Crossing China – the land of paperwork and big tea pots
17th till 23rd of August, 2017 – China (Xinjiang Region)
How to get through China with your own vehicle?
As many know, you will need a guide if you want to drive through China with your own vehicle. It requires a big organizational and financial effort, but we did decided to make the effort, so we could ride the route as we wanted. The only alternative to get to India is to travel from southern Iran through Pakistan. But that way we would have missed a lot of interesting countries.
We organized our group about 8 months in advance through the Horizon Unlimited Forum and various Facebook groups. Since you have to settle everything at least two months before arrival, this was a relatively relaxed solution for us.
We drove along a queue of 1 km standing trucks and were able to park right in front of the gate. We waited in the shade until the Chinese open the border after lunch. These opening hours are always very special in China, as everything is going to Shanghai time (so there are always two times the locals talk about), which makes Kashgar a pretty weird timezone.
After a quick passport control, we were allowed to enter the border area. Two very large buildings stood on the huge concrete place and no soul could be seen. After a while, Chinese soldiers came and shortly afterwards our guide Taher appeared. We explained Cristiano’s problem to him. Since the import papers of Cristiano’s motorcycle were faulty, he was not allowed to leave Kyrgyzstan. Now we learned that entry is only possible with all persons and vehicles registered as a group. There should be no deviations from the submitted application. If Cristiano and Sabrina did not come along, the whole thing would fail. There would be big problems with going back, taxes, expiring visas, etc. So we waited very tense for another 2 hours and discussed all sorts of scenarios with Taher.
Back to Kyrgyzstan?
Then the patience of the border guards was exhausted, they sent us back to Kyrgyzstan. Some drove off, others tried to reach Cristiano. There were a lot of SMS sent, back and forth until then the redeeming “I’m coming right now”! arrived from Cristiano. But now this had to happen immediately. The border guards did not want to wait any longer. After further SMS, the group was finally back at the Chinese customs. We could hardly believe our luck, unbuckled our luggage and handed it over with passports to the control. Bus, motorcycles and luggage were later placed in a large hangar and got X-rayed with a giant machine.
We were allowed to pack everything and drive on. The street was in a very good condition. Everywhere where signs and cameras, and unending guardrails. After 100 km we passed the next checkpoint. After another 20 km we reached the second Custom station, just before it got totally dark. There we got officially registered and passport, visa and luggage checked again. We only had to give up a tin of tuna, the rest we were allowed to keep. We parked our motorcycles at the back of the building. The bare essentials were loaded into a bus that took us to the next small village.
There were two hotels that were allowed to accommodate foreigners. But there was not enough room for everyone. So we drove another 1.5 km to Kasghar and quartered there shortly after midnight in the Sultan Hotel. It was a very luxury palace for us. Dinner was assured only after Xenia’s intervention. We were all very tired, but we all wanted to eat something before going to sleep. We moved into our rooms, then met in the lobby again and went in search of a meal and if possible a beer. In a small restaurant we got something to eat and apple juice. After that we went to bed really tired.
After a very short night our alarm woke us up. There was no coffee served for breakfast, but a lot of salty and fat Chinese food. Most of us did not feel like greasy, fried noodles so early in the morning. After that we went back to the customs with Taher, where we had to hand over the passports and got our motorcycles and our luggage sprayed with disinfectant. After 2 hours of waiting we went to the neighboring village, where we were served lunch on a huge turntable delicious food on 7 different plates.
Checkpoint’s and 5 star hotel
Now we went to explore a park with the Shipton’s Arch. Admission tickets were only available upon presentation of the passports. We visited the huge rock arch between rock walls. It was pretty impressive. On the way mountain goats caused the danger of falling rocks. Whole groups of soldiers ran up and down the track for training purposes, stopped by and asked us for selfies. Again we had to go to customs to take our remaining stuff and bring it to the hotel. The return trip took 2 hours, and we were asked to get out at 5 checkpoints and go through metal and passport scanners. From the Sultan Hotel we were moved to the 5 star hotel Tyenn Chuan. Once we got there, we went to search a restaurant. We found the cheapest food stall in the area, which was operated by Uygur. They laughed and were pleased that we as tourists enjoyed their simple restaurant. We ate excellent noodles and were glad not to have to eat in the fancy place. Our clothes would not have been neat enough.
The next day, at the behest of Cristiano and after consultation with Taher, we moved back to the Sultan Hotel, as it was closer to the city center. From there we could comfortably walk to see the old town of Kashgar, have some food and use the time in the hotel for work.
A smile is understood in all languages
In the morning we were driven to the big Sunday animal market in Kashgar. One of the oldest and largest animal markets ever. Trucks full of cows, bulls, yaks, donkeys, sheep and goats got unloaded. The big Bulls did not quite voluntarily jump down from the high loading platform of the trucks. It took three men who drew and shoved with much shouting. An old woman allowed us to take pictures of here. She laughed and explained to us in Uygur, that she sheared sheep here, and she did that very skillfully by hand. We really did not understand a single word, but through her gestures we understood what she meant. Her toothless laugh was infectious and this encounter with her will remain one of the most beautiful in China for us.
