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Entering the Xinjiang Autonomous Region

Dear Followers of our blog

 

Due to time issues we decided to use www.DeepL.com/Translator to translate the German blog. Even though the translation might not be perfect we hope that you get a good impression of our adventure along the Silk Road.

 

 

We leave Liuyung in the morning after having our own breakfast in the room. We have a day's stage of about 100km ahead of us. We're both hitchhiking, immersed in our thoughts. From time to time we make a remark about the desert landscape, a flower that we discover at the roadside. Otherwise, it's quiet. At the beginning we drive on the G312, our "standard road", two lanes with oncoming traffic, which is merged with the Autobhan after several kilometers. The longer the day, the stronger the wind. We are really shaken by the wind: we have crosswind, when a truck comes from behind and passes us, there is a good push forward, when the truck comes from vonre, the wind it causes slows us down - just imagine, everything happens at the same time! I can almost not hold the bike anymore. Shortly before Xingxingxia, our destination, we even have to descend to get up a small gradient at all. Finally we arrive in the "city", at least that's how it is written on the map. But there is no such thing as a city! It has just a few shops, 2 or 3 hotels, a gas station and many trucks. That's all! Thank God we don't need it anymore. Shortly after we checked into the Islamic hotel, the next sandstorm comes up. We hear it storming and raging outside, the few small trees and bushes bend in the wind. We are just happy to have a roof over our heads and to be able to enjoy a nice warm shower. Strong winds are also forecast for the following day. So on Friday, 25.5.2018 we come to an unwanted "Friday", because a continuation of the journey is out of the question with this headwind. Even wine can be bought in the hotel's own shop, although Islamic. So we can have a nightcap or an aperitif while hanging around our "Friday".

On the second day in Xingsingxia we want to take a shower as usual. But not a drop of water comes out of the tap. What's the point of that? Everything worked the day before! We inquire with the "hotel manager". This points to the filled 5 litre pet bottles and opens the tap, from which no water comes. He always smiles friendly. We're carrying some bottles into our room. We have no choice but to heat up water in the tea maker and wash like in good old times. Thank God there is a kettle in all hotel rooms in China...

 

The next day we get on our bikes rested. After a few hundred meters we pass a checkpoint. Welcome to the Xinjiang Autonomous Region. A policeman checks our passports, copies them, asks questions about where from and where to, especially about our next destination, everything is registered. Duration: approx. 30 min. Finally we can start.

 

Today is highway announced. Actually, that's not bad for us. We have our wide bicycle lane, there is no oncoming traffic, the many trucks pull us with their thrust. Although we are in the desert, we experience the versatility of desert landscapes: sometimes the desert is flat, sometimes mountainous or hilly, stony, sandy, golden yellow, reddish, anthracite-coloured. 

 

We're doing pretty well. That's a good thing, because how else are we supposed to make the 130km? After 100km the next police checkpoint is waiting for us, this time it seems to be traffic policemen. First we are photographed. Whether it is a business or rather private mobile phone photo is beyond our knowledge.  When asked where we want to go, I reply that we are on our way to Kumul, knowing full well that we will no longer make this stage. Immediately a discussion starts among the police officers with the following result: It is too dangerous to drive on the motorway (after we have already covered 100km), it is their job to take care of our safety. Our bikes and our luggage are loaded into the pickup truck, we sit in the car and are transported the next 80km to the next exit. Resistance is useless! After all, we get a cold RedBull to drink while driving, that's not a bad service. 

 

After an hour's drive there is a normal main road again. We have thus saved the leg of the following day. We still have 20km to Kumul. We can do that, with two more stops at checkpoints.

 

After checking in at the hotel we have just enough time to eat and stock up with food and water for the next few days. 

 

We decided not to take the direct route to Turpan but to take the beautiful northern route, which runs along the northern side of the Tian Shan Mountains. Here lies Barkol and Lake Barkol, with endless plains, herds of horses, camels, sheep and yurts. It looks fantastic! 

