19/10 It's very cold in the morning, but once we get down into the valley and the sun comes out it actually gets quite hot. We continue along the Brahmaputra river on a dirt road to Nang. This is quite close to the Indian border and we get soon cornered by the cops, who tell us which hotel we must stay in and that it is forbidden to take photos. After Nang there are road works and so we resolve to leave early in the morning, otherwise the road might be closed all day.
Note how powdery the sand is.
20/10 At 7h in the morning (Beijing time) it is still dark when we leave. After some road works there is excellent tar seal, brand new. It is very cold. We ride through a beautiful gorge and in the distance we can see a big snow-covered peak, but it is too dark and cold to really enjoy and in theory we are forbidden to take pictures. If we thought we had seen the end of the road works we soon find out otherwise. Most of the 150 or so km to the next town are under reconstruction and we have to negotiate deep sand, a couple of fords and some real off-road tracks. I don't know how the oncoming VW Passat cars manage to get through these. In one of the deep sand patches I drop my bike, but to make up for it I manage to ride up the other side, where the others got stuck, so there! At lunch time the road is blocked by a big tarsealing machine, which is being used to spread earth. Cars and trucks line up either side of it, only the bikes can get past. We are not allowed to continue without our guide, as we are in a restricted area. After lunch a couple of cars manage to sneak past, but one of them damages the machine and the workers block further cars. In the end we all go to talk to them and as we are foreigners they let us through - but nobody else! In Dungdor we stop for lunch and our guide and driver get harassed by police again. From here on the highway is excellent and we reach Bayi in no time at all. It's been pretty cold here, despite being at only 3000m altitude, but at least the sun has been shining often. However, Bayi sits near the top of a broad valley and the clouds brew together here. In the Internet cafe we are denied access, because we don't have a Chinese internet card.
21/10 Winter has arrived overnight. It is grey, cold and wet. When the clouds lift a bit I can see snow on the hills, not 200 m higher than we are. Rainer is rather sick today, so it's a no-brainer to stay here today. Dorje asks in 5 internet cafes, but nobody is allowed to give access without some magic card. Apparently, the govt. has tightened access because of a big Communist Party Conference and this is set to stay like this for another fortnight. Great, we are stuck and incommunicado. We go in the car to the Lamaling monastery.
22/10 Things are looking up: Rainer is feeling better, the sun shines through the clouds, although it is still cold. Because of Rainer's health we stay another day. After asking in about 20 shops we find a bolt suitable to replace Gilles' lost wheel bolt. I can't get a replacement for my fuel line Y-joint, though. We walk into a net cafe and get access without problems.
23/10 We leave Bayi, cross the Sikkim La (4556 m) and descend again to Tangme. The changes in vegetation are incredible, from lush green forest to barren highlands and back down again. In Tangme I see a banana tree - at 2050 m altitude. The lush greenery continues and we find a nice camp spot hidden away from the road. As there is plenty of dead wood we can make a camp fire.
24/10 Just like the difference in scenery and vegetation so there are great differences in temperature between day and night. We can only really appreciate this when camping. We are at just under 3000 m altitude, but in the morning everything is iced up. The road climbs again, turns to dirt for a while, then we reach lake Rawok Tso at a little over 3900 m. It's cold and windy here, but very pretty. We ride up through what used to be a very pretty narrow gorge, but the road is in a gallery almost all the way, so it's not so pretty any more and we can't see much through all the pillars anyway. Yet more high passes to cross: Ngajuk La at 4460 m and Gama La at 4644 m. The climb to the latter is dirt and dust with lots of switchbacks and a surprising amount of traffic. We have been spoilt, as most of the time we have the roads more or less to ourselves. It's almost dark as we pass Pomda and climb another high plateau. There is a hotel in Pomda, but the map shows hot springs not far away and the others want to camp. I haven't been this cold on the entire trip. Despite asking the locals repeatedly we can't find the springs and camp beside the road.
25/10 It was a very cold and for me sleepless night. I'm equipped for the tropics, not the Arctic. We pass Chudra, which boasts the highest civilian airport in the world (4364 m), then cross two more passes, Lang La (4525) and Nya La (3492). From here it's an easy ride to Chamdo.
26/10 We visit the big Kalden Jampaling gemba, where 800 monks live. It's a lively place with lots of pilgrims, but for me "temple overload" has already set in. Gilles talks me into buying a warm sleeping bag.