Saturday, 29 June 2013

Puncture Repair Kit

Four punctures on the trip so far and Deefor has had two of them. Nails in the back tyre both times. Must stop riding through carpenter's shops.

Thanks for the photo Nigel.

Scenes From A Cutting (Up) Room Floor

A lorry overturned spilling its load of wood chip across the road ... three women on a scooter, a baby tucked under the arm of the middle one .... a rickshaw turning into the road without looking ... a car squeezing through on the right side at a red light, and then turning left across three lanes of traffic .... a tanker crashed in a ditch, the tank broken free from the body ... an overloaded lorry shedding sacks of grain ... a Land Cruiser with a wheel torn off.

All in a day's ride on Chinese roads!

Aussie Rules

With two Aussies on the trip it was inevitable we ended up in the Shamrock Bar in Chengdu to watch the Lions vs. Australia match. Great game which gave Andy and Brad bragging rights for a few days.

Which leaves it all down to the decider in Sidney. We will have to find a bar with a TV in Xi'an.

Day 63 - To Chengdu

A short hop today from Emie Shan to Chengdu. First though, a short diversion to Leshan to see the giant statue of the Buddha. At 72m tall it is the largest statue of the future Buddha in the world.

Then through the heavily populated area south of the city to the capital of Szechuan, Chengdu. As you pass through each town you notice how it specialises in one sort of trade. One has nothing but shops selling women's coats. Another is scaffolding poles. Chengdu itself is the home of women's shoe manufacture in China.

Lunch was a packet if crisps and a drink from the corner shop run by this lovely family.

Friday, 28 June 2013

Day 62 - Deefor Does Nothing (Encore)

A day off to recharge batteries, shake the dust of the mountains from the bikes, clothes and soul, and prepare for the last phase of the trip.

The Mount Emie area is beautiful and the more intrepid of us went for a tour that involved three hours walking. The rest chilled by the lake or in the bar.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Day 61 - Rain

It had to happen eventually. Today for the first time it was raining as we left the hotel. All togged up in rain suits we headed out into Western Szechuan.

The roads were greasy after the rain and our bikes are fitted with off-road tyres which have worn almost smooth. No one actually slid off the road but we all had a few squiggly moments.

By lunchtime we were out of the mountains and in the first city. The rate at which these are being built is amazing. Everywhere you look, new neighbourhoods and business districts are being laid out.

The traffic is appalling. Cars, lorries, motorbikes and pedestrians arrive from all directions. People overtake on blind corners with no thought about how to get back in to their own side beyond pushing the motorbike out of the way.

After 7 hours riding we had travelled just 180miles and were wrecked. The end point was Mount Emie, one of the most important sites in Chinese Buddhism. More importantly it is the site of a luxury 5 star hotel for two nights.

Dinner tonight was fresh from stall to table. Fish and chicken were being selected and killed order. We drew the line at the toads and rabbits.

Brad's Birthday

Happy 50th mate!

Local Dress #10 - Dirt

Deefor is modelling this season's must wear outfit in Western Szechuan Province. A simple two-piece in dust and mud is complemented by make up from the new Grunge range.

(Thanks for the picture Chris!)

Day 60 - Mud

Just when you thought you had seen it all, a new challenge jumps up to bite you.

Today was another "straightforward" day which is just as well as it was 450km from Batang to Kangding. A long day but we were looking forward to some more of those lovely tarmaced passes.

The road was good over the first pass (4700m) and down the other side. However it wasn't quite finished and we arrived just as they shut the last 500m so that they could lay the top coat of tarmac.

What to do? Sit and wait for two hours or take a detour through the water meadows to bypass the works? Snowy had to wait but the adventure bikers were off road faster than you can say Gelande Strasse.

Sadly 350kg of 1200GS and rider will not skim lightly across a bog and soon there were several bikes up to their axles in the mud. Once free they still had to climb back to the road, the last metre of which had been imported from the Somme. Carnage ensued with bikes being dug out, manhandled and ridden through the quagmire.

By the time we were past the obstruction one of the lorries had moved and the last two bikes were simply driven along the new road. Typical!

