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Crossing China’s “prison” Xianjong Region

This is one of the most awesome views during my trip so far!

Great Venture
Great Venture

Military checkpoints, flashing surveillance cameras every fifty meters, running face analysis and tracking you, whole villages being fenced off with barbwire and military check points and more propaganda posters than advertisements. Riding through a country-sized prison is how it felt crossing China’s autonomous Xianjong region.

Having finished Bartang valley, it is time to leave Tajikistan, go back to Osh (Kyrgyzstan). The Tajik-Kyrgyzstani border crossing is located at around 4300m and is quite a remote place with a funny road. In between the two countries, there is some kind of no-mans-land where nobody cares about the road and rules. Very often there is no “road”, or it is washed away, full of potholes, dirt and rocks. luckily it didn’t rain and it was more or less only dried dirt and puddles.

Arriving in Osh, I start to prepare my bike for the stressful and notorious China crossing. Since it is pretty expensive, a shitload of paperwork, mandatory guide and fixed itinerary, we will cross as a group and had organized everything upfront. Therefore, I HAVE to be on time at the Chinese border, otherwise I would have spent more than 1000USD for nothing.

I pick up my new tires, change oil, fix some bearings and realize I have some free time before crossing China so I decide to go visit Peak Lenin. With its 7134m it is the second highest peak in Both Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan and is considered one of the less difficult 7000m peaks to climb. Well…. I’ll visit the basecamp, climbing it will be for another day.

It is located only a couple of hours from the Chinese border, so bloody perfect! The road towards basecamp is a bit notorious for being very bad, muddy and full with river crossings, which makes it a no-go when wet and proper adventure when dry. I Set up camp at 4100m (just above basecamp) and enjoy the spectacular views.

The next morning I’m snowed in with about 15cm of fresh snow! I enjoy the stunning white-coated mountains and start my snow-hike to the viewpoint at 4800m. There was only one thing that bothered me, will I be able to go back to the valley and make the river crossings? In 2 days I’m crossing China after all…

Coming down from the hike, the snow starts melting and my hope too. Water everywhere, what will the rivers be like? I pack my stuff and slowly head down in desperate hope of a miracle. Surprisingly, the rivers weren’t as swollen as I would have thought and I could still cross them, relatively easy. I happily continue my journey towards Sari-Tash, the groups meeting point for the China crossing. We will be with 13 people and ride over Kashgar towards Kunjerab pass (Pakistan) in about 4-5 days.I meet a few fellow riders in the guesthouse and we meet at eight in the morning. Unfortunately, only half of the group is there. Since it will be a complicated and time-consuming border crossing, we decide to go ahead and hopefully they’ll catch up.

Once again, we are treated with some amazing freshly snow topped giants: a mountain ridge serving as the border between Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and China with several +6000m peaks. This is one of the most awesome views during my trip so far! Absolutely stunning and humbling to see.

And then, the BIGGEST joke EVER in history!

We arrive at around 11:30am at the Chinese border and it is closed, dead, desolated, nothing, post-apocalyptic, nada! Apparently, the Chinese border officers take a lunch break of about 3 hours, and they closed seconds before we arrived…THREE F**KING HOURS of waiting! What are they doing there? Slaughtering a pig and making some three hours cooked pulled pork sandwiches? Must be delicious! And soon indeed a food scent is noticeable. But I guess they are just prepping noodles.

Luckily the second part of the group arrives about half an hour later too. Except for some latecomers who are now waiting in no-mans-land some 3km back at a closed gate between Kyrgyzstan and China. What a start of the day, oh boy…

With a world record amount of Luggage scans, passport checks, bike disinfection, more X-ray scans, fingerprints, pictures taken and custom clearance, everybody is eventually cleared and good to go. Knives? Not allowed! Sensitive data on your phone? You could be prosecuted! Drones? Not allowed! Pictures of military buildings, people or government? Strictly prohibited! Chinese tracking- and malware? Could be installed on your phone! And so on… Luckily, we were prepared, hid the necessary stuff and smuggled our belongings across.

Eventually the border crossing lasted two days! But now we are finally in Kashgar, Xianjong. This autonomous region is mainly Muslim, which China doesn’t really like… As a result, this is a heavily militarized region, with strict rules for both locals and tourists, you have to have a guide, asking questions about the government is very VERY delicate (everybody’s phone is tapped), every 50 meters you get scanned and identified, villages are fenced with bard wire and a military checkpoint, praying in public is considered an act of terrorism, people disappear, there are “re-education camps” around, etc. A pretty sad, intense, but beautiful region!

For over 2000 years, Kashgar used to be a very important city on the Silk Road between China, the middle East and Europe. Up until today it is still a beautiful city with a very vivid culture, divers people and full of little shops and businesses. It is also the terminus for the Karakoram Highway, with altitudes up to 4693m, the highest highway in the world, which we will ride the next coming days. Looking forward to ride there!

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