Tuesday, October 30, 2007

231007

(Chapter 4 continued)

Day 6, 20 October, Saturday

At 12,000ft. ASL / 3,700 meters, above sea level we're (Rucha and I) are still suffering from shortness of breath! Climbing the three flights of stairs to our hotel rooms, we must pause to catch our breath. I've been taking a homeopathic remedy for such, 'Coca,' (derived from the Coca plant) as prescribed by my Nepali physician, Dr. Nita Pokarel. But, I don't think it's helped me much, either the remedy is too old (three years), or maybe not potent enough? On the other hand, it's only shortness of breath I suffer from, nothing else except dryness of nose and lips. Maybe without the 'Coca,' I would be feeling worst?

XTR is having nose problems like me from the dryness, but other than he doesn't seem to suffer from shortness of breath (at 25-years of age). If so, he hasn't complained of this, only the dryness which causes Rucha to cough much of the time.

On the other hand, the weather in Lhasa has been perfect, at least for me! The bright sunshine coupled with cool air makes my heart 'sing!' This is a mountain climate, which I so love! You can have all the low, green and wet, you want. I'll take the high, blue, and dry--even with its challenges (less oxygen)!

In the morning I stayed in my hotel room, as the plan was to take a taxi to Norbulingka, the 'Jewel Park,' the Dalai Lamas' summer residences. Note, the Potala Palace was their regular 'winter' residence.

I thought we'd 'beat' others, but by the time we arrived (1100), and paid the entrance fee (40RMB / $6U.S. per), there were many tourist buses already parked.

This private Park, right in the heart of Lhasa, is a natural haven from the artificial 'hub bub' of the city (must have been a refuge for Dalai Lamas). This is how described from an Internet travel site:

"Norbulingka means "Jeweled Garden," a fitting title for this 250-year-old park built near a medicinal spring in the western suburbs of Lhasa. It began as a summer palace for the Dalai Lama, but was soon expanded to include space for the whole governmental administration. The entire park has more than 370 rooms of different sizes. Lawns are shaded by green trees and embroidered gardens with various flowers. Given the landscaping of flowers and trees around the medicinal spring, Norbulingka is also known as 'a park within a park'."

After walking from the main gate down a long 'driveway,' we arrived at the gift shop (at every tourist site in China) and another gate. This is where we had our tickets 'punched' by two Chinese women (who were angry at XTR for some reason?). Opposite I noticed the outdoor 'Budweiser Pavilion!' Buddha forgive, but I couldn't have helped noticing having been born in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.A.

Interestingly enough XTR had just watched a television program (CCTV 10) about St. Louis. This engendered many questions about it and the 'Louisiana Purchase.' Strange the juxtapositions one is confronted with sometimes, in this case here we were walking the same ground as the Dalai Lama, a Buddhist, and talking about St. Louis (named for 'Louis the 14th' the King of France), a Catholic.

Beyond this second gate a long tree-canopied walkway leads you to the temples and residences (the 'park with a park').

The first one we toured was the old residence of the 14th (current) Dalai Lama. It was built in the mid 1950s (just before the Chinese 'peacefully liberated' Tibet from the Tibetans). He now resides in Dharamsala, India (this when he isn't received awards from countries around the world).

After visiting a temple, west of the square pool (the old 'medicinal spring'), we exited the ocher wall (inner park). For me, if you've seen one temple, you've seen them all (and I've seen many living in Nepal and China for a total of six years). Only, the Jokhang Temple was worth it to me (to see the three monks, in the 'shadow' of Buddha, focused on their mobile screen).

In one temple we had discovered a Buddhist monk (lama) blessing Tibetan pilgrims by touching their heads with a book. He seemed uninspired by this, as if he'd rather be doing something else. Marx was right about religion…

We ended up walking around the perimeter of 'Norbulingka,' which must have been several kilometers distance. By then we looking for a taxi, and Rucha wanting to return to the hotel before going on to the Barkhor (for lunch).

We had lunch at the Makye Ame, as can get online there (por nada). Rucha and XTR had also discovered their 'Tibetan Noodles' too and wanted again!

Afterwards, still in search of Tsering Nyandak, we started asking people (via XTR). Finally, in a nearby store, a Tibetan man knew. He even stopped what he was doing and guided us there (maybe 50 meters distance). At last! I was excited until he discovered the door was locked, and nobody seemed to know much. Thus, I left my postcard ('mit' note) stuck in the door: 'Tsering, remember Hutch?' We met in 1999. I'm in Lhasa. Please call this mobile #.'

Feeling some progress in my quest to locate Tsering I felt better walking to hail a pedicab ('bicycle rickshaw' they're sometimes called). Somehow, however, we always seemed to walk against 'the flow' (clockwise) on the Barkhor thus 'bucking a veritable tide of 'Om Mani Padme Aum !'

Here again XTR negotiated to pedal us back to the hotel. During this ride, however, there were fewer 'Oh my Gods!' from Rucha. On the other hand, it is a dicey deal riding in a bicycle rickshaw with an inexperienced 'pedaller' (XTR). There were times when I almost exclaimed too, as Chinese traffic some of the most aggressively chaotic in the world! But, we arrived back at the 'Golden Rock' hotel safely!

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

181007

Our trip to Lhasa, Tibet ('XiZang' in Pinyin Chinese)… So many days in October, 2007.

Our train to Lhasa originated in Chengdu, Sichuan, and didn't depart XiNing until 2216 hours, so it was one of those kinds of days, endless waiting… (Monday, October 15th)…

I don't like late (at night) departure times, as that means a late arrival time. But, we'd been lucky to get these tickets, so I didn't question them too much. 'Roman,' our Chinese colleague had obtained the tickets through a friend, three lower 'hard-sleeping' berths (each 523RMB / $70 U.S.).

There was also the question about needing a 'permit' or not (Tibet is different - a 'sensitive' part of China according to Beijing)? At 1,000RMB / $130 U.S. per 'laowei ,' a 'hefty' additional expense just to go somewhere.

I had XTR explain to 'Roman,' that we weren't going as tourists, but to investigate starting another www.haaqi.com office in Lhasa. But, for whatever reason it doesn't seem to matter.

I had also been communicating with a woman Miss. Hu had given me the name of, her CITS counterpart in Lhasa, 'Droga.' 'Droga's' English indicated she is a Tibetan. We exchanged several email messages, then suddenly she stopped responding after I told her we were coming without a permit. She probably didn't like the news. Who knows...? But, since she didn't 'follow through, ' I certainly won't be doing any business with Droga in the future.

'XTRicha' (Xu Tan) had discovered, at the XiNing Hotel (Tibetan Travel Office), because time was so short (three days required), they recommended we 'just go.' They explained it's possible to get a permit in Lhasa, although more difficult and expensive. I pondered what to do until having a conversation with 'Michael.'

Michael, our translator, had put us onto his 'cousin' who owns a travel company in Lhasa. She said, you don't need a travel permit unless you're going outside of Lhasa. So, it was reinforced what I already knew and make a point of doing prior to traveling… research, and not just reading the latest copy of 'Lonely Planet.' What the locals convey is more important. If you pursue, you discover, and what you discover is valuable.

So, on Monday we packed and then had dinner with our group just prior to our departure. Only Ujwal came to the RR Station with us, however, although 'Drake' had asked if we need help. Ujwal was handy to have carrying luggage, plus it gave him a chance to learn more about traveling in China.

First we went to the wrong waiting room, then had to move to another. Here hundreds of Tibetans waited for the 'hard (cheap) seat coaches. Tibetans have a particular 'aroma,' and thus it smelled like we were already in Tibet.

Next, a RR official appeared soliciting 'better treatment' (for a price). As per XTR we paid 5RMB / .75 cents each to follow the man back to the old room, but now apart of a 'special section' for the 'elite.' This payment allows you to board first, thus avoiding the mad dash (for luggage space ).

We were in coach #1, although the last car (numbers were reversed on this train). Chinese trains, because of the huge population (thus traveling), are at least 15+ cars in length. Thus, we were so far behind the engines I was able to 'capture' an image of them later (see all the images at www.cyclingpeace.org/gallery/).

At first there were no others but us in compartment #7. But, since we all had purchased lower (ground floor) berths, XTR was next door in #8. Then a request from a German couple, the husband having a lower bert in #8. If XTR would move, he and his wife could be together in the same compartment. Of course, we said yes, befriending this German professor (and wife) from Berlin.

When no others were apparently joining us in #7, Xu Tan could have slept in one above. Note, 'hard berths,' are three levels high with a total of six per compartment (versus 'soft' with only four and a door you can lock).

But, he waited too long chatting with some new friends. By the time he came, a Chinese man, who obviously had been drinking, was in bed above me. This concerned me as 98% of Chinese men snore!

When XTR came he 'nixed' the idea of sleeping directly across from this man after 'sensed the situation.' Later he explained the man smelled of alcohol. So, he ended retreated back with his new friends two compartments away.

'Rucha' and I got lucky in #7, however. It was gloriously quiet the entire night, except for a few minor 'grunts' from the man above. Best, he exited halfway to Lhasa at 'Ge Er Mu' (sometimes written as 'Golmud').

I love sleeping on trains (shades of my youth), and this was a good night for me. I even slept in to 0700, arising to have tea and observe the sunrise.

But, now we were nearing Ge Er Mu, Qinghai's second largest city, some 800KM west of XiNing. I was curious to see it as the 'Lonely Planet' edition (about Qinghai) describes it as a 'desolate place,' only inhabitable by 'engineers and escaped convicts.' When I first heard that description I thought, 'Ah, this is a city for me!'

Once stopped at the station I got out to partake of the sunny morning. 'Ge Er Mu,' without any prominent landmarks, does look uninviting, and 'Lonely Planet' may have guessed right in this case. It's out in the 'middle of nowhere,' lying flat on the desert floor. Without any tall buildings one wonders about it, like 'why?' What is it all about?

From Ge Er Mu the route to Lhasa turns south and up into the mountains. Here the terrain gets interesting the tracks following the highway and a river valley. It wasn't long before we saw snowy peaks.