The fun wasn't over yet. The next two high passes were "under construction". As previously this means the old road hasn't been repaired in years and is now carrying all the construction traffic for the new one. The recent rain had turned parts of it into mud and puddles and the rest was churned to dust. Very hard, rough riding for 280km. By the time we arrived at the Love Song Hotel (!) in Kangding we had been riding for 11 hours.

Undetered Prof Sam and Deefor went out for a Szechuan Hot Pot dinner. This local take on fondue puts a huge pot of sesame oil, chilli, Szechuan pepper and ginger in the middle of the table. Diners put the meat of their choice in it to cook. It is quite simply the hottest thing "In The World".

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Day 59 - Leaving Tibet

The mighty Yangtse river (see photo) marks the border between Tibet and Szechuan. On the other side is the small border town of Batang, tonight's destination.

Before we could get there we had to climb a 5000m pass, then one of 4000m to get to the valley of the Mekong river. Then another 4300m pass and another 4200m to reach the Yangtse. That's a lot of climbing.

The day settled into a rhythm of switchbacks, cliff hugging roads, roaring rivers and police checkpoints. The scenery was breathtaking all day though the concentration needed to avoid rockfalls and washouts meant that you needed to remember to look up from time to time.

As we moved east we seemed to leave behind the arid, high, gazing country and move into the hot damp, barley and rice growing areas. It certainly got very hot. A taste of things to come.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Karma Kanics

While eating lunch, Deefor was surrounded by a bunch of kids on their way home from school.

One observant boy pointed out a large nail sticking out of Deefor's rear tyre. Not too dangerous but it might have made for an interesting "moment" if it had come out at the wrong time. Well done that lad! "Too tse chay" (Thank you).

The nail was pulled, the tyre plugged and Deefor was back on the road. Good as new.

One hour later, in the middle of nowhere, a Tibetan motorbike was parked by the road. The rider was looking for help, he had a flat tyre.

Deefor's over specified toolkit went into action. In no time the wheel was off, the puncture repaired and the tyre reinflated. After one false start and some back-up from Tintin and Snowy, we had him back on his way.

Karma - What goes around, comes around.

Labours of Van Man #7 - Entertainments Officer

Happy Birthday Tintin!

Day 58 - If....

"If you can fill the unforgiving minute / With sixty seconds' worth of distance run, / Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it"

After yesterday's route notes promised unblemished tarmac and ended in a scene from "The Bridge Over The River Kwai", today's note predicted a long stretch of unmade road to the delight of the KTM riders among us. What we got was, yet again, something completely different.

The first 100km followed our particular tributary of the Bhramaputra through a spectacular gorge (see photo) to a placid lake. A magnificent ride that made the heart sing.

Not all straightforward, recent rains had washed mud and rock across the road in places so care was needed. At one point the road had partly collapsed and a river had taken its place. No match for an adventure bike, but several Chinese cars were getting stuck on boulders and were blocking the way. With a bit of makeshift civil engineering and some manhandling everyone eventually got through.

At the end of the lake the road split. The right hand fork led to the Indian border and Myanmar (Burma). We took the left hand road which climbed into a narrow gully. At times this was no more than 20m wide with a raging torrent at the bottom. The road was cut into the sheer face protected by an avalanche cover which had seen recent use.

We emerged onto high pasture with yak and cows grazing on either side. Then the road turned north and started to climb up a side valley. This was where the off-road was meant to start but, in the two years since the last trip, it had had been paved. Instead of gnarly rock and sand, we were treated to 30km of tarmaced hairpins to rival any Alpine pass. Sensational.

As we descended and followed yet another swollen river, the rain started and continued until we reached our hotel. As Deefor types this blog it is still raining hard. So who knows what tomorrow will bring.

What a day. Certainly one where every unforgiving minute was filled with adventure.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Day 57 - Variety

"Straightforward day today. 290km, all tarmac. Have a lie in and a late start" said Kevin at the briefing.

Well he was right for the first hour or so. A lovely ride up into the mountains with spectacular views. The road cut into the near vertical cliff high above the valley floor. Then down to a small town that could have been in the Swiss Alps if it weren't for the prayer flags and yak.

Deefor had got away early and decided to stop for an extended cuppa by the river. A lovely sun trap, a rushing river and an iPod playing Kiri Te Kanawa. What could be nicer? By the time he was back on the road it was mid-afternoon and a "straightforward" 120km to run.

