night in Andou. We rode from there to Nagqu (minus Chris who still wasn’t riding) which was a large town with a choice of restaurants. The next stop was Ancient Lieu where we didn’t like the lodging choices but evidently couldn’t get permission to stay at the monastery.
The following day we drove a long way to get breakfast and then rode a short way to a monastery for lunch. After touring the temples we went to our guide’s parents place and spent the afternoon eating Yak cheese and sausage. The next morning we got really muddy biking unpaved roads and then flew downhill to a set of hot springs half-way to Lhasa. The following day we finished the ride to Lhasa (the final checkpoint on the city’s outskirts was trivial and after that Chris decided to ride again.) We wandered around until we found our hotel (we’re told that Shambala translates to Shangri La and there were a bunch of establishments with Shambala in the name.) It catered to expats but was a really nice place despite the Spanish tour group. We had a spare day in Lhasa to visit the Natural History museum and pack up the bikes. Chris chose to get a massage instead.
In the morning we got a small truck to ferry the three of us and our guide, plus the three bikes and now three duffles, out to the train station. After a fairly long wait we took the high-speed train for a 25 hour ride to Xining. We didn’t avail ourselves of the oxygen. (The route of the railroad was very close to that of the highway we rode in on, so during daylight – most of the way across the plateau – we recognized features that we’d seen before.)
We spent most of a day and that night in Xining – a big city where we didn’t venture beyond the modern shopping malls. We took a shuttle to the airport and flew to Shanghai, landing early in the evening. We were informed that the left luggage concession at the airport was closed, with no alternative available, so we headed into town with our bikes and duffles. Will had made plans to meet a Danish friend in the Bund and we had to push the time back, but by paying for a cab we got there in time for dinner. Then we had to find a cab back out to the suburbs…
We flew from Shanghai to Seattle the next afternoon and that leg of the trip was uneventful. Customs in Seattle was as good as I’ve ever seen it and a Lyft XL got us and all of our stuff home in time for lunch.
Quite a trip.
- The road had no shoulders and soft pavement with deep ruts and lots of potholes. There were a ton of trucks.
- Wide tires were a really good idea
- We should have spent a little more time maintaining the bikes – we ended up with racks falling off and saddle adjustment issues that probably could have been avoided
- But no serious mechanical issues – not even a flat tire
- We were well advised to bring a sleeping bag and we really didn’t need camping stuff
- There were lots of prayer flags and Buddhist cultural stuff, but maybe not as much as in Kashmir
- The landscape on the plateau reminded me of the Yukon – no trees, low mountains, obviously harsh winters
- Having someone who speaks Chinese was essential, someone who spoke Tibetan was even better
- Usually you wonder if the guide is getting a kick-back for steering you to particular hotels and restaurants. not on this trip.
- Nothing against the natural history museum, but we probably should have paid for the ticket to the Potala Palace.
- Tibet is not the place you ought to go if you decide you’re not going to eat noodles.
here are the maps:
9/2 – Lhasa ( Shambala Palace hotel to Potala Palace to Natural History Museum to Electronics Mkt and back to hotel) no map. 10 miles on my Rodriguez with Will
9/1 – Tibet Day 13 (Yangbajingzhen Hot Springs to Lhasa) Here’s the map. 60 miles on my Rodriguez with Will & Chris.
8/30 – Tibet Day 12 (Ancient Lieu Town to Yangbajingzhen Hot springs) Here’s the map. 61 miles on my Rodriguez with Will & Chris.
8/29 – Tibet Day 11 (DangXiang to Ancient Lieu Town) Here’s the map. 16 miles on my Rodriguez with Will & Chris.
8/28 – Tibet Day 10 (Nagqu to DangXiang) Here’s the map. 53 miles on my Rodriguez with Will & Chris.
8/27 – Tibet Day 9 (Andou to Nagqu) Here’s the (partial) map. 40 miles on my Rodriguez with Will & Chris.
8/26 – Tibet Day 8 (YanShiPing to Andou) Here’s the map. 57 miles on my Rodriguez with Will & Chris.
8/25 – Tibet Day 7 (Tanggula Mt Town to YanShiPing) Here’s the map. 57 miles on my Rodriguez with Will & Chris.
8/24 – Tibet Day 6 (Hoh Xil Protection Station to Tanggula Mt Town) Here’s the map. 40 miles on my Rodriguez with Will & Chris.
8/23 – Tibet Day 5 (WuDao Liang to Hoh Xil Protection Station) Here’s the map. 52 miles on my Rodriguez with Will & Chris.
8/22 – Tibet Day 4 (Budong Springs to WuDao Liang) Here’s the map. 54 miles on my Rodriguez with Will & Chris.
8/20 – Tibet Day 3 (Xidatan to Budong Springs) Here’s the map. 34 miles on my Rodriguez with Will & Chris.
8/19 – Tibet Day 2 (Kunlun Mtn. Mineral Springs to Xidatan) Here’s the map. 24 miles on my Rodriguez with Will & Chris.
8/18 – Tibet Day 1 (Golmud to Kunlun Mtn. Mineral Springs) Here’s the map. 58 miles on my Rodriguez with Will & Chris.
Here are the photos (and here are snapshots from my phone.)
Here are the planning documents
Selected photos of me (taken by Will)