My roomie is still not good. I think his red glowing ring resulted in another midnight emergency air drop of loo roles. This morning the toilet looked like it’s full of spent artillery shells. Empty rolls everywhere and a ferocious fart fog hanging in the air. Tonight though he is feeling well enough to clip his toenails. I have a phobia about nail clippings. Ever since I found a fingernail clipping in a curry… He is merrily clipping away and pieces are flying around the room like shrapnel. Shit, there goes a mirror. Bugger, that was close. There’s a big toenail embedded in my headboard. Ping, bollocks, there’s the TV now. This is going to cost us a fortune.
China has been really monotonous so far and it’s really getting to me. That and the hawking. Dirty fuckers. They all walk about sounding like they’re preparing snot cappuccinos before putting a finger on one nostril and launching huge bogie bombs onto the pavement. Dirty dirty feckers. Anyway – we saw some more of the wall yesterday along side the road, playing hide and seek suddenly running away into the distance and disappearing then later reappearing peaking over a mountain before disappearing again. The word is there are big sections near here so I enter into negotiations with the guide to go off piste and hunt it out.
After protracted discussions and phone calls I agree to give him his bollocks back if he takes a little detour and gets us up close and personal with it again. He grabs the little warm bag and refits his balls as best he can. I just hope he’s got the left and right correct as I forgot to mark them. He leads us out to section in a little village. It must have been just such an amazing and imposing sight so come across. Here it’s about 20ft tall, maybe 12ft thick and in pretty good nick for it’s age. Take a few more pictures and get out onto the expressway. They’re getting less and less happy about this as we go further and further east. Lots of shouting and pointing as you just ride though the barriers and the alarms all go off. Trick is to ride up behind a truck on tick over then skip through as they open the barrier. I never thought I’d be ignoring the police out here but if you just front it out they don’t do anything. I was coming out of town this morning alone and a policeman pointed me into a checkpoint. I just shook my head and rode straight past. Nothing. I think the traffic police are the lowest echelon and just uniform fillers. I’ve been followed several times on the expressways but not stopped…yet.
I was warned by a guide in Kyrgyzstan that satnavs become less and less useful the further east you go as the roads are being rearranged on a daily basis and sure enough it didn’t know WTF was happening for a while today when I came off the expressway and went native. Today’s target is a bit off piste. Really nice to get onto the local roads though. Slow, small, rutted and gouged, busy, lovely local roads. Poverty you don’t see at 80mph and 100ft. Smells and sounds of humans at work. Not a bad town today and sat astride the big lazy Yellow River. Out to eat and three of us end up at a local joint with little private sections like old train carriages. Within minutes we have a crowd outside queuing up, taking it in turns to come and sit with us for pictures, just like Father Christmas. As we get more and more off the tourist route, the more we appear to be celebrities and we get photographed where ever we go. Very odd sensation. I really don’t like being in front of a camera. My place is definately behind it.
Fog, cold, rain and wind, excellent. I need something to think about and this will do nicely. Two options today and we deliberatly pick the worst one over a mountain with shit roads, ‘fuck me’ drops with no barriers, mud, gravel and plenty of water. Really cold too. Such a welcome relief after all the last few days. Lovely scenery hovering in the mist. Occasional villages with people scratching a living. Dark holes with people moving about doing christ knows what, just staying alive. Still smiling through the rain and dirt. Later it’s another slow climb up to to an isolated mountain town with a huge monastery. Lots of Tibetan temples along the road and their influence is really clear here. The little coloured flags fluttering horizontal and the wires bending into huge arcs with the strong cold wind. A stone grey sky flattens the scene and drops the temperature still further. Hotel has entrance at the front, parking at the back, nothing strange there. No back entrance though and a 5 minute walk to the front so someone opens a toilet window and we pass all the luggage through and try not to drop anything in the squalid squat pit under his feet. Really nice feel to this hotel. Little cosy dark rooms and narrow corridors. I turn on the tap in the bathroom and my feet get wet. The sink isn’t attached to anything underneath and it just flows to the floor. No electric either so someone climbs up a ladder and sparks it all in to life. This is what I like. Forget the anonymous anodyne accommodation that disappears from your memory the moment you exit the door, these places provide perfect punctuation marks on a journey where you want to remember and never forget.
