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Ernst's Velotouren

Bicycle tour 2008 - 2013
First stage Switzerland - Thailand
Part 9: West China part 1, October & November 2008
Finally Monday had come and in the early morning we prepared ourselves to cross the border after this four days holiday. But due to the devastating earthquake the chinese authorities wanted to keep the border closed for another 2 days, while the kyrgyz authorities opened the order on their side because they had to accommodate hundreds of earthquake survivors in the customs facilities. There was no more space even for a few tourists. Finally we stood the whole day in the no man's land between Kyrgyzstan and China waiting that China opened its border at least for the few tourists. Eventually the chinese authorities opened the border in the late afternoon.
Picture: The border town Simhana. Finally in China!
As the whole landscape was still shaken by strong aftershocks we preferred to camp a few kilometers away from the border town Simhana. During the night we counted four partly quite strong aftershocks.
Pictures: Sleeping far away of possibly collapsing builings. The nights in heights of roughly 3000 meters are ice-cold.
Picture: Group photo on a pass without name on the way to Kashgar (Photo from www.orobici.altervista.org)
Picture: The landscape towards Kashgar in the estern Pamirs is very dry. We are getting close to the Takla Makhan desert.

Mao Zedong (1893 bis 1976) determined during nearly 30 years by his function as chairman of the communist party of China the destiny of the country. His big political campaigns had mostly disastrous consequences for the people. Only the "the Great Leap Forward" resulted in the biggest famine ever occured in world history and demanded 40 to 75 millions of victims. Other millions of people died through his dictatorial ruling, through expropriations, concentration camps and through his last campaign, the "Cultural Revolution". Until today Mao's probably most famous saying "political power comes out of the gun" is reflected in the bad situation of the human rights in China.

During the whole 30 years rule of Mao the Peoples Republic of China was an economical weak country, shaken of political persecution and was internationally isolated until 1972. The communist party is still ruling the country, and the scientific research of Mao's dictatorship and its consequences for the chinese population is still forbidden until today.

Picture: Statue of Mao Zedong on the peoples' square in Kaschgar. During his dictatorship millions of people had died due to its insane and brutal politics.
Picture: Uyghur kids in the old city of Kashgar
It is uncertain how long the uyghur cultur still can be preserved. Already today, just after a few years of intensive chinese settlement politics, the modern Kashgar, dominated by Han Chinese people, is several times bigger than the original city. And the Chinese Central Goverment continue to encourage millions of Han Chinese to settle in the so-called autonomous provinces Xinjiang and Tibet. The native cultures are getting ruthlessly ousted.
Picture: In the bazar of the old town of Kaschgar
Picture: The mausoleum of Abakh Hoja, a famous ruler of Kashgaria

In Kashgar I met Jens from Berlin who is also on the way to Thailand with his bicycle. We have decided to ride together until Korla, about 1000 km. After a three days rest in Kashgar we were riding into the the Takla Makan desert, along the northern Silk Road towards Urumqi and Lanzhou. In the meanwhile the three italian bicycle friends are riding over the Karakorum Highway to Pakistan.

Picture: On the way with Jens from Berlin
Picture: On the northern Silk Road along the Takha Makhan desert.
Picture: Uyghur girls fooling around
Picture: Exactly 10'000 kilometers shortly behind Shiger in the Takla Makan desert
Once again chinese settlement politics: Just 10 years ago the place of Aksu was just a little uyghur oasis. Today it is a vibrating chinese city. The original uyghur culture was swept away and the native population of Xinjiang has become a fading and often discriminated minority in its own land.
Picture: Aksu on the northern Silk Road. Only about 10 years ago this place was just a little uyghur oasis.
Picture: Vast desert along the northern shore of the Takla Makan desert
Picture: Enchanting sunset
An abrupt weather change was bringing grey sky and a temperature drop by roughly 10° C. In heights over 2000 meters it was snowing (in this part the northern Silk Road is constantly in a height of around 1000 m). I was just hoping this is not the winter season yet as the way to warmer regions was still very far. But the temperature did not rise anymore and remained clearly under 10° C for the remaining way through Xinjiang.
Picture: I was not able to understand the signposts. Just the comparison of the writings could help a little...
Picture: The skyline of Korla. Roughly a fifth of the distance to South China (Chengdu) is already done.

I didn't plan to take a break in Korla. But I had to rest for 3 days since I catched a cold which had become a serious influenza. First I wanted to sit the sickness out but then I decided to treat it with appropriate drugs.

