Villages in the tropical south of Yunnan province in China are responding to the drop in the global rubber latex price by replacing plantations with other crops. However, this does not address the root of the problem caused by monocultures, say scientists at the World Agroforestry Centre.
We know our chances of getting back to Kunming on this death trap are very, very slim indeed. But six days on the road, scaling mountains and defying snow storms has germinated a combination of hubris and rash boyishness. The plan is to make it back to Kunming in three days, with a first leg to Xiangcheng or even Shangri-La, then Dali and finally Kunming. If the motorbike survives, the cost of the bike, the express courier and the lodging would be less than the two of us taking public transport back home. Plus it would be a lot more fun.
We put on a total of 8 layers of clothes against the cold, deliver our bicycles and luggage to STO Express, and elicit a couple of laughs from bystanders as an unintended wheelie nearly launches our motorbike into a flock of SWAT police. Upon regaining control, we make an elegant exit out of town and ride towards the sun that is slowly rising over the Litang plain.
One of the more endearing things about Tibetans is their way of indicating something. Instead of raising a bony finger and pointing at the object, they simply purse their lips and shoot it a kiss. It’s a thing I’ve seen often in Vietnam but never before in China. It takes some time to realise that they mean nothing intimate.
We’ve wolfed down a bunch of noodles and commence or third showerless day. The road is flat for a while and surprisingly calm. Perhaps the Chinese tourists are heading home. Every now and then, a bright pink or yellow anorak is on display, on the hood of a Jeep or the roof of an SUV, with a backdrop of mountains for the friends at home to drool over, but mainly the road is empty.
Startled awake by a voice in broken Mandarin. Squinted eyes. Instant noodles? Reality slowly setting in, the image on our retinas solidifying. We stare right into Sunday’s friendly face as he wishes us good morning, lights the stove and sticks the kettle on. He points the packages of instant noodles with beef flavour and announces with an apologetic gesture that he’s got to go. We gather our stuff and thoughts as he shuffles out. The lawn outside the building is covered in brittle frost. Our breath forms woolly clouds in the morning chill. We munch pensively on our noodles before re-arranging the monk’s living quarters and, failing to find him, buying 100 RMB worth of karma through the monastery’s donation box.
We’re up with the sun and quickly get ready. Today’s our biggest day with a climb over 4700 m so we have little time to waste. After complaining about the lack of Tibetan food for breakfast, feasting on dumplings instead and adding a pumping our tyres up properly, we roll down the steep hill and leave this dump behind.
The day starts with a long gentle incline and for the first time this trip, we are able to cruise at around 20 km/h. Following the river upstream, a small hamlet with oinking black pigs in all formats and sizes marks the beginning of the long climb. We decide on a steady 7 km/h to climb the mountain, something which initially works out but after a while proves impossible to maintain. So we stick to our own tempo.
After a very fragile sleep interrupted by a pee break in the middle of the night, we wake with the first rays of the sun. The gate is still closed so we have to wait for the Daoban boys to head out. We make some coffee and oatmeal, wash our dishes and have a stare-off with the chicken that’s interested in the contents of our tent. At this altitude, when it rains, you get snow. The rocky peaks on the opposite side are covered in virgin snow gleaming yellow in the early sunlight.
The gates open and we head out in the crisp mountain air, watching the morning fog burn off as we creep on towards the pass. When we finally reach it, our excitement is quickly smothered by the discovery that we can barely roll down faster than 15 km/h. The cold, exacerbated by two rear wheel punctures in 15 minutes, makes our descent a difficult one.
Although we went to bed relatively early and only had a little to drink before we did, we don’t manage to wake up early. A few unfortunate workers who had shambled in the night before because their motorbike broke down on the mountain strike up a short conversation before leaving. They’re going to catch the only bus to Shangri-La and attempt to get home from there. It’s well past 10 am when we finish a breakfast of instant oatmeal, Dali bars and instant coffee while talking to Dan (who was so nice to replace my broken Camelbak valve with a spare that he’d brought).
The morning sun sees us off on a good start through the gorge, a pleasant false flat along a tranquil blue river and rustic scenery. Tibetan architecture is now prevalent, houses interspersed with huge wooden racks on which highland barley, a main staple of the region, is drying. Along with Tibetan architecture come the ubiquitous prayer flags, of which we learn that they’re strung in windy places so the wind can read up the prayers written on the flags. Saves the Tibetans some time to concentrate on what really matters while not neglecting their religious duties. We come across more such spiritual efficiency on a small side stream. A small cabin with a turbine sticking out of its bottom is driven by the water. Where in most areas in Yunnan you’d find a milling stone attached for grinding wheat, these Tibetan folk have connected a prayer wheel to it.
I wake up feeling a little bit under the weather. It’s freezing cold outside but the sun is casting a few promising rays across the city. We warm up with a large bowl of Tenchong Ersi, find out that Sandy’s Camelbak only holds one litre of water instead of the expected two, and head out towards the mountain.
The road is dusty and filled with trucks. Looking left and right, however, our souls are soothed by peaceful pastures, grazing yak and brilliantly white Tibetan houses gleaming in the morning sun. They build their houses quite differently from China’s other minorities, usually preferring large, fortress-like houses with beautifully adorned window frames, wood features and roofs consisting of wooden panels held down with stones. Larger ones also feature a courtyard.
I’ve updated the Weiyun translation files to be compatible with Weiyun 2.2 (build 1154). You can download weiyun-2.2-build-1154 from my website. After downloading and installing Tencent Weiyun (click on the blue button under Windows版), extract the files to c:\program files (x86)\tencent\weiyundisk\I81N\2052\ and overwrite the existing files. If you have a 32-bit version of windows, lose the (x86) in the above path. The translation probably does not work with the Mac version.
Enjoy and consider donating a little something if you’re happy with my work.
Tencent have released a new version of their Weiyun 微云 Windows app (build 1027). Updating to this version gives you access to notes which can be shared across devices, and fixes some other bugs. I’ve followed suit and translated any new strings. Find the file here: weiyun_2.1_1027 or at this Weiyun mirror. For installation instructions, please refer to my earlier post.
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