The Chinese road construction industry had other ideas though. They had decided to upgrade 30km of the road through a narrow gorge by building tunnels and new bridges. These, naturally, were not finished so the traffic ran along a twisting, muddy, one-way-at-a-time, goat track.

Chinese drivers do not understand concepts like letting the other chap come through first or waiting in line for your turn. What would have been tricky became the RAC rally as minibuses tried to overtake or dived for a gap and caused grid lock.

Eventually we reached the main river bridge which is being replaced. This venerable suspension bridge built from steel wire and wooden planks crosses a 200m gorge. This really is a one way street. The army allow one lorry on the bridge at a time. And it still creeks.

The road then follows the river through what the maps claim is the deepest gorge in the world. You have to crane your neck to see the sky and the river, a tributary of the Bhramaputra, churns and boils far below.

What a day. "It's not a holiday. It's an adventure". All the way to the end.

This Little Piggy ....

... was hanging around the tourist stop begging for scraps.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Day 56 - Rain, Cyclists and Pigs

After a heavy overnight thunderstorm we departed Lhasa in a light drizzle under overcast skies. Unlike previous days, when the early cloud had cleared to offer blazing sunshine, the cloud stayed with us all day delivering occasional showers.

The first 150km climbed to a 5000m pass through a valley which could have been in the Alps. Then down to a lunch stop town. Ordering food when the menu is in Chinese and you have no common language is entertaining. By pointing at the ingredients and miming "chicken" (cluck cluck flap flap) and chilli (yum yum ho ho) we managed to get a very good mushroom and noodle soup.

As we descended, the valley narrowed into a gorge with a turquoise river rushing through it. The hills rose steeply on either side covered in pines and partly obscured by fluffy white clouds like a classical Chinese watercolour.

All down the valley we passed Chinese cyclists toiling up the slope. Apparently cycling the Szechuan - Tibet Highway has become quite the thing to do in recent years.

A perennial problem has been animals on the road. Through Tibet it has been mainly Yak and dogs. Today, suddenly and without warning we entered the Piglet Zone. Everywhere you looked pigs were rooting in the rubbish, wallowing in the ditches and running across the road.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Day 55 - Deefor Does Nothing (Reprise)

After a couple of days of maintenance and aught seeing, Deefor recharged today.

Breakfast of bagels at the Summit Cafe and French Onion Soup at Dunya for lunch. A bit of souvenir shopping and a quiet beer while setting up all the routes to Beijing in the SatNav completed the day.

Only 14 more riding days to Beijing. The next six see us crossing eastern Tibet and descending to more normal altitudes ready for the run through central China.

Rock 'n' Roll

The local live music scene is going strong. This four piece were excellent last night. A couple of western standards but all the rest of the set was in Chinese.

Local Dress #9 - Tibetan Monk's hat

Just to fit in with the rest of the local populace.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Tibetan Butchers Shop

The early morning delivery of wholesale yak to the butchers shops in our street.

Day 54 - Lhasa

The capital of Tibet is also home to the most important civil and religious buildings. The Potala Palace was built in the seventh century as the winter home for the Dalai Lama.

An imposing building on an isolated hilltop said to resemble an elephant's back, it is now surrounded by the sprawling city.
Inside the brilliant colours are lit by yak butter lamps. The stupa tombs of previous Dalai Lamas are coated in up to 4000kg of gold and precious gems.

The overall effect is however, stifling and primitive. The parallels with the selling of indulgences and the promise of salvation through deprivation of the medieval church are overwhelming.

Quite a spectacle though.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Day 53 - Deefor Does Dunya

Today's rest day was spent getting the washing done, cleaning and checking the bikes. Suspensions were changed, people dispatched for Transit spares and the effects of the last week repaired.

A quick shop for new trousers (Jack Wolfskin copies) and a hat and the day was done.

This evening we returned to Dunya for a group meal since the planned Tibetan restaurant wanted £350 to make a reservation!

After an excellent meal of Nepalese chicken curry and Yak Steak the landlord had a lock-in and we spent a few happy hours watching his extensive collection of music videos from Graceland to U2 via Neil Young and Metallica.

