It was about 525km from Dege to Yushu – across the border from Sichuan to Qinghai. Devastated by an earthquake in 2010, Yushu would be the last big town before many lonely days crossing barren plains to Golmud. Sitting in the monastery and sipping tieguanyin in the teahouses in Dege brought me back to life pretty quickly, but I was still bone-weary. First up there was a 5000m pass to get over.
I set off to do a short day to the bottom of the climb, and met a cyclist coming the other way. He was adamant that the pass was awful and I should definitely take the tunnel. I nodded along vociferously, without the energy to argue, and after another 15km made a swift turn to follow a sign to the “Karma Inn” in vain hope. One hour later, after a tour of the almost finished Tibetan museum and hotel, I was getting fed hunks of yak meat and an awesome middle aged guy was singing songs to the six of us around the outdoor table. He was keen to show off his English, which consisted of (shouting):
- Long live Chairman Mao.
- Chairman Mao is our paramount leader. Long, long life for Chairman Mao.
- Workers, soldiers, peasants
That was all, he explained, because he had only been to the first three classes. After that the cultural revolution interrupted his studies and he didn’t have to go to school anymore. His pronunciation was pretty good though, except “workers” came out as “wankers”. He loved Mao, saying that without him China would still be in the slave era, and could recite pretty much all of his poetry. After an awesome dinner with the bosses and the builders, they let me sleep in an equally awesome small house.
Newly refreshed, a breakfast of tsamba (roasted millet flour and yak butter tea made into a dough) helped me studiously ignore the inviting tunnel with the newly paved road. I headed up onto a packed dirt track for the 1200m climb to the top. It went pretty smoothly. The friendly lorry drivers edging around the narrow roads would smile and offer me fruit or water, and I even made it to the top before dark. Short of breath and shattered I promptly got mobbed by three full cars of Chinese tourists, the most yuppyish of which were cruising in a £100,000+ bright orange hummer. Half an hour posing for presumably terrible pictures followed as I fumbled about trying to locate a missing glove.
It was a huge contrast with the surroundings. Heading towards this part of Qinghai there seemed to be more poverty, and I was starting to be much more of a novelty. Twice I looked up from my noodles to find 5 or 6 people pressed against the invariably steamy window of the restaurant grinning widely, and passing the tents of families gathering chongsao I would get mobbed by joyous kids running alongside the road. I was treated to dinner by two teenage monks, stayed in the home of a young family that had just descended from the mountains for the evening, and took a day off to visit the nearby Yaqing Monastery, arriving with dozens of pilgrims prostrating themselves every three steps on their long road to Lhasa.
I got to Yushu in the afternoon of the 10th day. After about 4 hours summing up the energy to have a shower, I consumed a three person portion of barbecue, icecream, popcorn, two whole packets of dried fruit, 4 beers and a pack of chocolate biscuits. There followed two days off with coffee and cake in between huge platters of noodles. Made it!