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Sick in the mountains
I leave Ali the next day even though I feel weak. The dry plain outside Ali is better to cycle than the road and I find myself further and further away from the telephone poles along the road, which turns to the right in the horizon, while the road I suddenly run into turns left. Strange, because the road normally always follows telephone poles, but the road here seems trafficked and I cycle for one hour before I realize something must be wrong, because this road leads up into a pass which the notes don't mention. My map shows a road following the telephone poles and I stop several vehicles to find out where this road leads to. A Tibetan truck driver draws a map showing this road as a shortcut to the main road following the telephone poles and I take the chance and continue. I have no idea of how high the pass is and feel really bad while dragging the bike up the road. I am complete exhausted hours later and end up camping next to a roadworker tent. The guy and his young son are really nice to me and I stay there one more day while they give me bread and water. In-between, they leave for short working session on the road with their small tractor. I got fever and have stomach problems again and just the suspicion of giardia makes me eat the medicine the Chinese-speaking Japanese helped me pick up at a pharmacy in Ali against giardia It turns out to be strong stuff and kills my stomach for whole week.
I leave the place feeling much better and am surprised by the short way to the top of the pass, marked by prayer flags. Choose a very steep and sandy shortcut downhill to the grassy green valley fed by the river in the middle of it. It marks a complete change from the time before Ali where most places were brown and empty. Small houses lay along the road and I stop for dinner in a truck stop place, usually easily recognizable by the mountain of beer bottles outside. The sad Tibetan song from the radio makes everyone in the room silent while I eat the instant noodles they offer along other small things. The road is marked with stones in small towers along it and must be for protecting the pilgrims against demons on their way to Kailash. The shortcut ends at a new bridge which brings me to the old road again (later, the gang of two claim that I was a lucky guy not trying out the old road, because they had a real hell time with rivers and missing road sections, and lost a whole day on it). I reach Namru while dark rain clouds to the south force themselves over the Himalayan range marking the border to India. I find a restaurant and am happy to hear it is possible to sleep there.
The good night's sleep in Namru is suddenly interrupted in the morning when a young Tibetan woman forces the door open and four truck drivers rush in and immediately start playing Mahjong on the table next to my bed. Stakes seem high - 100 yuan notes are soon laying on the table. Astounded and completely taken by surprise, I don't complain, but fix a spoke, pack my bike in no time and get out of the place. I have not become used to the Tibetan way of privacy yet. The small pass just outside town turns out to be a killer, because I choose a very steep shortcut up instead of the switchboard road. Some 25 men are studying my lack of progress from the top of the pass and turn out to be measuring altitude of the road all the way from Ali. They show me their drawings, which look like Sisyphus' work, but could very well be part of an infrastructure project to upgrade the road with asphalt or a railroad, like the forthcoming Golmud - Lhasa railroad. Who knows - progress is also coming to Tibet.
The deep green landscape in the wide valley behind the small pass has clear marks of former intense rain in terms of dried out riverbeds and I am happy the rain season not has arrived yet. Keep on cycling until the twilight covers the area like a carpet and I choose to camp less 5 kilometers from a military camp with sleeping possibilities but also with unending opportunities for a spoiled sleep.
Packing the bike the next morning is now a fast process, due to a changed routine of how to pack things and by learning not to make a big mess inside the tent. I don't even consider attempting cooking on the stove, but just ride 6 kilometers to where the notes inform me about a small restaurant. The two old Tibetan women are at first shy, but quickly relax and the thickest and oldest soon falls asleep on a carpet-covered bench accompanied with high snoring sounds. I start working my way up a small stone pass after a quick meal and follow for a time a small river, with nomad tents doted along it. The road continues over another pass, more than 4800 meters and narrows abruptly into a gorge-like place with really bad road, and opens outagain just as sudden. This place is paradise for yaks and small communities of nomads are found along the road. I end up passing the same ever-growing river four times in sandals before I reach Mizar and a checkpoint for which only now do I formally have a travel permit.
The best sight for a long time turns out be a group of five backpacker girls arriving in town just before me. Especially the two Mexicans are really gorgeous, but somehow all my basic instincts in that direction vanished one month ago then my body suddenly realized a desperate need for energy, and food became the concern of everything. Still, then they tell they partied for two days with the gang of two in Ali, I consider for a moment to give the gang of two a treatment similar to the one the Chinese gang of four got a long time ago. Soon returning to reality in the local restaurant where we are, I discover that the food I ordered one hour ago is still missing. I complain in the dirty kitchen, but they just pretend not to understand until I give up and grab a package of instant noodles instead. The girls also tell me that the gang of two are now at Mt. Kailash, still doing their Kora and will leave the day after tomorrow. This is really big news and I decide to throw all efforts into reaching Darchen, the city lying at the foot of the mountain, by tomorrow. I have already found a guesthouse room, but the girls are traveling low-budget and use all their charm to make the owner of the restaurant soft in his knees to allow them to sleep on the floor for free. He tries to signal a no by ignoring them for a while, but it's an unequal game and he soon accepts with shifty eyes. Walk full of thoughts back to my guesthouse and have to kick a drunk landcruiser driver out of my room before I fall asleep dead tired.
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