Day 76 On the road again!

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Being back on the road actually feels great. Glad to put the recent disappointment behind me. The weather is ideal, and I quickly slip back into relaxed cruise mode, once I get out of the hectic city traffic. Not far outside of UB I see a couple of overland cyclists approaching. I’ve seen enough of them now to recognise from a distance that they are westerners. I raise my hand in greeting and as we pass I realise that they are the same two lads I met on the Pamir Highway in Tajikistan. It’s amazing that they have cycled to UB almost as fast as I got there with an engine. Two minutes later as I’m still processing that thought, there’s a sudden emission of smoke from the transit van in front, follwed by dozens of small pieces of metal and one very big one that looks a lot like an entire differential. The shrapnel bounces and scatters across the road like a defensive gadget on James Bond’s Aston, and I swerve into the dust across the other side of the road to avoid it. Good job there was nothing coming the other way!

Just before Darkhan I stop to take a photo of a big sculpture when an MPV pulls up and disgorges a load of Buddhist monks. It looks for all the world like they’ve stopped for a look at me, not the statue. One takes a photo for me with my camera, then asks if I would take one of him. I tell him to sit on the bike and he looks pleased as punch. With sign language and a few shared words they ask all about me an the trip and seem fascinated. As they’re preparing to leave, the older man who is wearing much more ornate robes and seems enthralled by my story, turns to me, puts his hands together as if in prayer, says something I don’t understand and then bows towards me. I find myself instinctively bowing in return. Whatever he said was delivered with such intensity and benificence that I can only assume it was a blessing, and if not that then a very strongly felt wish of good luck for my journey. It was amazing. The obvious wisdom and seniority of this man, the look of serenity and almost paternal interest in me made it quite humbling. Software engineer types may find it amusing that their Japanese people carrier was emblazoned with graphics boldly proclaiming “Lorem Ipsum”. LOL.

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A few miles down the road when I see a giant Buddha head on top of a hill it seems only right that I stop to climb the steps for a photo. Some more locals who speak good english throw another barrage of questions about me and the trip and seem so enthusiastic and amazed that it makes me stop to remember just how amazing this actually is. They show me the correct way to pay my respects, throwing rice and so on, but it doesn’t grant me enough divine favour to prevent the rain starting. It does get me cordially invited to jump the queue at both the Mongolian and Russian border gates, saving me hours. It still takes a couple of hours, but then I’m back into Russia and as the weather isn’t great I make straight for Ulan Ude, capital of Siberia, check into the Baikal Plaza then wander into the square to have my photo taken next to the world’s biggest Lenin head. It feels great to9 be back on the road, the bike purring along faultlessly, and I’ve made great progress. Tomorrow will be a quick visit to Lake Baikal before heading east again for Chita and the Amur highway. I’ll also have to do something about my lack of insurance. There was nowhere to buy it at the border like there usually is. I should have got it when we first entered Russia from Kazakhstan, but we only got 15 days worth…. So I need to deal with that first thing otherwise I’ll be setting myself up for having to pay big bribes everytime I get stopped by the cops out on the Amur highway, but for now I will enjoy a few beers and some dinner in the hotel bar while I enjoy having a working laptop and Wi-Fi.
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