Sunday, September 27, 2015

China - Shipton's Arch

We've all heard about Arches NP in Utah (USA) famous for it's seemingly endless collection of natural arches in their typical red colour. We had never heard of Shipton's Arch though, which is not in the USA but in China. It's reputably the biggest natural arch in the world although its actual height is not all that clear. The total height is estimated at 1,200 feet and the span roughly 180 feet. The true height is debatable, viewing it from the east it seems about 200ft high as part of the arch is obscured by rubble in front of it. From the west it looks like 1,200 ft high but scientists do not agree if the rubble pile in front of it is part of the base or not. I'm not going to dispute or agree as we didn't have a tape measure with us that long anyway but it was our first stop in China... well, after the many many stops we had to make to satisfy the army of government officials you can read about in the previous post.

China has to be done with a guide, or at least the part of China we were in, which is the Uyghur province. Part of the reason is that this part of China doesn't want to belong to China at all. It was occupied by the Chinese some 70-odd years ago. Looking around me it's clear this isn't China. The faces, the language and the customs are all different. China is so paranoid that the Uyghur province we were in will try to rebel that it even banned filling up motorcycles at the petrol pump. Motorcycles are apparently seen as used by terrorists only... thank you China! To us it seems that blowing up a petrol station would be much easier using a car but the Chinese don't see it that way. The result of this is hard to believe unless you've actually been there. We had to park our bikes outside of the petrol station, walk in, say how much fuel we wanted and then collect our fuel in huge open 9 litre big tea pots... I'm not kidding! Look at the photos! The teapot didn't even have a lid...

The Chinese are terrified that we nasty motorcyclists might blow up their petrol station... as if that is something we would ride halfway around the world for... So in their wisdom they decided to ban motorcycles from petrol stations! We had to park our bikes outside and fill them up with a 9 litre open teapot full of fuel... as if an open pot of petrol would not make a nice firebomb... Here is our American co-traveller filling up his bike.
Having been in a petrol fire, I know how extremely dangerous the stuff is. I tried to use our 5 litre fuel cans instead but having them filled up at the pump was illegal too... This is by far the dumbest way I've ever seen to fill up a motorcycle. Walking around with big open 9 litre teapots full of fuel... As there were 3 pots being filled up at the same time, all we needed to do (if we had plans to blow the place up) was throw in a match and 27 litres would have gone up...

Back to Shipton's, because that's how our day started. Shipton's arch is named after Eric Shipton who discovered the arch in 1947. The exact location of the arch remained somewhat of a mystery and wasn't found until 2000 when a National Geographic sponsored expedition re-discovered it. We walked the track/trail to the arch from our campsite early in the morning. The track is definitely not for wheel chairs or persons of limited fitness as it follows the base of a gorge and is rather rocky. It was quite hard at times but being alone in the gorge leading up to the arch and seeing the sun just peek over the mountains was magic. Our fellow travellers needed to start the day with coffee and cigarettes while we wanted to make use of the early morning sun and thus left early. It was magically silent, no-one around, just us in this magic gorge and huge arch. Priceless.

Walking back we suddenly realised we were actually in China! With all the seemingly pointless checks and hassles we had yesterday, that kind of hadn't sunk in yet. Now that was over and we were walking here at Shipton's Arch it suddenly hit us: Can you believe it? We did it! Despite the odds and all the problems we had to overcome, we did it... and now we are really in China! Emotions ran high when we looked at each other, loving the moment and that we persevered.