Christmas in Tibet

29 12 2010


‘Don’t even think about trying to cross Tibet overland in December – all the roads will be closed.’ Gustav a seasoned overlander warned us. And he was far from alone. This is the advice we have been constantly given since we started out. This advice is both right and wrong. Trying to cycle would be almost impossible – it is simply too cold. Even if it were possible for us to cycle alone (which it is not) or if it were possible for us to travel with a cycle group (which it is – but too expensive for us) while the sun burns the wind rips a clean sub zero lash across the wide open plateau and straight through to crush our gasping lungs. Frozen waterfalls hang silent licks down the sides of mountains and across the arid ground. This would make a beautiful ride – a smooth empty road weaving silently through such a majestic landscape is irresistible. As the road rises to 5000+ meters the peaks of Everest and Cho Oyu stand only a few thousand meters up, their sharp noses crowning the horizon, pushing up into the clean crisp blue sky. An apocalyptic vision of Mad Max-ery zips past us; a dusty be-goggled biker swaddled in a patchwork of leather thigh coverings strapped over thick yak trousers, his torso buried deep beneath roles of multiple layered animal hide, his hands crushed within thick leather gloves; his rusty glinting bike trailing snakes of material off the ends of the handle bars, his engine seemingly tattooed with bright dancing dragons. As if his core were a giant magnet pulling all manner of wayward objects to itself, so his pillion rides high with a mishmash of unidentifiable objects – one at least being a spade, another a red sinewy sheep’s carcass. His broad weathered face turns to crack a toothless ‘tashi delay’ (hello) at us and he is gone.

Winter is a raw time to visit Tibet. The cold crushes in almost constantly – the concept of heating is confined to one communal dung-burning stove in one room in a building. It does not extend to us; it does not exist in either hotel or hostel. We live in our jackets and we sleep buried deep in our sleeping bags topped by whatever blanket option we can scavenge. The jagged air nipping at our pink noses as they poke bravely out from beneath the swaddled depths – pulling desperately at the thin air as we struggle to regulate our breathing. Both of us have been affected by the changing altitude; mostly in shortness of breath, a giddy tippysyness, and varying degrees of splitting headache. Catherine spent much of the second day holding down green sweating waves of nausea. But now it is day 3 and we are settled well at 4000m.



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