China

Kashgar (China), 20.06.2013

Minus two degrees indicated the car when we opened it this morning. We had to break the ice off the zip of the tent and car window. Fortunately the engine started without problems and we heated water and made coffee while we admired the valley in front of us in the day’s first light. The night had been freezing cold, and the altitude caused slight headaches and breaking problems. Not easy to start the day at 05:30. But we needed to get to the Chinese border ASAP, and it was still quite a long way. It took us two hours to get ready, and we started to speed up only once the sun appeared over the hill behind our tent. The sun changes everything in the morning, its heat gives you strength and warmth after the freezing night.

We left continuing on the road we had come from yesterday, hoping that the dotted line on our map would not reveal to be a worse track then the one we had found yesterday to come up here. But apart from 2-3 critical mud parts it was good, although still wet from the night. We passed a Swiss Toyota on the road down an alpine landscape. After 90 minutes we had reached the main road again, and the car that got washed in Bishkek looked again like Mr. Wit likes it, off road, covered with mud on all sides, just the front windows washed so that we can see where we drive.

The next hour of main road was quite bad. We finally reached Naryn, the last Kirgiz town. Our tank was half empty so we wanted to fuel up. After a few shady gas pumps we didn’t trust to have decent diesel, we found a Gazprom station. We were told they sell the best diesel in Kirgizstan. But they didn’t take Visa or USD, so we had to spend half an hour to find a bankomat in this town where the main streets are called Lenin, Sovietskaya and Moskovskaya, before we could get our diesel. Finally we were ready to go but got lost, and spent another 20 mins to find the road to Torugart. The initial 20km out of town were in horrible conditions, but suddenly the road converted into an impeccable tar road that allowed us to drive at full speed through a beautiful mountain valley for over an hour.

At noon we arrived at the military zone and got our passports checked. From there on the road converted into a stones and pothole track again. Often we drove on the grass besides the road, since it was less bumpy. But then the roadsides became littered with bunkers and trenches and we had to get back on the main track. Covered in a huge cloud of dust we kept driving for over an hour, overtaking trucks and trying to avoid the worst potholes and biggest stones.
When we reached the gates of the Kirgiz border there was nobody there. Lunchtime. Shortly after 14:00 they let us in for passport control, customs and immigration. The building we entered was huge, all empty and falling to pieces. It seemed to have been built for a purpose different then checking a few trucks and tourists every day, but we couldn’t think of what exactly. After 20 mins we left Kirgisztan and drove over the Torugart pass and no man’s land to the gates of China. Also here there was nobody around the big closed gate. At some point, as we were standing in front of the gate, a man came towards us, our guide. He called the guards and the gate opened. We drove into China!

The guide and a driver got into a bus parked on the side of the road and told us to follow them. After a few km downhill we reached a passport control point in a place that looked quite abandoned. Ruins of former houses, offices and barracks were everywhere. A group of 15 soldiers was holding a cow, while a vet injected something in it. We passed this point too, and were told from here it would be an hour to the immigration control. We should just follow the bus. Easier said then done, since this bus drove super slow, had no brake lights but ejected tons of fumes. We were constantly running into it. Passing some newly built villages, with houses all identical, we suddenly got a yellow warning from the Evoque again, the diesel particle filter was full. Again? We had cleaned it two days ago. Again the message repeated in red, again the engine power got cut off at 2700rpm, again the yellow motor icon started to lighten up. What a pain!
A few minutes later suddenly a strange noise started on the right side of the car. Opening the window we saw we had a flat tyre. As we stopped, the bus in front of us kept driving, ignoring all our signals. We got the spare wheel off the roof, and took the broken one off. In the meantime the bus had returned and the only thing the driver could say was to speed up. Such an idiot! He then started to screw around with the wheel, although I had told him and the guide to leave me alone with it. As I put the new wheel on, this guy started to put the broken wheel on the roof, of course on the wrong side. Here I got furious and started shouting. How could this guy drive at snail speed in his stinky bus but now start to put pressure on us to fix an accident?

Anyway, the new wheel was on in no time (I learned from Turkey!), we packed the car and drove on. The engine at low power drove us mad. As soon as the road got better I tried to run a regeneration cycle for the problematic filter. The exercise consists in driving steadily at least 15 mins at 3000 rpm or more and around 70-90km/h. Easy when you have a free road, impossible when you have somebody driving at 80km/h in front of you.

When we reached the immigration station there were few officers around. In our group were also two Spaniards from Bilbao, that were quite annoyed to have been let wait several hours at the border although they had paid a vehicle and guide for themselves. We passed all formalities quite quickly. For the car we had to pay 5 USD for “higenisation”. We hoped to get the car cleaned, but actually apart from us paying and an officer giving me a receipt nobody did anything else. Then we had to get the car checked. I was asked if I had a “big phone to call from everywhere”. Guessing they meant the sat phone I showed it. We had to send a 14 pages packing list to the travel agency several weeks before, so I guessed there was no point in trying to hide it. The phone got confiscated, promising to hand it back to us at the border with Pakistan. I got a receipt, and the phone disappeared in a safe in the officers room. Clack clack, bye bye sat phone and GPS and emergency hotline.

That was pretty much it and shortly afterwards we were on the main road to Kashgar. We still had to drive behind the bus, that went even slower then before. Suddenly we found ourselves at the toll gates of a highway. The bus passed and drove on, but we had no Chinese money on us and had to stop to discuss with the toll road guy that spoke none of our languages. Fifteen minutes later a brand new 1 USD bill solved the problem.

Entering Kashgar was quite a cultural break. So far the differences from country to country had been minor, and there was a smooth transition away from European way of life to Turkish to Central Asian. In Kashgar we did see some Central Asia, but suddenly also a lot of Han China and a little Pakistan too. The action on the streets, the chaos, the dirt, commerce everywhere. We had noticed many motorbikes during the day, in town we were surrounded by thousands of scooters. Surprisingly most of them drive with a completely silent electric engine. That doesn’t mean it’s silent on the roads, far from that.

We dropped the car at the hotel and checked in. Let’s skip the complaints about stinky rooms and dirty hotels. We needed cash and ventured out to the streets to find an ATM. Then we needed dinner, since our stomachs were in pain since lunchtime and we had eaten very little. At an eatery close to the hotel we had a hot noodle soup and some tasty shashlik skewers with tea. Across the street we found a supermarket with many items we knew from Thailand or the Chinese shops back in Europe or the US. The medium warm shower washed away all the dirt from the road, and on the super hard bed we fell asleep in a matter of minutes.

Trip data for the day

– Km driven: 480

– Hrs on the road: approx 12h

– Diesel l/100km: 9,6

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