Lhasa’s Sera Monastery

Cycling on top of the world in Tibet. Words: Bridget Ringdahl

think it was when I was attacked by a knife-

wielding (‘hinese cyclist in a shabby little

truck stop on the plateau ol’Tibet that I began to wonder il' I really was a little mad to have tackled the Friendship Highway alone and on a bicycle. The ‘highway‘ is more like a dirt track covering an amazing 9()()km which joins Lhasa. the capital of Tibet. with Katrnandu in Nepal. 11 crosses live major passes. l‘our of which are well above 5()()()m. traverses the backbone of the Himalayas. oll‘ering views of liverest‘s north face and other spectacular landscapes.

The route is known as the ‘Friendship Highway". quite why I'm unsure. as my experiences were often so contradictory and extraordinary. In fact. when I look back. the whole trip was an amusing sequence of tests. from children hurling stones to being chased by wild dogs. Certainly my most awl‘ul encounter was when l was woken by the ‘l‘reak' at the small truck stop. holding me down with knife drawn. The whole episode remains a blur. but I was fortunate that l l‘ought him oll‘ and survived with a not—too- seriously-cut hand. 'l‘hor'oughly shaken. I had no other option btit to cany on. still a little unneryed. with the scenery as the redeeming lactor.

That night I met a Tibetan couple at a little riverside house. The welcoming woman offered me a bed on her mud floor with a fantastic view of the river and sunset. 1 later joined her husband

1 18 THE LIST ‘5' cur—J Aug; 21‘

and li‘iends for simple thtrgkpa (bowl of noodles) while they sang my l‘avourite Tibetan prayer song.

There were the serious physical challenges too. The (iyatso-la pass (5320111) was a climb I shall never forget. (iasping on oxygen-thin air. I felt the draw ol~ sleep like a drug in the l'ree/ing cold. Alter a three-hour slog l was rewarded with a 3(i()-degree view of snow-capped l'limalayas and waving prayer l'lags. limotional moments like these evoked feelings of awe and respect for these magnilicent mountains and l‘or the people

The whole trip was an

amusing sequence of tests, from children hurling stones to being chased by wild dogs. the

who struggle against great physical odds to survive. let alone dealing with (‘hinese suppression and discrimination.

Food on the Tibetan plateau leaves much to be desired. though i wasn‘t expecting much. knowing how dillicult it is to grow food at this altitude. Once I was summoned oil the highway by two old shepherdesses tending to their goats. I

joined them relaxing on a grassy little patch in

the sunshine eating tsampa (dry barley flour) and

lone on a bike

washing it down with yak butter tea. They were so generous and although there was no spoken conversation we made ourselves understood by gestures. lots oi laughing and more yak tea. and they" sent me on my way with a couple ol kilograms of tsampa to add to my load.

My last lew days involved the climbing ol‘ two more serious passes along endless switchbacks through the rain and l'r‘ce/ing conditions. It is alter these passes that the road drops into the most beautiful valley: btrt no one mentions the valley headwindsl These brutal winds ensure that you have to peddle down the descent. l‘ortunately with gravity and gradient on your side.

Nepal welcomes you with ltlshness oi hrolil'ic vegetation and cascading waterl‘alls and. ol‘ course. the l‘amed chocolate cake in Katrnandu which had been an incentive for me. Arriving in Katrnandu was a bit of a mind blow alter spending time in desolate and beautiful Tibet. Suddenly I l‘ound mysell‘ in the tourist mecca ol Thamel. surrounded by cybercal’es. llashing neon lights. shops and more shops. This all blurred into the background as l was filled with a sense of euphoria. I had done it: I had cycled the whole of the Friendship Highway solo.