Walk up to the monastery as the sun begins to drop and the sky begins it’s decent through darkening shades of grey. Watch the worshippers trawl along the prayer rolls. Left to right we go, clockwise round the complex. The wheels are never still for long as stream of worshippers flow past with their arms out. There are also plenty of people actually crawling slowly round. Lying face first flat on the floor, then up to their knees, then shuffle forward and flat down on their face again, chanting and gesturing as they go. We’re told some people actually do this all the way to Lhasa, pulling little carts behind themselves. At the monastery they go round three times – about 6 miles, and 9000 prayer wheels. How can it possibly be worth it? Some of the people are badly crippled and can barely stand. Some have infants either strapped to their backs or tottering alongside crying as their parent slowly scrapes and grovels along the cold earth seemingly towards salvation. Many many monks too of course. This is a training monastery where the never ending journey begins. A strange place to see for sure, and a definite atmosphere surrounding the whole area.
We go out to look for a place to eat in the deep deep dark and rain but its late and we don’t find anywhere except a hole in the wall with the flames and the hiss of flash frying. It tastes OK though. We notice that it only has a sad face safety rating though. Oh poo….. probably
Woken by rain thrashing at the roof and and dancing in the street below. We’ve been pretty lucky with the weather so far so no complaints. Very cold up here though and we’re only going higher today too. Another small monastery town today perched somewhere high in the mountains. A few hundred years ago this whole area was part of Tibet. The people have dark nutty complexions and look very distinctive, often they have thick wiry hair too. Proper hard bastards they are living up here. Out across the plains and it’s brutally inhospitable. Up at about 3500m it must be an excruciating existence for a large part of the year for both the humans and the animals alike. It’s titting down and blowing a gale but they’re walking around in their traditional garb, just getting on with it. I’m cold and wet with nice modern waterproofs and they’re riding about in wool jumpers, no gloves or helmets and surviving. The human body is a really remarkable thing. The destination is a rough town with water flowing fast down gullies in the streets. It’s dominated by another monastery at the very top with the town worshipping at it’s feet. Hotel has no hot water but thats a small grip in comparison with the squalor a lot of the locals seem to live in. For all it’s aspirations to become a modern country an project a perfect image, there must be thousands of little towns like this where anything other than survival is a bonus.
Just a short hop across a national park today. It snowed last night and it’s all beautiful and picturesque, just the way I like it. I’m doing loads of panoramas with the phone on this trip and this place is perfect for that. I’m in awe of the technology working through a tiny 5mm piece of glass – it’s just incredible. Just as cold today and all the animals have put their winter woolies on, including the yaks. How is it that an animal can look so heavy? There are millions of them up
here. I help reduce the population later by eating a yak kebab at a deserted roadside shack. The meat tastes mainly of salt and the cooking spices but its very dark red and dense. Hope it doesn’t come back as a yak attack on my bowels later. Down out the clouds and into Suppang, another valley being filled with concrete. Famous for it’s yak meat, the main street is just racks and racks of yak hanging outside the shops, 2ft away from the trucks providing the perfect diesel fume marinade. Some of the meat looks like it’s been there since prehistoric times and feels so hard that I doubt you could drive a nail gun into it. Flippin stinks too. Yak burger for dinner, no surprise, and it tastes ok. Don’t get meals with such a high meat content out here very often so get it where you can. I’ve been properly hobbling for the last couple of days. I thought I had a splinter in my foot so I went about digging it out with some tweezers and cutting skin off with some nail clippers. It looks like I’ve trodden on a tiny land mine. Today I found I’ve stood on a drawing pin and its in the sole of my shoe, it only comes through when I walk. What a stupid knob:)
South today. The survey for the road must have been done from a boat. The tarmac tracks the water for about 100 miles and chases it through gorges and valleys down and down and down. The mountains are huge and jutting and look like the teeth in the jaws of a massive mouth. Road is lovely and smooth and curvy and fun until an Audi Q7 gets involved. Unless you witness this kind of driving you can’t explain it. There is room for everyone but some people want your room too. It’s beyond mental. Coming through with absolutely no consideration for anyone else he comes barging through the bikes and is literally millimeters from my panniers and engine bars as he forces me off the road in a blaze of horns. He’s driving so close that even the slightest hesitation is going to cause contact. I don’t advocate this kind of behavior, getting involved with these idiots, but he’s really pissed me off so just for kicks I follow him.
