Bicycle friendly freeway towards Kashgar

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Riding towards China´s first small town.

Country: Kyrgyzstan and China
From Bishkek to Kashgar
Days on the bike: 1
Kilometers cycled: 96
Average Kilometers per day: 96
Total Kilometers cycled till Kashgar: 7871.66
Total days travelled till Kashgar: 433
Lesson learned: Always carry some family pictures
Laughed about: Overtaking others while cycling on the freeway
Most wonderful miracle: A bicycle road sign
Food we ate: Delicious fruit
Greatest obstacle: Not bursting out in tears of pain when the owner of the Sary Tash Guesthouse shook my hand.

Cycling into China.

We spent an entire month in Bishkek. We liked the city. It was the most modern of all the Central Asian cities that we had visited and it was full of Italian, Chinese, Kyrgyz and Fast food restaurants, ATMs, night clubs and bars. But that was not the reason why we stayed that long. The reason was a long list of unexpected incidents like a Chinese visa that was hard to get, the border that closed for five days, a cloned credit card, the stolen camera, broken laptop and the winter that slowly sneaked into our lives. Dan, our host and friend offered us to stay with him from the moment on that we met. We had long nights chatting with tea and card games, cozy evenings with chocolate pudding and movies and exciting weekends on a horse’s back and in the mountains together. Dan helped us to keep our heads high and think positive whenever a new catastrophe occurred. After more than three exciting weeks as flat mates we were finally ready to leave Bishkek behind us and walk ahead towards China.

We shared one last dinner with Dan and our friends Nurkyz, Pierre and Armando before we headed to the bus station by the following morning. If possible we avoid squeezing the bikes onto other vehicles, but our Chinese visa would expire in a few days and we had to decide for a minibus transport as the fastest way towards the border.

Canned beer on the way

We were mentally prepared for a 12 hours ride with a crazy driver who badly wants to reach his goal as fast as possible. Instead we had the fortune to sit in Marat’s minibus (+996 773 196 910). Marat had 15 years of experience driving from Bishkek to Osh and back and he was the best driver we could imagine. We got two of the back seats where I made myself responsible of calming Marat’s baby dog who was seated in the trunk. At the Ala-Bel Pass we stopped again to enjoy the view. That was the spot where Roberto’s camera had been stolen and we were happy to be able to take some pictures this time. Our co-passengers were two Kyrgyz ladies and two Russian men Dia and Cola.

One of the ladies unpacked her purse every 15 minutes to brush her hair and check her lipstick in the mirror. The other lady did not speak a single word in the entire journey. Dia and Cola were on the way back home from a 48-hours work expedition without any sleep. They unpacked a couple of beers and offered us one each. We made friends in no time. Cola, one of the Russians, offered us to show us around in Osh by the following day.

It was midnight until we arrived. Marat gave us a ride to the guesthouse where the night guard fetched us up from the street.

Towards Sary Tash

By the next morning we met our future-co passengers towards the border. Marc and Chrissie, an Australian couplehad booked a car to the border with the guesthouse and they announced online that there was still space in the car. We had already reserved the two seats with them in Bishkek.

Chrissie and Marc wanted to leave Osh by noon so we had little time left to change money for the transport and buy food for the way from the border towards Kashgar. Dia and his boss Cola were probably still asleep when we already made our way towards Sary Tash.

Sary Tash is a village in the crossroad between three roads. One leads towards Tajikistan (45 km), one towards China (85 km) and one towards Osh and from there into Uzbekistan (ca 180 km). It is situated higher than 3000 meters above sea level and the wind was freezing cold. Boy was I happy – I got my new winter gear just in time.

 

Undeserved views

Apart from some Chinese and Kyrgyz trucks every now and then there was hardly any traffic on the road towards China. The view into the Pamir Mountains was stunning and I was deeply sad to be seated in a comfortable warm car. What would I have given for pedaling my way up the more than 3600 Meters passes instead! Every time that we stopped to take some pictures I felt like I did not deserve the views because I did not pay them with sweat and muscle pain.

No horses – no guesthouse

The Hostel in Osh organized the drive to the border for us. A night a private home stay in Sary Tash should cost 22 $ each. Roberto and I played with the thought to camp instead when our driver made a phone call. “I am sorry”, he explained. “The owner’s horses have run away. He is somewhere in the mountains trying to find them and he won’t come back today. We will have to switch to another place”.

