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Saturday June 26th we leave on that tour. In a small bus to the border, where we get our bicycles without problems from the hotel. Crossing the border is no problem this time. All the paperwork is correct; the guards don't seem to recognize us, although my bicycle is quite an unusual one. On the other side of the border all the promises the travel agent made to us in Kathmandu are suddenly impossible. The guide didn't even know we would come with bicycles! Due to this lack of communication there is only a tiny bus without roof rack. With twenty people, luggage and three bicycles inside a Chinese made bus takes quite some logistic insight: How to fit everything in? But after a bit of cursing and screwing everything is inside and we are on our way. To the first high pass. The road is bumpy and now and then we have to cross a river, so the ride is quite uncomfortable, but the view is fantastic. Traveling cramped for too much money is not fun, however. Not for us, not for the others on the tour. So, once we've passed the turnoff to the Mount Everest Base camp, we decide it's been enough. At the hotel in Lhatse we pack everything to our bicycles and wait till just before midnight. Due to the altitude we all have a little less energy than normal (Lars has the biggest problems with the altitude in the form of a headache), so we take it easy until the moment we leave. At midnight the hotel gate is locked an employee tells us. So five to twelve we open our door and race back towards the turnoff. Unfortunately, there's more than one person still in the courtyard and before we reach the PSB-checkpoint (PSB = Public Security Bureau = police) in that direction our bus takes over. We hide in behind one of the rare buildings. Another 20 meters away from us there is the checkpoint. Our bus wakes the police up; they'll be looking for us now, road closed. So we crouch a little backwards and head into the wet barley field. A car comes towards the checkpoint and we drop flat on the ground. While we cool down slowly the car turns around and in the headlights two officers search for trails. Ten meters before they come to the spot where we went into the field - where we most definitely left trails - they stop looking. They turn back; the car continues its quest along the road to Base camp. The one officer left behind releases a couple of dogs. They run along the road, but I believe they're politically oriented Tibetan dogs who don't want to help the Chinese... They don't find us. When the dogs are tied again, we make a curve back to the road and decide that we'll try to go through the village and hide on the other side throughout the coming day. Barely on the road Melvin cries out: 'Our bus!' and immediately we are hiding off the road again. Lars and Melvin to the right, me to the left. I find the perfect hiding place at night: A ditch in the field. I wait till the bus passes and go back on the road. Nobody there. Not Melvin, not Lars. They don't respond to my suppressed cries. I'm alone.

