2013 - China again,,,
My bike has been packed again into the same old GIANT box which I got in Kashgar.last year. Before I left Germany, I had a bit of maintenance work done, e.g.: Oil change for the Rohloff Speedhub, new chain, turning the small rear gear and changing the complete b&m e-werk incl. the buffer battery. The flight was OK and it feels good to be in China again, unfortunately China Southern Airlines charged me more than 1000 ¥ RMB for the excess baggage on the inland flight. Luckily I did not have to pay anything on the flight from Frankfurt. Looking down on the landscape between Wubei and Urumqi, there is still a lot of snow – I just hope it is gone by the time I get there,,,
I started in Kashgar and pedaled up the Kara Koram High Way (KKH). On the first day I did exactly 101km and camped at 1950m. I guess I need some time to get used to sleeping in a tent again… what I did not realize at this camp site was, that it was obviously the favorite grazing area for about 20 camels. The grazing is actually not the problem, but the noise that these huge animals make by re-chewing and digesting their dinner… in the morning they were all sleeping peacefully on the other side of the river. The next day was extremely tough going up the 90km in the Ghez river canyon, all the way to Lake Toktogul at approx. 3650m. Unfortunately there was a lot of heavy traffic with huge, overloaded trucks, carrying iron ore, bricks, or coal. Many signs of accidents along the way. Because their breaks are constantly overheated, the truck drivers use the many truck stops to cool their breaks with water which is being pumped up from the rivers. Instead of camping I decided to sleep in a Kirgiz yurt camp. The night was relatively cold and the coal fired heater did not really create a lot of heat with outside temperatures well below freezing. Again, not much good sleep that night. When I arrived it was already getting dark, so I could not see much of the lake, but the sight of the sunrise in the morning was a fascinating compensation for the sleepless night. During the night I realized that climbing up to this height within only a few days, was not such a good idea and due to the lack of oxygen my energy level went down to zero plus the fact that the weather changed after initial sunshine. After pedaling around the lake area up to about 3800m and through some Kirgiz villages, I decided to head back down towards Kashgar again….at 1300m
2013-05-04 I was leaving Kashgar after lunch and after visiting the old town and Mao’s Statue. For some unknown reason I ended up on the brand new Autobahn which had almost no traffic at all. Nobody seemed to mind that an old man was pedaling along the freeway, passing several police cars, a toll gate where I was almost hit by the barrier, but got a friendly smile from the gate attendant and at my final destination for the day, I saw the sign: NO pedestrians, NO donkey or horse carts and NO bicycles, which is widely ignored. After about 71km I reached YENGISAR which is synonymous with fancy knife production. There are dozens of small knife factories / shops along the main road. Each one seems to have its own style and unique inlay design layout. I checked into a small hotel. At about 1:00AM a guy from the fire brigade woke me up, because of a smoke detector alarm. Just getting back to sleep, at 2:30AM the Police came to check my passport, unfortunately the hotel lady had copied the 2011 visa page and not the current 2013 issue. All along I thought that the whole Chinese bureaucratic way of making copies of everything was just an occupational therapy. But - oh, no they have enough manpower to check and double check everything. These Police guys were really friendly and apologized that they had woken me up – but the night was ruined,,,
2013-05-05 Since I had left Kashgar, I did not feel too well and had to do several emergency stops on the way. Sure enough, I was hit by Montezuma’s-Revenge – and I’m not talking about the famous video game. My decision to stay in the hotel that day helped me a lot and the old African cure of lots of Coca Cola and no food all day, cleaned out my system, plus a lot of sleep.