Hours later we made a summit of sorts and the vast plateau beyond. My mother would have described this as the 'wide open spaces!' Because of the increasing elevation (over 3,000 meters) there's hardly any vegetation in this area, nothing but land, mountains, and sky for hundreds of miles in any direction! China is vast (look at a map)!

Still in Qinghai (fourth largest Province in China) around noon, we had a 'cart lunch.' On Chinese trains there is a constant stream of pushed carts that pass up and down the narrow aisle. These vendors sell all sorts of things. Of course, food and drink being the most purchased. XTR suggested we partake of the pre-packaged lunch, saving us from walking 7 cars to the dining coach. For 25RMB / $3.50 U.S., served in divided trays and covered in plastic (institutional style), it turned out to be pretty good.

Up and up we continued, the train slowing as the grade increased. An announcement told of the highest point enroute, a pending 5,000-meter pass at the Tibetan border. We would stop here so passengers could experience. At the same time we were warned of all the discomfort and potential danger. In fact, you are required to sign a 'disclaimer' of sorts before departing any train to Lhasa--to the effect you don't have a heart ailment and are fit enough (I assume as I can't read Chinese). One of the crew actually woke me up from a nap to see it I was still breathing.

'02, ' is offered via jets in the walls. Something had been blowing on me and I hadn't realized someone had opened this flow of 'oxygen.' I'd had some 'shortness of breath,' during the night and XTR felt nausea, but otherwise we managed, maybe Rucha' best of all (no symptoms at all ).

After the announcement about the forthcoming pass ('Tanggula' ) several of us bundled up and made for the doors when the train slowed. They never opened, however, and we surmised later they didn't because they were behind schedule. In fact, I never knew quite when we passed into Tibet (800KM of the 2,400KM distance between XiNing and Lhasa).

But, at some point the terrain did turn more appealing, we even passed very near a large lake ('tso' in Tibetan). Here the terrain is rolling with many yaks and sheep grazing on the tundra lichen. There were more evidence of human life here too, with clustered dwellings, smoke coming from chimney pipes.

When we stopped for the third time, this to allow faster trains to pass on the single track, a Tibetan man and woman come to our window (XTR had waved at them). These people are curious. (See all the images at www.cyclingpeace.org/gallery/ .)

Then night fell and we laid back on our berths as nothing much to see.

We pulled into the new Lhasa station at near 2300 hours, the trip taking 24.5 hours (averaging near 100KM / 60 miles per hour).

Once out on the platform I was amazed at this new structure, all white in 'color.' We walked to the street jostling with the usual 'horde.' Once outside XTR negotiated for a taxi and a hotel.

Soon we were speeding away on an Expressway obviously apart of the 'new look' of Lhasa. I'd visited Lhasa the summer of 1999, coming up overland from Kathmandu, but already it obviously had grown his 1999.

I did, however, recognize the Yak Statue, and knew we were near the Potala Palace when we arrived at a hotel. I have an unusually good memory for places (but not for names).

The Jin Shi ('Gold Rock') Hotel turned out to be a good deal, each of us having our own room for only 100RMB / $13 U.S. each. But, how strange Chinese hotels can be, as this had hot-water bathing, but no heat. I didn't notice this for several days, however, as Lhasa was warmer in temperature than XiNing (had gotten all the wrong advice and brought too much of the wrong clothing). But, the bed in #8312 was good and some of the electrical outlets worked so I was content (for the rate).

Day #3, October 17th (Wednesday)

I slept unusually late for me (0700), but still the sun wasn't up. I did my usual early morning program (2 hours of Shakti Yoga, exercise and prayer, complete with my own chant, 'I love your…').

By 0800 'Beijing Time,' (should be two hours earlier or 0600 'Lhasa Time' ) the sun was showing the peaks on the West Hills. Soon, the sun began to illuminate the surrounding area.

I became fascinated by the scene out my third floor window (facing west). Just below was the classic Tibetan house with a courtyard. The poplar trees were a mixture of green and yellow. It became a bright, even brilliant morning. To the right the Lhasa Middle School, complete with an observatory dome atop one of the modern white buildings. I wondered if they actually have a telescope and observe the heavens at night (although would have light pollution in the middle of the city).

By 1000 I was eager to investigate outside, so I knocked on Rucha's adjacent door to see if she wanted to join me. She answered but obviously wasn't quite ready, so I said I'd return by 1100.

I descended the two flights of stairs, pausing to observe the city from a rooftop vantage point. The Potala Palace loomed 200 meters to the east, backlit by the sun.

Note, this is the most dramatic and unusual building in the world in my opinion. Now a tourist site it was the winter palace for all the Dalai Lamas (pre 1959). Built on a hill in the middle of Lhasa, it dominates the scene.

Outside the hotel the city was alive with people on their way to work or school. However, many practicing Buddhists do 'kora' (circumambulate the Potala Palace) in the morning, rotating hundreds of prayer wheels by hand.

There is an energy here in Lhasa you won't find anywhere else in China. 'Om mani padma aum!' is alive and well at 3,700 meters / 12,000ft. elevation!

