Riding the Roof of the World

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Parcero, Sep 5, 2019.

  1. Parcero

    Parcero Mundial Supporter

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    Like a kid waiting for Christmas, my excitement has been building for the last few weeks as I organized my gear to pack for a fly & ride tour to, Tibet, known as The Roof of The World. In addition to deciding what gear, clothing, and camera to bring and how best to pack, I have been reading up on Tibetan history, culture, geography, and cuisine.

    Nestled on the eastern fringe of China, Tibet hugs the north side of the Himalayan mountain range, along the border with Bhutan, Nepal, and part of India. Home to centuries-old Tibetan Buddhism and the exiled Dali Lama, the once-independent country has been under Chinese rule since 1951.

    The elevations are extreme. The Tibetan Plateau is called the Roof of the World for good reason. It has the highest points on the planet, and an average elevation of 16,000’. Lhasa, the capital city where we will begin our tour, is 11,995’ above sea level, and our planned route will take us to elevations close to 17,000’. Mt. Everest, the world highest mountain at 29,029’ is located both in Tibet and Nepal along the border. Climbing it or at least getting to base camp has always been a dream of mine, and if the weather is good I hope to at least get a good close look at it on this trip.

    Having “completed” my South American staged tour last fall, and having only ridden locally since then, I can’t wait to get on a bike in a new country, especially one as remote, as high, and as fascinating as Tibet.

    The tour is organized by MotoTibet, a new venture of the Colombian-based South American moto-touring heavyweight Motolombia’s new world-wide touring company, Motodreamer. They did an initial tour last May and it looked like an amazing experience, one that I wanted to be a part of.

    My flight plan is long—ORD-DFW-PEK-LXA, or Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, from Chicago by way of Dallas and Beijing. About 22 hours in the air. After a couple of days in Beijing to adjust to the 13-hour time difference and to sort out Chinese drivers licenses which are required for foreigners, it will be off to Lhasa. We’ll be there a couple of days for sightseeing and to acclimatize to the high altitude before getting on the bikes.

    All packed up and ready to go. There will be a support truck, but I like to carry my own gear. The Mosko Backcountry duffel will cinch down to a much smaller footprint once I take my boots and gear out.

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    Beautiful September sunrise as I wait for boarding at Chicago O’Hare.

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    For you aviation buffs, a sight that you soon won’t see. American Airlines is retiring the last of their fleet of McDonnell-Douglas MD-80s. Off to eternal rest at the aviation graveyard in the Mojave Desert.

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    Ciao, Dallas! B787-8 Dreamliner, take me to China!

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    After a very long day, I arrived in China, cleared immigration and customs with ease, and I’m off to my hotel to get my internal clock adjusted to the 13-hour time difference.
    #1
  2. TropicalDale

    TropicalDale The Adventures of Peter Pan

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    :lurk
    #2
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  3. Parcero

    Parcero Mundial Supporter

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    Beijing seemed welcoming and comfortable since I had been there before and knew my way around a bit. After an arrival day pretty much wiped out by jet lag, I managed to get a good night of sleep and woke up early the next day. I went for a long swim in the hotel’s pool. Totally refreshed, I was able to spend the whole day walking around, sightseeing and enjoying some really good food.

    First stop, The Forbidden City.
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    I had been there before, but there is just so much to see that I didn’t mind a second look. I saw quite a few things that I missed on the first trip, and my early arrival seemed to beat the crowds and it felt like I had many parts of the Forbidden City to myself.

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    Lunch in the Wangfujing area was great.
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    So was dessert!
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    Interestingly-named business.
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    I passed this place at least five times to check if it was open.
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    Back to the hotel to see if John, another rider on the tour, had arrived and afternoon coffee and Portuguese egg tart, freshly baked.
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    Back out on the street and, FINALLY, the Tibetan yak milk ice cream stand was open! It was worth the wait.
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    John arrived late in the afternoon and we headed out for an early dinner. The next day we had to leave for the airport at 4:15 AM.

    I was up way earlier than need be, excited to get to Tibet.

    We met the group a little before 5 AM and got checked in and through security with only minimal hassle, despite a few riders having there bags hand searched for batteries. The Tibet travel permit arranged by Motolombia was a hard requirement and needed to be inspected at every checkpoint.

    Time to go!
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    #3
  4. Hakatan

    Hakatan quality > quantity

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    Great start. Looking forward to seeing more!
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  5. alutii

    alutii n00b

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    Watching and planning vicariously....thanks for the posts and looking forward to how the rest of the trip goes
    #5
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  6. Switchglide12

    Switchglide12 Long timer

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    Cant wait to read the rest of the report.
    #6
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  7. Parcero

    Parcero Mundial Supporter

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    On our way to Lhasa, I noticed a group of people in the row behind me excitedly taking pictures out of the window. When I got my chance for a look, I saw several snow-capped peaks sticking out through the cloud deck below. Not the Himalayas, but some seriously talk peaks.