2013-05-06 Leaving YENGISAR, I used the old road instead of the Free Way, which I regretted very quickly. It was absolutely horrible, with huge potholes dusty, improvised detours, and hundreds of huge construction site trucks. Beside a 50km section of typical Taklamakan desert, the road passed partly through large Uyghur oases with countless poplar trees, lush green wheat fields, fruit and vegetable farms. It is really impressive what these people have accomplished in cultivating the desert. Not only by planting millions of poplar trees, but also developing a unique way of irrigating huge areas by an intricate system of water channels. After a grueling 7:44h / 125km ride I reached YARKANT (SHACHE) @ N38°24,864 / E 077°14,097 – 1235m/NN. I was happy to find a nice hotel on the way into town, but they refused to give me a room. Reason: NO foreigners! I had heard this from other travelers; however this was the first time for me. Luckily the lady at the desk called her boss again and told me, that I could stay. Relief! For centuries YARKANT used to be an important caravan town and trading place for cashmere wool. The 18th century Mosque and Mausoleum is another highlight of Shache. Unfortunately I missed the Sunday market by one day.
2013-05-07 Starting from YARKANT was a bit slow and there was a lot to see along the way. Almost all of the 67km to KARGILIK lead through Uyghur farmland and villages. As I was getting closer to Kargilik I noticed an increasing number of donkey carts and motor tricycles. This could only mean that there must be a big market somewhere. Sure enough, about 15km before the city was a huge market with hundreds of carts and probably thousands of Uyghur people. Time for me to have look and also to eat my favorite Uyghur-dish: lach-man (面食) ever since Kazakhstan, in most Turk / Stan countries, this noodle dish is being served along the roads. In KARGILIK I found a room right next to the city center and the central bus station. A bit noisy but with my ear plugs no problem. My bicycle got its own single room on the ground floor, at no extra charge. My original plan was, to branch of from here towards Tibet, but the road has been closed for individual travelers, so I will continue my Odyssey on the Southern Silk Road.
.2013-05-08 With 151km, 7h46m, Ø19,6kmh – 322hm- a typical cycling day, first through some Uyghur oases, later only desert, sand, dust. Temperature around 25°C. Passing the town of PISHAN. Stopping for a lach-man lunch along the way. This section of the road 315 is very good, new asphalt. Statistics: Camp in the Sand @ N37°17,750’ / E078°52,021’ – 1388m/NN - Now I know that the tent is not dust proof! Very windy night, not ideal camping conditions for old men. Not much sound sleep.
2013-05-09 From the desert camp to HOTAN it was 118km of easy riding, partly good tail wind. After about 40km I met the first long distance cyclists, a very nice young Chinese couple from Beijing, heading for Pishan and then Kashgar. What is good for me, is very bad for them, they have to face the strong wind. All their equipment still looks like brand new. It is still mostly sandy desert, since this morning with no places to get food or drinks. A surprise comes shortly before noon, a dreaded sound from the rear wheel – pffffffff. The first flat tire in 2013. But somehow, I’m always at least a bit lucky, the whole morning there was absolutely nothing along the road – just Taklamakan sand. Now right at the spot where I had the puncture was a construction site for a new petrol station. That meant at least a bit of shade and protection from the dusty wind. The construction people at first did not know what I wanted, but when I pointed to my flat tire, they were very helpful and supportive. Got me some water to drink, a huge tire pump and of course took lots of pictures with their mobile phones. It didn’t take me long to find the culprit. It was small piece of spring steel, still stuck in the tire. I did not even have to remove the wheel, just pulled out the inner tube and patched it. As I was doing this, I really felt a strong sense of hunger creeping up and the smell food that came out of one of their buildings made it worse. But Chinese being Chinese, which normally means very hospitable people, would not let an old man starve. So I was immediately invited to their lunch, a delicious Sichuan meal, with soup and a big bowl of rice. Wonderful! The rest of the way to HOTAN was mostly desert but also some small villages. As I was getting closer to the city, the traffic got worse and for my sense of organized movement, totally chaotic. 3 hotels refused to give me a room, finally I got the YuDu hotel right in the down town area, overlooking the central plaza with a big Mao statue. The bicycle got to stay with me in the room, after a short discussion,,, Hotan is a great place, just to walk around. Near the main square are lots of food stalls at night and almost all evenings and mornings one can see the usual Chinese dancing performance. Hotan is also the Jade capital of China. Apparently they have unearthed some Jade artifacts, dated back as far as 5000BC. Carpet weaving and silk making have also had long tradition in the area. But the Jade Road as a trade link was established long before the silk-road opened to the west. Jade dealers can be seen all over the city and I was told that they sometimes auction of huge rocks with the probability of a Jade core. It’s another form of gambling, if you are lucky its pure Jade and you make millions. If bad luck is with you, then you bought an expensive worthless rock.