I first walked north on the sidewalk (Lingkor Avenue West) alive with people already busy with their day. At an intersection I crossed over heading east remembering a computer store I used to visit in 1999. But, instead of continuing east I dodged traffic on 'Lingkor North' to get into the Park on the north side of the Potala.

The Chinese have spared no expense on public places, and this park is no exception. There are even hidden speakers playing music. All this is 'hallowed ground' to Buddhists, however, where Dalai Lamas used meander amongst trees and beside a large pond full of wild life (fish and birds). Now vendors sell vegetables and morning treats adjacent three ancient stupas.

You cross over on a foot bridge to get to the 'Dragon King Temple,' This on a small 'island.' Here ancient trees sag into water, remembering a more serene time: The 4th Dalai Lama used to practice archery in this area (hundreds of years before it was a park).

I 'captured many images' (www.cyclingpeace.org/gallery/) before returning to the hotel to meet Rucha and XTR.

We coaxed Rucha to walk, rather than her favored taxi, and she did well considering she has lived at sea level all her life. We walked east on Beijing East Road and into the vast Potala Square (maybe 1 kilometer's distance). Here there's the usual Chinese Government propaganda amidst the flowers. Chinese soldiers walk around the square in lock step.

XTR fed the pigeons. Rucha hid under her umbrella (the sun very strong at this elevation).

We captured the usual images of us standing, the huge palace in the background. You can see a similar image from 1999, me standing with Ms. Fiets at www.cyclingpeace.org ('Retro' BLOG).

At the east of of the square we took a taxi, at Rucha's request, to go to the Jokhang Temple/Barkor (2KM east).

The Jokhang Temple/Lhasa is the equivalent for Buddhists, that Mecca is to Moslems, or Jerusalem is to Christians. It was built in the 7th Century by the then King of Tibet, (Gampo). Almost destroyed in the 'peaceful liberation' of Tibet in 1959, it's been restored, as a tremendous tourist resource (money) for the T.A.R. Government. There's a plaque on the front of the building that cites it, along with the Potala Palace, as a U.N. 'World Heritage Site.'

We walked in the 'Bon' direction, looking for the Makye Ame Restaurant at the southeastern 'corner' of the Barkor. I didn't even know if it would still be there after eight years (most restaurants don't survive). But, I was hoping as it has a wonderful ambiance. I remembered the food as good too! It was here in 1999, that I spent much time overlooking the circumambulating pilgrims. 'Om Makye Ame Aum!'

Then in the distance, the sign above the 'tide' of rotating prayer wheels, mani beads, and red robes, and I realized it had survived. I yelled out indicating, 'There it is!'

You enter the Mayke Ame from the side street, the ground floor, the kitchen, toilets and gift shop. Once having climbed the steep stairs to the left you enter the main dining room (with bar). It all was basically as remembered, but now crowded with too many tables. We decided to brave the second, even steeper stairs to eat on the third, or 'outdoor' level. This top floor opening while I was there in 1999. Now, it had the look of much use, and served by bored 'fu yuan .'

The menu at the Makye Ame caters to the foreign tourist, of course, everything from hamburgers to 'dhat bhat' available. Rucha likes Indian food, so she ordered some curry dishes. I ordered dhal bhat and Palik Paneer (Nepali dishes), and XTR ordered his 'standard' bowl of Chinese noodles with meat.

While I was in Lhasa in 1999, I befriended several local people, now I was trying to relocate (as having lost contact) each. One, a Tibetan man named Tsering Nyandak, a painter and translator.

After lunch we meandered toward the Yak Hotel, as I knew Tsering had displayed some of his paintings at a gallery there. But, the Yak has prospered to the point of being ambivalent (would never stay there). Nobody knew nor cared, too busy with 'important things.' We sat in their new lobby and rested for a moment deciding how to spend the remaining afternoon. We decided we'd accomplished enough for our first day in Lhasa and decided to return to our hotel.

Outside I wanted to take a 'pedicab' (always trying to support cycling of any sort). But, Rucha resisted, citing a story she'd read years ago about 'coolies' in Shanghai (being abused). After reading the story she vowed never to ride in a rickshaw (pulled on foot). But, I explained this was quite different.

XTR solved the situation by insisting, to one of the 'operators,' that he 'crank.' 'Do what?' I'm sure the man queried XTR as to this strange request. Probably this idea had never occurred to anyone before (to XTR's credit). When we offered extra cash the man suddenly became pliable (money always works). But, what to do with the extra body with XTR in 'the saddle?' The passenger 'bench,' on these one-speed tricycles will barely accommodate two (Rucha and I). The owner/operator (of the pedicab) ended up pushing, sometimes running along beside, and then jumping onto the back when going downhill, shouting instructions to XTR all the while (basically how to maneuver through traffic). The brake is a handle you have to reach for and pull.

We (XTR) managed to return to the hotel, without incident, save for a few, 'Oh, my Gods!' from Rucha, her standard exclamation when we appear to be heading for a collision.

At the hotel we paid 30RMB / $4 U.S. for a 2K.M. ride, and then captured the man's image (standing with Rucha and XTR). This a our way of saying 'thanks.' Note, rarely do the working-class people in China get to see themselves in photographs, thus always appreciative of this gesture!

