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Crossing Tibet on a very small motorbike


Sitting with the village folks around their yak-dung-burners was the best way to spend an evening in Tibet. After being compelled to drink nine to ten cups of yak butter tea in one gathering, one finally acquires the taste, and surprisingly asks for more. Having many sets of eyes scanning my every move made me wonder what the locals were looking at. I wondered if it was the amount of equipment I had or if they silently pitied me for my dependencies on all the stuff I was carrying. But in the end perhaps they all new that I was in a difficult environment and I needed more than they did to cover the miles of their country. 

I had enough to survive in the extreme conditions of the high altitude, however riding bike in rain was never an easy bet to win in Tibet. At about lunch hour it started pouring pretty heavily and I had to park somewhere. It was too early to camp and too wet to continue. I was lucky to find a gir on the other side of the bike. I parked my bike right in front of the gir and was welcomed by the barks of the domesticated Tibetan mastiffs. There were two ladies, probably in their late twenties, with babies in their arms that stood in front of the entrance. The thought of leaving and not intruding the privacy of ladies ran in my mind. I smiled and waved a bye to them, I was glad to see the refection to my farewell. I was invited in the gir where an elderly lady took care of young toddlers. They offered me yak curd and loads of rice. After changing into drier clothes, I was able to notice the comfort and warmth that they lived in. They used sheets with western cartoons on them indicating the penetration of the other cultures. I never thought the women of Tibet would invite me for food like I had been so many times by the men. I did not see much difference in the role of the men and the women in the nomadic cultures. 
 
Geographically the place did not seem hospitable. The deceiving cold winds sometimes could have seemed unwelcoming. The absence of people and technology probably would have left me alone. Beaurocratic hurdles that almost kept me from putting a single step in Tibet were frustrating and demoralizing at times. But the clouds were always there to be seen all the way to the horizon meeting up with the land. Dead batteries in the laptop, ipod and positioning devices made my relationship with the ground, running inches beneath my feet, very intimate. Illegal entry with my camera equipment in Tibet that led me to villages where tourists do not go, allowed me to make friends that I spoke to using only our smiles and eyes. I can still remember very easily those dark blue skies with green grass, dotted yak figures in the horizon, asking me to come back again. 

I reached Lhasa after a 10 day motorcycle ride. It was not the city that I was expecting it to be. Heinrich Harrer certainly did not walk on these roads in the ´7 years in Tibet’ autobiography, which was later displayed in Brad Pitt’s movie. There are 4 lane roads with neon lights and foreign car dealerships to welcome one coming in the city. Potala palace has a huge park with sculptures, promoting Chinese communist agenda. The busy roads had expensive showrooms for jewels, clothes, traveling gear and all that one needs to feel the comfort and burden of a big city. The Tibetan pilgrims looked out of place when they prostrated in front of the Potala palace with honking 4wd´s running behind them. Lhasa, a place that I always wanted to go to, does not even exist in this time. Like the bitter aftertaste that one can feel as result of the Chinese oppression in the Tibetan experience, Lhasa mimicked that bitterness as a reminder that China is here to stay. 

With the miles accumulating on the odometer, I was ready to exit Tibet through the friendship highway that connects Lhasa to Nepal. I hitchhiked my way to small towns and stayed in hotels listed in the traveling books. This highway is very famous among the bicyclists all over the world as one may see plenty of teams riding all the way from Lhasa to Nepal. Shigatse and Lhatse offer nice stops for the travelers with plenty of hotels and their markets to restock the ration. This is busy area with population increasing as the Han-Chinese people are migrating here from the mainland china to enjoy the freedom of having more than two children. 

The area adjoining Nepal is where the Himalaya start. The northern side of the range is full of waterfalls, deep trenches and migrant laborers who are making and maintaining roads in the area. The last city on the Chinese side is under minded Zhangmu. It is not even remotely Tibet, however it is considered a part of it. 

Tibet for me ended a few moments before I entered Lhasa, which geographically is close to the center of TAR. I felt more in Tibet when I was not even in TAR and was in Qinghai. The nomads and monks populated the Tibet that I wanted to believe in. From lhasa till Nepal, tourists flock and the Chinese flourish. Luckily this made me ready to leave China and enter the subcontinent. My dream of visiting Tibet was fulfilled. Cultural freedom for Tibetans in their own land might just end up being an unfulfilled one. With the sound of the Tibetan prayers still loud in my mind, I crossed the border on foot. Fortunately, the Himalayas are full of love and life.

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