Local Dress #8 - PLA Army Surplus Hat

So that Deefor fits right in in Lhasa.

Day 52 - To Lhasa

After yesterday's carnage, our only thought today was the three days break in Lhasa. First though we had to drive 480km over a 5200m pass.

Last night Snowy's front suspension was removed, driven over 70km of broken road to Dingri, welded into some sort of shape, driven back to where Snowy lay stricken and refitted. Tintin then drove the van very slowly back to the hotel ready for today's journey. What an epic.

Although long, today's drive was mainly on good roads so the bikes with broken suspension could be ridden even if doing pogo impressions over any large bumps.

The route took us over a high pass then down a narrow twisting gorge with the road hugging one side. On the other side the Chinese are building an extension of the high speed train network. No nonsense, the track carves round hillsides, punches through tunnels and strides across open ground on enormous pillar legs. How can they build something on this scale in two years when it will take the UK 20 years to build high speed lines to its second city?

Lunch in a Tibetan restaurant consisted of a whole lamb leg, roasted in spices and served with yoghurt and spicy potatoes.

Eventually the river widened into a broad valley splitting into multiple channels carrying the milky blue water on to form the great rivers of Asia.

Then we were in Lhassa. Mad traffic, mad rickshaws, mad pedestrians, holes in the middle of the road et al. To our hotel, an oasis of calm with space for all the bikes in the courtyard.

And then dinner at Dunya. This amiable ex-pat bar run by a Dutchman served excellent Yak steak and chips with a fresh tomato salad and cold beer. Luxury.

Monday, 17 June 2013


A short section of the road to Everest. As Peter said, it is only right that it should be hard to get there....

Day 51 - There And Back Again

The road to Mt Everest from Dingri (the nearest town) is 105km. Apart from the first ten. The road is an unrelenting series of hairpins carved out of the scree. On the plus side, there is no sand. Instead there are jagged rocks and corrugations.

Corrugated roads are an interesting phenomenon. Caused by heavy trucks, the vibration frequency of their suspension turns the road into a regular series of ridges, rather like a piece of over sized corrugated iron. They are terrible to ride on. The regular vibration shakes everything loose, bits of the bike as well as bits of you.

The rough conditions played havoc with suspensions. The rear shocks on three of the eleven bikes that made the trip failed with oil leaking out and clouds of smoke. Snowy also suffered with one of the front suspension cools breaking under the punishment.

It was a tough day. Breakages, one minor spill and a gruelling ride there with the certain knowledge that you had to ride back the same way. We are all exhausted.

So why did we go? To see Mount Everest of course. The weather was not kind and covered the summit for much of the dsy,. when it broke the iconic peak rose above our heads and made the whole journey worth while.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Day 50 - To The Foot of Everest

Access to Everest is restricted, so today's ride was to position us close to the entrance ready for an early start tomorrow.

We left Saga with few regrets. Apart from the dust, smell, roadworks and general poverty, the stray dogs kept us awake all night. It is genuinely hard to imagine how people can live in these conditions many of which do not need investment to fix. What they do need is education and leadership.

The route took us over two passes on unmade roads before we joined the "Friendship Highway" that links Lhassa in Tibet to Kathmandu in Nepal.

The communities we passed through were desperately poor but with evidence of new investment in roads, electricity, irrigation and telecoms.

Deefor stopped to make coffee by a ruined fort and was soon joined by this little family who soon took possession of any crisps and sweets that were available.

Tonight we stay in Dingri. All excess weight is being stripped off the bikes and the van ready for the rough roads to Base Camp tomorrow.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

MWA. (Motorbikes With Altitude).

One of the great unknowns about the trip was the effects of altitude. You can't prepare for it. It affects the fit and the unfit, old and young seemingly at random.

Normally people climbing at altitude have weeks to acclimatise. On a bike you go from 2000m to over 4000m in a day.

There is a drug, Diamox, which can aid acclimatisation but it has a few side effects like throbbing and tingling fingers.

So far, with the help of Diamox, all has gone well for Deefor. Any sort of exercise leaves you short of breath of course, but the more unpleasant effects of headaches, dizziness and poor sleep haven't kicked in.

It's not over yet though, in two days we are going to Everest Base Camp at over 5500m and that could prove harder.

