Reaching the Tibetan Plateau

Our final mountain pass as we left the lowland plains and desert behind was at 3300metres, one of those at what feels like dizzying heights with no safety rail and viciously cold winds blowing. I looked out and all I could see were mountains...“Blimey, it’s hilly” I thought. And then mentally kicked myself as I realised I was gazing at Tibet- the home of the Himalayas and of course it’s going to be bloody hilly!

After 50 miles of no settlements or people except for the road work gangs, it was a relief to find a cafe where we had drinks and then joined the queue to clear the checkpoint into Tibet. Things still looked pretty civilised at this point, clearing the checkpoint we passed some mountain camels who obligingly posed for photos, before reaching some major roadworks. We had to inch our way past diggers and JCBs through thick mud with sheer drop offs to the frozen river a hundred feet below. Wherever possible we tried to get through on the inside edge of the track rather than the outer one. At one point we had to pull over on a narrow ledge overhanging the river as a convoy of more than 30 trucks slowly rumbled through. The delay was frustrating; it was turning into a very long ride to reach our destination. On and on we climbed and reached another high pass this one at almost 5000metres where the rain and drizzle started and apparently off to our right would have been views of K2, except our visibility was severely reduced. As a group we got stuck behind a pair of jeeps, after 15 minutes of this, I rode to the front of the group and beeping my horn, let the jeeps know we were coming past them and just took off down the track. The rest of the group following me as best they could. It was a wild ride down through the hairpin bends on gravel and then multiple trucks to overtake. Overtaking in developing countries nearly always means signalling your intent by hitting the horn as loudly as possible, mirrors, if they exist are never used except for spot picking.  Because my hands are smaller than the average 1200 GS rider’s, I’m unable to reach the horn button whilst using the clutch (or even covering the clutch lever with two fingers which is recommended) this led to some dodgy moments approaching the trucks where I had to decide whether to sustain horn beeping or get into a more appropriate gear.

When the track flattened out I halted and waited by the side of the track to check everyone was getting through OK, counting everyone as they passed me, and then following them once more to Mazar- our stop for the night.