POISONED BY RIVER WATER AND A COURGETTE....
Greetings from, well, in all honesty, not all that far from where 2wheels last assaulted your inboxes.
It has been a month, and what a month. So much has happened. Not much of it to me, though.
Once upon a time, a long time ago, I arrived in a town called Dege feeling very ill.
When I was well enough to look out of the window, it didn't take long to figure out what had made me sick.
Or, it wouldn't have done, had there been a window to look out of. Staggering into the first hotel that would take me, I lacked the strength to lug my bike upstairs, so I took a basement room.
|Poisoned by a courgette from this stall!|
What had made me sick was under-boiling my morning's noodle-water - water I had taken from the rather pretty little river 30 kilometres downstream from Dege.
Thirty kilometres upstream from Eddie's Breakfast Diner, Dege's riverside residents pump their sewage directly into the river. No reason why not, I suppose - it's their river, after all.
It's just that, downstream, it's not just the odd itinerant cyclist who can't be bothered to power-boil his noodles into goo that suffers, it's about 100 million people who live along the Yangtze. They all get the benefit of Dege's effluent, and Dege's garbage, too.
Dege, I should say, is sadly not pronounced Deeeg or Deeeej or Derje or even Diga. Duhguh is nearer the mark.
Well, Dege was graced by my presence for a month, during which time I felt sometimes better, but mostly worse. The day before I left, I was poisoned by a courgette. Life is rarely dull.
|A Monk dancing with human scalps|
In between times, I watched monks dancing with human scalps; thanks to the sleuthing skills of Richard Spencer at the Daily Telegraph, the plot on this front is thickening.
Between Dege and Manigango, there are two things.
One thing is a road construction hut where I spent the night. During dinner, a Tibetan truck driver pulled over for a water top-up and a packet of biscuits. He asked me to say Hi to the Dalai Lama, and could I change some money for him.
He had a 500 Peruvian Zloty note. Maybe they're not called zlotys; I forget. In any case, they were Peruvian. I told him sorry, but maybe he should try Paddington Bear.
How do 500 Peruvian Zlotys wind up circulating on the edge of Tibet? I found the answer a couple of weeks later over in Qinghai province.
But first, the second thing between Dege and Manigango.
The second thing is the Que'er Shan Pass, at 5050 metres the highest point on my road from China back to Exeter.
|The highest point on the road to Devon|
My assumption that it would therefore be downhill all the way home was rather undermined by the fact that I had to cross another four passes over 4500 metres in the next four days. This did not make for easy going since I had thrown away my pedals.
But the sun shone and all was rather pretty; unfortunately I forgot to put my Biker Mouse shades on, and got snow blindness for my troubles, which isn't particularly recommended.
Manigango is the sort of town that would be a one-horse town, were it not for the fact that the place is crawling with horses.
The other problem with Manigango is that it scans with Tipperary, which makes it very difficult to cycle there without 'It's a long way to Manigango' going round and round and round and, quite frankly, round, in your head.
I had similar problems on the road to Ulan Bator (Mongolia) and Uttaradit (Thailand), but it's much worse at altitude.
A couple of days later I was up in the far north-western corner of Sichuan, heading east. The wind was in my face.
The road turned north-east. Headwind.
Then north. Headwind.
Then north-west. Headwind.
Then west. Headwind.
Then southwest. And I had, yes, a headwind.
Can anyone tell me what was going on there? I didn't know that Messrs Sod, Murphy and Butterside-Down had a franchise operation going in China.
Armchair physicists like to talk about the butterfly effect, whereby the flapping of a Bolivian butterfly's tiny wings can send a typhoon sailing up the South China Sea, or a small hurricane into a beleaguered cyclist's face.
So, to any Bolivians reading, a request: could you encourage your local lepidoptera to beat their little winglets to a different tune, please?
The final stretch of headwind brought me, chilled and chafed, into Shiqu, which must be the remotest, coldest, bleakest, why-the-hell-did-you-built-it-there-est county town in all of China.
But it had a nice hotel. With radiators. No heat in the radiators, but they were a nice touch, all the same.
|Crossing the provincial border to Yushu|
Another nice little pass took me over the provincial border to Yushu, a Tibetan town with a monastery, a sorry-looking statue of a yak, and a bakery that does a nice line in sweet greasy buns. Cyclists like sweet greasy buns. Full of vitamins.
But the main thing about Yushu is that it is full of zloty-wielding Peruvians.
I parked the bike for a day and hoofed it up into the hills with Peter, a non-Peruvian American whose job, or fate, or something, it is to teach English to the unsuspecting locals.
Up on the mountainside, we saw a body, face-down on the slope, red-jacketed, ankle cocked awkwardly, unnaturally poised, unmoving, unbreathing. We crept a little closer, keeping low, whispering: embarrassed, uncertain, perhaps a little frightened in the face of death.
The man must have fallen down the day before, we thought; drunk perhaps, and frozen during the cold, high altitude night. It is still winter up here.
For a long time we said nothing. Then Peter suggested we call to him, to be sure.
Tashi dele! Hello! Ni hao!
We whisper-shouted to a corpse lying with its face buried in the frozen mountainside, a small bag still half-clutched in an outstretched hand.
And we saw the body rise, sit up, look at us, blink, and smile, and we apologised for waking him: an interruption, or a miracle.
Well, as reported on my meteoblog this morning, the wind has just turned to the east, so I have run out of excuses not to get out of town.
Panniers brimful with greasy sweet buns, I am going to change some spokes (I've been riding with three broken ones in the back wheel for who-knows-how-long) and get myself east before the wind figures out what I'm doing and does a one-eighty on me.
Next stop: the beautifully-named Golmud, hometown of China's potash-mining industry and possibly also of that slimy swamp-creature from the Lord of the Rings.
See you there, chaps.