On the second level roof outside, we watched the sunset turning the Potala Palace (just across the street from our hotel) into a 'postcard.'

See all the images at www.cyclingpeace.org/gallery/

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

091007

Chapter Three ('Just Passing Through')

"If you only cycle on sunny days, you never get to your destination!"

We took off in the rain, all loaded up for our trip around Qinghai Lake. It was the beginning of 'National Day' (October 1st) - Week,' when everyone in China goes on vacation. So, in spite of our new company, www.haaqi.com, we decided to take advantage of the situation. Ujwal, from Nepal, was unsure about renewing his visa and wanted to make sure he had done everything he could in China if he had to return to Nepal. But, it was his first big cycling adventure.

Xu Tan was off to Xi'an, but his sister Xu Ni and 'Rucha' would be accompanying us via a driver (Li Xiao Hong) in his automobile we'd hired. So, I'd had a meeting with them all to plan out this 700KM, seven-day trip around China's largest lake. We wanted to meet up every evening, and that required we were in some kind of 'sync.'

Chinese people rely on their mobiles (telephones) too much, their 'God,' this little device has become. But, they do come in handy when plans change, and they work anywhere in China no matter how remote the place.

The 42 kilometers / 30 miles to Huang Yuan was a messy (mud and pollutants), honking madness to me, trucks and buses speeding past us at headache-producing decibels! I shook my fist at the worst offenders, indicating thumbs down, hoping they see in their rearview mirrors my disgust!

The street traffic in China is pure chaos, maddening at the very least, dangerous at the worst! A few days before we departed, a man had dashed out crossing the street and right into me. Luckily, it was a glancing blow, and neither of us was harmed. But, I screamed at him as his risked our lives for 'nothing.'

People in Asia treat the streets and highways as if they were their very own living rooms. It's an interesting situation I'm come to study having lived in both Nepal and China (similar thinking).

In Asia it's the little guy, the poor pedestrian that rules, walking without looking, as if they look they will have to defer. New mothers dare the biggest truck, infant in arms! In retaliation, drivers have taken to honking at anything and everything regardless of the situation. I call it 'Chinacophony!' It's maddening to me, however, as the trucks and buses have air horns that jar the imagination! So, 'out there' when cycling I wear ear plugs, courtesy of 'Rucha' (Rotraut Boyens) my German friend.

The Chinese love noise! They scream into their 'mobiles,' yell to signal for people to come, light firecrackers, slam doors, and play music too loudly, anything that raises decibels! And this love of noise is a cultural thing, a legend involving a monster called 'Nian.'

Nian was a horrible 'dude' who came down from the 'mountains' to prey upon the people. But, a wise man taught the people to frighten Nian away with two weapons: noise and the color red! So, guess what? Thousands of years later what we have is, a very 'Red China,' and a veritable 'Chinacophony' of racket! At New Year's Eve (the beginning of Spring Festival) you would think you are in a war zone from the fireworks!

Still to this day drivers 'frighten Nian away' with incessant honking! In the process, they have driven me to wear ear plugs (and ultimately out of Asia).

But, this day, cycling up to Huang Yuan, I'd forgotten them--the earplugs. Thus, I did my share of screaming at the loud horns as the honked at us!

By the time (3 hours) we arrived in Huang Yuan, I was wet, cold, and unhappy. But, some 'suan nai' changed my demeanor, as Qinghai yoghurt is the best! Made daily in small batches, and served in pottery bowls it's one of my favorite treats. And for all of .10 cents (U.S.) the best bargain in the world! I often tell Chinese friends, 'If we could get this to the U.S., exactly as it is here, we would get rich!'

Afterwards we got lucky finding a restaurant that had 'mi fan.' Not all restaurants in China cook rice. Chinese people are more into noodles than rice. Then after eating, our familiar cry when cycling long distances, 'Onward!'

Up highway #315, following a river valley we went, the rain lessening, and with it my discomfort (Ms. Fiets working well). We rested beside the rushing river, and watched a freight train cross over a bridge in front of us. Fall, was 'in the air,' with smoke from fires and yellow leaves on the trees. Autumn is my favorite time of year!

Up further, we stopped at the reservoir and braved the wind (da feng) to capture some images. See all the images of our trip at www.cyclingpeace.org/gallery/

Luckily back on the highway the wind was at our backs, and it felt like an engine pushing us along--it's funny about the wind, when helping you (at your back) can't hear it. It wasn't long until we were in Hai Yan, a town where the Chinese atomic bomb was developed (fifty years ago). This, the town we'd had lunch in on our return to XiNing in May, our first cycling trip around Qinghai Lake.

Coming from the opposite direction I got confused. I didn't think this was the town where we were supposed to meet Rucha and Mr. Li--I thought it was still up ahead. Things look differently when you approach from the opposite direction. But, after conferring with people on the street I was soon corrected. And two young boys on bicycles guided us to a hotel. The first and best was full (as vacation time), but the lesser of the two had rooms. Best of all the heat was on in this hotel (normally not on until October 15th). Additionally, it had a restaurant (not all do).

