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(Tom Grimmer)
(Tom Grimmer)

Whew! The snarling Tibetan mastiff was chained. Then I heard the other one Add to ...

Sometimes things don’t go as planned – and those moments often make for the best stories. Tripping columns offer readers a chance to share their wild adventures.

Tibetan mastiffs weigh up to 85 kilograms and live on the high grasslands of the Tibetan Plateau, a bleak, beautiful and unforgiving part of Asia. Darling puppies soon grow into bone-crunching psychopaths that are equal parts dog, lion and Hannibal Lecter. Some are chained and some are not. Having just cycled 600 kilometres across one corner of the Plateau, I can tell you that the unchained ones are not a cyclists’ best friend.

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Mastiffs are used as a kind of alarm system for guarding sheep, goats and yaks. During the day they are chained nearby to alert the herders to the approach of strangers; at night they are allowed to roam free, and are known to engage the wolves that prowl the higher plateau. When you are the guest of nomadic herders, as I was, you soon learn to go outside for a midnight pee with great care. One night, I turned around to have my headlamp light up a set of eyes standing silently five metres away. Nice doggie. I backed away; he just watched.

My next encounter didn’t go as well. I had come to the Plateau with a friend who buys yak down for his garment business and we spent a lot of our time with Tibetan nomad herders. One morning my buddy went off to a neighbouring county to look at wool. I decided to stay back and ride my bike around the town – a place called Maqu, in China’s Gansu province – and to visit the birthplace of Gesar, a king who features in an epic poem of Central Asia. (It’s interesting that Maqu claims to be the birthplace of Gesar, because he’s a fictitious character, but that’s another story.)

I turned off the main highway near the Yellow River and started up a dirt road where a sign said Gesar was born. Soon I came upon a mud-walled Tibetan village; it was cold and very quiet except for the wind, which whipped up dust devils. Rounding a corner, I came upon a chained mastiff, which immediately went berserk at the sight of a bicycle. Delighted at seeing his chain, I continued to cycle past, looking at him on my left.

Then I heard the other one. It was coming fast under a barbed-wire fence on my right and making a snarling noise I won’t soon forget. In terror I quickly dismounted – on a bicycle you cannot outrun a mastiff – but in my panic I fell hard, sprawling onto my back as the beast lurched toward me. I had visions of a terrier shaking a rat.

I seized a rock as I scrambled to my knees and flung it at the dog. I may have hit him, or perhaps he was just startled by my attempt at defence. Either way, he stopped and just looked and growled – but he was not going away.

My knee aching from my spill, I picked up my bike and kept it between me and the mastiff. He followed me about 100 metres down the road, and every time I tried to remount he would charge toward me, teeth bared. Eventually he lost interest as I exited his territory, and I was able to get back on, knee throbbing, heart pounding.

I pedalled gingerly back home, disappointed at not having found Gesar. But probably not as disappointed as Hannibal the Mastiff, who was likely rueing the one that got away.

Send your adventures to travel@globeandmail.com

 

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