Team Photo #6 - Nigel and Andy

Waldorf and Stadtler have completed "The Ride": five months down the length of North and South America, and several other long distance trips together.

They've done this stuff before and their experience shows.

Here pictured with their Guru.

Day 49 - Saga Holiday

Today's route used to take two days but, thanks to the Chinese road building programme, now it can be done in one hop missing out a particularly dirty home stay.

So, a long day (450km) on good roads. There was plenty of interest along the way; Tibetan wedding, Yaks swimming across a river, filming for a Chinese pop video to name a few.

Despite the god roads today was a day for bike carnage. Kevin got a puncture, Alan's rear suspension collapsed (who ate all the pies Al?) and Stevie Love's fuel pump expired. So a lot of fettling to do this evening.

The last 100km was through a tighter valley with peaks rearing either side and forbidding rain clouds overhead. Add heather and swap the yak for heeland coos and you could have been in Glen Coe. Except 4800m higher up.

Tonight we reached Saga. They are replacing the sewers and water system here so every road is dug up and it pings a bit. Water is available from 8:00 to 10:00 so there was a dash for the showers after dinner.

A long and eventful day that brings us one day closer to the literal high point. Mount Everest the day after tomorrow.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Chris's Birthday

Happy Birthday to the riding god that is Chris Porter.

Day 48 - To the Holy Mountain

After yesterday's nightmare today was a straightforward 230km on good roads. A welcome relief.

The scenery was fantastic. Wide valleys grazed by herd of yak and goats. High mountains either side with the shadows of clouds dappling the sides.

Toward the end of the day we passed Mount Kailash, a mountain holy to Buddhists and Hindus. The almost perfect pyramid shape is usually hidden by clouds but poked its head out for us. It is said that the four great rivers of Asia flow from its four sides.

The mountain is a point of pilgrimage as is the lake we are staying by tonight. Perched on a rocky outcrop between the two is a tiny Tibetan monastery. A more desolate but peaceful place you could not find.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Uncle Mel's Tea Room

Mel has a jet boil stove and regularly brews up by the side of the road. Here we enjoy tea, coffee, hot chocolate and biscuits to recover from the "Sands of Hell". Thanks Mel.

Day 47 - It's Not A Holiday...

GB's strap line says "It's not a holiday, it's an adventure". Ever since the start we have been teasing Kevin whenever a previously rough road was tarmaced or a remote home stay had wifi. "It's not an adventure, it's a holiday".

Today it became an adventure.

After 3 hours riding we had made less than 20 miles. The new road that is being built was blocked off and we had to parallel it on tracks being used by all the regular traffic and the construction vehicles.

The problem is that the land is basically sand with a thin crust on top and the trucks had turned it into dust. Imagine 32km of plain flour piled 15cm deep and scored with ruts and you will have an idea of the conditions. It was so bad that even some of our most experienced riders came off at some point.

Today's photo shows a stretch not yet churned by trucks and looking deceptively substantial. Do not be fooled. It wasn't.

In the end we had to get on the unfinished road or someone would have a serious crash or a burnt out clutch. That meant riding up a two meter, 45 degree bank and over a concrete kerb. It took Deefor two attempts and the help of some mates (thanks Brad, Patrick and Mel) and we were there!

The next obstacle was the tarmac laying machine which was parked blocking the road. Simple. You just ride along the kerb stones with a steep bank to your left, making sure you don't hit the machine with your pannier and then drop back onto the road. Compared to the sand it was easy.

It was all too much for poor Snowy (the support van). Despite Tintin's best efforts a front wheel drive Transit with a motor bike and spares in the back was never going to make it. A passing digger from the road crew was persuaded to help and Snowy was free at last.

Once through the roadworks the new road was superb and we flew along arriving at a nice clean hotel (en suite showers and toilets - luxury) in Ger at 5.

All agreed it was the toughest days riding they had ever done but we all made it in one piece.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

The Labours of Van Man #6

Hat provider.

You may well ask why Deefor isn't wearing one from his extensive collection. It's a long story.

Day 46 - Into Tibet. Take 2

Day 44 Errata. We didn't enter Tibet and they weren't the Himalayas. Although we did climb onto the Tibetan plateau we were still in Xinjiang. The mountains we could see were the Karakorums.

