Last nights snow washed out all the colour of the landscape this morning, leaving only the shape of the rolling hills and flat plateau between. The layer of snow was thin though and had started to melt by the time we were eating breakfast.
It was fantastic cycling up here on the plateau, and especially compared to what we had been riding in in Xianjiang. The landscape was appealing, wildlife roamed all around and the air was clean and clear. As we rode we passed by the tents and livestock of the nomadic yak herders, a frequent sight up here. At the top of each hill colourful prayer flags fluttered in the breeze.
We had a long climb to contend with today before arriving at a town for lunch, but the gradient up here seems to be mercifully gradual. It was like a series of steps to the top, a climb along the side of a valley, with yaks grazing in the centre around a scattering of white nomad tents, them up over the top of the valley and down into another one. The thin air made the climbs slow as exerting ourselves too much would leave us breathless.
Near the top three western-looking cyclists going the other way sped past on the downhill. It was a bit disappointing that they wouldn’t stop for a chat, I can’t imagine they’d seen many cyclists up here. For us, at least, the last westerners we’d seen had been in Urumqi. At the top of the climb however a fourth member of their group had remained to take some pictures and I got talking to him. His name was John and he was from Ireland. Running into an Irishman up here was a very unlikely coincidence but it seemed like the most natural thing in the world. John and his group were cycling from Chengdu, a city about 1000km away in the province of Sichuan to Lahsa, Tibet. They had a guide and all the papers in order and were travelling a lot lighter than we were. In order to get into Tibet you need to be travelling in a party of four of your countrymen, so I assume the other three were Irish too.
John informed us that a town lay at the bottom of this descent and that somewhere there served food. We said goodbye and sped off downhill, pictures of hot bowls of noodles in mind as a brief squall of wind and hail blew up the valley.
In town we wandered around before eating as a bus load of passengers were taking up all the room in the one restaurant. The town was just one street, set below a hill on which stood a line of stupas and a load of prayer flags. The town was mostly Tibetans, the woman in their long skirts with colourful jackets and braid hair, the men in thick sheepskin coats with sleeves down to their knees. All of them wearing cowboy hats. There was also a small amount of Hui, a Muslim minority that look more Han (Chinese) than the dark skinned Tibetans.
We ate lunch once the bus left at a Hui run restaurant. Despite having a big poster on the wall with pictures of various delicious looking dishes they only served one noodle dish, but it was more than enough for hungry cyclists.
The town sat in between two high passes on the valley floor. We had come over one this afternoon and now began the climb out the other side. As usual it wasn’t too steep but the thin air made the going slow. Evening set is as we arrived at the top, where a group of Han labourers were working on the road.
The road looked to only descend a small bit before starting to climb again so we set up camp here behind a stone wall next to the road. In the night it snowed again.