    We landed about 45 minutes later, reclaimed our luggage and went to migration. Our passports and the Tibet entry permit got us in, and we were soon out of the airport, warmly greeted by Tashi, our local tour guide. He presented us all with long white Tibetan khatas, a traditional greeting ritual.

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    The hotel is about an hour’s drive from the airport, and after checking in we walked to a restaurant for a traditional Tibetan lunch.

    Our hotel in Lhasa.
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    Buddhist prayer flags are everywhere.
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    Aloo gobhi.
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    Yak curry set thali.
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    Several of us took some time after lunch to explore the Barkhor market and neighborhood. The narrow streets and their endless shops and food markets offered a sensational array of colors, sounds, and smells.

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    Tibetan pastries—I couldn’t resist.
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    And cute kids.
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    A quick nap and then it was time for dinner, and a pre-ride meeting, even tough the actual riding won’t start for a couple more days.

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    Prayer wheels marked the entrance to the restaurant.
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    After dinner, it was back to the hotel for a somewhat fitful night of sleep dealing with the first night of acclimatization.
    #7
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  8. Nateman

    Nateman Adventurer

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    “On the road again
    Goin' places that I've never been
    Seein' things that I may never see again
    And I can't wait to get on the road again
    Here we go, on the road again
    Like a band of Gypsies we go down the highway...”

    Fantastic!
    #8
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  9. Parcero

    Parcero Mundial Supporter

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    After breakfast at the hotel I took a walk with a couple of others in the group to explore a little bit of the Barkhor neighborhood before we had to meet back at the hotel to go to the Potala Palace.

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    The Barkhor area is the old part of Lhasa, a labyrinth of narrow streets with both shops and homes. Not far from the hotel we saw a stand where they appeared to be selling tea. It turned out that it wasn’t tea, but juniper and other dried vegetation to be burned as an offering in the burner nearby.

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    John asked if it was okay for us, non-Buddhists, to participate. Given the official go-ahead, we each bought a ton of juniper and burned it.

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    We also walked into the entrance of a monastery where the faithful were walking around in a long train with prayer wheels in customary clockwise fashion. Our local guide Tashi later told us that it is perfectly acceptable for anyone to enter a Buddhist monastery, provided that men remove their hats and to always exit backwards, never turning one’s back to Buddha.

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    We met the group back at the hotel and boarded our bus for the trip to the Potala Palace, the more than 400-year old home to the Dalai Llamas, now a museum since the 14th Dalai Lama’s exile in 1959. It is also a World Heritage site.

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    We took the customary photos from the best vantage point across the street from the palace. It is from this angle that the image of the palace that appears on the current Chinese 50 yuan note was made.

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    Lots of people were taking photos of us, too.
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    We witnessed a traditional Buddhist couple taking wedding photos in front of the palace.

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    We made our way down to the palace itself, circling the palace clockwise with many local Buddhists, many of which we were told make this pilgrimage daily, circling the palace three times.

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    We stopped for tea in the park behind the palace, and sample both Tibetan sweet and buttermilk tea.

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    The local kids were all very friendly, inquisitive, and adorable beyond belief.

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    We stopped before lunch to watch some traditional dancing in the park behind the palace.

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    Then we continued our walk through Barkhor.

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    Another delicious meal after the palace walk.

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    We walked through the many streets of Barkhor as Tashi explained the culture and daily life of the Tibetan people.

    At a monastery, he explained that Buddhists are require to make a pilgrimage here once in their lifetimes, and many in Tibet come on foot, taking months to arrive.

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    And more exploring Barkhor.

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    Tourists being dressed and adorned in traditional garb and jewelry for photos.

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    The Uighur monastery and neighborhood in the Barkhor.

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    #9
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  10. Parcero

    Parcero Mundial Supporter

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    Not sure what was happening to my ability to attach photos to the report during the ride in Tibet, but being home now, I'm going to try to get this sorted out.
    #10
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  11. Parcero

    Parcero Mundial Supporter

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    Ok, have to try loading a test photo to see if this is fixed yet. Here goes...

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    #11
  12. Parcero

    Parcero Mundial Supporter

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    Seems that the photo issue might have sorted itself out since I am now stateside or perhaps Tapatalk—who by the way has really amazing customer service—might have had a hand in it.

