to Shangri-La

Shaxi to Weixi. This looks surprisingly like the track from 2 days ago, another double-back
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Mountains to cross today
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The upper Yangtze, called the Jinsha at this point
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We follow it for half the day, over there behind the trees somewhere
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There. Today is stunning. This is one of the reasons to come to Yunnan
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With some good riding on small roads
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Undisturbed villages. Stopped here to watch tobacco leaves being sorted
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Here. She’s got the most sorted
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Different method
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What they’re doing is tying them to small poles to hang
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Slacker! He’s just thinking about his leaves so far this morning
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Then you turn a corner and you’re back to the huge river
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Still Chinese traditional building so far, as we travel north, but this is the transition zone. More soon
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It’s constantly beautiful and not like anything on the big ride so far. Giant scale, very green
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These homes are more Tibetan. No raised corners, smaller windows. But the changes become more pronounced soon
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The biggest mountains we’ve seen on this ride so far, ahead
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The last of the agriculture for the day, as we enter the mountains
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Choppy, patched pavement, a big river, full Ti Akrapovic system booming off the walls, heading north in China, that’s more like it
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Then we do a monster climb and descent, and no photos for some reason.

Weixi to Deqin
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Another big climb later today, but we stay high this time
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A mountain village in every view
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A Polygonum in classic pink
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Now here’s something. Right beside the road, in the scree
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The bloom looks like Incarvillea, a couple of which come from here, but the plant is shrubby and the foliage isn’t right. We spent a few minutes just now trying unsuccessfully to find the species name
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And this. Scrambling all over everything happily
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A Clematis, how nice. Clematis akebioides.
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Three very decent plants in one day, without leaving the road. Heartbreaking in a way as this is a plant collector’s paradise, but this is too late in the season, we’re not alpine enough and we’re on a group ride. Somewhere up there, at some time maybe a month or 2 earlier, Gentiana farreri, for example, was blooming. Epic adventurous plant collecting history was made here by Forrest (who died in Teng Yueh here), Delavay (died somewhere unspecified in Yunnan), Cavalarie (murdered outside of Kunming, Yunnan), Farrer (who died near the China/Burma border). David, many others. If this piques your interest, here’s the wiki entry for George Forrest. Victorian era plant collecting heroism
A river again, this time the Mekong
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We stop at an interesting village. Now the Tibetan thing has really kicked in. Color, crisp lines
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Here’s Anita is making us lunch. Jamil is strictly Halal. So that he doesn’t starve to death he’s come prepared with all kinds of stuff for emergencies, like this. Anita plays Mom and we all join in. Well, the four of us on three bikes, now that we’re basically not talking to the rest of the group. OMG. Solo is so easy!
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I flip-flop at lunch between being loyal to my friend Jamil and eating the local fare. I usually decide after a look at what’s on offer both ways. This kitchen for example looks excellent
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The market, a few doors up. I took some photos at the end of this table of things I wouldn’t publish here, btw. I know we’ve gone private blog, but my daughters read this and would be upset. So things are very different everywhere you look in Chinese markets
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Two characters. Judging by their dress and demeanour, big wheels in this town
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Off again
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Classic Tibetan now. A little further north for the final touch
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Here’s a hint, flags along a steel bridge over the river
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At that’s Lucinda, half way across
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View from bridge

