China 2012: the road to Shangri-La

by Bicycle Junkies

We leave Litang and cycle over high mountain passes and pass many Tibetan villages. I always thought Tibet was like a high plain, but it’s up and down and up and down. A cutting wind chills our faces, but we enjoy every moment in the mountains. By order of the police we stay one night with a Tibetan family and we visit a monastery without monks!

The first pass is waiting for us when we leave Litang, going South. Litang is (at the moment) the farthest West we can go, the rest of the Tibetan region is forbidden for us by the Chinese, so we head South. A few hairpins bring us to 4200 meter high where the Tibetan flags mark the top. I love the sight of these flags, that means we’re close… The road to Shangri-La is all about climbing to a 4000+ meter pass and dropping down to about 3000 meter, great!

Apart from a few motorcycles and the occasional Chinese tourist in a fat Toyota (or even a Porsche) wearing The North Face clothing and taking pictures with expensive DSLR’s, it’s pretty quiet on this road. While climbing up to another pass, one of those big SUV’s stops next to us and a blinded window automatically goes down. Two cans of Chinese Red Bull are presented and given to us! Thumbs up, windows up and we are on our own again, happy with our EPO! They are funny people… It’s difficult to understand them, sometimes they are very helpful, sometimes they pretend we don’t exist..

Yak or Yuk?
In between the emptiness lie Tibetan villages, built agains the hills. Every now and then we see a Yak and on the roofs of those typical white Tibetan houses they dry corn. After a long cycling day and only eating little cakes and snickers we try to ask in a village if there is a place to stay for us. A policeman understands what we mean and he takes us to a Tibetan family, to us it seems like he orders them to take us into their home. But the family welcomes us and shows us our own room. We get four thick blankets and we all drink Yak butter tea around a fireplace. It’s salty… but after about 10 cups, you are starting to like it! 😉 And that was only because we were drinking so slowly.., imagine what would happen if you drink fast!

Shangri-La Monastery
After seven long and tough cycling days, eating noodle-soup for breakfast and the chilly altitudes we pedal into Shangri-La. The streets are wide, new buildings have the look and feel of old Tibetan ones and the old town with its narrow streets is very nice to wander through. The huge monastery out of town with 600 invisible monks is just too touristic and no fun to visit. I guess the monks feel the same, we only get to see a hanful of them! It’s probably because the rich Chinese tourists come here with bus loads and in Litang we were more or less the only tourists! Still, the woodcraft, the wall paintings and the immense Buddha are worth the visit.
We stay an extra day to visit the old town and to enjoy a cup of coffee while sitting in the sun, what a great life here in Shangri-La!

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