2013-05-10 After a short walk around the square, I left HOTAN, the traffic leaving the city was just as bad as entering it. I was hoping to get as far as OIRA, but late in the afternoon I had another rear flat tire. This time I was out in the middle of nowhere and could not find a nail or whatever caused it. More than 1 1/2 hours I spend fixing the puncture. My plan was to get some bread or whatever to eat, but could not make it to the town. Just after sunset I searched for good, quiet camp site, which I found far away from the road near some huge dunes. @ N36°55,270’ / E080°44,663’ – 1460mNN about 86km east of Hotan. – Dinner: Nuts & raisins with a bit of Muesli,,, and sleep very well.
2013-05-11 Taking the tent down was a bit of a challenge, too much wind and almost a little sandstorm again. After only 10km I reached a small town where I ordered a big noodle / veggie lunch with a huge pot of chai. As I was sitting there eating my lach-man, an Uyghur man sat down vis-à-vis from me, first just staring wordlessly at me while I was eating, then he got his mobile phone / camera and filmed every movement of my eating, less than half a meter from my plate. Very strange! On the way to KERIYA I pass through several small villages and Uyghur settlements, farms and markets. I also saw people collecting mushrooms in the poplar forests. After 101km –Ø18,5kmh I reach KERIYA searching for a place to stay, I discover a Chinese hotel, they want to give me a room but had to call the police first and they refused. Then they gave me directions to a place where foreigners are allowed to stay. ZHEJIANG GR. Hotel @N36°51,256’ / E081°40,082’ – 1392mNN –
2013-05-12 I leave the hotel around noon and get to NIYA after 110km in 5:05hr at Ø21.5kmh & 305hm. Good road n friendly wind. Mostly desert and some farms. Not very hot, average about 25° to 27°C. On the road leaving KERIYA, a taxi driver keeps driving next to for at least 1 km at about 25kmh, watching me cycling. I look at him, he looks at me, smiles. Then perhaps, after another km his wife asks the usual: which country? Where are you going? How old are you? They talk,,, then after a while the other lady on rear seat picks up an apple from her basket and hands it to me. Then, off they go and disappear behind the horizon,,, An hour later an SUV pulls up with 3 young men, same situation, only much shorter: which country? Where to? How old? Then they hand me a bottle of cold water. Thank you bye, bye,,, after arriving in NIYA, the usual search for a hotel, this time 3 refusals, then one good one. Dinner in town at various street kitchens, grilled mushrooms (the kind I saw in the poplar forests), lots of grilled tofu, and grilled eggs, grilled corn, also got mangos, bananas, water melon, apples and oranges.
2013-05-13 – Leaving the hotel around noon, I discover a flat tire again, this time front wheel and again a small piece of spring steel wire. I start the repair job right in front of the hotel, with the “help” of half a dozen school boys. Before I start my journey, I get a wonderful Chinese noodle dish. Food wise there is almost nothing available along the road. After about 40km the sky turns dark brown, BAD NEWS! Another strong sand storm building up, this time straight from the front. I manage to complete 80km until sunset at 21:30 – the wind slows down and I camp near some small water puddles. After midnight rain sets in,,, but the tent is water proof and I stay dry. I am too tired to wake up for a long time. Location @N37°22,266’ / E083°20,103’ / 1361mNN.
