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300km in 2 days

 

Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator

 

The weather report keeps its promises. In the night on Monday it really rains again. But when we leave after a hearty breakfast, the sky clears up and the roads gradually dry up. For us it is just right, not too cold and not too hot! We do not take the most direct route to Aksu but choose the route along the Muzart River, which lies between the southern mountain range of Tengrigath and Qoltagh. As a consequence, we are allowed to pedal a few meters up to reach this valley. We approach the ascent calmly, after all we have the whole day and the sun only sets after 10 o'clock. In addition we have enough provisions to camp, because the next village, Baicheng is 136km away. 

 

The wonderful scenery begins shortly after we have left Kuqa. We drive to Tianshan Grand Canyon Park, famous for its red sandstone and bizarre formations. The guide keeps his promises. The pictures that present themselves to us are enormous. Again and again we stop, pull out our mobile phones or our camera and find, also this we have to photograph, whether it is an exit, a special rock formation, a panorama picture, or a small pond which was created because of the rainfall of the previous day... and as soon as we have put away our devices, we already see the next photo subject!

 

After a good 70km drive we reach the next sight, the 1'000 Buddha Caves of Kizil, the largest caves of this kind in Xinjiang. Especially the location of these caves is fantastic. Chiselled into the cliffs of the mountain range with a view of the meandering river, lush green trees and avenues - once again we pull out our camera. The complex as a whole is beautiful, the caves themselves nothing new for us, as we have already visited several caves along the Silk Road. 

 

Back on the main road towards Baicheng we quickly notice that it will be difficult to find a campsite. Thanks to the river it is very green here and therefore also ideal for agriculture. Accordingly, there are relatively many people living here, the fields are irrigated (after all we don't want to take a bath) and because of the rain everything is damp. The decision is made quickly, we drive on to Baicheng, where there are several hotels to stay overnight. On the way we buy some fruit in a small shop. Just as we're leaving, a man who speaks a little English stops us. He comes to the point and wants to see our passports. I ask him, who is he, if he belongs to the police? He denies that and therefore we don't feel obliged to show him our passports. We drive off, but we also see that the man picks up the phone and calls someone. Shortly after we have left the village, we are stopped by a police officer and another person. Interestingly, he immediately pulls out his police ID card, which we have never experienced before and demands our passports, which we naturally show him. It won't take long and he'll let us go. Whew, that's a wrap. On the way we book a hotel room, which is always useful if we can show the voucher during a possible check. Shortly after 8 pm we reach Baicheng. We are already looking forward to the hot shower, a good meal... Unfortunately that won't happen. As soon as we arrive in town, we are stopped as usual. Since not many long noses pass by here, the local police are not familiar with how to deal with us or what to do. Until this is clarified, it already takes its good 30min. With a police escort we are led through half of the city directly to the hotel, unfortunately not to the one we have chosen. But there is nothing to discuss, we have to stay where they took us. Finally our luggage is in the room and at the same time also 3, sometimes 4 policemen, who first search our luggage and then want to know everything about us; but above all which is our next destination. We indicate Aksu, the city 166km away. At the end of the interview Markus is allowed to talk to an English speaking woman on the phone. Finally, at 11 pm we have the room to ourselves. A glass of wine, tomatoes and bread are our dinner, and after a hot shower we fall dead tired is bed. Unfortunately we didn't see anything of the city, a pity, because during the passage I noticed one or the other corner, which I would have liked to have looked at during a walk.

 

After a short night we continue our journey. Endless long avenues adorn the dead straight road, on the left and right there are fields, in the background are the snow mountains - it looks really kitschy. For the time being we see nothing of desert landscape. In the first village we stop, buy freshly baked bread and a delicious melon. After a good hour's drive we take our first break and sit in the shade of a tree. Interestingly, a car stops a few meters ahead of us, the driver throws a can out the window. That's nothing out of the ordinary. After another hour follows the next break. And look, the same car also stops again, this time a few meters behind us. Markus and I quickly agree on what this means: we are being monitored. The officials from the day before want to make sure that we really go to Aksu and don't spend the night somewhere in between. There are no hotels in the small villages and foreigners are not allowed to stay in the only town before Aksu. Markus is not afraid to go to the driver and ask him directly if he is watching us. He answers in the affirmative and thinks that he is responsible for security and law, whatever that means. We take note of it. Nevertheless, we enjoy the wonderful melon. While we're sitting like this, the relieving comes with two cops, we still remember the license plate number. The two policemen see that we take a break, spread out their blanket at some distance and wait for us to leave again. From now on they are our companions for over 100km. We or they are always in sight. Our motivation isn't exactly intoxicating, it's a funny feeling to just be under observation, not knowing exactly what's going on. Our only hope is that when we leave this side valley and return to the well-known main traffic axis G314, we will be "free again". 

 

We cycle ahead of us, the landscape becomes more barren again, before us a mountain world and a desert opens up that lets forget all the impassabilities. Regardless of our observers, we stop, take our photos, enjoy the fantastic view, make our drinking stops and motivate each other. We don't let ourselves get down so easily, even if we ask ourselves in between if we shouldn't just get on the bus from Aksu to Kashgar to avoid these inconveniences!

 

And it came exactly as we thought: as soon as we are on the G314, the two policemen overtake us one last time on a climb and were not seen again. But we are in the lurch. All the beautiful camping possibilities we have already passed, we are back in densely populated area. We have no other choice than to drive to Aksu, 163km in total. Finally, at 10 pm we arrive at the hotel without any further checks. Good night! 

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