[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 (china-by-bike.com), 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.
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.