2013-05-14 In the morning it is still raining, then clearing up and the air is nice and clean, no dust! And it cooled down to about 20°C. The desert turns more into a savanna type of landscape, with more and more trees. After 60km a small hut appears where a very shy lady sells soft drinks, I stock up on water and Chinese Coke, no food available. Looking at the right side one can vaguely see the outline of the Tibetan mountains Fortunately at km80 a big truck-stop at one of the cross roads emerges out of nowhere and I can have a big dinner. The Uyghur lady that helped at the restaurant is a medical student from Urumqi and spoke very well English. After a total of 125km at an average speed of Ø21,6kmh I found a very secluded camp site in the bushes near a river, the Night is kind of cold, below 5°C and there are some mosquitoes, but fortunately not in the tent @N37°57,860E084°26,694 – at 1256mNN
2013-05-15 – The landscape changes again, now almost no trees, more sand dunes and then some tall grass, like reed. Which the Uyghur’s use to make matts. All in all a long boring ride from the camp to QIEMO about 112 km of straight desert road. No food available along the whole way. But I get invited from a bunch of road construction workers to indulge into a big bowl of rice with veggies. Wonderful! In turn everyone likes to have a little spin with my bicycle, and to take photos. Arriving in QIEMO, I have to check into a fancy Hotel (YuDu again,,,) with internet, but no space for my bike. It has to stay in the parking lot. Before that, I had one more refusal from a more reasonable Hotel,,, “Sorry, no Foreigners”
2013-05-16 – after about 1150km since leaving Kashgar I decide to take a day rest here in QIEMO and stock up on some food for the following days,,,,Qiemo has a lot of interesting markets and I manage to get really nice walnuts from Turkey and delicious, big Iranian dates @N38°08,478’E085°31,936’ – 1250mNN
2013-05-17 – HADILIK road camp @ N37°41,345 ’E085°58,299’ - On leaving Qiemo after lunch, I kept asking several people, which way to go Ruoqiang, but I got conflicting answers. Unfortunately 2 of my maps show that I have to go directly East and the other 2 maps indicate that I have to go south first and then east, Google maps and the Garmin GPS both have the same V-shape road, down South-East and at a place called Hadilik turning up North-East and then after about 165km it should turn East. So far both Garmin and Google have been pretty accurate with their Geography but this time it was a total mess. The first 80 km to Hadilik were OK, I had to climb up about 850hm to 2065m over a distance of 82km. On the way I had asked several people but most of them did not really know, one couple on a motorcycle even got into an argument at an intersection, she said I should turn right and he said the opposite. A young Jade collector also on a motor bike gave me some helpful hints and told me there would be a road construction camp in Hadilik and they should know, plus they have plenty of food and water. Then one Taxi driver slowed down and indicated to me that I should turn back because this was a dead end road. However, I had done already almost 70km and really did not feel like turning around. The road was very nice and paved and I could see the snow covered Tibetan Plateau in front of me. Garmin and Google still made me feel that I was 100% on the right track. One thing though, made me a little suspicious; there was absolutely no traffic the last 20km and what had happened to all the big trucks, which accompanied me all the way from Kashgar, all disappeared. Hadilik was one of those none existing towns, beside the road camp, there was a bridge, a river with water, 2 buildings and a road barrier. Up on talking to the road workers in the camp I got more and more confused, they did not know of any road to Ruoqiang from that point I should really return to Qiemo and try to find the road from there, except an old Uyghur guard told everybody that the dirt road behind the camp was leading to where I wanted to go, but also indicated that it might be a bit rough in places,,, These People where really extremely nice to me, first they asked the kitchen lady to prepare some plates with vegetables, rice and soup, then they opened their meeting room, so I had a place to sleep, showed me where to get hot water and drinking water. Later some of the younger fellows came into “my room” with beer and other snacks. In turn everybody wanted to have a picture taken with me. Electricity was turned off before 10:30pm and I had a wonderful sleep that night, even though I still did not know how to get to Ruoqiang.