So today we really did enter Tibet. As we crossed one pass there was a boundary stone, lines of prayer flags and our first stupa.

The first 180km was on perfect blacktop. The corners melted into one another as we sped through breathtaking scenery of snow capped peaks and turquoise lakes. Crossing two 5200m passes where the air was too thin to light a gas stove.

For much of the ride we passed through desert. Sand dunes and barren rock with herds of Tibetan Antelope hunting for what ever vegetation there might be. Then the landscape changed and patches of short, bright green grass appeared with attendant herds of yak.

Then we hit road works and were directed off into the loose stuff. By now sand and gravel hold no terrors and the kilometres flew by under a sunny sky.

"Those who the gods wish to destroy, they first make mighty".

It started with some short showers which developed into driving rain. This has the benefit of laying the dust but it also disguises the sand traps which start to look solid. Soon we were fish tailing through deep sand and inevitably came to grief. Twice. Nothing broken but now everything is covered in wet sticky dust.

The best days riding so far with a gentle reminder at the end not to book a place on the Paris Dakar just yet.

Tonight we stay in a very upmarket home stay. Rooms for two people and hot water in bowls for washing. A chance to clean up for the first time in days. Dinner was a again very good with pork, chicken, green beens, courgette, potato and rice. Excellent.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Day 45 - A Bridge Too Far

The Chinese road building programme has reached Tibet big time. The road from Mazar was perfect blacktop and it looked like we would make tonight's destination by lunchtime. We had not reckoned with The Pass.

The construction crew are half way through building this part of the road, a succession of switchbacks up to 4980m. Half done means they have destroyed the old road by driving their diggers up it but have not started to stabilise the rocks for the new.

The result is like a sandy beach. Dry, dusty sand lies up to 20cm deep with tempting paths through where the last truck went. It is a question of weight off the back and go for it!

The theory is that keeping the back wheel turning gives you stability and, however much it moves sideways it will always follow the front one. Getting the weight off the front wheel allows you to point it where you want to go and Bob's your uncle. Nice in theory, terrifying in practice.

At this sort of altitude the effort required gas you breathing hard and lungs, mouth and nose are soon full of dust. By the time we were at the top and had run down to the first village, it was time for lunch.

After an excellent noodle and stir fry we set off with hope in our hearts only to find that at the next river crossing the new bridge wasn't finished and the temporary crossing had subsidence. The bikes made it. Snowy couldn't.

We all set too with shovels to improve the track but the Chinese foreman said No! We left it to them to create a new river, block the old one and fill in the missing section. Five hours after the bikes, Snowy crossed and we met up at tonight's stop.

Reed Willow Beach has no reeds, no willows and no beach. It is a windy, dusty, dirty scrapyard of a town with a communal bedroom, truck drivers playing cards and smoking. The dinner however is excellent. Definitely one for Trip Advisor.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Team Photo #5 - Stefan

Stefan is from Switzerland and looks right at home in the mountains.

Day 44 - Into Tibet

Leaving Kashgar at 8:00 we followed the Silk Road route through the string of oasis towns the fringe the southern edge of the Taklamaklan desert.

The local Uighur name for the Taklamaklan means "go in and don't come out". Whole caravans were lost following imaginary guides into the dunes.

After 250km we turn south and start to climb slowly and find a small cafe in a remote town. The couple who run it were delighted with the trade and with their new notoriety as an international hang out.

And the suddenly we hit the Himalayas. They rise straight up out of the plain and we start to climb. Up and up, round hairpin after hairpin. The road clung to the cliff edge and could be seen 100m above after the next turn.

The first pass was a mere 3800m but the big one to end the day was over 3 miles high at 4990m. You can see K2 from the top but the dust and grit in the air made it hard to see.

Then down the other side to Mazar. A windswept, dirty truck stop by the side of the road. Our "hotel" for the night.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

At The Car Wash

In compliance with our driver training, we have got the bikes cleaned. The ladies at this car wash did an excellent job!

Islamic Architecture #2

After the towering pishtaqs of the 'Stans, the main mosque in Kashgar, the Id Kah, is a place of quiet and human scale.