    Now back to writing up this incredible journey!
    #12
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  13. zhousir19820815

    zhousir19820815 Adventurer

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    nice pictures.chian,the palace museum
    #13
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  14. Parcero

    Parcero Mundial Supporter

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    Thanks! Lots more coming once I sort out why I can seem to post more of them.
    #14
  15. Parcero

    Parcero Mundial Supporter

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    After a rest at the hotel I went out walking through another area of Barkhor, down narrow streets and alleys through mostly residential areas. It was interesting to see how the locals lived. They are all very friendly and welcoming. Lhasa isn’t a place where I ever felt in danger of any kind.

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    I bought a few souvenirs and then met the group for dinner. We picked a place on the way to the Potala Palace which we wanted to see at night.

    The palace was about two kilometers from the restaurant. Our walk took us past a more modern part of Tibet, with many shops and international brands.

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    I passed a place called One Yak, which sold yak meat and yak jerky. I bought some for the trip, since no motorcycle trip is complete without jerky of some kind.

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    The palace is spectacularly lighted at night.

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    After a lot of photos, we decided to take bicycle rickshaws back to the hotel. We asked for the price up front, which was quoted at 30 yuan per rickshaw, which held two passengers. When we arrived st the hotel and paid the driver 30, he said it was 30 per person. I don’t like being ripped off and told him he had a choice of 30 or zero yuan. Melinda, the other passenger, had a bigger heart than mine and negotiated a 45 fare. It was all part of the fun.
    #15
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  16. Parcero

    Parcero Mundial Supporter

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    The next morning we were up early to go meet our motorcycles at the Plateau Moto Club. The plan was to take our gear to the bikes, get them set up with our GPSs, phone mounts, whatever, and then do a quick test ride mostly to get a feel for the somewhat crazy traffic flow of Tibet.

    It looked like it was going to be a nice day from my hotel window overlooking the hotel’s prayer-flag draped courtyard.

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    The moto club was an impressive place. Located in a newer, seemingly more affluent neighborhood in Lhasa, the club was located among many new buildings, one home to the brand new and as yet not open for business BMW Motorrad shop in Lhasa. The bikes were all lined up outside, clean and shiny, and all where new or newer than two years old. The club also had an impressive clubhouse, and was stocked with motos of many brands, including Harley-Davidson, KTM, and some brand new sidecar rigs of a Chinese brand.

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    We were briefed on the bikes, our route, and safe riding in Tibet.

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    After our short ride, we returned to have a traditional Tibetan lunch before our full tour of the Potala Palace in the afternoon.

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    #16
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  17. Parcero

    Parcero Mundial Supporter

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    After lunch we left the bulk of our gear at the moto club and boarded a small van back to the hotel to regroup and then head over to the Potala Palace for a tour not just outside, but inside the immense, centuries-old, structure.

    The palace dates back to at least 1645 when the 5th Dalai Lama began construction. Since then, it has been the winter palace of Dalai Lamas from 1649 until 1959, when the Chinese attacked and the current Dalai Lama fled and had been in exile ever since.

    The palace consists of 13 stories of buildings built at 12,100’ above sea level, housing more than 1,000 rooms, 10,000 shrines and 200,000 statues, and thousand of stairs, which we climbed along its outside walls. It is now a USESCO World Heritage Site and museum.

    A group of visiting Buddhist monks wait to begin their tour of the palace.
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    The palace gardens where the our tour begins.
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    The monks are entering also.
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    From the inside of the gardens, the palace can be seen in all of its imposing size and splendor.
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    We begin our climb.
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    The views from the stairways improve with altitude, and we enter the courtyard were the Dalai Lama would address the people.

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    There are three stairways into the temple, the left for entering, the right for exiting, and the center is reserved for exclusive use of the Dalai Lama.
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    Photos are not permitted inside the temple, but we emerged on one of the higher terraces to see the views and other architectural features of the palace.

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    The Dalai Lama would arrive to the palace temple by horseback, and this is where he tied up his horse.
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    An old-style bathroom for monks—basically a hole and a long, vertical drop to the outside.
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    The walk down took us past souvenir stands where some employees were sleeping, and past more gorgeous views of the palace and Lhasa.

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    More prayer wheels and a chat with some locals.

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    We stopped for a break and for some more yak milk ice cream and Tibetan pastries.

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    After the palace I took another walk through Lhasa.

    Tibetan school kids getting picked up by their parents.
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    Another short walk through Lhasa, another great Tibetan dinner, and an early bedtime because tomorrow would be the first riding day.

    I just love Chinese-to-English translations.
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    #17
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  18. Parcero

    Parcero Mundial Supporter

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    After three days of acclimatization and sightseeing in Lhasa it was time for our first day of riding. We would leave the hotel after an early breakfast and head to the moto club to pick up the bikes. Tashi, our Tibetan guide, showed us the day’s route. We would be traveling to Shingatse, and our path would take us first to Yamdrok Lake, a sacred lake located at an elevation of 4,400m then past the Karola Glacier at 5,045m, and then on to Shingatse.