The communication in China is very difficult (I met so far nobody speaking even just a few words english). And so the purchase of just a few simple drugs becomes a complicated and confusing affair. I had no idea what kind of drugs I was given. On one of the packets something was written in english about menstruation pains. And that made me worry! If after three days of medical treatment I would have had no more grownig beard, then it might have been already far too late!

Bild: Unintelligible packings and descriptions.
After three days of medical treatment the influenza was almost cured, the beard was growing as before and the sound of my voice was also not higher as usual. A complete success! And I felt really relieved! So I continued my trip from Korla towards Turpan, crossed the Argaybulak Pass and reached after a 50 km long descent the depression of Turpan.
Picture: Sunset shortly in front of the Argaybulak Pass on the Xinjiang highway. The desert mountains still belong to the Tienshan mountain range.
Picture: In the depression of Turpan. The lowest point is 156 meters below sea level.
A vegetarian goes astray: The only menue I am able to order is "Tsou mian", fried noodles. I just hope that the pieces of meat are not dog (some chinese eat dogs!)! If yes I would have to eat roughly half a dog on my way trough china. A horrible idea!

Good news for all dog lovers who love the animal mainly outside of their plate: According to their taste the pieces of meat are probably pork or sheep.
Picture: Tsou Mian
Picture: Camping in the Beishan desert which is part of the Gobi desert. The nights are ice-cold in heights of about 2000 meters (-14° C measured in the tent). During daytime the temperature is clearly below 10° C.
Picture: Camels in their natural enviroment
In every hotel room there is a TV set, no matter how cheap the hotel is. Some of the stations also broadcast news in english. But the coverages are limited to good news about the sector of agriculture and industrialisation as well as the charity of the goverment. There is no factual and critical coverage of political topics to see.
Picture: English news in "Xinjiang TV-2"
Arriving in Jiayugan I also reached the western end of the Great Wall and therefore the gate to the old imperial China. This place is also considered as the end of the Silk Road.

The Great Wall with its lenght of 6.350 kilometers is the largest building of the ancient world. The part of the wall seen in this picture was built during the Ming dynasty around 1540.
Picture: In front of the Great Wall
The core of all fortifications around Jiayugan is the fort of the year 1372 which overviews the pass between the snow covered Qilianshan and Heishu mountains. During the old imperial China many intellectuals, poets, ministers and criminals were sent into exile or banishment from the eastern gate of the fort.
Picture: A look trough the gate of enlightment to the gate of reconciliation
Picture: Painting on a door of the residential district of the fort
On my way through the Gobi desert I crossed more and more oases (see picture) where I realized that it was already late autumn. Meanwhile I was 600 km away from Lanzhou but there were still roughly 1500 km to ride to Chengdu with its warmer climate zone. So I really had to hurry up to escape the winter.
Picture: Late autumn in the province of Gansu
Picture: One of the last campsites in the desert. More and more the desert is making room to agriculturally used fields.
In the last decades under the tyrannical rule of the communist party buddhism was nearly completly eliminated - following Karl Marx who had condemned religion as opium for the people. Some decades ago the buddhist monasteries in China were full of life; today they have become museums and are commercially exploited. The entry fee is 5 € what is equivalent to 10 to 15 noodle soups.
Picture: Painting in a former temple in Zhangye which shows the teaching Buddha Sakyamuni
Picture: Central crossroads in Yongchang in the dawn
A few days before arriving in Lanzhou the grim cold of the winter had come over northern and western China, and despite all my efforts to escape the winter I could not make it out of the cold. The highest temperature did not even reach 5° C and the nights were clearly frozen. Sometimes there was even falling a little snow!

Arriving at the Yellow River I finished my ways through the vast deserts and steppes of western China and only a few hundred kilometers were remaining to Chengdu to the noticeable milder climate zone of southern China.
Picture: Shortly before reaching Lanzhou at the banks of the Yellow river which also marks the so called rice and noodle border
China covers 70% of its energy demand by coal and since this year has taken over the position of the worldwide biggest enviroment polluter (so far the USA was the big polluter). Today China produces 40% of all harmful substances worldwide. The Peoples Republic of China has signed the Kyoto protocol but as an emerging nation no restrictions are defined regarding the output of greenhouse gases.
Picture: A coal power plant at Lanzhou. Every single year every single coal power plant burns the unimaginable quantity of 1'800'000 tons of coal - and worldwide there are thousands of such power plants operating! China alone is taking every 10 days a new coal power plant into operation.
In the snow flurry and sea of lights of Lanzhou. Now the winter has definitely come over northern China. As everybody is heating his apartment with coal the air pollution is worst during the cold season and the sky over the city remains gray almost the whole winter!
Picture: Snow flurry in Lanzhou
Next page / Part 10: Western China part 2