Entering the Back Gate to the Garden of Shangri-la

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We’ve called this often grueling trip from Chengdu, the Back Road to Shangri-la. A few days ago, we entered the high gate to the garden of Shangri-la. We topped out above 15,000 feet each day, and often stayed there for hours. We meandered the Tibetan Plateau, in company with yaks and Tibetans, surrounded by a landscape stippled with stupas, prayer flags, tiny wildflowers and singing mountain streams. Meadows of jade steepened up to fresh snow covered peaks, at least some days backed by a cobalt sky and cotton clouds.

At least one day was miserable with rain and we cut our day short, rain soaked and freezing, at an unheated roadhouse infested with Mahjongg playing and yelling, day off revelers. But those are not the things we will remember. We will remember the smiling Tibetan greetings of “tashi dele” from every roadside yak camp or a passing motorcycle, laden with bags of grain, and sometimes the whole family.

We will remember the hours long climb each day, each switchback revealing new wonders of high meadows and lines of blinding peaks. Then we begin the long descent through rock walled paddocks, friendly villages, and herds of yaks and deep gorges of evergreens, autumn coloring trees and roaring streams.

Do the people here live to very old ages? Are they always healthy and happy as the Shangri-la myth tells? No, they are mortals, increasingly invaded by the outside world, nudged into ways foreign to their culture and religion. But from the smiles on their faces as we pass, an exceedingly strange apparition from afar, the hearty waves and open-faced surprise, I know they are a happy people. We were told by one man that they don’t even think about the weather, no matter how bad, and it can be very bad! That tells me the Buddhist philosophy is real and alive in their lives. We’re not there yet, especially when it comes to weather!

So Shangri-la is in some measure real, at least here in the high meadows. There is much more to discover, much more to come.

Tibetan plateau

Tibetan plateau

Claire getting a hug

Claire getting a hug

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Lucky’s High Pass

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Lucky made it! I guess we can take credit for 16,000 ft. since we’re all on the same team.

We’ve been in the high meadows of the Tibetan Plateau, most days over 15,000 feet for hours; we have found the back garden gate of Shangri-la. Look for a longer post soon with lots of pictures.

Claire:
Poor Bob had to pedal by himself halfway to Sangdui because I was too busy kicking myself up the mountain. Can anyone tell me why one remembers something left behind only after you’re well beyond going back to retrieve it? My security blanket is gone, and it’s all my fault.

At the breakfast table, in the roadhouse where we spent the night, I left my packet of maps, phrases and our chopsticks. It was an envelope I clutched tightly anytime we were off the bike. Now, it was 30 kilometers back and 1000 feet down. We weren’t going back for it. So we’re without a good map until at least Shangri-la (Note: Bob was smart enough to photograph the road atlas pages, so we do have a backup). The phrases? I’ve mostly got down the basics enough to get us a room or a meal without my cheat sheets. And the chopsticks? Well, this is China.

Bob:
There will be more mountains to come, and some will probably seem harder than this one. Zippy is making strange noises from the drive-train, and we fear we have put him under too much strain this time.

We are sometimes tired, but feeling stronger every day. We’ve reached that magical three-week point in a long challenging bicycle tour, when we are in the zone, when we feel pretty much ready for anything.

The next post is one you won’t want to miss: we now know we have entered the high back garden gate of Shangri-la. The success was hard won, but all the more rewarding for the suffering.

It will be posted soon with lots of photos.