Almost without exception, the men wore a suit, all a bit too big. They looked elegant, although they all seemed to bee a bit overdressed for a livestock market. Later we visited the Apak Hodja mausoleum. It’s 400 years old and the final resting place of the powerful regional ruler and religious leader Hazrat Apak. In an outbuilding, each column was made and decorated by another Uygur master carpenter. This resulted in an interesting collection of traditional wood carvings.
We also wanted to see the bazaar of Kashgar and mingled with the crowd. From spices to clothes and fabrics to pink Chinese plastic items, there was everything to buy. Martin found a shoemaker and bought new leather insoles for his fake Adidas shoes for 10 yen. The old ones already been worn through. Buyer and seller were highly satisfied with the trade. From the bazaar we went through the old town back to the hotel.
Electric scooter and batons
In the whole city were only small electric scooters allowed with a maximum speed of 30km/h. They shared the fenced off walkways with the pedestrians. Gasoline scooters were banned because there were too many accidents in the past. In fact, there were fences, gates, barriers, barbed wire, cameras and police everywhere. They controlled everything and everyone when entering a bazaar, underpass or shopping center. Each hotel had a metal detector, a luggage scanner and at least three black-robed police officers, with a red armband. Shields and batons were always within reach. Pretty weird to get used to the whole thing.
7 liter teapots for refueling
At 12.30 we should pick up our motorcycles at customs. Once there we waited for 2 hours. We were finally able to leave the customs area and went to refuel. A truly special procedure. The bike had to be parked in a separate, fenced off area. The gasoline was then pumped in an over sized teapot at the 15m distant fuel pump. After walking back to the bikes, the fuel got generously spilled over our bikes. After that we rode to Kashgar, where we were allowed to drive on the highway without Taher. However, we missed the exit, after which motorcycles were no longer allowed. Astonishingly, there were no problems with the police checkpoint on the exit. Taher guided us back to our hotel.
Sort of freedom for 299km
The only real riding day with our own motorcycle through China started early. It was slightly raining and cold. We said goodbye to Taher and a new guide drove ahead of us with a car, which we had to follow. On a very well paved, dead straight road section we were not allowed to ride faster than 40km/h. Nobody could explain why we had to go so slow. After this section we were allowed to ride without guide to the next checkpoint, where we could only pass in his company. We had lunch at Karakol Lake with its green-blue water and snow-capped mountain peaks in the background. On the last part we were allowed to ride free again. It almost started to be fun to ride through this piece of land. Before Taxkorgan the guide took over the lead again and we drove directly to the customs warehouse where our motorcycles were registered, weighed and prepared for export. We checked into a rundown hotel, which offered only cold shower water. To our delight there were free condoms on the bedside table. We once again preferred the Uygur restaurant to the Chinese one. The people in the restaurant were visibly pleased about the foreign guests, and gave us a smile.
Bureaucracy over bureaucracy
When checking out of the hotel, we received a breakfast box with not really edible content. In any case, the samples taken did not really improve the condition of Martin’s bad stomach. There was a problem with the customs warehouse. The data loaded on a green card for each vehicle on import was found to be incorrect. Our guide had to send all the data again by mail to the customs office, where they were corrected and reloaded onto the cards. His help was not great, so we tried to accelerate the whole thing ourselfs.
Motorcycle on the scales
The motorcycles had to be weighed again, and the procedure caused a lot of head shaking. They were not satisfied with the weight of Xenias motorcycle. She had to get off the scale with the front wheel. It was still not right. So we pushed the bike further off the scale, but an official was standing now on the scale with it. Still too heavy. At the end, the bike was touching the scale just slightly whit it’s rear wheel, but Xenia and 2 customs officers had to stand on the platform. Let’s call that a decent, precise control!? This back and forth with weighing was done to all the 5 motorcycles of the group.
At 12.30 we were able to ride to the second customs office, where they just left for lunch break. We had to wait. We didn’t had any Yen left and therefore we had to force our great guide to pay for lunch and a bottle of water. After lunch, we quickly returned to the customs office, because all of us (except our lazy guide) were interested in being processed as quickly as possible and finally to be able to leave this country. At 17.30 we were dismissed to the border pass, which was about 120km away. There they had a computer problem and could not let us leave.
The gate to China is jammed
So we got once again asked to wait. The sun went down and the onward journey to Pakistan got more risky. Later we got our passports back and came to a big iron gate. A soldier tried to unlock the gate. Neither strong curses, WD40 or other means worked. China did not want us to leafe. A radio message and 15 minutes later, three other frontier soldiers appeared, who worked the lock with an other key. Finally! We started the engines and rode without stopping through the huge archway to the Pakistani border post. The sun was gone and we were still over 4700 meters above sea level. Do we really need to to ride down the pass in the pitch black night and find a place to sleep down there?
Interesting but not again
There was a lot of waiting for us in China. Too many controls, many problems with the paperwork of the Chinese and some really unfriendly people. However, the time in Kashgar was very exciting and we are glad we could at least see a small piece of this huge country. Again driving through China whit our own vehicle is definitely out of the question for us!