Where have they gone? The first thing I think of is that they might have gone on exercising the last plan. So I continue towards the village. Just before I get there, a truck approaches from behind. I hide my bicycle behind one of the rare trees, and once the truck has passed I step onto the road; invisible for the people in the bright lit village. The truck is near dismantled! People crouching all over it, in it, under it... If Lars and Melvin have attempted to go through here, they're caught by now and back in Nepal tomorrow. That is not my intention, so I turn away from the village, back towards the police, five kilometers away. Having covered half that distance I turn off the road into the surrounding hills. At this altitude a mountain of 4500 meters (13.000 feet) is nothing but a hill. Invisible from the road I roll out my sleeping mat and close my eyes. It's three in the morning by now, so it's about time to take a nap. I wake up from a shepherd asking me for Dalai Lama pictures. I hand him my Tibetan Lonely Planet which he loves. Then he says that the police are ass-wholes and I hope to understand his body language correct that he won't tell anyone that I'm here. I sleep some more throughout the day. Late afternoon it starts raining, and slowly I turn into an icicle. Just before sunset I trust that I won't be seen from the road even when I put up my tent; I do so and get into my sleeping bag where I warm up till just about comfortable by midnight. At midnight I wake up, pack my tent and get back on my bicycle. Back on the road I take a deep breath and race through Latse; in that village is no one but a drunk Tibettan who wonders why that lunatic foreigner is cycling at night. Not long after Lhatse the road starts climbing towards a pass. This little pass of only 4500 meters is tough for me. Not because of the grading of the road; the Chinese trucks aren't very strong, so the road isn't very steep. But I am not very strong either. At this altitude there's especially at night hardly any oxygen left in the air. Every 100 horizontal meters I have to take a short break to catch my breath. Once breathing normally again I remember that one should drink a lot trying to prevent altitude sickness so I take a sip. After that I'm out of breath again and have to wait another minute or so before I can continue up the pass. Together with the sun, my head comes over the edge and I enjoy the view of a village on the Tibettan plateau in the morning sun. Oh boy, that is a sight hard to forget! But the temperature is far from pleasant so I want to get down into the valley. Winding my way down over the unpaved road I enter the village as soon as it is waking up. A man invites me in and offers me some Yak butter tea. It's the first warm thing I get in some 30 hours so I accept; but it is one of the nastiest drinks I've ever tasted - of the non medicinal drinks that is. I also buy two cans of Sprite off him and then I continue my journey; looking for a place to put up my tent unseen from the road. Suddenly a police car comes around a curve. My heart beats in my throat. Are they looking for me? Will this be the end of my Tibetan bicycle adventures? Putting on a mask I cycle on; run away or try to hide would at this point only make me suspect. Some 20 meters before me the driver hits the breaks; only to slow down a bit. And then I see four smiling faces of Chinese in uniform putting up their thumbs to me as saying: "Beautiful bicycle! Keep cycling man!"

Not much later I find a bunch of bushes between which I put up my tent. And at 9 am I fall asleep. Just after noon two children voices wake me up. "Ello, Ello, Ello, Ello..." Etcetera. When I reply with 'Hello' it is quiet for half a second before they say 'Hello' too. After that they continue their duologue 'Ello, Ello, Ello...' After a while I'm bored with this and I tell them to "Go Away!" after which they interrupt their chanting with 'Go away!' This makes me do a little experiment; would they really repeat what I say? "I..." and yes: 'I..." "am.... a.... parrot." It actually becomes quite a fun afternoon. They follow me getting water from the river. As far as I remember from the lecture Melvin was carrying it is quite a ride to the next police checkpoint so I decide to break up camp pretty early and try to make it to Shigatse by tomorrow morning. I still feel like I'm behind Lars and Melvin, so I'll try to take over on them. Long before sunset I head back onto the road. Right in front of a roadworkers-station disaster strikes. A vital screw in my bicycle breaks and I can't move an inch. Hitchhiking is not an option, to big a chance to get caught! But what else? Attracted by the foreigner at the gates a couple of Tibetans come and have a look. I show them my problem and one of them jumps up and walks inside. A minute or so later he comes back with a box full of all shapes and sizes screws. God is with me that day, as they find me a screw that fits! And so with an orange sun in my back I ride through the brown landscape of Tibet. The sun disappears pretty quickly however and everything turns black. The road is barely visible and every kilometer is an eternal fight. I don't make it that night. I spend one more day hiding in a village after which I enter Shigatse, the second city of Tibet, around three am. There I wake up the hotel staff, the only hotel here which is run by Tibetans, according to the Lonely Planet. They open the door and give me a room like it is entirely normal that cyclists show up here in the middle of the night.

