Status Update:

Current location: Bochum / Germany

50 countries, 1226 days, trip mileage: 124200 km

24 Sep 2008

Kyrgyzstan to China

23_Chinese trucks on our way to Torugart pass... seems like the pass really is open!

On a Tuesday afternoon, we’re told the final ‘go’ for China. We’ve got three days to get from Bishkek to the border (Torugart Pass): the pass has just been re-opened one day ago and will close again in four days for Chinese holidays. Guess we’re lucky for once…

In anticipation of flying to bikes (which would have meant: drain engine oil & petrol for safety reasons), we still have the crap fake Chinese “Shell Super Helix” engine oil from Tajikistan in our bikes. But with the help of a local biker from Bishkek and Yulia’s translation skills, we manage to source some decent Motul oil, which we take with us to do the oil change en-route in Naryn.

27_Inquisitive locals came over whilst I was doing an oil change(Sep2008)

The road from Naryn to the Chinese border takes us through the most beautiful scenery I’ve seen so far on this trip, the highlight being the valley around Tash-Rabat, where we stay in a yurt-camp about 3h ride from the Chinese border. It’s the end of the season, and with winter approaching quickly, most yurts have already been taken down. In the morning, we realize that we were lucky the yurt-owner accepted our last (and insufficient) Kyrgyz cash for a ‘yurt & breakfast’: at 7am, the nearby river is still partly frozen – it would have been a freezing night, had we camped out in our own tents.

35_On the way to Torugart Pass(Sep2008)

We leave around 8:00am and get to the border about 2h later. On the Kyrgyz side, the border crossing is reasonably straight-forward (although a bit lengthy due to a bus-load of tourists going the same way as we). About 10km through no-man’s land and we get to the first Chinese check-point. As promised, our Chinese guide-car is awaiting us. Another 5km later, we get to the second check-point: we leave the bikes outside & get taken into the border building by our agents to have some Chinese instant noodle soup and ‘do business’: $1400 change hands (counting twice on either side) – the price for 2 people & 2 bikes to cross for 5 days through China with a guide-car. An insane amount of money, but still cheaper than bypassing China by airplane.

Over the course of our instant noodle-soup meal, we realize how difficult it was for our agents (Newland Travel) to get us into China on such a short notice: the managing director himself had come to the border to pick us up. At first, the Chinese border guards didn’t want to let the guide car through to pick us up at our meeting point – until the managing director made a phone-call to a ‘special friend’ at the Chinese Immigration in Urumqui.

To cut a long story short: after a thorough luggage-check (border guards looking at every single item and opening every bottle from contact-lens fluid to mouth-wash), we’re permitted to enter China. And we know: this time we’re really “off the radar”: not the usual Chinese license plates, no Chinese driving license, no insurance paperwork, no nothing: We just let the guide car go in front & let the agents do the talking at the various check-points on the way to Kashgar. Agent’s connections & bribes. THAT’S where our $1400 went. (Note: doing China on your own vehicle the official way costs the same amount of money – Newland Travel’s price was good, and I can highly recommend them).