2013-05-18 – after 101km and 9:03h pedaling, Ø10,8kmh with 590hm, camp @N38°15,529’ – E086°41,775’ – Elevation 1336m – Temp. 12°-32°C The road workers get up early, so did I and that gave me an early start. Before leaving I stock up on 13l of water and for breakfast, the kitchen lady gave 2 big, fresh Mantou’s with tea. From about 2065m I was going downhill to about 1400m. At first it was not so bad, just a bit corrugated in some sections. But after a while it got worse and worse. There was virtually no traffic at all. The whole day I saw 5 cars and a few motor cycles. Most of the bridges, crossing dry river beds must have been washed away years ago. So there was a lot of pushing and walking in heavy, soft sand. Then after lunch for a couple of hours a strong sand storm made cycling virtually impossible. After that heavy rain moved in from the mountains and a short thunder storm crossed my way. Fortunately most of the lightning happened alongside the mountains and the rain lasted only for a very short time. At least there was no more dust after the shower and it cooled down a bit. About 9:00pm - car number5, a LandCruiser came out of nowhere and the 3 Uyghur’s told me that the road will get much worse for the next 65km with more soft sand and rocky areas to bypass destroyed bridges. They were heading toward the mountains and I could see them for a long time as they had to go very slow, mostly through dry river beds with lots of rocks. After that I decided to look for a nice area to pitch my tent,,,
2013-05-19 Sunday – The 3 LandCruiser guys did not exaggerate! For 65km it was absolutely horrible. Sometimes I think it can not get any worse, but on this this trip I have learned that worse has no limits – there is always room for another step beyond the last worse… Knowing that this was not going to be an easy day, I started with a fairly good breakfast, big bowl of muesli, Iranian dates and half a Nang (Uyghur bread). There was still enough water for an extra bottle of cold Nescafe and I had strong hopes to get back to civilization at the end of the day. For a long time my average speed was below 7kmh, too much pushing, down into the riverbed then up again on the other side. A lot of times I had to walk for long distances to find a passable track. All the villages which were marked on the map had disappeared. In some places there were still some ruins of what must have been buildings long time ago. At least 80% of all the bridges have been washed away and in many areas the road had totally vanished too. I did not see a single soul until later in the afternoon. If there was something like a road then it was so badly corrugated that riding the bike got to be fairly painful. To crown it all, the temperature was rising close to 40°C. The first vehicle, a Chinese Army truck crossed my way at about 4pm. They told me that it was only 24km to the paved road. Further down the track was a big construction camp building a water channel for some kind of an irrigation system, in the middle of no-where. After all the dust and heat it was wonderful to cool off my feet and splash the water into my face. Finally I got to the good old G315, where it was a big relief to blend into the east bound flow of traffic again. I hope Google will update their map, so that this will not happen to any other cyclists. Beside the bad road conditions, it also included a 80km detour! Once I was back on the pavement I learned that in about 38km was supposed to be town called Waxxari, so I pedaled like crazy to get there. When I arrived at that place, it was all dark because of a power failure, but people were very helpful to show me the way to the local hotel. Fantastic! After such a long day! WAXXRI @N38°41,312’-E087°22,246’ elevation 1009m, total distance 101km, 8h24min, Ø12kmh, 200hm.
2013-05-20 (PfingstMonday) Today I only pedaled 82km at an average of 19kmh, and in the early afternoon I reached RUOQIANG @N39°01,212’-E088°09,929’ elevation 907m, Temp. max during the day 38°C. Checked into the ZheWen Business hotel for 138¥, very nice room with a perfectly working shower / bathroom. Extremely friendly management (family Business) The road from Waxxari to this place is totally boring – a straight line almost all the way, desert. Ruoqiang (in Uyghur: Qakilik or Charkliq) has many high rise buildings. The population is a mix of Chinese, Uyghur, Mongolian and others.
