Culmination & Police escort, Days 308-316
In Litang we visit the big impressive temple. Since our Chinavisa ends soon and we know from read reports that the direct route to Chengdu is a very busy road, we decide to take the bus from Litang to Garze. On Monday morning at 9:00 clock we get on the bus to Garze. The two bikes we can easily put in the aisle and to our surprise for free, although the day before, the woman at the counter just shook her head when we explained that we want to take our bikes on the bus. We are amazed about the great tolerance of the other passengers, who have to lurch past the bicycles. After more than 7 hours of bumpy drive we arrive in Garze. The road was partly under construction and so we are glad that we have taken this section by bus. We like Garze right away. The city is surrounded by snowy mountains and there are many restaurants, various shops and a market. Although the whole city is covered with scaffoldings, we conclude from our observation that the façades are being renewed in a uniform and old-fashioned style to make the city more suitable for tourists.
The decision to cycle this section from Garze to Sertar pays off already on the first day. It is a lonely, new road with a great panorama. A short section is still under construction. The houses here are extremely beautiful. They are made of clay, stone and wood and painted in dark red color, blue and orange. Black storm clouds form in the sky and it is just a matter of time when it starts to rain. When we sit in a restaurant in Sitongda and have a snack, it rains. Once again we were very lucky 😀 It does not take long for the sun to show again and we pedal on a nice, small gravel road a few meters in the direction of our last, high pass and camp on a yak field.
The ascent to our last high pass at 4500müM is extremely nice. The view over the snowy mountains, the fir trees and the lonely temple with the golden roof make up for the effort. The descent on the gravel and through the construction site takes more time than we thought. Tired we find a nice place to sleep by the river.
When we want to leave the next morning, Andi noticed a broken spoke on his rear wheel. Luckily we already have experience and it is quickly replaced. We cycle along the bumpy piste along the river and long for asphalt. After Tarzé, a barrier blocks the way. Two policemen stop us and let us understand that we are not allowed to continue. They make a call and after a while, a third policeman comes who can speak some English. He tells us that Sertar and Larung Gar are closed to foreigners, why they can not explain. (We read on the website thelandofsnows.com that Larung Gar has over 40,000 monks and nuns living in small, rock-built houses. We have seen photos and it really must be very impressive, and the government ordered a massive reduction in 2016. We suspect that riots are being feared by foreign tourists and therefore this area, like Tibet, is being closed down.) The police are discussing what they should do with us. Since we are hungry, they offer us an instant noodle soup. Then it goes fast. A pickup truck is stopped, which drives us to the next police station in Sertar. We enjoy the bumpy road in the car.😀 In Sertar our bikes are loaded in a police car and in a second we follow. Since we still have to go shopping, the three policemen accompany us to the market and to the gas station, so that we can fill our gas bottles. While driving, our driver takes a selfie from us. In Larung Gar, the police make an extra stop for us and ask us to take photos of Larung Gar.
Back on the bike we enjoy it to destroy altitude meters. The gorge with the very beautiful, castle-like houses and the many Tibetan flags are beautiful. We also see some monkeys that do not fit into this alpine landscape. We agree that the risk of taking this path was definitely worth it! Shortly before it gets dark, we cycle and find a place to camp by the river.
Even if it always goes downhill, the track is tiring. The area does not change much, so we are all the more surprised about Guanyinqiao, which turns out to be a lively town. Here there are not many western tourists and so we pose countless times for selfies… After a rest day we cycle along the river to the next bigger town Ma’erkong, which is also very busy. It even has its own small marketplace just for the popular Chinese caterpillar mushroom. It is a tube fungus that attacks caterpillars. These are patiently collected by farmers and nomads and sold for a lot of money. They are used in Chinese medicine to treat cancer, lung, liver, kidney and circulatory complaints and to strengthen the immune system. They also have an aphrodisiac effect. Thus a true miracle cure against almost all the sufferings of the world 😀. From here we take the bus to Chengdu. We’re lucky we get a seat. Once again it was a good decision to travel this section by bus, as this is also a very busy narrow road with many tunnels and the highway is still under construction. After 7 hours drive we arrive happily in Chengdu and are warmly welcomed by our Warmshowerhost Justin. Deep into the night we exchange views with Coco and Violette, a Belgian cycling couple who are also Warmshower guests of Justin.
Max elevation: 4543 m
Min elevation: 493 m
Total climbing: 3451 m
Total descent: -6142 m