He’s getting more and more wound up taking bigger and bigger risks until he might as well just drive on the opposite side of the road 100% of the time regardless. So I overtake him. Not my best idea. Stream is coming out of his windows now and I can feel the hate burning through me. He’s completely lost it and it very quickly becomes apparent that he is going to fight to the death. I’ve never seen anything like it. Looking in my mirrors it looks like I’m being hunted by some terrifying teutonic terminator transformer cross breed as it climbs and claws its way up and over everything in its way in an effort to catch and kill me. I pull out, accede and leave him to spread his terror somewhere else. He’s not going to survive very long by the looks of it.
Take the old road today with the expressway criss crossing above our heads. Everyone is racing down the valley and by now the river is a swirling mass of water tumbling over and over itself like a panicking crowd trying to escape. This whole valley was devastated by an earthquake in 2008. It must have seemed like Armageddon. The mountainsides are boarding on vertical and boulders the size of houses came down like rain, destroying everything. The mountains still show long vertical scars and the river bed is littered with debris and disaster. It’s all new now but I have to wonder why they just didn’t move out and hand the keys back to mother nature. It’s only a matter of time…
Tonight’s hotel is the first one I’ve seen openly advertising an ‘hourly rate’. It’s opposite a KTV place so I guess that’s why. It was these Karaoke TV places that were in our hotel a while ago. Apparently they do ‘lady takeaways’ too…. They’re big business over here and they’re all over the place. Prostitution is rife which has really surprised me, as is their obsession with anything that they think will keep the bone in their boners. Herbs, bits of roots, animal claws, berries, weird looking flowers, anything that they can shove down their trousers and keep the thing alive and kicking. They’re obsessed. I’ve got panniers full of the flippin stuff….
Up early to go to Chendu and the giant panda breeding centre. Chendu is BIG. Really really enormous. As we go in we begin to disappear into the all enveloping smog. It’s oppressive and puts every view behind net curtains. You can see outlines of planes flying over but their detail is lost. It’s making my eyes sting too. The motor madness knows no bounds round here so you have to be really aggressive. Aggressive as in banging on windows, deliberately blocking drivers then pointing fingers and shaking fists. The women are worst. They absolutely will NOT make eye contact with you and just drive straight into your lane regardless of whether you’re along side their window. You have to hold your nerve and jink your battered dirty panniers towards shiny new metal and they usually back off. People cross the road randomly and deliberately don’t look. They face away from the traffic and walk. The traffic just has to stop/avoid/flatten them. Mental and very wearing. Eventually get to the breeding centre – 40 miles – nearly 3 hours. All the adults look like they’ve been up all night watching panda porn and popping out samples. They’re all flat out and asleep. There is an enclosure for all the adolescents though and as its about 11am they’re just getting up. Not seen this many together before. It’s pandemonium though of course with tourists falling over one another to get selfies rather than look at the animals. Red pandas too, and babies. A really good place to visit and only £6 entry too. I buy a load of pandafanalia for the kids and we’re ready to go. 1pm, about 80 miles, easy. Now…. as I said, Chendu is simply huge. 16 million people huge. A quarter of the UK population huge. Couple that with the fact that it also seems to be the regional centre for the ‘vehicular homicide’ course, and the fact that it seems to be a test day. Its like motorway jousting, or car rugby. Fucking insane. The city goes on forever and the fun never stops. Tension in every muscle and eyes on high alert. Takes 5 hours to get to . Journeys like that give me no other pleasure than just staying alive. Out to eat late, only one place open and it’s the usual DIY stuff we’ve been seeing for ages. They put a huge bowl of water with fish heads in the centre of the table and set it boiling then you get plates of stuff to chuck in and cook yourself. It’s a non selective operation, just check everything in and then take a lucky dip. I’m so lucky I get a whole chicken’s head. Deeeeelicious. Go for a massage after. Very late, head through some dark doors where some women are playing cards. Decision time. Stay or go. I’m with another bloke and we ask for a menu. 1 hour £4. This is going to be interesting. WTF will you get for £4? Someone to comb your hair for an hour, in which case I should get a discount. Maybe squeeze your hand and have a chat? Up to a room that looks like an operating theatre. Lights off. Hello… Tops off. Ours, not theirs… and WHACK, off we go. Jeeeessus. It feels like I’m being run over with a train, then pulled along behind a truck, followed by 10 minutes being put through a mincer and 30 minutes feeling like an empty tube of toothpaste that someone is trying to get the last bit out of. Christ, what an experience that was. She ended up standing on the table grabbing my arms and trying to fold me in half. At the end she was dripping with sweat and panting like a Labrador left in a hot car. The best £4 I’ve ever spent.Next Page