Inspiration and Stories: China, Tibet and Central Asia
It seems like every year the world gets smaller. Some formerly exotic locale gets an international airport and soon there are banana pancakes on the menu there; some far-flung place on the map gets 'discovered' and in short order there are tour buses and package tourists to fill them. I guess that's part of the allure of the places that remain classic 'hard travel': the language problems, the lack of services and infrastructure, the remoteness and difficulty of the landscape. Get beyond the cities and China is exactly that. Tibet? Well it's just as far-out as you imagined, and the 'Stans of Central Asia are often just that mix of real work and real reward that's so precious. You might have good stories from travelling here, or you might have bad stories, but believe me: you'll have stories.
Tibet: Kham Region
"The border roads"
A high altitude, multi-day, dirt-road bikepacking route though the Kham region of Tibet taking in incredible mountain scenery, Buddhist temples, and genuine Tibetan culture... all outside the restricted Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR).
Tajikistan: the PAMIRS
"THE BARTANG VALLEY, TAJIKISTAN"
The most adventurous way across the Pamirs, the Bartang Valley offers the best of Central Asia – sublime remoteness, high mountains and wild desert moonscapes, legendary hospitality, physical difficulty, and more than a little bit of danger.
China: Yunnan Province
"Before the tar"
A great empire builds great roads, and by this measure China is great, even in this remote corner, far closer to Burma than Beijing. Pick a road that shows as dirt on satellite imagery from last year and more likely than not it’s now been paved; pick an area with no roads and there’s probably now one running through it.
Yet for all the endless, unfortunate improvements wrought by contemporary China on its environment, it remains a uniquely rewarding place to cycle, its landscapes huge beyond reckoning. It’s undiscovered by the biking masses and difficult in both language and culture. China is a place where you can ride for a month and never see another tourist – which had made me all the more curious about the so-called ‘Secret Road’.
Kyrgyzstan: alai mountains
"osh and the edge"
Yes, adventure is a bit like a movie sex scene: significant IRL faffing and inconvenience and discomfort and awkwardness that, when you put a frame around it, somehow translates as thrilling and desirable. And as adventure travel writers, we’re both purveyors and consumers of that particular glamour, equally eager to get high on our own supply as we are to push that image of adventure to others. There are few of us doing it who haven’t had that moment where we see the edge and celebrate with a thrill just how close we’re treading to it.
That cocktail of ego and risk is one hell of a mixture.
Tibet: Kham Region
"THE CHARM OF KHAM"
UP AT 4,400 METRES, descending on rough dirt road from the Cho La pass in the far west of China’s Sichuan Province, my rear tire suddenly feels spongy. A short section of sidewall on my tubeless setup had spontaneously failed the day before, and unwilling to delay undertaking a route I’d been planning for months, I’d simply sewed a tyre boot around the hole, stuck a tube in it, said a prayer, and set off again. Whatever god had at first smiled on me had evidently had second thoughts. There is no shelter anywhere as snow falls wet and heavy, the wind howls, and the road turns into a river of mud. I can’t feel my fingers. Welcome to Tibet.