We left our cheapest hotel of the trip so far nice and early though with a slight reluctance to exit our heated beds. The incline which we had been following all the way since Lanzhou came to a climax in the high 3000 metres (though quite how high no map will tell us) and we stopped for a warming meal of square flat noodles, 面片, where we delved into our novels as we waited for the food to thaw our freezing bodies.
The countryside has recently been a vast improvement on what our experience of China first offered us. For the first time, we were actually cycling by some uninhabited (though still heavily farmed) land and the clouds lifted to let us see some beautiful mountain ranges in the distance. We checked the map and confirmed, yes, these are the Himalayas. We rolled down some great road for 30 kilometres or so to Lamusi, a town heralded in our guidebook as one of the five most scenic spots in China!
We found a dormitory within a hotel usually quite out of our budget, and headed out for lunch when we met a couple of Malay engineers, now based in London, who joined us in the local Sichuan restaurant. The spice in the hot pot was strong enough even to make Alex cough!
With a whole afternoon to spare, and obviously not quite tired enough by four hours of riding that morning, we ventured out for a walk into a majestic gorge behind the town with the Malaysian couple. Filled with Buddhist grottoes, prayer flags and colourful ribbons, this was a Tibetan gorge indeed! We met a charming Dutch couple, visible from a mile away due to one of them having long blond hair alien to this part of the world, walked a bit with them until they headed back, safe in the knowledge that foreigners always bump into each other in this neck of the woods.
Constantly obsessed by my need to go higher, I decided I wanted to climb up the side of the gorge the 500 odd metres which would give me a view of the whole region. Once I had scrambled up to the ridge, the feeling was well worth it and the sights superb. Along the ridge was a prayer flag central where a 360 degree view showed the surrounding mountain ranges and temples which make Langmusi a big tourist destination. A jog back down the other side led me inadvertently into the monks’ backyard, so I hopped a fence to get back to the river and examine the water prayer wheels. Unlike the others which are hand turned, these are water powered such that they are constantly rotating and offering the flaura and fauna in the surrounding area the chance to pray too (this is genuinely the reason the monks told us)!
We visited the biggest temple on this side of the river, adorned with ornate fabrics and statues of various idols and were impressed to find out during prayer times the hundreds and hundreds of metres of benches are filled for hours by immobile monks. Sadly pictures were not allowed… Our exit was greeted by our first SNOW of the trip! Oh, the excitement of the black ice on the roads being hidden by a blanket of snow… We caught up with the Dutch couple again for a dinner of egg and Yak fried rice, topped off by an ever irresistible pancake and apple pie… Yum.