Around the world on a bicycle (Part 4)
APRIL 3 — I spent two days exploring Kangding. The town’s a mix of Tibetans and Han Chinese cultures. Every shop has both Mandarin and Tibetan writings. Kangding is definitely cleaner than the previous town I visited in Luding. It’s more exotic, with Tibetan prayer flags everywhere and full of Tibetan people wearing their traditional dress. The culture seemed to change slowly from Han Chinese to Tibetan when I rode further to the west. The word “Ni Hao” was slowly replaced by “Tashi Delek”. I saw more people spinning their prayer wheels, praying, chanting in Tibetan on the road.
Besides the Tibetans and the Han Chinese, I also saw a large group of the Hui, Chinese Muslims who mostly came from Gansu Province in Northwest China. I visited the only mosque here for Friday prayers, worshipping God side by side with the Huis. Somehow I felt at home here when I heard the sound of Azan from the mosque calling for prayer, just like home. It was a new experience for me, to hear the Khutbah that was performed in Mandarin and to hear them reading the Quran beautifully. As usual I created attention right after I stepped inside the mosque. Everybody was looking at me, probably wondering where I came from.
I was asked the same question again and again where I came from. Again, I replied with my bad Mandarin, “Wo shi Malay see yah ren” which meant I was Malaysian. Usually they’d keep asking me more questions, but to cut it short I always replied back, “Dui bu chi, wo hui zhongwen yi dian dian” which meant sorry, I speak very little Mandarin.
One thing I realise about the Chinese people, they are very friendly. They love to have conversations with tourists and their hospitality is one of the best I have ever experienced. Being China for the first time without knowing how to speak Mandarin, travelling alone with bicycle carrying some 20kg of luggage, was of course very difficult. But these kind local people were very helpful, making my journey easier.
During my lunch at a Chinese Muslim restaurant after prayers, the owner came to me and we had a long conversation, exchanging our experiences. He told me that he envied me so much because I’m travelling. By travelling I will have the chance to see how beautiful the creations of God are. And that I can learn so many new things as well as open my mind. In Islam, the fifth obligation for a Muslim is to travel, to leave everything behind temporarily to get to Mecca. It was an interesting conversation with this man. When I was about to go, he then told me not to pay for the food, I’m a traveller, and he said the Quran has taught him to feed hungry pilgrims and travellers. I was touched by his kindness.
I spent my last day in Kanding walking around town, visiting the Tibetan temples and I climbed to the peak of Paoma Shan, some 3800m altitude to watch the whole view of Kangding. When I looked to the west, I became afraid yet excited; there was a huge snow mountain standing proudly on the west. It was the mighty Gongga Shan. I knew I had to ride through that huge snow mountain the next day, on my ride to Litang.
I was worried when I looked up at the sky, it was filled with scary thick clouds. This was going to be my first time riding through the snow mountains, I was hoping it will all go well. The mountain was huge, at least some 6000m altitude. It looked beautiful yet frightening somehow. I got worried when I started to imagine how dangerous it would be to cross the mountain with a bicycle, especially when I started to imagine the road would be steep with sharp corners and I’d experience poor visibility riding inside the clouds. It was going to be my first time riding bicycle above 4000m in altitude.
I started to have doubts, asking myself on how well could my body adapt to this. Could my lungs take the low pressure of air at this height? I didn’t take this lightly since I used to read stories about climbers suffering from high altitude sickness. Some even died because of it. I climbed slowly with my bicycle, so I gave my body enough time to get used to the pressure. But I still had this fear, because it was going to be my first time. The fear of waiting was always worst than the fear when facing it and I hated that so much. Because of that, I was hoping the time would move faster. I already promised myself not to turn back.
The next day, I woke up early in the morning, before the first light appeared. I was prepared, highly motivated yet afraid. I was going to cycle this dangerous road into the Tibetan Plateau passing the mighty Gongga Shan. I kept telling myself that I could do it and the suffering was temporary. At around 7.30, the sun started to shine. I could feel the heat.
Here in high altitude land, bad sunburn can be painful when it is sunny. I began to cycle away from Kangding, watching the peak of the snow-capped mountain of Gongga Shan in front of me getting closer each time I pushed the pedal. There was a battle going on inside my mind, the battle between fear and confidence...
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.