Myanmar: Beharrlicher Glauben an einen gesellschaftlichen Wandel

Seit knapp zwei Jahren wird aus dem einst isolierten Land Myanmar von einem rasanten Wandel zur Demokratie und von politischer Öffnung berichtet. Angesichts der kontroversen Lagebeurteilungen ist kaum nachzuvollziehen, wie viel Öffnung die Leute in Myanmar tatsächlich erleben. Der Mönch Jim erklärt uns, wie er die momentane Situation in Myanmar wahrnimmt und wie es zu einem echten Wandel kommen kann. Ein Wandel, der die ganze Gesellschaft durchdringt braucht viel Zeit. Jim ist jedoch voller Zuversicht, dass Myanmars Gesellschaft eine Wiedergeburt erleben kann.

Kategorie(n): Audio, Deutsch, Myanmar

Xining – Lanzhou

[hide]To all cyclists… have a look at the Quick-Facts, Route and Elevation-Profile at the bottom of the article


Waiting for our bicycles to be handed out to us at the parcel station, we inhale the fresh morning air of Xining. The city lies on 2250 meter above sea level and after a almost three days train ride we feel released getting back on our bikes. The sight of passing Tibetians with babies on their back, colorfully dressed bread sellers and Chinese businesspeople gives us a first impression of the ethnic mish-mash in Xining. However, when we cycle into the hearth of the city we find out that modern China with huge living complexes and architectural projects is dominating. Being sick of big cities, we use the opportunity to buy food for the next days and leave the city behind us as soon as

Along the smooth main road (to Lanzhou) the construction sites won’t end. This makes our task to find a campsite more difficult than expected. What has been quite easy in scarcely populated Kyrgyzstan turns out to be a real challenge. After dusk we find a small spot next to a field near the road.

The next day, we leave the main road towards Lanzhou and turn into a wonderful valley. As we climb up the mountain slopes we seem to travel in seasons. The road leads us through colorful autumn scenery with people harvesting on their fields and hanging out corn. The further we go the cooler it gets. Then it starts to snow. There are dozens of turns leading up to the the pass.

When we finally reach the top of the pass it is already dark. We are wet and cold from sweat and snow. But we know that we have to ride down some kilometers to find a camping spot. It is here where we realize that our gloves are definitely not proven for winter conditions. The ride down with freezing fingers is very painful and just before we really get to our limits we find a spot to camp.
The next day rewards us for the fatiguing climbing of the day before. We roll down through a beautiful valley with red rocks. In villages with colorful mosques the farmers are reaping grain and vegetables. The crop, that has already been cut down, lays in the road. The farmers spread the chaff crops on the middle of the road, where vehicles would be sure to hit them. This is illegal. There is no other act that so publicly violates both traffic safety and food hygiene. In rural China, though, it is still widely tolerated, because threshing is easiest when somebody else’s tires do the work. We don’t like the idea to ride over food so we stop before every pile and look at the farmers to confirm us that we can pass.

In the town at the bottom of the valley we find sorts of bread we have never seen or tasted before (who has told us there is no bread in China? there sure is!). Besides corn- and the steamed rice-flour-bread there is bread with dates in the middle and curry-bread, some of it filled with nut-paste. Here, people from two valleys meet to exchange their products. The valley we come from is mainly populated by Hui-Muslims and the one we head to, by Tibetians.

After another pass we decide to cycle some extra kilometers to visit Tongren. The monastic town is famous for its Thanka paintings. As the Thanka galleries are closed we ride to the town to find some accommodation.

But in the modern town, hotels are very selective about accepting foreigners. After some search we find a guest-house where the owner is willing to host us for a night. The shabby room and the open-air toilet on the balcony wouldn’t be our first choice but we are happy to get at least a room. Here we find all we need: a backyard for our bikes, a place to wash and a bed.
Ready for the next mountain pass we get an early start. After a tough climb we reach a pass where we are invited to warm up in a hut and have our first butter-tea. After a few kilometers descent we arrive in a mountain village where we realize that the pass before was just a foretaste of the serious mountain pass that still lies in front of us.

