Three crazy countries, three crazy cities, fifty million awesome people
In the past few weeks we’ve come from a world dominated by landscape, through a world defiled by human destruction and development, and now into a world that is defined, almost wholly, by the thickness of humanity itself. A place like this can only really be explained by its human relationships, and none of the other feelings we could describe (besides, perhaps, that of affection) actually matter. We recently biked away from Dhaka, by some accounts the densest city on earth, in a dazed state of reflection. I was still recovering from a high fever, and both of us suffered from the water. Happy to be on the road again and out of the chaos, but sad to be leaving our new friends and one of the most amazing cities that either of us has ever seen.
Tibet. From the couch on which we’re sitting inside an apartment in Chengdu’s southern suburbs, the Forbidden Land feels far away and remote. But less than a week has passed since we crossed over our final pass of the Himalayas, snow-covered and freezing, and descended down 13,000ft through alpine valleys and along rain swollen rivers into the gray, smoggy crush of urban China. In many ways, that descent was a tragic loss of the high-altitude harmony of Tibetan culture that we discovered and relished in for the past 4 weeks. But it also brings with it a promise of change and forward momentum, for we have left the solitude of the rough, demanding highlands for good, and now will face a different kind of challenge: unyielding human density, mega-cities, and a whole new level of traffic insanity. South Asia looms large in the horizon of our imaginations.
Kunming to Dali, the Tiger Leaping Gorge and Shangri-La – 2 weeks, 900km
China overwhelms and assaults the senses. It’s also a land of contradictions that has you groping for air from the terrible truck exhaust one minute, and gasping in awe at a 10,000ft deep gorge the next. In the past 2 weeks we’ve been through bike-touring hell and back, but are now perched on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau, giddy with excitement at what the next 2,000km and 4 weeks will bring. We sit in blissful high-altitude comfort in the mythical town of Shangri-La surrounded by initial glimpses of Tibetan culture, and the joy of being in the mountains makes it especially hard to reconcile this new wonderful China with the same China we escaped from only 5 days ago.
It’s time for a quick break. We’ve been biking for five days and our bodies are worn down from the road. Long days have added up to about 500km on the odometer, several days we’ve biked into the dark, and traffic is taking its psychological toll. Heat rash is beginning its slow march up our legs – which one of us thought that bike touring in the tropics during the monsoon was a good idea? Our first impressions of the motorbike culture were positive. Nimble, everyone has one, they take care of everything on them, and infrastructure is built to serve them. The curbs are even built with a slant so that motorbikes can be driven onto the sidewalks. Continue reading →