The Sary Tash Guesthouse was the best that could have happened to us. The owner was about 80 years old and dressed in the traditional Kyrgyz way. His voice was high and he welcomed us with the strongest handshake that I have ever received. We paid only 12 $ including dinner and breakfast. Marc and Chrissie taught us some new card games and we were cozy warm under our new sleeping bags while the temperature outside fell lower and lower.

Noon break in the cold wind

In the morning all water resources were frozen to the bottom. It must have been about -16°C that night. Our driver, who wanted to visit some relatives over night arrived an hour late in the morning. They must have thrown him a really big party. When we arrived to the second and last Kyrgyz border posts our driver stopped. He wore sunglasses and I wondered if he was still hung over. “Welcome to China”, he grinned and dropped us. “I cannot go any further without valid visa. You just walk up those 500 meters and you will see the border post”.

We packed our bikes and made our way up the dust road. The border was closed. “They have noon break. That was exactly the reason why we wanted to leave earlier”, Chrissie complained. It was her and Marc’s first anniversary and they wanted to reach Kashgar as soon as possible to celebrate.

Who needs a diplomatic passport if you have family pictures?

Marc and Chrissie taught us some basic Chinese while we waited for two hours in the icy wind. When the border finally opened we rushed through as the first ones. Only five kilometers later we found ourselves waiting again. An officer searched through my bags. He did his job very accurate at first, until he reached the printed pictures of our homes. I showed him Roberto’s aunt, my cousin, some crystal blue Mexican waterfalls and a German castle. He asked for our parents and siblings and searched through the rest of my bags very quickly.

We went back to the passport control. “From here on you are not allowed to cycle anymore. You will have to take a ride in a truck until Wuqia, where you will get your entry stamps”, the officer explained to us. “But you will have to wait until tomorrow morning to get a ride, because it will take long.”

We felt very sorry for Chrissie and Marc who probably had imagined their anniversary a bit more romantic, but we were also happy, because that way we saved one visa day and got a pretty cheap and warm room in the border.

Sleeping in No-man’s-land

It was a surreal place that reminded me a bit on the cold, modern and Chinese version of a town from the western movies. We stayed by ourselves in an 12-bed motel room with curtains as a door, a coal oven and without bathroom. “You can go back there and do your duty on the cliff”, the owner’s sister explained to us.

By the following day we split up. Chrissie and Marc caught the first truck, I got the second one and Roberto the third. The way was long and bumpy, extraordinarily bumpy. The bags flew through the air and I was happy to know the bikes well tied in the back of the truck.

China

After some four hours we met again in Wuqia, where our bags and bikes were checked again. With our entry stamps in the passport we cycled into China. It took us three days to realize that we had really made it – we cycled from Germany to China! We had applied for the Chinese visa in Tehran, Iran, tried again in Tashkent, Uzbekistan and again in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan and now we were finally there.

With giant smiles in our faces we cycled towards a cheap hotel. The icy wind was strong. Two parked motorbikes fell and the isolation mattress was nearly blown into a field. While Roberto and the receptionist went to change some money three policemen came closer.”You have to change hotels, you cannot stay here. Come with us”, they insisted. I explained that I had to wait for Roberto who would probably be surprised if his girlfriend and the bikes were gone when he came back and they decided to wait with me.

Police escort to the hotel

The policemen were a bit bored and after ten minutes the first one asked if he could ride my bike. All of them rode a round and when Roberto came back we packed the things into their car and drove towards another hotel. It was even cheaper.

By the next morning we were surprised. Sun did not rise until 8.45 am. There were two hours of time difference between Kyrgyzstan and China. Now I understand why the province of Xinjiang had its own unofficial time zone.

We must be in fruit paradise!

We left the hotel at 1 pm Beijing time (11 am Xinjiang time). Our first stop was in a small shop. We hoped for some bread and maybe a tomato for breakfast. Back in Sary Tash the shops did not offer anything than instant noodles, yellow carrots, potatoes, rice, cookies and some noodles that got slimy when boiled. Here we could chose between kiwis, melons, bananas, apples, mandarins and pears for breakfast. I could have spent hours smelling the long missed fruits in the small shop. Instead I chewed some bananas and apples, got a sesame beagle and got on the bike.

On the bikes again

The wind blew us up one last long but not too steep mountain and then the way was finally flat. We passed a lot of loam houses and empty fields. The wind changed its direction (or did we?) and blew into our faces. We pedaled fast enough to stay warm and slow enough not to sweat too much. We were cold every time we stopped and so we decided not to stop too much.

