driving through china with your own car and on your own is impossible. that’s why we decided to enlist the help of a travel agency to cross the chinese region of xingjiang in four to five days (each additional day is associated with disproportionately high costs) and re-emerge in kyrgyzstan. our group consists of three motorcycles and our bus. for this we are assigned a guide, who takes care of paperwork and everything else. we pay 1600 euro for the service, but those who can, can – as they say in bavaria.
that’s the only way to enter china with your own vehicle.
slowly our trusty bus croaks along the pakistani karakorum highway towards kunjerab pass. it struggles, it fumes, we stop. it struggles, it fumes, we stop. it struggles … yay, we are there.
on the roof of the world, at 4693 meters above sea level, we say goodbye to pakistan at the highest border in the world and surrender to the madness of china.
control is the first priority here. young, insecure border guards x-ray the vehicles, scan and record our bodies, bags are opened, emptied and examined. the procedure takes hours. while luk is racing around as vigorously as ever, the altitude sickness reaches the first member of our group. it overpowers them with tiredness, shrouds them with dizziness and drills nausea into their stomachs.
it is all the more relief-bringing to descend through the unspoilt, thoroughly green landscape towards tashkurgan. between us and the horizon we experience the most exquisite nature. here and there a lonely bright yurt flashes out of the grass and chubby, fluffy marmots flit close to the road from one point to the next.
when we arrive, lilli is waiting for us excitedly. she will accompany us. a disinfection plus check of the vehicles follows. with packed bags for the hotel we get the official stamp in our passports.
welcome to china!
a short taxi ride with the police and a mug shot in front of the car. all because we have luk on our laps. we continue to the hotel.
the warm beer and the pot of instant noodle soup calm us down immensely and so we sink like god in china into the super-comfortable hotel beds.
as if the fun of the previous night has no end, the chinese bureaucratic clown surprises us again the next morning.
the vehicles are weighed and subjected to an examination, but not just any old way. an exact order has to be observed. one of our group pushes his bike onto the scales, the next one is allowed to ride it, oh no wrong order, everything from scratch again.
after an extended lesson in patience, lilli rushes around the corner with the ok, we can continue our journey.
kashgar, the way there is breathtaking and uniquely beautiful. mind-boggling, endless valleys, immense sand dunes, turquoise lakes, meandering rivers through grassy plains and stubby mountain ranges with snow-capped mountains all in one take. intoxicated by what the natural kingdom has to offer, we put up at what feels like the largest hotel in the city towards evening. the tall building, surrounded by glaring chains of lights, offers a magnificent view of the symmetrically arranged, block-like buildings.
the centrepiece is the gorgeous old town, flashing flower heads in purple and gaudy orange decorate pedestrian paths and house entrances, shop owners relax in front of their doorways. older men chat and laugh in traditional tearooms. children jump up and down stairs and a grandfather lovingly pushes his grandchildren around in a wooden cart.
it’s warm, the smell of shashlik wafts through the alleys. a cold beer cools our throats. in a simple street kitchen we enjoy the relaxed time together with our belgian and french fellow travellers.
if one did not know that the inhabitants are subject to complete surveillance, that they are only allowed to enter the next district through scanning machines and passport controls, this would be a little paradise.
the next morning, as promised, the bureaucratic clown waits. on the schedule today, refueling. there are large, rolling tank barriers at the entrance and exit of gas stations in china, which are guarded by ladies in steel helmets. the opening and closing of the barriers also falls within their area of responsibility.
already on the street you join the waiting queue, blocking the flow of traffic and exercising patience until it is your turn. as soon as lilli’s identity card is checked, the lady pushes open the entrance, lets us pass and closes it behind us. despite there being four fuel pumps, only one vehicle is allowed to be served at a time. another lady with a steel helmet comes along to fill the tank. while trying to get out of the car for a moment, we are confronted with fearfully distorted glances that scream “get back in immediately”. paul pays out of the car and quickly we are guided through the exit gate, the next customer waiting patiently at the entrance gate.
it is the last day in china, with planned border crossing to central asia. china presents us again and again with a grandiose natural spectacle. streams and rivers dig their way through the hilly landscape. here and there the rugged mountain peaks soar into the shining sky. the view wanders over the hills. the eye is never satisfied with this view.
30 km before the border we all refuel so as to leave the last chinese yuan in the country. it’s a gas station with a liassez-fair touch. when we get out of the car, nobody complains and the otherwise reliable lady with the steel helmet sits comfortably sunken into her chair next to her open gate.
paul turns on the ignition, wants to drive off and i see diesel spurting out of the engine compartment in all directions. i call paul, gesticulate and have a bad feeling.
the lady with the helmet jumps out of her seat. now it’s time for action. she quickly chases us away from the bottom of the petrol station and excitedly dumps sawdust onto the diesel-contaminated floor.
our heroes of the day, mickael and johann, fix the diesel filter provisionally but effectively with composite glue, an old motorcycle hose and cable ties, so we reach the sealed off and meanwhile closed border at midnight.
lilli eagerly and successfully exhorts the customs officials to open the border for us for a short time. the visa is stamped. when the car is started again, the provisional solution bursts. the diesel sprays out. the young customs officers ask us to push the bus into the one kilometre long no man’s land between china and kyrgyzstan. it quickly becomes clear that the action is pointless and above all risky. with joint forces we push the car back into the people’s republic of china and are, so to speak, illegally in the country for the night.
lilli has terror written all over her face, but inexorably she organizes a place to sleep for our group. we conjure up a makeshift meal and even manage to take the situation with humour.
the next morning shows how impossible it is to organize a towing service to the border, let alone one that is allowed to cross the border. so several men hoist the car onto a low-loader with a steep ramp, which reliably drives it 500 meters into no man’s land. this is the end of the trip for the chinese driver, he is not allowed to go any further.
in the middle of a bend, on a slope, the bus is unloaded and almost falls off the truck.
with tears in our eyes and frayed nerves, we cannot believe what is happening to our rolling home at this moment.
we are now victims of this bureaucratic monster that crushes all humanity and helpfulness with its regulatory claws.
with our combined strength we manage to push the bus the last 500 meters to the kyrgyz border.
the customs officer looks out of his house, greets us amiably in russian and immediately helps with the towing.
together with charlotte, violaine, mickael, johann and thomas we sit with filled coffee cups on the wide stairs of the customs building. the sun shines in our faces and the mission china is fulfilled.
china is absolutely worth seeing, forget everything you are told about this country and always expect the unexpected.
one day we will come back.