After cleaning our bikes of debris we had dinner waiting for Rucha, Xu Ni, and Mr. Li. Mr. Li had brought his wife and daughter along as well.

The following morning Ujwal and I were up early as we had some 90KM to 'crank' and up hill (north side of Qinghai Lake). It was a dreary morning, a gentle, but persistent rain. But, we were prepared and headed up #315 again. It wasn't long, however, before Ujwal saw his first snow (on the ground). I don't know what the elevation is in this location but I'm guessing something like 3.100M / 10,000ft. ASL.

We stopped in what I thought was a 'restaurant tent,' but should have known it was 'Government' (too good the facilities to be privately owned). But, the two young policemen on duty allowed us to sit next to their coal -burning stove and provided us with 'kai shui' (hot water).

Around lunchtime it was warmer with the sun out, we spread out our 'camping blanket' near the highway and ate a lunch of cashews and raisons. We took a short nap, such a 'treat' lying on Mother Earth.

Just before Gangcha, our second town (for the night) we had to crank up quite a steep hill, but the ride down into the town fast. To every 'up,' there is a 'down!'

Once in town we discovered a huge fair in progress, thousands (mostly Monguls and Tibetans) colorfully dressed on the streets. We stopped to call Mr. Li, as they had gone ahead to reserve rooms in a hotel. It wasn't long before a crowd had gathered around us, some wanting images with Ujwal (they mistake him for Tibetan). I passed out many of my postcards.

When Mr. Li showed, Rucha walked with us showing the way to the Gangcha Hotel. This room was more luxurious than the previous night's.

We had dinner with the group, now: me, Ujwal, 'Rucha' (Chinese name for Rotraut Boyens), Mr. Li, wife and young daughter ('Fa fa').

The next morning we met 'Bill,' a Tibetan man who escorted Ujwal and I to some 'stores' (really just 'stalls'), this to buy some supplies. He spoke good English. (Note, it's ironic, but it's the minorities in China that speak good English, not the Han Chinese).

This was to be our easiest day cycling as short (67KM) and downhill. Additionally, we made a plan to meet the group at the Lake, as for the first time close enough to park and walk to the edge.

With the help of a mobile, we rendezvoused at 1320 hours (now on highway?, not #315). Ujwal and I locked our bicycles to a fence, Mr. Li driving the group as close to the Lake as possible (maybe 200M distance). While they investigated, I laid out the blanket on the sand, and enjoyed resting in the sun.

Then on to Niaodao, a village next to a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery. This located at the northwest 'corner' of Qinghai Lake, some 300Km / 200 miles west of XiNing.

This is my favorite of all the communities around the Lake, and because of such have thought of living there. Here Mr. Li booked us into the 'Bird Island Hotel,' the best so far (hot-water bathing 24 hours). If was nearly empty at 4P.M. (1600 hours) when we checked in, then later the parking lot full, the hotel nosey with guests.

I had heard of 'Bird Island,' for some time, a place to watch the migrating flocks, but mistakenly had thought it was on the east side of the Lake. But, why would they call it the 'Bird Island Hotel,' if the actual island weren't nearby (turned out some 16KM).

Note, for fans of 'Chinglish,' this in the bathroom of our room: 'Slipped Attention!'

On the way to the hotel I'd noticed something going on up at the Monastery (flags, tents, many motorbikes parked). Thus, after checking in I took the group on a walk up the hill to investigate.

Here we discovered a modern building full of devotees listening to a 'sermon' (possible 'lesson') given by what I guessed the Rinpoche ('Head Lama'). It was a strange scene in this modern building, the Tibetans in their colorful clothing sitting on the concrete floor. We stayed only for a minute, the focus of much attention!

Outside in bright sunlight we did 'Kora' (circumscribed the stupa three times in a clockwise direction - said to bring good fortune).

Afterwards, 'Rucha' and I sat against the 'Mani Wall,' in the setting sun while Ujwal and Xu Ni climbed the hills behind. Mr. Li and family descended to the hotel. Here a wonderful vista silenced us, crimson robes passing occasionally (as many Buddhist monks in the area). I don't know the name of this Monastery, but is must be old and significant as there are a relatively large number of monks and many buildings .

The kids were gone at least an hour, as this turned out to be a long hike up to the cairn/prayer-flag monument at the top of the tallest. We could see one black figure (Ujwal) and one white figure (Xu Ni) moving up and later, on the way down, become larger until recognizable as they rejoined us.

We had dinner in a local restaurant, troubling as difficult to get the food we desired (Chinese waitresses unable to understand) and then not particularly good. Chinese restaurants 98% good, 02% not so good!

With the longest day of cycling facing us *(150KM), Ujwal and I went to bed early. We had planned to have breakfast at 07:45 (as included in the room charge) and then depart shortly afterwards.

Of course, those traveling in the automobile sleep later, and only drive maybe three hours per day (to cover the same distance).

The next morning ready at 0710 we decided to forego breakfast and get an early start. Unfortunately, I forgot to leave the card-key under Rucha's door (to collect the deposit) and had to return some 4KM. In the process, however, we partook of a stunning rising sun (massive orange 'ball'). So, the 'official' time of depart from the hotel turned out to be 0745.