Opening our eyes after a good sleep in front of a monastery we look into brown faces and black eyes. Some local shepherds have discovered our tent on their morning walk along the prayer mills. Obviously they are very curious and thus open our tent to see what is hidden inside. We crawl out of our tent and eat our breakfast under observation of the locals. The last climb up to the 3640m pass is an easy task and soon we ride down towards Xiahe, where the biggest Tibetian monastery outside Tibet is located.

The town itself is separated into a Chinese, a Muslim and a Tibetian part and it’s amazing to see the architectural differences in the buildings. By far the most impressive however, is the Tibetian part with big temples, monasteries and hundreds of living-cells for the monks clustered in-between. The religious sites are very busy with red-robed monks walking around and pilgrims praying with intense movements.

The ride down towards Lanzhou is not that spectacular anymore. A lot of construction work is going on along the riverside. However, the next day which we expected to be a lazy day, (just rolling into Lanzhou) surprises. The road winds along the marvelous field patterned hills. It’s a steadily up and down but never really gets into high altitude. We feel relived to be on the last ascent and expect to skip the peak through a tunnel which we find on our map. But we discover that the tunnel is under renovation. Therefore we have to climb the last snow-topped pass. The dirt-road which is definitely not made for heavy traffic is in a horrible condition. It starts to snow again and we have to push our bikes through the mud on the last few hundred meters of the pass. The descent is even worse. Urs’ break pads are completely down and changing them with breaks covered in mud and almost frozen fingers isn’t a easy task. As dusk is near and we don’t want to risk anything we decide to stop a truck and get a ride for the last 30km of the route. Finally in Lanzhou we cycle around the busy city to find a hotel where we can relax and reflect over the amazing trip we had, which often brought us to our limits.

Quick facts:

Distance: 586km

Duration: 12 days in October

Total ascent: 12’540m

Weather conditions: The temperature at this time of the year is definitely a matter to consider!
While it is comfortable to cycle in the valleys, crossing high passes covered in snow can become quite a challenge. We were lucky that we didn’t experience to much snow and none of the passes were closed.

Accommodation, camping sites: Agriculture makes it hard to find a spot for camping and communication is difficult. However there is always places between fields and farmers don’t seem to worry. One night, we even camped in front of a monastery.

Food: Except from the cities where food and restaurants are available everywhere, it is hard to find something else than Chinese snacks (chicken feet are available everywhere).

Water: Rivers carry a lot of sediments which makes water filtering a tiring task but we still recommend it. It’s hard to find bottled water in the mountains.

Highlights: Stupas, Mosques, Buddhist flags and the colorful autumn leaves turn the rocky landscape into a colorful place. We enjoyed the diversity of people as well as the food.

Lowlights: Cycling down from the 3800m snow topped pass after sunset freezing off our fingers.

Traffic: Moderate on the way but in both cities (Xining, Lanzhou) traffic was quite dense. Most annoying are the always honking (friendly gesture) trucks and the three-wheeled brick transportation-vehicles that pass by surrounding us with a black cloud of car-fumes.

Road condition: Except for the 3800m Pass, which is unpaved, the roads are in perfect condition. Many road-workers can be seen repairing, cleaning streets or repainting road-signs.

Bicycle shops: none visited

Kategorie(n): China, Cycling, English, Wegpunkte

Osh – Kashgar

[hide]To all cyclists: have a look at the Quick-Facts, Route and Elevation-Profile at the bottom of the article