In Shigatse I can live freely again. The PSB in this city has the reputation to be very friendly and to be in here you don't need a Tibetan Travel Permit. I enjoy the restaurant in the hotel as now I don't have to eat noodles for breakfast, lunch and dinner anymore. I sightsee Shigatse. I hike around the Tashilhunpo monastery, I swing some prayer wheels and I have a look around town. Most of it is demolished by the Chinese and replaced by their toilet buildings; the Chinese love to stick bathroom tiles on the outside of their buildings. Also I go to the PSB office to ask for a travel permit to Lhasa. Am I crazy or what? But against all odds, I get the permit. The only thing is that it doesn't state that I'm going by bicycle. So the next day I return, to ask if that is a problem. Then the man - the day before it was a woman - tells me that I must be one of the three cyclists who ran away from the tour group. And that was too fast for me to come up with an excuse. My face betrayed me. After that the man gave me an advice: 'Tomorrow you will go to Lhasa, you will stay there for 3 days and then you will leave China.' Sick of all the secrecy, sick of avoiding impossible authorities I agree with him and I go back to my hotel. I set my alarm for 8 o'clock the next morning. I wake up at 7.30 however. I do so because I hear familiar voices outside my room, and through the curtains I see a familiar silhouette. Lars and Melvin have just arrived! I quickly put on some jumpers and run outside! This is quite a pleasant surprise. They do not feel so fed up with playing hide and seek with the police. They have been together and have had the chance to support each other. They plan to spend a couple of days here and then cycle to Lhasa, and cycle on to Kunming too! Well, I decide to fuck the PSB and join them again. Together we visit the Tashilhunpo monastery, and separately we do some fixing to our bicycles. I visit a steelwork shop to buy some more screws and strengthen my construction so that the chance that the screw breaks decreases. And then it is Sunday afternoon and one of the hotel staff tells us that there has been a call from the PSB saying that the other cyclists also should report on Monday.

Of course we don't really feel like doing that; so that night we have to disappear. Leave on the middle of the day wouldn't be a good idea. But during the night the hotel door is locked. Fortunately there is a flat roof and Lars has some 10 meters of rope. About 2 am, when everybody is asleep, we work our stuff to the edge of the roof and I climb down. Then all our luggage follows piece by piece, and lastly Lars and Melvin climb down. By 4 am we are ready to leave, which we do. Quietly we cycle through nighttime Shigatse, heading for the not so good Friendship Highway. Around sunrise we take a lot of pictures of the landscape and the river. After that we hide for the day in a river gorge; unseen from the road. Before we fall asleep a wailing police car passes at high speed. Looking for us? We don't know, but they don't find us here! We spend the afternoon hiking through the hills sleep the night on the same spot. The next day distance we will not see any police checkpoint - according to Melvins book - so why not cycle during the day? So we cycle with sunshine, which makes it quite a bit more comfortable. Halfway we do pass a police checkpoint, but the men there are too surprised to make us stop. And on we go. Cycling two more nights, getting soaked by a huge thunderstorm and dried up by the sun next day. Around 4 am we enter Lhasa; the countries capital. We find a place to eat and wait on Barkhor Square for our favorite hotel to open. We've never been here, but the reports about this hotel are good.

Like in Shigatse, you don't need a Tibetan Travel Permit to stay in Lhasa. So we enjoy the tourist life of this city. We visit the Potala, the Jokhang, Barkhor square and do the necessary emailing as since Kathmandu we hadn't seen a computer. Also we enjoy the hot shower that is available in our hotel. We meet up with Ziggy, a Swedish girl, and I meet Donella - remember The Green Villa, Bikaner, India. And so we hire a 4WD to visit one of the few Lamas that still live in Tibet. After a long wait at his monastery for his appearance we all are allowed an audience and he blesses us. Then we go back to Lhasa for a taste of the nightlife. The local disco hasn't got any particularly modern day dance music, but the DJ at least speaks some English! Slightly pissed and childish excited we reach our hotel and fall asleep. Ready for another day of excitement!

Bangkok, August 8th 1999

Hi There!

We have hardly cycled over the past month. I did really miss it; it is time that I once again manage to find the time and the opportunity to mount my faithful iron horse...