Now, in rolling hills the highway turned south and into some wind (had been from the East all the way). We kept up the grind, however, as knowing we had many kilometers (150) to get to the tourist village ('Yao Wu Yao') on the south side of the Lake. This, the next planned-rendezvous point.

We had lunch in a Tibetan restaurant in Hai Ma He. Of course, no mi fan so I had tea and ate some peanuts I had with me. Ujwal had what was offered, the standard bowl of noodles. Here we charged the camera battery, as had forgotten to plug in at the hotel the previous evening.

A Tibetan woman stared at me, having brought her children for lunch. I handed her and her two children apples. A Tibetan man kept trying to find out something that I never understood (as don't speak Tibetan). Later, I thought he might have been asking me, because he knew I was from America, if I had a picture of the Dalai Lama. The scene was interesting as always, staring out the window at a dog chaffing at his chain. In the background, the music from a TV program sounding like Vivaldi.

Sometimes I have to 'pinch' myself, to see if I'm not living in a dream (or in China)!

Then on highway #109, we headed due east, now on the south side of this huge Lake (150 X 100KM). Although there was a wind out of the northeast, the clouds dissipated and the sun warmed us. Farmers were harvesting their crop of summer wheat (with a threshing machine).

We stopped at a large T.Buddhist stupa and captured our images in front of then structures found everywhere in Qinghai (had done the same last May when cycling in the opposite direction).

On and on we cranked, this the longest distance (150KM) to be covered in one day. Ujwal, wanting it to end, thus kept insisting that the distance to the tourist village was less than I had said. I kept replying, 'maybe.' Turned out I was right, having a talent for guessing time and distance. I also have a compass in my head, and can tell you this instance, standing here, composing this, that I'm facing east ('dong' in Chinese).

Never bet against me when it comes to time, distance, or direction. This is how I can cycle around the world without getting too lost.

When the village did appear, however, we were both happy, as had been on a bicycle seat some ten hours.

We stopped on the main road, trinket shops on both sides one after the other. I had Ujwal call Mr. Li, and as it turned out we stopped on the driveway to the 'Grassland Hotel,' where the group ('Rucha,' Xu Ni, and the Lis) had checked in.

We had told them earlier we wanted to stay in a 'Mongul house,' (yurt). But, although Mr. Li had looked, he hadn't booked one. 'There are many,' he informed us upon asking.

So, after a short rendezvous with the group, Ujwal and I went to investigate, riding up the hill and back out onto the highway. He had pointed 'east,' so that's the direction we headed. The first yurts were right on the highway, but knowing the noise associated with the location thought better of staying in one of them (although a Tibetan man waved us to stay there). I had noticed some white yurts up on the hill to the south, so I told Ujwal we should investigate. Who then asked, 'Will they rent them to us?' 'You bet they will!' I replied!

So, up we went on a dirt road that proved to be arduous (on a laden bicycle). But, suddenly the 'paparazzi' (eight Chinese men with cameras) were snapping our picture, so how could we stop? I made it all the way without, but happy to turn on to level and then going down to where Ujwal was talking with the Tibetan proprietor.

Turns out we were the only guests, as so late in the season and they were glad to have us. Inside this yurt a young Chinese woman was making the 'beds,' as if expecting us. I thought she was making them up for others.

We walked around and discussed the price, and which yurt to stay in for two nights. Turns out she was 'making up the beds' for us, and the charge: for two people for two nights only 60RMB ($7.50). Where else in the world can you stay in a yurt with a view for so little? In contrast 'Rucha's' room in the 'Grassland Hotel,' (with no view) was 150RMB per. Of course, she had an adjoining hot-water bath. We had to walk 100 meters to an outdoor (no roof) out house.

Unfortunately, crazed dogs barking kept me awake for most of the night (reminding me of Nepal). I tried shinning my 'flashlight' ('torch') on the yurt 'wall' to frighten them, but this hardly worked.

Asian people seem to have no idea about controlling dogs (although not a problem in Chinese cities).

In Nepal a dog (god spelled backwards) is considered a 'god,' so they are allowed, like the cows, to wander freely and bark all night long! It drove me mad living there (why I moved from).

Once having my tea (they provided 'kai shui' / 'hot water' in thermos), and unloaded (ready for the night) we glided back down to the tourist village (Yao Wu Yao - #151) to have dinner with our trip companions.

The following day we drove in Mr. Li's motor vehicle to the eastern side of Qinghai Lake, to where there are sand dunes. Riding in automobiles makes me sleepy, so I dozed both ways.

At the dunes some enterprising Chinese had set up a small 'tourist attraction,' including a camel ride, archery, and sledding down a steep dune. All this for only ten 'kwai' ($1.25U.S.). See the images at www.cyclingpeace.org/gallery/

It rained that night, but the yurt kept us dry (and warm too). But, on our penultimate day returning to XiNing we didn't get off until 0900. We knew we faced a tough cycling day ahead, up and down a 3,400M pass and should have departed earlier. Worse we faced a stiff wind. Wind is one thing, but wind and rain can be very unpleasant on a bicycle.