Since our Kirghiz Visa is going to expire soon, we have to make it to the border within four days. After having some problems with Marlenes bicycle we decide to hitchhike to the Chinese Border.
We know that there is a 150kilometer-long corridor just after the Chinese border where it is forbidden for us to cycle on. We have been informed by other cyclists that the border-guards will help to organize a transport by truck.
We cross the Kirghiz border without problems and arrive at the Chinese immigration (after a ride of 7km trough no man’s land) shortly before noon. When we ask the border-guards for help we are told that all trucks are gone and we are not allowed to cycle the 150km dirt-road to Ulugqat (where official immigration has moved to). The guards hold collect our passports and tell us to wait for the next day. Since we have no Chinese money to rent one of the shabby hotel rooms, they give us the permission to camp nearby.
The next morning, the border-guards are still not interested to find a solution for us. Finally we decide to organize the transport ourselves and we find a very friendly truck driver who takes us to Ulugqat for free.
In Ulugqat, a professional and friendly Immigration-Officer stamps our visa and we are now officially in China. The ride towards Kashgar is easy since it is going down a lot. We are fascinated by the diversity of people and goods along the road. Unfortunately we cant yet enjoy the exotic food because our stomaches are protesting against it. On the terrace of our youth hostel (rooms are full so we have to pitch our tent) we attempt to recover. Its not that easy given that we are constantly surrounded by the carbon-monoxide-fumes of Šašlik grills and the loud playback of advertising songs on the street.
We study the maps of China and try to figure out how we should cross this huge country. Sweating in the dusty heat, we find out that we rather like to skip the Taklamakan Desert and cycle on the Tibetian Plateau instead. We have already given up on the idea to cycle the whole distance to Southeast- Asia since we have plans to meet friends there on Christmas.
China by bike (, a German bike tour operator gives us some inspiration on recommendable bike routes. The route descriptions on their website include elevation-charts which are perfect for our route planning. Always attracted by the mountains, a ride in the Tibetian Highlands seems to be the perfect choice for us. Due to Chinese holidays (in October, all Chinese have one week off) we have to wait another couple of days for our train. We send our bikes two days in advance so that they arrive on the same day we do.
Before leaving for Xining we visit the official Giant store in Kasghar. What we see here is more than disappointing. The shop is a huge mess. There might be some useful cycle parts but they are hidden below piles of carton and plastic waste. As if we aren’t shocked enough, the owner enters the shop with a 3 year old kid in his arm. Instead of serving us, he holds the girl up, put her pants down and let her pee right in front of the cashier desk. We flee to the big bazaar where rubber patches are cheaper and the atmosphere is cleaner.

Quick facts:

Distance: 138.7km cycled (for most of the route we took a truck)

Duration: 4 days in October 2012

Total ascent: 1304m

Weather conditions: On the high plateau before the border it can get really cold in October. The closer to Kashgar the hotter it gets (Takla Makam desert)

Accommodation, camping sites: On Kirghiz side its easy to find a camping spot. In China agriculture makes it hard to find a spot for camping and communication is difficult.

Food: Shops and restaurants on the Kirghiz side are rare. From Uluquat to Kashgar plenty of food and restaurants are available.

Water: Whereas in Kyrgyzstan you find relatively clean river water, on the Chinese side we recommend buying water from shops (sometimes only 0.5l bottles available).

Highlights: Riding into Kashgar, into this colourful oriental city gives you an impression of how important it must have been in ancient times.

Lowlights: Border crossing into China. Very unfriendly staff at the Erkestam border (Chinese side) where you are obliged to travel 150 kilometers by truck to Uluchat. Don’t expect help from the border guards. Ask the truck drivers for a ride yourself. we got a free ride. The regulations can always change as there were a lot of confusing changes lately.

Traffic: Lot of trucks going in either direction across Erkestam pass. Around Kashgar electro-scooters are a dangerous matter. You don’t hear them coming and people ride without light (even at night).

Road condition: Smooth roads, some unpaved parts around the border and terrible road between Erkestam and Uluquat (make sure your bike is properly mounted on the truck).

Bicycle shops: Official giant reseller in Kashgar is a huge mess. You might find some good cycle parts though.

Note: As we didn’t cycle the whole way, we can only publish our data for the cycled parts of the route.

