China has always been a tough country to enter, they built a great wall to keep people out. For those with their own motor vehicles it’s no easier now than it was for travelers of the past. With the exception of a few rare cases, getting t’other side of the wall unaided with a foreign motorbike is impossible. The only option, an expensive organised group. The bigger the group the cheaper the price. For this reason I’d arranged to meet 5 other bikers near the border and for the princely cost of $1200 each we would be escorted for 5 days from the Tourgarat pass to Kashgar along the Karakoram Highway and delivered at the Pakistan border. Also included in this and worth some of the high price the tour company would take care of the undoubtable mountains of paper work and bureaucracy, all we had to do was rock up to the gates at a set time and date and enter hassle free, Chinese drivers license and number plate waiting for us.
Arriving at the mountain gates 5 minutes late, they were locked and China had gone on lunch, a three hour lunch. With a population of 1.4 billion you’d think there’d be enough people to rotate their breaks, but no, for 3 hours through a snow storm we waited for the man with the key to China to finish his Kung Po chicken.
Through the gate, clear of customs and 100km of high altitude road we arrived at immigration, 5 minutes late again, China had gone on dinner, but this time with the persuasion of the tour guide we managed to rouse the officers to come take care of the formalities. Passport check after passport check, stand in line, no talking, wait over here, wait over there and the utterly pointless and laughable disinfection of the bikes. Compared to immigration in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan this was worlds apart.
With only 3 full days in country, the days either side spent on immigration and customs it didn’t give much chance to get a true sense of the place, a brief snapshot. This far Western corner of China, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, the people are predominantly Uyghur, a Turkic ethnic group who disagree with the mostly Han government over who has greater historical claim to the region. For them it means a heavily controlled and big brother like existence, for us it manifested in two rather bemusing ways; The Kashgar morning parade of synchronized electric scooter riding riot police, an obvious ploy to deter social unrest, social unrest within 150km of a charge point. The restriction on motorbikes entering petrol stations, a paranoia they’ll be used as mobile petrol bombs, the solution being the bike is parked on the street and the fuel carried from the pump in a 10lt tea pot, a flawless plan as everyone knows terrorists are afraid of tea pots.
Kashgar marks the Northern end and in our case the start of the Karakoram Highway, one of the highest paved international roads in the world, which would carry us over the 4693m snow covered Khunjerab pass into Pakistan. The road really is a feat of engineering through the most remarkable scenery, but as you’ll see next time the China section is only the start of the beauty of this road. So take a look at the pictures and see you on the other side in Pakistan.
Just in case you missed it, don’t forget to check out the previous post – Yaks And Yurts (Kyrgyzstan)