On the way, we stopped some twenty kilometers east of 'Yao Wu Yao,' where they have a huge 'golden' statue of Shakumani Gautama (ten-meters high). I thought, this would cost like all such 'attractions,' but didn't, as part of a T.Buddhist monastery complex. We did 'Kora,' captured some images, and then a little bird 'blessed' me!

People laugh nervously when I explain I 'talk' to animals. This little bird, a sprig of twig in its mouth, stopped on it's way to its nest and said 'hello!' What can I tell you?

The best things of this entire trip, besides riding Ms. Fiets, the morning sunrise outside of Niaodao, seeing the night sky outside our yurt, and this little bird! All my 'highs' having to do with Nature!

After Shakumani, the rain returned and by the time we got to our lunch village, Dao Tang He, we were drenched and cold. But, lucky again the first restaurant I chose had mi fan and a warm stove to warm up with. By the time, we departed we were recharged, as we had to crank up for quite some distance (pass up at 3,500M ASL). Beginning at Dao Tang He, however, we were on an 'Expressway.'

Now, most of the time bicycles are not allowed on such 'Expressways,' but here no problem. Why? It's capricious in China, sometimes you can, sometimes you can't and no one really knows why? But, here it made the fog (we encountered) much safer as we had a wide bicycle lane.

At one point, because of the dense fog (couldn't see more than 30 meters). At one point when we stopped Ujwal asked whether we were going up or down, he couldn't tell. I laughed as we were still going up.

Then down we went, down and down into first, past a village, then through three tunnels (rode through rather than walked), and finally into the town of Huang Yuan.

For a long time we followed close behind a tractor (as going so slow). I couldn't see very well with the fog and my glasses obscured with droplets. Thus, the tractor acted as a 'guide' in what were less than ideal cycling conditions. Additionally, there was some problem with my front wheel/headset as it began to wobble. I never quite understood about it until I got 'home,' and discovered a nut had come out of the front rack (holding to the fork) and the loaded rack was causing the 'wobble.'

So, when we finally cruised into the hotel parking lot I was much comforted. I don't mind being 'out there,' but sometimes 'in there' a much-deserved reward!

Once we'd paid 300 Kwai (RMB), 140 / $16 U.S. (vacation rates) for the room and 160RMB deposit were allowed to park our bicycles in their large meeting room.

Then in our own room we hung up our clothing to dry, the heat not yet on. Heat in China comes with the season… They turn it on October 15th and off April 15th (in Qinghai)--doesn't matter the temperature. Thus, in the middle of the night I had to get under the 'comforter' I was sleeping on--one wool blanket over me wasn't enough. It was colder in this room than in our yurt up at the Lake.

But a hot-water shower, the next morning, kept me in a happy state all during the day (even though overcast and messy).

We had discovered they served no breakfast in the hotel, so we decided to take off without. I'd decided the night before to continue down the Expressway, as we'd been on coming into Huang Yuan.

Highway #109 between Huang Yuan and XiNing (42KM), one we'd come up on, is an old overused two-lane mess. Thus, the idea of a large and smooth bicycle lane made me, with the downhill grade, look forward to an easy ride back into XiNing.

Thus, the first 30KM of the trip into XiNing, via the Expressway, turned out to be such a delightful ride--we zipped along at an incredible speed! It probably took but 80 minutes (including one toilet stop).

Then the strangeness of China, and 'rules.' At a tollgate in the valley we were stopped by the police and directed off the Expressway. Had I been able to speak Chinese I would have asked them, 'Why?' Now, only 12KM to go, why can't we continue into XiNing on the Expressway?

But, in some ways this turned out even better, as I discovered a highway (#100), the older one, to be interesting. On it we passed the 'Qinghai Olympic Training Center,' a large complex of buildings (a place I'd been looking for). Beyond, an interesting looking restaurant I made a mental note to investigate. Thus, something that appears unpleasant always has its compensations, and something appearing pleasant always has its distractions. How many times have I learned this lesson! Best of all, this old highway is in much better condition than the newer one (#109) that we'd taken so many times in the past (not knowing about the other route).

We were back at 28 Datong Jie (#242) by noon, this completing our 700KM / 500 mile bicycle trip around Qinghai Lake. We had spent seven days (including one day of rest) out of the big city. We had accomplished much, as 'Rucha,' and Ujwal had wanted to experience China's largest Lake--everyone having a good time!

Ujwal got to ride a loaded (heavy) bicycle long distances and has experience with 'tour cycling.' Now, he's much stronger physically and mentally. He said later that he learned much on this trip!

As for me, being 'out there,' compensates for city living, something I'm no longer interested in, particularly in China, with its particular 'brand' of 'distopeia,' the honking madness on the streets.

Long ago I became disenchanted with cities, China has only reinforced this.

'Two roads diverged in a wood one day. I took the road less traveled! It made all the difference!' (Robert Frost).

I took the 'road less traveled' years ago! It's made all the difference in my life! I couldn't even begin to explain… Just let's say, I'm different!

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