Kategorie(n): China, Cycling, English, Kirgistan, Wegpunkte

Bishkek – Osh

[hide]To all cyclists: have a look at the Quick-Facts, Route and Elevation-Profile at the bottom of the article


Karakol was the place where it all started.
On a 8-days hike trough the mountainous hinterland of Karakol we agonize over the questions on how we could change our style of traveling (no airplanes, taking public transport from Point A to B) and switch to bicycles.
Since we already visited Bishkeks bike shops a week ago, we know that it will be possible to find a suitable bicycle to continue our trip with.
But what we also discovered was, that there were no shops selling any kind of proper luggage-system for bicycles (no panniers or water-proved bags are available).
Since we will be carrying a lot of stuff, a solution has to come up on how to transport our belongings. Returning from our hiking trip, we are desperate to find a solution.
Ont the next morning we coincidentally meet two Swiss cyclist, who we have met three weeks ago in Osh. Jan and Michael were traveling in the Pamir-Region before and are equipped with trailers for their bicycles. They have just ended a nice trip through the heartland of Kyrgyzstan and are looking for accommodation at the same Guesthouse we stay in.
Telling them about our dilemma brings our conversation to the important point.
Since they are leaving for Switzerland soon and have the intention to sell their trailers in Switzerland we are lucky to met them just at the right time to make a great deal for all of us . The trailers come with solid, water-proofed bags with enough space for all our equipment. Our backpacks will be brought to Switzerland with them, since they need something to transport their luggage on the flight.

Back in Biskehek we find out that we really are at the right time and place to organize our cycle trip. In the big garage of Sakura Guesthouse stand about half a dozen bicycles and every day someone is fixing or cleaning his bike. The cyclists are eager to share their experiences with us. We get a lot of instructions on bike-repairing and information for nice cycling trips in Kyrgyzstan. We also hear some amazing cycle. stories here. These stories motivate us, while we try to find a good bicycle shop. The challenge is to find a shop where we can choose the right components, instead of buying a bicycle from stock which might be OK for the streets of Bishkek, but not for the long haul. We do not need a fancy bike but a stable one. Most of the bike shops in Bishkek are full of fancy mountain bikes but the staff has very little knowledge and interest about their product and our wish. Only at Veloleader we find serious mechanics. Even though the owner wants to sell us the cheapest option, we convince him that we really need the most stable parts. He finally agrees to put together the best parts he has on stock on a simple Merida frame.
Meanwhile, Urs is already in negotiations with a cyclist from France, who has ended his trip in Kyrgyzstan and has a great touring bike for sale. The bike comes with a lot of spare parts, panniers and even bags.
Having our equipment ready, we are nervous to finally get on the saddle.
We still have to accustom ourselves to riding with the heavy loaded trailer. After escaping the traffic-jams of Bishkek our route gets more easy. The road from Bishkek along the Kazakh border towards Issyk Kul is smooth and flat and we are happy to finally be on the bike. The second cycling day brings us literally back to the ground. After breakfast we discover our first flat tire. We find out that it comes from a spine. We must learn to be careful where we place the bike. After the first patch we get back on the road. In Tokmok where we stop to get some food, we discover the 2nd and 3rd flat tire. We are fortunate to be near a town because when we want to pump the fixed tube of one of the trailers, we discover that our pump doesn’t fit the valve. On the local bazaar, hidden between dozens of motorbike-spare-part-shops, we find a small stall with cycling parts where we buy a cheap Chinese pump.
After this struggle we feel released when leaving the main road to Issyk Kul. Now we are heading towards the mountains. After our very first pass we roll down a beautiful valley and arrive in Kochkor, the town where all the mountaineers and cyclist get ready for their trip to the mountains around Song Kul. In the local bazaar we find all the food supply we need. But our best discovery is a group of cyclists travelling together for 3 years. The 8 French guys, call themselves Zarmaloulox and are a very funny group living a unique lifestyle. Their aim is to give something to the people on the way (especially to the kids) and for this reason they are preparing for a show (with clown-numbers, autistics and a lot of music) which the like to perform on the streets of Osh. We like the group from the first moment and join them for the trip to Osh. We all leave together for the mountains. While cycling and chatting with these interesting people the time passes quickly and we don’t mind to much that the road conditions get worse and worse. Near a village, we ask a farmer to place our tents on his land. He invites us to rest in his house, under the premise that men and women sleep in two separate rooms (he points out that he is a Muslim). He serves us home-made bread, jam and tea and the group entertains us with music.
On the following day we climb up the steep road towards the pass that will lead us to Song Kul. There washboard road (rippled surface) is really tiring to ride on. But the stunning view after the pass compensates for all our effort. Gorgeous Song Kul lies in front of us, its shimmering water stretching 29 km long and 18 km wide. It lies on 3016m above sea level and is the largest fresh water lake in Kyrgyzstan. Horses and herds of sheep graze in the broad mountain pasture surrounding the lake. We pitch our tent near the southern end of the lake and watch the sun setting behind the snow-capped mountains.
Rolling down to Ak-tal is definitely a highlight of our trip (endless slopes downhill). On our way to Jalalabad we still have to climb a few passes and we appreciate the great company we have in these days. Traveling with Zarmalouloux is a unique experience for us. We enjoy the campfires, collective cooking and evening talks with them. Locals invite us for tea and serve us with home-made dairy-products and fresh bread. Our efforts to speak Russian provoke a lot of laughter. Time flies by as we’re cycling the flat part from Jalalabad to Osh. We’re sad about the fact that we soon have to say goodbye to Zarmalouloux. They are heading home, through Central-Asia and Iran, whereas we continue our cycle-adventure towards China.
The spectacle which they perform in a local park bears a last great memory.