Within the (restored) walls the central square is filled with shady lime trees and the main prayer area is a raised platform open to the breeze and roofed with a carved wood ceiling supported on octagonal pillars.

Delightful and restful.

Deefor Gets a Haircut ...

... and a shave and facial! 100RNB (£10). Bargain.

Plus the Prof's experimental data say Deefor has lost 5kg since the Ace Cafe. Suddenly I'm gorgeous. Or that might be drugs I am taking for altitude kicking in.

Day 43 - Kashgar Livestock Market

For all its sights, Kashgar is most famous for its Sunday livestock market. We took a tuck tuck ride out to the site arriving by 9:30 as the traders were setting up.

Cows, sheep, goats and donkeys were being unloaded from trucks, tuck tucks and scooters. Roped in lines for inspection they were soon the centre of intense bargaining. A small cow seemed to go for 300 to 400RMB (about £30 to £40).

Around the periphery stalls were selling food. It was hard to tell what the sheep thought about seeing their mates cut into bits and hung from the rafters. Horse bridles, hand made knives, ropes and all that the Kashgari livestock farmer might need was for sale.

A quiet after pin sightseeing and cleaning and then a traditional Uighur dinner. Lamb pizza. Just the job.

Team Photo #4 - Alan and Peter

Our support team, Alan and Peter. Here seen driving the support tuck tuck.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Chani Bagh

"In the early years of this century Chani Bagh was distinguished by its lavatory. It was a 'Victory' model with a sturdy mahogany seat, the only flushing thunderbox for two thousand miles".

So starts the chapter about Kashgar in William Dalrymple's excellent book "In Xanadu: A Quest".

If Colin Thubron painted the pictures of Central Asia that brought Deefor on this trip, than Dalrymple did the same for Kashgar. His tale of his time here in the last days of communism is superb as is his description of the Chani Bagh itself.

Built as the residence of the British Consul it was an outpost of Empire in which the Consul's redoubtable wife entertained and played tennis with the ladies from the Russian Consulate.

In Dalrymple's book it was a decaying doss house for Pakistani truck drivers and aging hippies. Now it is a rather good, if shabby, Chinese restaurant around the corner from our hotel.

Lots remains from the 1908 building but the colonial atmosphere has been somewhat spoiled by someone erecting a 26 storey hotel right in front of it leaving no trace of the memsahib's original Chani Bagh (Chinese Garden).

Local Dress #7 - Uighur Hat

Just the thing for a trip to the mosque!

Sam's Story

Today Sam was back on a bike for the first time since Bukhara.

Riding through the roadworks from Khiva he hit a patch of sand and came off, catching his foot under the bike. He managed to ride on to the hotel, but an X-ray the next day revealed a Potts fracture to the bottom end of his femur.

With his leg in plaster, he and the bike were in the van to Dushanbe and then in a taxi to Murghab to miss out the Wakhan valley. This gave him a couple of weeks to rest and recover.

Arriving in Kashgar a second X-ray showed the bone was healing and a package from the UK arrived with a sophisticated ankle support designed for bikers.

Strapping it all on, he went out for a ride with Kev and was pronounced fit to rejoin the ride for Tibet.

Hurrah! Sam the Man is back on the road...

Day 42 - Kashgar

A quiet day today recovering from the Pamirs and preparing for Tibet.

Our hotel is a five star run by a local Uighur company. Uighur people are the majority in this area of China and they are Muslim like their neighbours in the 'Stans. The upshot of this is that the hotel does not serve beer. A major oversight for an adventure bike tour.

It also doesn't have air conditioning (it is 30c outside), toilet paper is rationed, the breakfast closes strictly at 10:30 and the drains smell. Apart from that it is great and provides a luxurious space in which to relax.

The laundry has worked overtime as every item of clothing, including riding suits, get a clean.

Out the front, behind a rather film starish red rope, the bikes are checked and fixed. Not too much damage since Dushanbe. One indicator lens smashed - but then they don't use them here, so not a problem.

Day 41 - Driving Licences

Today we headed back out of town to the local equivalent of the DVLA to get permits for the bikes and our driving licences.

To the Chinese a motorcycle is a scooter or a 125cc petrol bike. There are no big bikes and the BMWs and KTMs are a matter of great curiosity to everyone, even the transport inspectors.

