After failing to get any food out of our hotel it didn't take long to make the decision to head across the road to our favorite Yak burger restaurant where we had, you guessed it, another round of Yak burgers. By now the owner must be wondering how long we would be staying and whether to employ more staff to round up the stray dogs. Today we had the steepest section of the much talked up 160km downhill, but this promised to live up to the hype as the gates of hell had obviously been shut and the associated gale force wind was absent. To try and demonstrate that we were fully prepared I thought we should take a little safety video for the insurance company at the start of the day, but Steve "Laurel" Wyatt and Andy "Hardy" Cross soon put their own stamp on it. The downhill itself was great fun but not quite what we had expected. The Chinese had arrived with their road re-building scheme and had dug up the entire road, leaving a rocky muddy track clinging to the side of a very steep mountain side with a rushing river far below. Added to this were all the hazards normally associated with a building site, tools in the road, JCB's hidden round corners swinging loads above your head, holes, cement mixers and people working everywhere. My favorite moment was when I stopped to take a layer off, only to be waved on vigorously by an official looking chap, who explained with some pointing and shouting that there were two people jack hammering the rock above the road who had to stop while I stood there oblivious. Stopping work not being the done thing in China people were getting quite excited. The other obstacle to get across, or through, was the occasional stream washing over the road. These were deep enough to soak the panniers at the back and we all came out with sodden feet. There were plenty of trucks coming down at the same time as us, which made for some entertaining overtaking maneuvers as our bikes were much faster. However, we watched a couple when we couldn't get past and were anxious to see how close to the edge they had to get to squeeze past the narrow sections and were increasingly alarmed to see the edge occasionally crumble under the weight. Time to be in front of the trucks we thought.
Eventually we made it to Dram, looking very muddy and having had a couple of experiences with dogs at last - this time them trying to make a meal out of us rather than the other way around. Given that we had carried three heavy sticks for just such an occasion it will probably disappoint the reader, who at this point is probably hoping to hear some heroic narrative about three hardy souls fighting off hordes of dogs to save the local population from torment, to hear that out of fight or flight we firmly took the later option. Dram is the border town between China and Nepal and it is utter chaos. There's a section of no mans land which separates the two countries and since Tibetan truck drivers can't obtain passports all the goods are unloaded from one truck onto a Nepalese truck to continue the journey. Given the number of shops in the no mans zone we assumed that quite a few of these boxes are dropped, and perhaps fall, as they are transferred from one truck to the other. Coming through the town the roads had found tarmac, as well as lots of congestion. At one point we were wedged between vehicles with no way forward - rush hour is taken seriously around here. We bumped into the 'Not the Red spokes' crew who looked after out kit while we spent our final Yuan on some food.
Having eventually come out the other side of the border chaos it's hard to describe how much had changed in the past day of biking. Having dropped almost 3km in vertical height the climate is vastly different, with lush green valleys all around compared to the high altitude scrub land of Tibet which meant we could hear birds, insects and animals other than Yaks again. This also meant that the lack of oxygen we had suffered at altitude was alleviated, and to coin some climbers language we were soon 'sucking in the O's'. The open plains of yesterday had been replaced by very steep river gorges, covered in mist with only the occasional glimpse of the peaks way above us. Finally the density of people had under-gone a step change from being very sparse in the inhospitable heights of Tibet to people being squeezed into every spare inch of space in Nepal. The border crossing was probably the most people we had seen in one place since we started our trip in Lhasa. Feeling a little shell shocked we continued down the valley.
We met a couple of Western bikers trying to buy food at the side of the road, which reminded us that we had no local currency at all. Luckily, these two had been forced to exchange more dollars than they had wanted to so we exchanged back their surplus. While they were having a domestic about whether she was happy to stop here for food or not we felt a pang of sympathy for the poor fella who was clearly starving with food in front of him being told to bike another 15km to the next town because the lass had 'a bad feeling' about this place - but this may have just been male solidarity. We whispered our goodbyes and slipped away - solidarity only goes so far.
We made it as far as Dolaghat before stopping for the night and we eventually found the hostel our guide book recommended but had neglected to mention the name. Our room was on the top floor, which normally would be great but trying to get the bikes up narrow, uneven, stairs was surprisingly hard work, even with the extra oxygen available. Looking out over the town there was noise and colour everywhere. Also there was a large river which we were soon washing ourselves in to get rid of the mud of the day, much to the amusement of the locals I suspect. Still if they had to be sharing a room with Andy "What smell" Cross's feet that evening they would have been in the river giving us a hand. Nice and clean we headed out expectantly for food, once again falling for the trap of believing our "More lies than a politician on voting day" guidebook which stated 'The first thing you will notice when you eat is the choice......'. Kym McConnell did you actually even visit the same continent that your so called 'guide' book is about? After some serious hunting we came up with a bar which served red hot curry without rice and endless fried fish options everywhere. We ended up back at our hostel on the balcony with the fish option and water, sadly we didn't have enough local cash for beer. While eatting Steve "How do they do that?" Wyatt seemed to take particular fascination with the amount of locals hanging onto the roof tops of buses as they went thundering past.