Quick facts:

Distance: 772km

Duration: 17 days in September 2012

Total ascent: 13’503m

Weather conditions: Generally the temperature in September is moderate and great for cycling, but in the mountains nights can get chilly or even drop below zero.

Accommodation, camping sites: In scarcely populated Kyrgyzstan its easy to find a camping spot. In fertile regions (where most people live) you can always ask a farmer to camp on his land and he will most likely invite you to his home.

Food: There are few restaurants along the road so a stove is recommended. In towns you can find bazaars (Tokmok, Kochkor, Kazarman, Jalalabad). In villages, basic food is available at mini-markets. You can always ask locals for home-made bread or milk products.

Water: There are many streams flowing through Kirghiz mountains and the water quality is generally quite good. However we recommend to bring a water filter or purifying tablets since both are not available in Kyrgyzstan.

Highlights: The plain around Song-Köl is amazing and you have plenty of space to camp like the nomads do. People are very hospitable and almost everyday we were invited to a cup of tea or where given some fruits. Learn a few Russian words, its easy to make conversation with the locals.

Lowlights: Alcohol is widely sold and drank, which led to some disturbing encounters.

Traffic: Little traffic, especially on unpaved roads between Kochkor and Jalalabad.

Road condition: Smooth road until Kochkor. Afterwards mixed conditions on unpaved roads, sometimes lots of bumps or washed-out roads.

Bicycle shops: We can highly recommend “Velo leader” in Bishkek (Velo Leader/lider, O.Yuganov, moskovska 226). On bazaars you may find cheap Chinese bicycle parts.

Kategorie(n): Cycling, English, Kirgistan, Wegpunkte

Blick in die Hinterhöfe Usbekistans

Auf den Pflastern von Buchara und Samarkand spatzieren Touristinnen in knappen Röcken – Usbekistan, das Land mit den grossen Seidenstrassenstädten wirkt auf den ersten Blick modern und aufgeschlossen – die usbekische Gesellschaft ist aber noch stark patriarchal geregelt. Was heisst das für Familien und besonders für die Frauen Usbekistans? Einen Einblick in die Hinterhöfe Usbekistans und die Familienverhältnisse dort gibt der Beitrag von Urs und Marlene.

Kategorie(n): Audio, Deutsch, Usbekistan