The N317 is better than the N318?

We are now trying to reach Lhasa on the more northerly N317 having given up on the N318.

We made lots of enquires in Bamda about the road conditions between Bamda and Lhasa. We asked truck drivers, we asked 4x4 drivers, we asked anybody with an opinion.

As a result we could confidently say that:

  • The N317 is better than the N318.
  • The N318 is better than the N317.
  • The N317 is a good road.
  • There are no rivers to cross on the N317.
  • There are lots of rivers to ford on the N317.
  • There is no fuel on the N317.
  • The trucks get to Lhasa in 2 days (it is about 1000km).
  • Both roads are impassable to our type of vehicles.
  • There is fuel in every town on the N317.

So having no alternative we decide to try the N317.

Our most pressing problem is that our 90 day Chinese visas will expire before we get to Lhasa. So following the suggestion made by China Swan we give all our passports to Roger to take to Lhasa (in the truck carrying his immobile van). However for reasons far too complicated to go into we end up all together again in Qamdo where our visas are extended for 30 days. A great relief.

Without the pressure of expiring visas we set out from Qamdo towards Lhasa on the N317. The road is better than the N318. We know that because we are still moving - just.

But the road is really only suitable for 4x4s or trucks. As a result we are covering less than 100km per day. Every few kilometers we come to a rutted section or a small stream and we all have to get out with our pick axes and shovels and flatten the central ridge and fill in the ruts. It takes between 15 minutes and an an hour for each hazard.

Some problems are more serious, for example a bridge under repair requires us to cross a river too deep and rough for all but Mog. Rather than risk a van getting stuck in the river, Mog tows each van through the river and up the 30% mud slope on the other side. It takes well over an hour to cover 100m.

Serge's van has to be towed out by a local truck after he slides off the road in mud. Womble scrapes along the side of a truck and has to be patched up with gaffer tape.

In the first 200km we have found fuel (hand pumped out of a 200 litre barrel), so we should all have enough fuel to reach Lhasa.

Other than the road conditions the drive is fantastic, the scenery is staggering, the distant mountains are snow capped, the air clear, the locals friendly. For many of us this is the best part of the trip.

Note the time is GMT, add 8 hours for local time.This morning at 07:20 in the dark and ice we celebrated Maureen's "50" birthday.

This evening (2002-10-11) we are camped just off the road about 15km east of Su-Ti (N31.68520 E94.57326).

All the vans are still going well (though both Serge's van and Womble are leaking oil, and Kon-Tiki has to charge his battery from K-Nine each night) and we should reach the tarmac road at Nagqu in three or four days!

Stephen Stewart.

Home - This page last changed on 2002-10-11