I awoke with a headache, but nothing more. I had managed a full night’s sleep at 13,500 ft of altitude which must mean that I am acclimatising slowly. It had been down to nearly freezing outside and it was raining. I was slightly regretting that it was my turn to ride today. It was cold and furthermore there was a slight drizzle. Dave kindly asked me if I was sure I wanted to ride. But I was committed.
I dragged myself through this most amazing complex of refurbished Swiss type chalets and found a rough dinning area where Paul Chi our guide was brewing up coffee. Although all the hotels are B and B there was a very limited choice on the menu. A few dank bean sprouts from the night before and some warm rice water . I eventually found some boiled eggs and downed three paracetamol with my French coffee. The others shambled in wearing all their winter woollies for the day’s ride ahead. We remembered our attempts at Tibetan/Scottish dancing from the night before and how brave our young waitresses had been to dress up in formal attire and sing for us at the end of dinner ( Spicy Yak Stew- the meal -not the song). Our rendering of Jerusalem and the Grand Old Duke of York at least had amused them.
I got onto thinking that the local women appeared to be a proud and powerful lot, physically strong and robust with the men. The day before I had been waiting to pay at the toll booth and an altercation started in a half bed truck opposite me. The driver having passed through the barrier was trying to get two road builder women with their picks and shovels to get out of the back of his truck. The women were both dressed in the traditional long sleeved over coats with wide brimmed bonnets. One of the women was laughing as the truck owner tried to pull her friend out. The two had obviously wanted a lift right down the valley but the truck owner wasn’t having it. When he became more physical the woman observing had had enough, stood up and was preparing to belt him with her shovel unless his calmed down. Eventually they agreed to get off the truck. Myself and the local policeman at the booth looked on riveted while the argument played out.
I asked Paul what he thought about Tibetan women and his view was that they had a reputation of being fiercely independent and tough, and that he personally and probably most Han Chinese were bit frightened of them!
As I rode through the drizzle on this fabulous high steppe I thought of some the women we had seen in the past few days in this part of China in which 80% of the population is Tibetan. And later I was interested to find that early communities in Northern India and Tibet practiced Fraternal Polyandria. If I might expand for a moment- The resources of the high Steppe being limited and requiring extensive nomadic life a custom developed where women were able to marry more than one husband. Specifically they would marry a string of brothers from another kinship group. The women were respected, had authority and managed much of the family resource and when they had a baby no one knew which one was the dad!!! a) because she slept with all the brothers and b) they all looked a bit similar anyway. More importantly the brothers would all support the woman because they recognized that she was continuing their blood line . Polyandria stopped feuding and peacefully cross linked different kinship groups. Division of labour was also not decided directly on physical strength, women took tough physical jobs but which allowed them to give birth and suckle their young- the men were available for work away from home – droving , trading etc.
Now I appreciate that this not yer modern Tibetan womens’ answer to the main stream Feminism but you have admit these women have don’t appear to have much inclination for nancying around in a item off the peg from Zara’s. I have to use this great shot from Dave’s piece yesterday.
Back to the ride- We hammer off into the drizzle and past a number of housing settlements many with Buddhist prayer flags-
The countryside is very like Welsh Borders, saturated with low driving cloud and rain, The hills appear small and peep into the cloud. We are however between 13000 and 14000 feet.
I am sporting my colourful orange Buddhist scarf given to me by the Mr Sun, Minister of Tourism . We pass a more typical homestead which seems to consist of a green house with a roof plus a wicker shed for all the kit.
We were noting that the matriarch of the house had insisted that if the boys wanted to play billiards they could do it outside
I suddenly remembered where I had seen the woman down the hole before – She had been walking proudly down the road later that morning with a very fierce look in her eye. The lads looking appropriately cowed.
We stop for a rest in a new town built for the tourists visiting the Steppe
While we wait for Paul to buys some prayer flags for John two guys sit with me by the fence
We seem to be still slowly climbing and eventually come to a ridge hidden in the rain. After darting through a tunnel a brief pause to pass some guys with a rather leisurely group of saddled horses
We descend 6000 ft through a fabulous switch back ride to the famous resort town of Juizhaigou. A UNESCO site protecting a beautiful unspoilt alpine gorge. Its about 3 pm so we peel off our helmets and relax in the bar of our first decent hotel in about 6 weeks and sip cold South African Chardonnay.
All the best