When we entered the freeway I was highly impressed by the number of scooters. Some of them were converted into mini transporters and had space for six to eight people (or a giant load of vegetables, a cupboard, or a lot of sheep) to sit in the back. We were fast enough to overtake a couple of scooters and tractors. Overtaking others on the freeway while sitting on a bicycle, figure that out!

Cycling friendly freeway

When the toll booth came closer I got the funny feeling that we would be kicked out of the freeway and forced to find another way. I was mistaken. The first bicycle street sign since Georgia showed us the way through the guardrail so we would avoid the toll booth. Right behind it we entered the street again, waved hello to some policemen and continued our way.

Both my maps were not accurate and we thought that we had 120 kilometers to go in total. It was our first real day of cycling since the way towards Bishkek more than a month ago and we had left Wuqia pretty late. Instead of taking it easy and searching for a space to camp when dusk was close we decided to keep cycling all the way to Kashgar.

Sun did not set until 8.30 pm Beijing time (6.30 pm local time) and we must have arrived after only 96 kilometers at around 9.30 pm.

I was happy to see the street names in both Chinese and English, while the shop names were written in Chinese and Arabic characters. Thanks to Vahid, a Pakistani businessman, who showed us the way, we found the youth hostel soon, where we had a couple of beers and warmed our fingers with the coal oven.

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  1. Hello, thank you very much for your beautiful reports on central asia! Only one remark, after roughly reading: Have you been to Tashkent when calling Bishkek the most modern central asian city? Well, I myself haven’t been to Bishkek, but I can’t believe it’s more modern than the big rising metropolis of Tashkent…
    Wish you all the best and stay healthy!!
    Gertrud

    • Tasting Travels Team Tasting Travels Team says:

      Hello Gertrud,
      we have been to both cities, but I personally consider Bishkek the more modern one even though it is smaller and has no metro system. But there are ATMs all over that accept Credit cards as well as Maestro, there are plenty of international bars and clubs and even food from all over the world. I should have better called it the most international city. It is definitely worth a visit – I have plenty of places there to recommend. If you ever want to go – just ask!
      All the best back to you, thanks a lot for writing,
      Annika

  2. Hector says:

    Camels in China? That was really unexpected!

    • Tasting Travels Team Tasting Travels Team says:

      Yes, we were very surprised as well! And I even managed to meet some at the Animal Market and hug the! Pictures of that adventure will follow soon.

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  4. Hello! Me and my husband are now in Turkey going to the same way that you two did in Central Asia. We would like to know the prices that you payed for the car that you took from Osh to Sary Tash and to the border. Since we have to pay for the visas we need to know about the prices as much as possible.
    Well, very nice site and blog. We are using a lot.
    Thanks for sharing.

    • admin admin says:

      Hey!
      We are so glad the blog has worked out fine for you! It is me Roberto, I will try to answer your question! The truth is I do not remember because we shared the cost with an Australian couple. But we were forced to take it because of the visa time. My best suggestion is that you cycle it! You do not know how much I regret not having cycled it all the way to the Chinese border! What I do remember is that 20 dlls por person can take you long distances by transport, so monewise it is not expensive and should not represent a big hit to your budget. But is you have time and summer ahead of you I encourage you to cycle, I am sure you will enjoy it and the scenery is really something else! in fact I am already planning a trip back to KYRG, China and the Karakoaram highway sometime in the future je je. Love Roberto!

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  6. Hello from Spain!

    I just found your website and will be reading more on your travels. Are you still traveling?

    My friend, Dave, and I are soon off on our second leg of a motorcycle trip around the world. In August, we will find ourselves riding from Europe to Kyrgyzstan and on to India. We would like some help on how you managed to arrange a Chinese transit visa to enter China. We plan to travel the Karakoram highway into Pakistan and then continue on into India.

    Any help and advice would be appreciated. Thank you!

    Roy

    roy@manicnomads.com
    manics@manicnomads.com

    • Hi Roy and thanks a lot for writing us!
      Woooow, the Karakoram is still on number one up on our bucket list. Back when we were near it wasn’t possible to apply for a Pakistani visa from anywhere except the Pakistani embassy back in our home countries, so we had to postpone this awesome adventure. I can’t wit to hear how you liked it!
      About China: We got tourist visas, not transit visas. We got them in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan with Miss Liu (detailed story here). It’s usually US$ 40 for a visa, but for some reason in Kyrgyzstan you had to go through an agent (not sure if that’s still the case?). Bishkek is a neat place and there’s a lot to do in town and nearby.
      Let me kow if you got this, else I’ll send it in an email!
      Cheers,
      Annika

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