The Daily Struggle
A few days later I crossed some low hills and the Tanggula Shan mountains came into view on the opposite side of a vast sweeping valley; it was a great sawtooth range stretching as far as I could see to the east and west. I had been riding for eight weeks and was exhausted. I was beginning to think this land had no such thing as summer. Occasionally there would be a relatively mild day and I’d think it was a turn in the weather, but then the next day it would plunge back into winter again.
The ground of the valley was a nightmare- rough, wet and a mixture of boggy holes and lumpy sod. We’d come to frozen streams the horses would refuse to cross; sometimes I’d have to lead them over one at a time, terrified we’d crash through into God knows what underneath. By afternoon I’d be hungry and cold. Sometimes I’d stop at houses and literally beg for tea and something to eat. I’d take my tea bowl from the folds of my chuba and give the people a double-thumbs up gesture saying ‘Kuchi, kuchi’ which means ‘please’. I’d seen beggars doing it in Lhasa. But often they shook their heads and waved me off. ‘Cha mindu!’ they’d say. We haven’t got any tea.
Snowstorms were a frequent unwelcome afternoon feature. By six or seven in the evening I’d look for somewhere to camp. If there was no one around it was another night on the frozen ground, struggling to put the tent up in the continuous gale. There was often almost no grass for the poor horses and they would grunt at me, waiting for a nosebag of grain I didn’t have. I couldn’t eat either; there was no vegetation so no sticks to make a fire and any dung on the ground was too wet to burn. Sometimes I tried, but it was impossible to get anything lit in the wind and I’d give up in frustration before crawling into the tent, still wet from the previous night.
I’d struggle to get my boots off over my thick socks and then fight to get the door closed. My whole body ached from the physical strain of trying to control two unwilling horses all day, my fingers cracked and raw from dragging the lead rope. Finally I’d crawl into my sleeping bag, completely drained. At last something that resembled warmth. I’d still be wearing all my clothes and I’d pull the hood over my head and draw the string closed, then the bloody zip would get stuck.