Monday, October 11, 2010

Rutog, still free...


First encounter with the Tibetan police today in the town of Rutog. We wait for dusk to enter the town. A police car goes up and down the main (and only) street but doesn't seem to care the least about us. We find a small hotel above a phone and video store, more discreet than the big Central Hotel monitored by the PSB. No running water, buckets in the corridor by way of urinals, and public facilities inaccessible at night for we are locked upstairs when the shop is closed... We dine in a real restaurant - vegetables and eggs. It doesn't seem much but it does feel good.

After a good night sleep and an invigorating breakfast (bananas, army biscuits and yogurt, a real treat), we set off around 9am in broad daylight. Of course, this is far too late. By the time we finish loading the bikes, there's a large gathering and the police can't ignore us any longer.
"Ni men qu na li ?" (= where are you going  ?)
Answer: "Bu tong" (= No understand)
In spite of our somewhat limited Chinese, it is clear that they want to know where we're coming from and where we're going, and they would obviously like to see our IDs and permits... We play the dummies wonderfully well, real character study of course. They eventually get a soldier, nice but dim, who speaks a few words of English, but not enough to stop us pretending we don't understand.
"Where you come from?"
"Where you come from... road travel? Lhasa? Xinjiang?"
"Yes yes travel this road. Lhasa no"

The little game lasts a good 10 minutes. The young soldier tries his best, aware of his limited English: "Where you want to go?". "I go Ali [lthe next big town]. I want see doctor" I eventually answer, coughling violently to show that I am quite ill. The chief policeman looks a bit puzzled and asks the soldier to translate again "In Ali, see the police for...", miming as well as he can a piece of paper. "Yes yes, in Ali police registration, good, ok good bye". And off we go. Phew, that was close. Let's get out of here before he changes his mind.

Premiers tours de roue sur le goudron
Oh, I was gonna forget the 2nd great piece of news of the day: we're done with bad roads, sand, gravel, rocks, corrugated roads (I feel nostalgic already). We now cycle on nice smooth asphalt. It may not mean much to you, but it means a lot to me. Most of all, it means I can now go faster and no longer crawl along like an asthmatic snail ! The tricycle is brilliant, comfortable and all, but it's a tiny bit slow on rough roads.

According to Chinese cyclists we met a few days ago, the whole road to Lhasa has just been paved by the local Department of Road and Public Works this year. What ? Real tarmac ? Woo-hoo ! Let's try to make the most of it as long as we possibly can...

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