 

But this route is also the harder one. An increase of 2000 meters in altitude is imminent. We won't get it in a day! On the way it also has no accommodation possibilities, camping is the order of the day. We leave Kumul behind us and drive towards the mountain range. The first 40km have a pleasant ascent, it is very easy to drive. But then the endurance test begins: as soon as we have reached the mountain range, the gradient becomes steeper, the additional weight of water and food is also noticeable. The beautiful landscape and mountain world compensates us for the exertions. After more than 1200 Hphenmetern we are gradually tired. However, it is not easy to find a suitable camping site along the road, especially since it is known that camping is generally forbidden. And with all the controls... we don't have a choice. We find it difficult to find the right place in a rather narrow valley with a road. Finally we decide for a somewhat isolated place, but wait with the setting up of the tent, until the traffic decreases. The road is not far away and we want to avoid attracting attention. While we sit and wait like this, a shepherd joins us. Markus and he talk to google translator as best they can, I've been using my "no words book" again for a long time. We learn that there was 1/2m of snow at our campground two days ago, that it gets very cold at night, that he prefers riding a motorbike to riding a bike, etc. You see, a little entertainment is possible. When we finally set up our tent, a police car actually drives by. It looks like they haven't seen us or don't want to know. Finally we can get settled and sleep in the tent. In the morning a large flock of sheep, passing by our tent, wakes us up with their lowing and the cries of the shepherd.

 

The second part of the mountain stage is imminent. We have respect for that, as our legs from the day before are still a little tired. We take it slowly, knowing that the next 11km are steep uphill. We pedal, count every kilometre, make our breaks and drink stops. It is hard and also difficult to motivate yourself. But for us it is also a first real test. Because if we can't make this mountain, how are we gonna drive the Pamir Highway? 

 

Finally the pass is in sight! I put on another jag, Markus doesn't quite understand why I'm doing this; the deal was slow! With the goal in mind, it suddenly gets a lot easier! Once at the top you have a wonderful view of the valley! Incredibly beautiful, overwhelming! A beautiful temple adorns the viewpoint, several excursionists are here! But it is cold. We put on a warmer cap and marvel at the Chinese woman, who can be photographed in an airy sleeveless summer dress.

 

The drive down to the valley is wonderful. We have the feeling of being in the Swiss mountains. Larch trees line the slope, several snow fields are to be seen, and above all, it goes downhill. The wind rushes around your ears! The efforts of the ascent are almost forgotten. Once in the valley we continue towards Barkol, where the next check is already waiting for us. We provide all required information in accordance with our obligations. It just takes a while, here everything goes much slower. My Iran visa, in which I am depicted with a headscarf, always seems to be of interest. 

 

Finally we can drive on after half an hour, Barkol is still 70km away. It's mostly downhill. We marvel at the green fields, the mountains. We stop in a village to do some shopping and feel no longer in China, but in Central Asia. The music is different, barbecues are set up in front of the shops, tea is drunk, women wear headscarves again, similar to last year's Stan countries. 

 

Finally Bakol is in sight and with it also the next control point. We're stopped, our passports checked. This time it only takes about 10 minutes. We were the attention of the day, 10 officers were standing around us. To our question, where we stay overnight, we answer quite simply, in the hotel. We haven't booked anything yet. It says: please follow the police car, we will lead you to the hotel. We are curious where they will lead us and are already thinking about what to do if the hotel does not meet our expectations. Our concerns are unnecessary. The police are driving us to a nice new hotel. When checking in, the receptionist first mentions how much the room costs. There are no CHF30. We nod. But until we can finally get into the room, it still takes: Taking formalities, taking photos, checking passports, taking photos again. And the luggage has to be scanned, just like in the airport. Unfortunately, the hotel scanner doesn't work. Everyone is a little perplexed: police, reception, we... We sit and wait, reject the offer without going into the room with our luggage. One security man tries in vain to get the scanner up and running again. Finally the decision is made: all our luggage is taken to another hotel, scanned and returned. Markus goes with me, I go into the room, escorted by the receptionist and a police officer. When the WiFi is on, they finally leave me alone in the room. Markus is soon there too, with the scanned luggage, once through the system as required by law, nobody looks at a screen!

 

P.S. By the way, for all those who haven't noticed it yet: we are full of work, no sign of holidays! (Cycling, shopping, planning, writing a blog, downloading routes and pictures, washing clothes, motivational training, practicing in patience, alternative remote routes to avoid controls....)