Kangding to Litang

21st Feb - 1st March 2004

From Kangding the road just kept going up. The first day we pedalled 19km along and 1km up before camping at about 3500m. The day was sunny and warm, and the views of Gongga Shan were spectacular.

As night fell it clouded up and began to snow. We (especially Ju) spent the night knocking the snow off the tent roof to prevent it accumulating and collapsing the tent. In the morning everything was buried, but the thankfully the road was clear. The sun was shining too as we pedalled slowly up towards the pass, stopping every kilometer to catch our breath.

But as we neared the pass it clouded up again, the wind got up and it began to snow. The last few hundred meters of road were covered in snow and ice and we had to walk. On the top there was a proper blizzard blowing and we didn't hang around for long. Here's Ju (camoflaged against the prayer flags) on the pass, 4298m!

We actually used small crampons (bought for a dollar a pair on Emei Shan) to help us manouver the bikes down the ice covered road. After a few hundred meters though the road was clear again and we were somewhat out of the wind.

As we descended the pass it was as if we had entered another country. The architecture was completely different, each house was a square block with a surrounding wall, almost a minature castle. The houses were scattered along the valley instead of being clustered in villages, Stuppas were dotted around and absolutely everybody wanted to say "hello". That night we stopped in a roadside cafe and guesthouse, as we were keen to avoid being snowed on again.


We arrived about lunchtime in the town of Yajiang, roughly halfway between Kangding and Litang. Mark spent the afternoon shopping for supplies for the next leg of our ride. Next day we left town with mushrooms, peppers, sugar snaps, a cabbage and a lump of fatty meat to supplement our noodles. Perhaps the weight of this tasty food was one reason why we rode just 20km, but the 1100m of ascent had a lot to do with it too. Next day we climbed on up to the 4659m pass and then pedalled on another 10km until we found a bivi hut to stop in.

These bivi huts are built for pilgrims making the journey to Lhasa, they are just bare huts with a simple fireplace, but they provide shelter from the weather. We were very grateful for this because it snowed in the night, turning the grassy and wooded hills to snowfields and the road of course to ice!

Before the snow After the snow!

The sun was strong when it shone though and by lunchtime the road was slushy rather than icy. Not before time though, Mark had already managed to fall twice, the second time ripping a neat hole through cycling longs, themals and skin. Later that day we crossed our highest pass yet, only 90m lower than Mt Blanc.

Later in the day it began to snow again and a savage headwind got up. Everywhere was bleakly open and exposed to the wind so we feared that if we tried to camp our tent would simply blow down. We passed a radar station and went through a couple of tiny villages but there were no guesthouses to be seen. About 6pm we came to a small village and asked in a highway maintenance depot if they had any rooms. They gave us a bare room and a brush to sweep the floor clean with - we were so grateful to be out of the weather!

Next day we rode 50km over a seemingly endless series of passes. Each climb was only a few hundred meters but at this altitude it was hard work. Added to this was a freezing headwind and Mark was coming down with a cold, so the distance seemed to take forever. We hoped there might be a guesthouse at a road junction after 30km, but there was only a cafe and a scary loose dog prevented us even stopping at that. The scenery was impressive though, like Scotland but higher and with yaks instead of sheep.

Arriving in Litang it was great to get off the bikes and have a couple of days rest. It is a lovely town, full of shops selling everything the local herdsmen could need, from truck spares to solar panels to prayer wheels. The Tibetan people are very friendly (although unlike elsewhere in China there are a few beggars) and Mark's cold is on the mend.

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