Thursday, September 24, 2015

The gates to China

We thought we had seen a lot in border procedures by the time we reached China, but China still topped them all today. A big sign explained that the aim of the China border procedures was to be efficient and humane... they are neither. When we arrived at 11.05 am, they had just gone to lunch... a lunch which took 3,5 hours! Not very efficient then. Had they been humane then they would have let us through, especially as it started snowing and we were at a 4,000 mtr high pass. But they didn't care. It was only a forebode of things to come...

The ride towards the border and the Torugart pass is amazing. The best views of Kyrgyzstan yet. It was incredibly cold but absolutely worth it. We had said goodbye to the friendly lady of the Yurt camp we had stayed at, who gave us another help for our stomachs in the form of a kind of semolina porridge. Our stomachs were now finally on the mend!

The first stop was some form of military checkpoint, kilometres away from the actual border. They checked for our China visa, returned our passport, noted bike details and let us through. Another beautiful ride followed along a highland lake of stunning beauty. We also met our fellow China travellers there for the first time, on a BMW1200GS, two Suzuki DR650s and a DRZ400. The Triumph was somewhat out of place with all these off-road machines. The Kyrgyzstan border procedure was simple and we rode into no-mans-land. On the China side things were slightly more complicated, well to be honest hopelessly complicated. 

As we arrived just after the officials deemed it fit to go for lunch, they simply shut the gate and left us all standing... Even when it started snowing and their lunch break should have been well and truly over, even by their own standards, they simply left us standing outside. Rude isn't the word... When the border finally reopened and all the bags and panniers had been checked on each and every bike, we thought we had finally entered China. Then Mike noted that we hadn't actually received an entry stamp in our passport yet. No idea why as plenty of Chinese officials had demanded to check our passport by then.

Still, we rode into China following a beautiful valley. For about 100 km all seemed well. We rode through villages and another military checkpoint, where again our passport needed to be inspected. Plenty of sheep on the road too, as you can see in the embedded video. Already more than 100 km into China the bikes suddenly needed to be disinfected... We all wondered what the point of that was as we were already well into China. Then another customs check followed... but we had to wait an hour for them to return from their dinner break first... It was a totally pointless exercise anyway as all our gear had been checked and x-rayed at the border. More paperwork was needed regarding our visit to China, while we already had done all that when we applied for a visa for China... Then the bags needed to be x-rayed again... then another passport check... a bike inspection, whereby only the engine number was checked, not the frame number... and then... you guessed it... another passport check... It drove us mad! I mean how many people does it take to check a passport? How many times can you inspect the same luggage?

The guide then decided we needed to go to a restaurant first. No idea why as we had already made it clear we wanted to go to Shipton's Arch before it was dark and pitch our tents as we had enough food between us too. The food was... well... terrible. Meat with big lumps of fat, poorly cooked and served with thick, cold and soggy noodles. The price was, especially for the quality offered, high too. Then followed a ride to Shipton's arch in the dark where we arrived finally at 23.00 hrs... at a parking area where we could put up the tents. As the Keron isn't a free standing tent I resorted to strapping mine to the bike and a fence. All in all a day which started nicely enough but at the same time did not end all that upbeat. Luckily the next day though was to be much better when we found something that was first discovered in 1947, but the exact location remained a mystery for 53 years and needed a National Geographic sponsored expedition to find it again, while it's no less than 1200 ft high... more on which in the next post!