But first let me take you back to where I left you: Lhasa, Kirey Hotel. One night Lars Melvin and me are getting ready for the night. Suddenly two officers of the PSB knock our door and enter our room. They ask for our passports and mumble something about cycling without travel permit. They take us to the bureau where they interrogate us in a very friendly manner. But of course, one by one. We aren't prepared for that, so they end up having three different stories that have one thing in common: we have all cycled together. It takes them the rest of the night to find out that our stories don't match, but the next morning we give in. Continue lying to the police is no use, especially because they know the truth: There are three foreign cyclists in all of Lhasa of which one has a recumbent bicycle. Not so long ago, three foreign cyclists with one of them a recumbent ran away from a tour group... So we tell the truth. The police keeps our passports, but we are 'free' to explore Lhasa. Lhasa is an ancient city of which the old city center is gradually being demolished and replaced by the Chinese toilet buildings. As I mentioned in my previous letter, the Chinese love to stick bathroom tiles on the outsides of their buildings. The Chinese say that they liberated Tibet peacefully - because the Tibetans didn't have an army, there was next to no battle, so no casualties - in 1951. Liberated from a feudalistic system with a very wise Buddhist leader; the Dalai Lama. So now they are free to have their own culture destructed. The bit of traditional Lhasa that is left is very impressive. Clay houses, square sort of structure, narrow winding roads with unexpected openings and squares. Both the Jokhang - the central temple - and the Potala - the former Dalai Lamas palace - are gorgeous. The interior decorated in the well known dark colours interrupted by beautifully shaped golden statues. Every late afternoon on the roof of the Jokhang the (remaining) monks gather for their traditional debates, which is a spectacular sight in itself.

Whatever we see and encounter, after a week of 'freedom' we are summoned back to the bureau. We are prepared for a fine and the Chinese police is famous for the ability to bargain about fines. So each of us takes an amount of money we think they will be happy with and that we can spare - so we can argue that we don't have more. When we get to the bureau, there's a professional Beta Cam running, a couple of sound recording instruments, quite some foto cameras but most impressive of all are the number of officers with lots of decorations. Fear however, hardly strikes. Que Sera Sera. At first the Chinese law book is translated into English, and the the verdict is read out in Chinese, after which a lower officer translates it into English. To our surprise we can go to jail - or as they insist in calling it 'in detention' - for ten days! They ask us to sign a paper in Chinese to agree with the sentence or appeal to the court within 5 days. Then we reason the following: We have done something wrong. We have cycled without Tibetan travel permit. If we appeal chances are that we loose the trial and we can be pretty certain that we'll be stuck here for months. Neither of us is looking forward to that. So after they produce a dictionary so we can read the Chinese verdict, we sign and go to jail. Cycling in Tibet is a criminal offence - for those who they bother to catch.

To our pleasant surprise we are treated pretty well. The police seems to be very afraid for international problems - though I wonder what the Chinese government would worry about an angry ant as the Dutch government - so they listen to most of our requests. We have to pay for dinner so we make some demands. We get proper beds, including pillows, sheets and blankets; on our request they put the three of us in one cell - which is bigger than our hotel room in the Kirey hotel - and there's all day long someone available who speaks English. Halfway our time we are 'granted' a highly corrupted phone call with our embassy - we're not allowed to talk about why we are in detention. When we get out we are held a few more days in Lhasa before we are deported. It turns out that among the Tibetans of the Kirey Hotel we have become heroes. They don't check our food bills too carefully and on departure we get the traditional well-wishing white scarves as present. Among the foreigners in Tibet we're famous. Well, the fact that we were in prison; people start telling us our own story! And then, suddenly the magic is off my trip. I fly. My feet leave the skin of Mother Earth. I fly to Kathmandu over the Mount Everest. And from there we'll have to fly again. We're not allowed to go into China again for the next 5 years, and we won't be allowed to enter Myanmar (Birma) overland as no foreigner can do that from India. So from Kathmandu we book three tickets to Bangkok.

During the wait in Kathmandu we see a cow being ridden through Thamel. What the occasion was is unclear, perhaps it was it's birthday, perhaps something else. But lot's of Hindu's around it sing and treat it with the highest respect.