2013-05-21 Tuesday, another hot, hot day. I left Ruoqiang after checking the local bookshop for a Qinghai map and eating a nice portion of Uyghur noodles. The road is again totally boring, gravel desert, flat, grey, every once in a while a little sand storm, but mostly from the side or back. After 76km, a big truck stop with lots of restaurants generates a little change. In a distance I can make out some taller buildings and lots of trees. In the restaurant I get the information that this is MILAN or MIRAN and there is supposed to be a small Hotel. So I change my direction and pedal the 5km to downtown MILAN @N39°14,507’-E088°53,933’ elevation 912m, It’s a small town with lots of shops, government buildings, schools and of course large police stations. The Ladies at the hotel are very friendly and they give me a nice. huge room. Across the street from the hotel is a wide open plaza and right around sunset probably dozens of people, mostly women gather there to do their evening dancing bit… Nice atmosphere, in the silvery moon light. Around midnight, right after I had taken a shower, knok- knok on the door, police again, checking my passport and taking photos of me and my passport, very strange, but very polite. After that the power was turned off again. Good night!
2013-05-22 I had planned an early start, but I could smell, and hear that there was trouble in the air. After the extreme heat the day before, a terrible sand storm has developed over night. So I had breakfast and was ready to go. Everybody told me that it was too much of a storm to cycle, but I thought I could do it and pedaled back to the main road. Once I got out into the open desert I realized that they were right, it was a violent sand storm, which would blow me right off the road, if I would try to head east. Even some of the large trucks did not dare to continue and waited at the truck stop. Hoping that it would die down I waited there, had lunch, and waited again, but it didn’t change. So I decided to return to the Milan Hotel. Most people said that the next day should be OK, a strong storm like this one normally only lasts for one day. The temperature had also gone down considerably from 36°C the previous day to about 15°C At the hotel I got the same big room 212 again. But then a nice young lady arrived at the reception and introduced herself in perfect English. “I am Monica, and I am doing some volunteer work for the government” She was from the north of China and it must have been a tremendous change for her to live here in the middle of the desert. Well, the real purpose of her visit to the hotel was that her big boss had arrived and every time he comes to Milan he likes to stay in room 212 and must have been a bit upset that some GweiLo (鬼佬) was occupying his room. So with the help of Monica and the hotel staff, we moved my bags to another room, and everybody was happy, including myself, because the new room was quite a bit cheaper. Since I had lost another day I asked her to help to find a bus or a car to take me to the next town, but then the next day, it was nice cycling weather, I decided to continue by bike. On the way back from the truck stop I hit one of the speed bumps too hard which ripped off two rivets from the mounting brackets of my DEUTER handle bar bag. I have been waiting for this to happen for a long time and was really surprised that it lasted for more than 12000km. I replaced the rivets by two strong screws and they will definitely outlast the rest of the bag.
2013-05-23 Before leaving the area of Milan, I decided to make a little detour to the Milan historic site, famous for its ruins of Buddhist monasteries. Milan was on the easternmost part of the trade route running along the southern rim of the Tarim Basin and played an important role on the southern Silk Road. Milan is said to have fallen into ruin around the fourth century. Unfortunately the entrance fee was set at 600¥ (crazy) so I skipped the visit and just had a look at the various posters which they had on display. After about 80km of totally boring desert road with absolutely nothing along the way, I reached the first little settlement, a family shop with kind of a restaurant. Great timing, just right for a fantastic dinner! Right around sunset I get to the first mountains, which means that I finally reached the eastern rim of the Tarim Basin and should soon get to the border of Qinghai. Camp in the mountains @N39°09,502’-E08954,138’ elevation 1880m, total distance 102km, 7h48min, Ø12,7kmh, 1020hm. Nice, cool and quiet night.