With only a short distance to go to the turnoff to Xiahe, the town built around Labrang Monastery, we peddled in by late morning, just in time to catch the bus (technically it was off route, or at least that’s what we told ourselves) to Xiahe.
Freshly arrived in Tibetan highlands, we walked up the main street to a Tibetan restaurant, where I ordered some yak dumplings (the interminable wait for which was made bearable by the fact that, when they came, they were bloody tasty). Refuelled, we went for a wander in the town, in the Tibetan village that surrounds the monastery complex, all ochre temples, white and golden stupas, monks in saffron robes. The temples themselves, when we managed to get inside, were scented by yak butter candles burning in their hundreds, and wafts of incense. We rounded off our exploration with a stroll along the kora, passing meditation cells clinging improbably on to the hillside, and overtaking some athletic pilgrims, completing a sort of press up motion every other step, in prayer. An obligatory spin on the prayer wheels was followed by more dumplings for me, and a firm Tibetan barley porridge known as tsampa, and a shopping trip to buy a wooden dragon mask, which as I write is now attached to the front of my bike. I’m fully kitted out for the Middle Kingdom (photos to follow!). We caught the last bus back to junction, and cycled on to pitch our tent on a roadworks site, where they were making hard core for a new expressway running alongside the current road. There was some confusion when we asked what time they finish. Seven o’clock? They meant seven in the morning – it was the night shift. We stopped back and watched China at work!