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Flag close-up
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This town is only 30 minutes from our destination. We stopped to load up on beer
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We noticed this bike shop
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Walked in to check it out
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Here’s the Tibetan/Chinese take on bikes
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This. The frills are part of the equation. One more detail a few pictures down
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Now the ride to Dequin, along this road
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Stop to watch local Tibetans walk past
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Wow, would love a week or two here
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There’s been a landslide and some heavy equipment is working on clearing it. We wait for about 40 minutes
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A nice-looking family waits too
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The angelic daughter on Andrew’s bike. She’s gregarious and loves playing to the small crowd
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Here’s the last important Tibetan detail on the bikes, the super-ornate, vividly colored mud splash. All the bikes have them
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This one has a boom box up front
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And this, beside the road, while we waited. I haven’t found what it is yet, because it doesn’t really ring my bell, although far from weedy
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Dequin. Amazing place, very small. Tibetans make up 80% of the population.
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It’s all about this. The view across the valley to the Himalayan Plateau, but in particular to this mountain, Meili Snow Mountain, right on the Yunnan/Tibet border. Also this is where the Jinsha (upper Yangtze) Mekong (Nu) and Salwan (Lancang) flow from, and beyond, with combined drainages that include half of Thailand, nearly all of Laos, some of South Vietnam, most of Cambodia and a large percentage of central China. So one of the more extraordinary places on the planet
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There are 13 peaks in immediate view over 6000 meters, with Kawagebo below  at 6740 (almost the same elevation as Huascaran in the Cordillera Blanca, much missed because the riding was so much better) We’re viewing from 3550 meters
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We were tired from the day, crashed early and were up early to watch the sun on the peaks, above. Apparently we were lucky as they’re usually clouded in.

Deqin to Shangri-La
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Now we head southeast. Deqin was our northern most point on the route. Twisties today, as below
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Up to 4400 meters
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Monastery before the climb
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Near the top
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The top. The story here is that there are snowstorms all around us. We’ve threaded our way through but the group wants to hang out here as the snow is dusting us, the rest of the group has zip experience of alpine road conditions and Anita says she has never even seen snow. Lucinda and I are never the first to get nervous in any group, but here it’s obvious any weather could happen immediately. It’s below zero, the clouds are swirling around us and puking snow on surrounding peaks and we’re trying to hustle everyone along, with little success (they’re taking photos), before we get snowed in for the winter and resort to murdering and eating the girls first. So we tell them for the third time this is not a good situation, we don’t want to eat anyone, and take off, trying to force the issue. Fortunately, they follow shortly and all ends well. It was fun, really, but was possibly more serious than my friends realized
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And over the top to this
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Skies clearing
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Downhill from here
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Andrew, a fat bike, a slim bike, a fat bike, Jamil
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View back at the switchbacks
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Villages again
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Towards a famous gorge to
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the Moon Bend of the Yangtze river
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Lunch town. We were surprised at how hot it was. We were freezing a few hours ago, now it’s around 80 or more again
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A fantastic ride through the afternoon
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Those huge walls opposite bulged and overhung towards the camera. A sport climber’s paradise
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Then the first view of the lake. Shangri-La is on the north shore. It look magical already. We all stop and think about the ride to here.

Shangri-La is a fictional name and place from the book Lost Horizon by James Hilton. The original name is Zhongdian but they changed it in 2001. The Chinese liked the fictional name and it’s good for business
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The it starts to rain gently. We all stop to look at the above view. Bee gets off Greg’s bike and jumps into the truck, to stay dry, rather than cover up for the short ride into town.

Reed, Andrew and Jamil take off and I follow Greg into town. To make a long and horrible story short, Greg overtakes a semi just as it swerves to miss 2 pigs and gets sideswiped hard. We’re immediately behind and watch the bike explode and Greg get thrown over the guard rail into a 3′ deep concrete ditch. Nightmare.

We pull over and jump into the ditch with Greg. He’s got lucky and has just broken his upper arm (and clavicle, we find out later) But in huge pain. The truck stops, calls the riders ahead, and Bee joins me in the ditch. We do the standard things to help Greg and wait for the ambulance, which takes forever
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A temple in the main town
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A Yak for Chinese tourists to ride. A very strange animal. We eat Yak regularly for dinner, it’s good. Jamil is OK with it as the killing method is sufficiently Hamal for him. And in fact Stephan had a Yak burger here and said it was the best burger he’d ever had
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The next day was a rest day and we headed to the temple. It’s the largest Tibetan Buddhist temple in Yunnan, built in 1679, completed 2 years later
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The temples within the huge compound
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We weren’t supposed to take pictures, but at one point one of us (who because of his own strong religious convictions is our moral decision maker on these things) whips out his camera and we all take a photo or two. This isn’t a good one, but you can see the extraordinary detail, color and scale. It’s the most impressive interior I’ve seen in Asia
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