Thirty Minutes in Tibet

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The weather was pretty nice the other day. A much needed 24-hour break in the rainy season. My Israeli buddies had headed off on yet another trek, leaving me alone with sunny skies overhead. I did what anyone would do: lazed around for the morning and then cycled into Tibet.

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Tibet was never really on my “to do” list, for the reason that I started this trip more or less entirely without a “to do” list. Or at least, without a “places to see” list. It’s always the beauty that catches me by surprise that moves me most, so I generally avoid specific plans and the disappointment that comes with them.

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After we had gone our separate ways (for the first time), Mingyu wrote to me and said that he was contemplating returning to China, since he thought he would regret passing through China and the rest of Asia without seeing Shangri-la and Tibet. At that point, I didn’t have plans to go to either. Then, yesterday, I realized that the stars had aligned: the weather was perfect, my friends had left, I was planning to start my southward journey out of China the following day, and most portentously, exactly nine months to the day had passed since I had arrived in China. That, and the Tibet border was less than 40km from my guest house. After a lazy morning, I set out at about 2pm.

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I passed through some nice villages and eventually reached an army checkpoint. Despite being armed with machine guns, the soldiers were pretty friendly, taking me at my word that I’d ride the remaining 25km to the border and the turn around. No stern warnings, no threats, no deadlines, no nothing, just smiles and wishes for a happy journey.

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Not long after, I met this dude. Walking to Lhasa, camping and cooking on his own most of the way. I ran through the list of questions that people always assault me with: Where are you from? Where did you start? Where do you sleep? How long have you been on the road? It’s nice to have the tables turned! I would have liked to chat longer, but I didn’t know how long it would take me to reach the border, so I made tentative plans to meet him on my way back.

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Adventure! Washed out roads!

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Hrm. What could this be? No police presence. No “Yunnan Province” or “Tibet Province” written on the signs. Thinking that this couldn’t possibly be the border that’s so hard for foreigners to get across without permits, guides, and untold amounts of hassling, I just kept on chugging. Thoughts of what I’d say when I finally reached the police checkpoint filled my mind: “I know the sign says no foreigners, but the soldiers back there told me I’d have to go twenty-odd kilometers and the sign only felt like fifteen or so. Plus I knew I’d run into you. Thanks for understanding, I’ll go home now.” Thirty minutes later, still no police checkpoint. I stopped a guy on a motorcycle and asked him how far to Tibet. His answer: “You’re already in Tibet.” Thank god he didn’t place me under citizen’s arrest!

I backtracked to this checkpoint and looked up the blue sign in my dictionary. First character: “Dian,” somehow an abbreviation for Yunnan province. Second character: “Zang,” the second half of “Xizang,” which means Tibet. (I knew the first of the two characters, but couldn’t recognize the second). Third character: “Jie,” border. I should’ve known that one, since it’s part of the phrase for “world travel.”

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Time to celebrate! Nine months and 1.2 megameters after Mingyu and I first wheeled our bikes off of the boat at the port in Dalian, I at long last reached the promised land! Not only that, but the moment marked the official beginning of the end of my time in China. From here on out, it’s all southwards towards Laos.

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The next 400km will all be road that I’m backtracking along. Thankfully, it’s scenic no matter which way you look at it.

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What can I say? I love this place. I love my bicycle. I love my trip.

Oh, and I love my readers.

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I am indeed a lucky man.

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4 Responses to Thirty Minutes in Tibet

  1. alex kung says:

    Well done Mike! you are lucky man! Somebody wrote under “Dian Zang Jie”: “Meow! I love you 13.2.2013”

  2. wimdog says:

    Such a rebel. I’m so proud.