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    Leaving the hotel to go pick up the bikes, which are all lined up and ready.
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    First rest stop, and heading to the first high mountain pass of the day of about 14,500’.

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    The pass.
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    We arrived to Yandrok Lake, and its beautiful turquoise blue water.
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    After the lake, we stopped for lunch in Nagarze before heading to the glacier.

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    #18
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  19. Parcero

    Parcero Mundial Supporter

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    After lunch we began the ride to Karola Glacier. The roads were good (like most roads in Tibet) and the only issue was having to pass numerous trucks on the two-lane road.

    The glacier is visible from the road, and rather than hike up to it, we decided to simply take the bikes, something which Tashi quickly pointed out wasn’t legal. We ditched that plan about halfway up the two-kilometer ride to the base of the glacier.
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    Coming down the trail from the glacier.
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    A yak cooling himself in the river.
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    We rode over a pass to view the glacier from the other side. From that vantage point we were able to get an even better visit the glacier, and a local herd of yaks.
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    We were always popular with the locals, if not just because we were prime targets to sell souvenirs to.
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    Another mountain lake and hydroelectric dam on the way to Shingatse.
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    Our first gas stop. In Tibet, motos don’t pull up to the pump. Instead, they wait along the side of the gas station away from the pumps and attendants bring gasoline in cans to the motos. It took many trips with cans to gas up our fleet.
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    Typical Tibetan country house.
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    A roadside rest stop with beautiful views outside of Shingatse.
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    We arrive at the hotel in Shingatse. It is located next to the Tashilhunpo Monastery, is the largest and most influential Gelug monastery in the Shigatse Prefecture.
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    Attached Files:

    #19
    Pete S, AngusMcL and Scribe like this.
  20. Parcero

    Parcero Mundial Supporter

    Joined:
    Aug 7, 2008
    Oddometer:
    1,516
    Location:
    Chicago physically, Colombia en mi mente.
    The next morning we began our relatively short ride to Tingri. We will overnight there due to it's close proximity to EBC2, or Everest Base Camp, Tibet, where the plan is to visit the next day.

    Our hotel really was right up close to the Tashilhunpo Monastery. The views were better in the morning, and we could hear the monks chanting as they walked along the hillside paths spinning prayer wheels, illuminated by the many small bonfires along their route. We would have a chance to visit the monastery and explore Shingatse fully on our second night here in a couple of days.

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    Our first rest stop along the way. A brief stop for water and tea, and to stretch our legs.

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    Davide from Italy and John from the Chicago area.
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    Magnificent scenery is everywhere.
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    We stopped at the marker showing the point at which travelers are 5,000 kilometers (3,106 miles) from Shanghai, a testament to just how large China is.

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    We were instant celebrities, spending more time there the we really needed as we obliged all of the Chinese tourists who wanted to take pictures of us and with us.
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    Today's gas stop on the way to Tingri and before the high pass (5,198 m).
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    Lunch along the route. It's a good thing the menu is in pictures.
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    A curious kid.
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    After a long string of twisties and ever-decreasing temperatures, we reach the pass. My altimeter on my Garmin InReach indicates 17,252' ASL.
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    White khatas, traditional Tibetan ceremonial scarfs, and colorful Buddhist prayer flags are everywhere.
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    Little cabins on the pass that can be rented for overnight stays.
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    I mistakenly identifying of the peaks in the distance as Mt. Everest, but learn that we would not see that until the next morning. I also loose a push-up contest at 17,252', petering out at 41 compared to Dennis's 45. But then again, he's 30 and I'm 55, so I should have been given a several-push-up handicap.
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    John holds up the flag of his alma mater on the pass.
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    The locals want in on the photo op.
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    We stop in Lhaste for some sightseeing and a rest.
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    As always, prayer wheels abound.
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    Mt. Everest National Park, now renamed Mt. Qomolangma National Park, the Chinese Anglicized name of Mt. Everest.
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    A local villager checks us out.
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    We arrive at our hotel in Tingri, The Roof of the World Grand Hotel, a name which suggests far more than the hotel offered, but it was comfortable nonetheless.
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    After unpacking the bikes, Tashi suggested that we take the van to the local river, which is considered holy by the Buddhists and swimming in it once a year is thought to cleanse one's soul. Tashi swam and took a bath in the river, while John and I only waded into the cold water.
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    And some locals taking in a photo opportunity.
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    After our cold swim, it was back to the hotel's restaurant (seemingly the only restaurant in Tigri) for dinner and an early bedtime.
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    Not much on the amenities, but the hotel did have oxygen generators, a common fixture in the higher-elevation hotels in Tibet. I didn't partake.
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    #20
    Nateman likes this.