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The Endless Sky Trip -- Cycling the Himalaya cycling in western Tibet

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End of Bike Trip
8/11/98

Hello Everyone:
We first arrived in Kathmandu a little more than a week ago, amidst warm monsoon rains. Since that time it has been a none stop eating fest. Breakfast at the German bakery, lunch at an American/Mexican cafe and dinner at Yin Yang, the nicest Thai restaurant in town. Round and round we went, day after day. It is only now after almost 10 days that our eating habits are starting to slow down.

Our final departure from Tibet/China was temporally stalled at the small town of Nyalam. After climbing the last pass of the trip,
reaching a height of more than 17,000 feet, we wound our way down the mountain sides, getting closer and closer to the tropical lands of Nepal. Upon reaching the town before the Chinese/Nepal border Liyang and I were stopped at a police checkpoint. The two young men asked to see our passports after we wheeled our bikes around the cable that blocked roadway. They quickly asked to see our "permits", after stalling a bit and pointing to our Chinese visas, they insisted on seeing a "permit." We showed them our expired permit from Western Tibet, hoping that it would do the trick, so that we could get on our way. They escorted us down a narrow grassy pathway between the buildings to the office of the "big boss." After rounding up a few other people, that seemed to have nothing better to do with their morning, they all passed our passports and expired permit around. The group split into two factions, those that thought our Chinese visa was expired because they calculated the start date from the "valid until" date on the visa, and those that thought our Chinese visa was valid because they calculated the start date from our date of entry into China, the later was lead by a young Chinese guy wearing fake leopard skin bedroom slippers. During a heated debate between the older big police boss and the young bedroom slipper clad Chinese guy, we had to intervene in order to point out that all Chinese visa always start from the date of entry, and it is clearly written in Chinese and English on the visa itself. Once this point was finally resolved, the older Tibetan guy, who was a bit of a jerk, decided that since our previous "Alien Travel Permit" was expired, we were in China illegally. Once again the permit was clearly written in Chinese and English that it was valid for travel in the listed places, in our case the towns of Western Tibet, for the listed dates. Once we reached South-Central Tibet, which is open to foreigners, an "Alien Travel Permit" was not required. The debate went back and forth, the big boss, read out of a book of laws governing foreigners traveling in China, others tried to call the district police office in Shigatse, but of course the phone did not work. Liyang finally started speaking to them in Chinese trying to resolve this ludicrous point. There was such confusion on their part that did not know what to do. Finally the big boss said to Liyang the "road is open" to foreign travelers, and no permit was required. If you go off the road then a permit is required, he told us. We insisted that we never wanted to leave the road, and we were going to leave China in only two more hours if they would just let us go. After another half an hour of arguing back and forth, they were so frustrated that they said, "you can go, just go." We quickly walked back to our bikes, and got out of town before they changed their minds.

While camped out one night just off the road in Western Tibet, I awoke in the middle of the night. A disturbing nightmare about my little sister back in the USA had awaken me. I immediately stuck my head out of the large open tent door as I remembered where I was. Looking up into the dark-black-blue sky, I listened to the immense silence. The power peacefulness of Tibet struck me and calmed the fears that had been caused by the violent dream. There was something about the silence, about the peace of the place that I will always remember so clearly.

The high desolate plateau of Tibet seems like a distant dream now. A reality that happened some time in the remote past. The whole trip was so improbable that it is somewhat difficult to believe that it even happened at all. While walking through the crowded and busy streets of Kathmandu, I often miss the silence of Western Tibet, the pure and perfect silence.

-ray



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