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

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20 miles past Zanda Xian, Western Tibet, China

It's been two months now since I met up with John and Liyang in Pakistan. Since then we have seen about 1400 miles of riding. At first on smooth paved surfaces that seemed easy to roll about on, then after a few hundred miles we moved on to hard packed dirt that a Russian made grader had smoothed out. These days we are lucky to find a rutted washboard track that is not covered in three inches of sand. Things change, it will not last forever, only about 800 miles to Kathmandu, about one and half more months of riding.

Around a week back we left the main road, well it is called a main road but it is still just a dirt and sand track, to take a bit of a detour to visit the remains of the ancient capitol of Western Tibet. An older Tibetan farmer and his young daughter pointed us toward the well-hidden turnoff, a few tracks that followed the stream bed but father on turned into a reasonable track. I asked the next four or five Tibetans we saw to make sure this road was actually the one we wanted. An army truck driver had warned us that we should take the "new road" and not this old track because it is rather difficult to always find your way. The new road would require a couple extra days of riding, so we decided to take our chances with the "old road." The switch backs covered the whole mountain face, we slowly worked our way up past nomad tents and through a couple streams, at the top the next face revealed itself, more switch backs, move climbing, we never got out of "granny-gear". Snow blocked our way a couple times. The truck drivers had made alternate routes to get around it. Finally the first pass arrived marked by a small clump of prayer flags blowing in the wind. We continued on through the mountain range eventually arriving on a plain that sat above the canyon land of Tibet. Out past the yellows, oranges and reds of the canyons stood the snow-capped peaks that mark the border with India. We skirted across the plain and dropped down into a maze of deep narrow canyons that looked more like Utah or Arizona, then what most folks think Tibet should look like. After nearly 30 miles of winding our way through stunning landscapes we were deposited in the small town of Drada Xian, also know as Zanda Xian, and also known as Tholing. Sometimes it gets a little complicated asking for directions in Tibetan when a place has three names. Another day's ride along the Sutlej River brought us to Tsaparang, a sandstone tower that rises 400 feet above the surrounding area. The lower base and sides are covered with ancient temples and caves that were used for monks and families housing. The top is capped by the king's old residence, which is only accessible through a secret tunnel that goes through the sandstone tower itself. The temple contains an enormous amount of murals that are some of the most well preserved in all of Tibet. Although most of the statues are somewhat destroyed. From a stone ledge outside of the king's old residence we looked westward toward the mountain range that we now are recrossing to get back to the main road. A well-hidden short cut track quickly lead us out of the canyon lands of Tibet. Now we climb all day to get back over to the path that will lead us to Mount Kailash, the most scared of mountain in all of Asia.


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