After a cursory inspection and elaborate noting of frame numbers the bikes were deemed OK. On to the drivers...

We were directed to a posh boardroom where our Chinese guide translated the "Instructions for New Drivers" for our benefit. The three most important points seem to be:

1. Keep your vehicle clean.
2. Take care not to splash pedestrians when driving through water.
3. Do not spit while driving.

This might explain the driving standards.

Dinner was at the old British Consulate building. A fantastic Chinese feast of gung pao chicken, twice cooked pork, steamed fish, broccoli, cabbage, celery, sweet and sour pork and rice.

Chop sticks are the order of the day, which slows you down a bit, but Deefor for one was stuffed by the end of it. After three days in home stays eating simple food it made a welcome change.

UPDATE: 9/6 - We got our licences and new number plates today! Photo attached.

Chinese Driving

Imagine a set of traffic rules: drive on the right, stop at red lights, Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre etc. then ignore them all and do what you want while speaking on the mobile phone.

The roads are full of trucks, busses, cars, silent-but-deadly electric scooters and pedestrians. None of them obey any rules. They weave and dodge seemingly oblivious of the danger.

Scooters often have a family of four with the baby sitting in a high chair strapped to the back. Others are loaded with cargo (two 6 foot builders planks, a sheep etc). No one wears a helmet. Girls sit nonchalantly side saddle chatting on their mobile as their boyfriend cuts up a few cars.

Surprisingly there seem to be few accidents. Perhaps the danger makes them all more aware of what is happening or perhaps they are lucky. Who knows, but we are going to need to learn the ropes. Fast.
It can

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Day 40 - Into China

We woke in the home stay to a freezing cold morning. A quick wash in the outdoor sink and a visit to the squat toilet (quite a nice new clean building to provide privacy for a hole in the ground) and it was time for breakfast.

Tintin had used all his persuasive and culinary skills to get the use of the yak dung stove to make some porridge. Add some of Oxfordshire's finest Rowses honey and we had the breakfast of champions.

In 2011 the road over the Irkisham Pass had been a snow covered, muddy nightmare. Today the road builders have been in action and it was perfect blacktop to the border. However, the cold and overnight rain meant that it was covered in black ice and at the top of the pass was in dense cloud.

Arriving at our last border the exit from Kyrgyzstan was as efficient as the entry. They really have understood the benefits of easy travel for trade. The Chinese border didn't open until 10 and we were first through. Lucky really as it is to close from tomorrow for 10 days. Something we didn't know about!

We stopped in a dusty and deserted building. On previous trips this had been the immigration and customs post. Now it was just a security check. Cameras and iPads were checked for inappropriate content and we were asked to carry on to the new post in 120km. There is only one road so no chance of us wandering off into the country.

The next 100km was one long set of roadworks. They are building a brand new four lane motorway to the border. Not in bits as we would but ball at once. Every river crossing had a new bridge. Every pass a new cutting. Every connecting stretch was being levelled, graded and tarmaced. Our route twisted around this on sections of the old road, temporary surfaces and bailey bridges. Extraordinary.

But not as extraordinary as the customs post. It is huge. Acres of lanes for trucks and cars to stop and be processed. Clearly China is preparing for this to be a major land route west. All the road building through the 'Stans now made sense. This is the new road to Central Asia and onto Europe. The new Silk Road is coming. In a few years you will be able to drive from London to Beijing on tarmac all the way. Off road adventurers will need to look elsewhere for their fun.

Then on to the capital of Xinjiang Province, Kashgar.

Your Yurt or Mine

It takes four people two hours to put up one of these amazing mobile houses. The walls are made like a garden trellis and spring into shape. The 68 roof beams support a circular opening in the roof to let out smoke. The whole is covered in felt for waterproofing and insulation.

Inside, sitting on the carpets eating our dinner off low tables, we are kept warm by a yak dung fire in a little iron stove. Very snug.

We Are not Alone

Anita is a petite Malaysian girl from Kuala Lumpa who learnt to ride a bike a year ago.

We passed her on the high passes as she rode her way round Asia on her 150cc Yamaha. On her own.

Team Photo #3 - Susie and Chris

Susie has been looking forward to some charming local accommodation. She and Chris look at home in this yurt.