To the source of the Mekong – Three

There are a few nomad tents at the egde of the Zaxiqiwa plain. They were the first people we’d seen in 80 kilometers, and the last I will see in the next 50.

They have a small motorcycle. I have one day left. I see an opportunity to get to the Mekong source at the foot of Jifu Mountain, at the head of its longest tributary. ‘That’s too far, you can’t get there and back in one day. But you have come a long way so we will help you’.

We depart at daybreak. Kelsang drives, I sit behind him. The trail is sometimes sandy, sometimes stony, sometimes it narrows to just a track, sometimes it disappears, sometimes it runs through water. It’s Paris-Dakar in the cold and wet. We make good progress. ‘I may make it’, I think.

But after Yeyongsongdou, the split between the two last main streams of the Mekong, the terrain becomes impassable unless on foot or by horse. Hummocks on swampy soil. Driving between them is impossible: too swampy, too curvy, too narrow. But driving across from one to the other also doesn’t work, for that the gaps between them are too wide. Kelsang keeps trying, but most of the time I walk and get along just as fast.

Halfway along the Gaodepu valley I give up. Another hour and I will have used up half the day’s light already. Driving back in the dark through this deserted world across this terrain is not an option. A fall, injury, wolves…

Here too there are three nomad tents. Inside I rest and warm up. I wonder how all those mountaineers feel that have to turn back, summit already in sight. How I feel myself I don’t know. Numbed? Maybe I look deeply disappointed – the tent owner says he has a bigger bike and suggests we go on.

Moving again. Indeed his bike is a more suitable off the road machine. Time and again we cross the Mekong’s meandering river bed, five meters wide, then four, then three. Then this bike too can’t continue.

I’m left to my own devices now. I walk.

This is where I got: