On pilgrimage with a tandem through India and Myanmar

In the end, not only the Myanmar Visa was easy to get but also the Chinese Visa. We wrote a little letter to the Chinese Counselor which seemed to have worked out. We got 3 months validity, plus 3 months of stay in China. That means, no further hassle with Visas!

On November 3rd we left Kathmandu with more than we could think of. On our way to the Khaniyakharka Pass, only 70km from Kathmandu, we met Kirsty and Marcus from England. They are going around the world or at least to New Zealand on a Tandem. As the four of us had the same destination, we teamed up for two full weeks.
After our first night together which we spend under a huge tree in front of a Dhaba. While packing up in the morning, we saw how a local brutally killed a small ox with an axe and putting him on fire to burn off the hair. It was something we didn’t need to watch. Anyway the Khaniyakharka Pass was about to let us suffer and not think about the morning experience anymore. It is a really nice one; the Japanese build a beautiful road but quite hard as well, as the entire climb was almost 20km long. We were lead up and down again through many, many hairpins. The road on the southern part of the pass seemed like a snake coiling around cylinder. We had to be careful as there were many unmarked speed bumps which led us fly a few times. Back in the Nepalese plains it was easy cycling. After four days leaving Kathmandu we already reached the Indian border at Panitanki. The road got a lot busier as we got closer to India. At the border there was a lot of traffic and the extent of the border closure for goods coming from India got obvious. Still, after 2 months, trucks are parked on the road over a length of 10km waiting to get their goods into Nepal. Not far from Siliguri the long queue ended.
We continued a little further north making our turn towards the east, just south of Sikkim, following the jungle and tea orchids. Women carrying a bamboo basket on their back, picking the leafs of the tea was a common thing. A rather uncommon one, also for the local people, was a younger elephant in the woods around a hundred meters from the road. Our first wild elephant we ever saw. A few days later one more showed up on the road, a tamed one, which was ridden by an Indian.

Earlier on our trip we met Chris from the US who told us that it's possible to hop borders between India and Bhutan as there are two connecting towns on both sides. Kirsty and Marcus were also keen on giving it a try and entering the rather expensive tourist escape Bhutan. Official tourists need a Visa plus they have to spend $250 each day which would be just a little too much for us. So, we cycled to Jaigaon and went straight across the border and entered Phuentsholing. The only thing was that a border official told Björn to put on his helmet; we were in, in the land of the thunder dragon! A complete different world. Clean, less noisy, and pictures of the 4th king everywhere as his birthday was coming up. When Kirsty and Marcus arrived we look for a hotel, checked and went for a stroll around town. We bumped into a few scouts who wondered where our tour guide was but we were able to skirt around this question. Instead they became our guides and led us the way to one of the two bigger Monasteries in Phuentsholing. The temples are so well maintained and all the colorful drawings looked like they were brand new. They really do preserve their Buddhist heritage really well and take good care of it.
After the little sightseeing we joined the young monks on the lawn and had a short played football match. We were no real match for them. They were so swift and could even hide the ball under their monk robe. The match ended with 1:0 but it was fun.
When we returned from dinner to the hotel we were told that we had to leave. Due to the upcoming anniversary the hotels were checked more thoroughly and the owner was afraid that he might lose his license if the police finds out we stayed there. At 10pm we went back to India to find another hotel to finally get some rest. The next morning we went to Bhutan once more, had breakfast and than packed up to keep on going. Shilong, the “Scotland of the east” was waiting.
We left the plains in Assam going into the mountains of Meghalaya. Here, a “Namaste” didn't work any more. In north eastern India, hundreds of tribes exist, each with a different language which meant we had to learn a new greeting. ”Khublei” was the one to go with. In Shilong we went to the Don Bosco Technical School as recommended by father Joseph who hosted us the night before. We were able to leave our bikes at the school and put all our stuff into a room. We didn't stay the night there as we wanted to see Cherrapunji, the wettest place on earth. Luckily it was dry season. We took a taxi to Thyra from were we started to descend into the canyon. Thick jungle and big spiders were all around us but we didn't got caught in their web.
Cherrapunji is not only famous for the massive amount of rainfalls, it is also the place of the only double decker root bridge on earth. The bridge is more than 200 years old, really impressive. After crossing such an old bridge we hike a long the river to find a nice pool where we went for a swim and relaxed. The life of a cyclist is so hard, sometimes you need a day off the bike but hiking can be really hard as well. We continued upstream to find another big waterfall which unfortunately marked the end of the path. We mist the turn off, so we traced our track back to find the steps leading back up onto the plateau. It took almost two hours to get their. By the time we reached the top, the last light of the day had faded. We were totally exhausted and just wanted to get back into town. In a nearby village one shop was still open and a taxi driver was there as well. He took us to Cherrapunji from where we got one of the shared taxis back to Shilong. The hike was so tiring that we all decided to spend a day in Shilong, another but real rest day.

It was fun sharing all these wonderful impressions with Kirsty and Marcus and cycled together for such a long time. Unfortunately Marcus got some nasty boils which needed treatment and required a break from cycling. Therefore the ride from Shilong to the police station in Raliang was the last one together. We had to part. As Kirsty and Marcus went on to Silchar we continued on a nasty gravel road to Lanka and further on to Dimapur. During the last weeks we have been staying at catholic schools many times, always being taken care off really good. In Dimapur we therefore also looked for a Don Bosco school and found it. Father Georg was so welcoming and turned out to be our history teacher, telling us many thinks about the North Eastern Frontier. It was quite a big school. Next morning, after a good nights sleep and breakfast we were asked to come over to the daily morning call, when a couple hundred students line up, to tell them in short about our tour. It was Jens' biggest presentation. The Kids, no matter what age are always amazed and loved to here some stories. They never traveled, never heard much about foreign countries and then we show up who had visited 18 countries at this point. We believe they couldn't think about school or the upcoming exams afterwards. We could always hear the chit-chatting in the classrooms later on.

Because most of the people could never imagine traveling over land from Europe to India. They often asked: “Is there really a road from Germany to here?” All we could say was: “Yes, there is, there are many ways.” In Imphal, at a smaller school a few high school students sent us off with a beautiful song and giving each of us a flower and a face towel as a little present. We will never forget these wonderful, curious and bright smiling Mongolian like faces.
Nagaland, Manipur, and the biggest village in Asia, Kohima, are beautiful places in the mountains and so different from the rest of India, almost like all the other states in north east India as well. The people kind of turned it into another country, you could say. These last days made it hard to leave India. From Imphal we crossed the Senam Pass, like Kohima one of the big former battle sites between Great Britain and Japan during the 2. World War. We cycled down towards Moreh to one of the borders to Myanmar.

November 22nd marked the beginning of a new chapter. We left the Indian sub continent for good and entered South East Asia, crossing not only a border but also the tropic of cancer. Myanmar was completely different. The faces we were looking at didn't change that much just yet, but the food, the language, the religion, and the reign of a military party for decades let you know that your are somewhere else now.
In Myanmar it is forbidden for tourist to camp, to stay with locals or at temples. They have to sleep in hotels, that's the rule. Fortunately, in the northern part of Myanmar they are more relaxed.. It is a bit remote, there are not many big towns and therefore they care less. We managed to stay at some Buddhist temples during our first nights in Myanmar. Next, trying to be not discovered by the police, the communication was another problem. The language is tough, the transcription not any better and the way people think seams so off. Even the simplest and what we thought most obvious things are quite difficult for them to understand but after a few days you get the hang of it and kind of work your way around that big barrier.
On our first day we met a dutch cyclist telling us about a new road between Kalewa and Monywa. He said, it was bad only for a little bit of 20-30km. Which seamed Ok for us. We've been through the Pamir, so what!? Third thing we learned never trust second hand information even from other cyclists. It was the worst road we had so far and not only for 30 but over 100km! We road our poor bikes through the middle of nowhere over bumpy and sharp gravel paths and short but steep climbs which reminded us a little bit of Turkey. Eventually we got out of it.
In Mandalay we took rest day at a perfect time as everyone was celebrating the full moon festival. The locals prepared food and snacks on the side of the road which was shared with anyone who passed by, a great thing and we loved it. From there on we continued towards Bagan, an ancient city of Myanmar situated at the banks of the Irrawaddy River with over 2000 Pagodas. One day was definitely not enough time to see everything but all we wanted in a beautiful place. On November 29 we continued right away ending up at a small temple where three monks and a young one lived. Neythow, the apprentice showed us the way to a channel which was our shower and a refreshing bath at once. This shower reminded us of our bath in Uzbekistan only that the water their was more brownish. None of the monks could speak English, as usual, but we were able to communicate a little  using those horrible English Books they print in Myanmar containing loads of errors.
That night Jens felt already a bit sick and worse the next morning. He caught a nasty cold. We cycled together to Meikhtila where we were able to find a bus for Jens which took him to Mawlamying. He went ahead to get time to recover. In the meantime Björn cycled the way. Following mostly the new highway which is forbidden for trucks, they still have to take the old road between Mandalay and Yangon. After 5 days we reunited. Björn didn't feel well either as he got sick the second days. Therefore we took it easy in Mawlamying. We went to Setse Beach one day to enjoy a swim in the warm sea and drank a lot of sugarcane juice.
After another 5 days we finally left Myanmar. It was relatively far to the Thai border with some short but steep climbs in between, but we got to Mae Sot just before the night. This place was so different from Myanmar and India, were we spent so much time before. It felt good!

Elevation profile: Kathmandu - Mae Sot

3375 km, 38d 09:24:52

Into the second half - temple tour begins

The long summer break is over. We had a lot of time without our bikes, but we are happy being back on the road. Equipped with brand new panniers from Vaude we restarted on October 13 in Amritsar and covered almost 1500km since then. Most part of the way was flat, only in Nepal we returned to the mountains.

We are still lucky regarding the weather and were able to enjoy heat and extreme humidity. The nights no matter if you are in the plains or 800m high, are extremely humid. Whatever has been left outside in the open was soaking wet in the morning. Usually it took at least an hour for the sun to really come out and fight its way through the thick mist. In India we spend a couple nights at some Gurudwaras, where we got a dry and mosquito-free place to sleep. This inspired us to always ask around Temples and Churches. We didn't even use our new tent once so far. In India we had good times at Manji Sahib in Ambala, where Renku made a perfect turban for us and Sikhs joking around. Near Haridwar, tow friendly Babas from a Shiva-Temple gave us bed and food. And also at Nanakmatta we got a nice room at a lovely, peaceful place. Only at the Shiva-Temple our night’s sleep ended abruptly when they turned on the music around 4 in the morning, which was loader than in any nightclub.
We not only gave up on the camping, also the cooking stopped completely. At the moment it's simply to convenient and tasty to eat out. The food is really cheap, fresh and we love the taste.

It took us about a week to reach the nepalese border. The change from India to Nepal was not a big one. But after a few kilometers it became more obvious, Nepal is indeed not a rich country and less developed than India. The Far Western Region is a rural area. People have a really simple life style. The houses are all made of clay, with wooden roofs and stoves made of clay as well. Apart from the many rice fields the landscape is dominated by thick jungle.
That at least 90% in that region are using wood for cooking is a big advantage at the moment, as Nepal has a huge crises to deal with right now. One of the main Problems is the shortage of petrol and gas. Almost all the petrol stations are closed. If one has open, you will find a queue of at least a hundred meters, with cars and many, many motor bikes lining up. Not only in small towns but also in the Kathmandu Valley, the shortage of gas and petrol led also to a shortage in groceries. It caused many Restaurants and local places to shut down. The prices for gas bottles rocked up. Rumor is that the local government wants to deflect the attention. There are many minority groups living in Nepal, with their own language, but hardly any rights. And they also want to be heard and being accepted. So apparently the local government stopped the import from India on purpose. The import stop is really taking affect now and makes it really hard for the local people. Because Nepal is completely reliant on import as it has no industry at all.

Regardless those difficulties, Nepal is still a beautiful country with lovely people and a wonderful landscape. Nether the less, our first night in Nepal started off great, but turned into something less nice. We asked again at a small Shiva-Temple if we can spend the night there. The one big family living there said yes and was keen on providing us lots of food and making sure we are fine. Some kids from villages close to the temple came over as well. Tourist staying in a small village, such information spread as fast as a bush fire. They weren’t the only guest, wanting to see who is there. Anyway, we had a nice evening, but in the early morning, when Björn got up, he found his sleeping bag lying outside, one of the panniers opened and entirely empty. A bit later we also noticed that Jens’ helmet and steel water bottle were gone as well. The second time within one week, as Björns Smartphone was stolen in Amritsar, the day we left. So we called the police. The woman who was making Rotis last night, said she saw one of the kids who were there last night. Since we took a lot of pictures, we could show them to the police. The woman pointed out one kid and the police investigated into that direction, while we went to the police station.
After one hour two police officers returned with Jens’ helmet. That meant that the other things must be there as well. We went to the village and had a look for our self. We couldn’t find anything and also the police couldn’t do anything. But we didn’t want to leave. After while the former teacher of the local school came and asked what was going on. We explained it to him and finally the investigation started rolling. The whole village gathered and discussed the problem. He was talking to the kids many times. In the end it turned out, that 5 kids were involved in the robbery. Four of them were at the temple last night. The initiator was the oldest brother of those four kids. The mother of one kid was so shocked and angry, that she started trembling and slapping her son. Anyway, we got everything back, the kids learned their lesson and the village elders apologized to us. But we were not angry any more, it could have happened anywhere.
It didn’t discourage us from staying at temples or churches. But we started to be a bit more cautious.

When we reached Butwal, we left the plains and enter mountainous areas again. Still we managed 2000m of elevation in one day, over 130km. That left us only 35km to Pokhara, where we could enjoy almost an entire day of. We used the spare time to take care of our bikes, get some nice stuff and to relax.
To Kathmandu we had only 200km left, with mostly downhill on the first stretch. The second day was shorter, but harder. We had to climb from 300m up to almost 1500m. It was nice cycling, but could have been more enjoyable, if there was less traffic. As the Hindu Festival Dashain ended, busses took over the road and with it, we inhaled tons of fumes. We really don’t want to know what our lungs look like, by the end of this trip. At least in Kathmandu we had less traffic, due to the petrol shortage. The whole city appeared really quite, many shops and restaurants are closed, which is understandable when gas and petrol prices increased by the factor 5.
In the tourist area Thamel we started looking for a guest house, as we ran into Gerda from Munich. She is cycling as well, but also does a lot of hiking. In 2012 she did the Great Himalayan Trail, 123 days of hiking in really remote areas. Since she is staying it Kathmandu for a long time, she rented an apartment and offered us to stay at her place. A great offer, so since Sunday we are staying with Gerda in Kathmandu.

On Monday we applied the Myanmar Visa and the permit for the northern border with India also arrived. It took only one day for the Myanmar Visa to be issued. As Gerda mentioned that it is relatively comfortable here to apply for a Chinese Visa, we will give that one also a try. Maybe we hold all necessary Visas in our hands, by the time we leave Kathmandu, which would be great.

Elevation Profile: Amritsar - Kathmandu

1493.6 km, 12d 01:45:12

Mesmerized by Pakistan

We had a good time in Kashgar, one of the most colorful and charming cities we have visited so far. Therefore it was kind of hard leaving this place and getting back on the road, after one week of rest. But it felt good, once we sat on the saddle again. Those 3 days of a bit more than 300km to Tashkurgan were quite tough. The first 2 days were pretty much only up hill, specially on the second one we had a hard time, lots of gravel and pretty steep climbs. That not only made us suffer, but also our panniers. The road killed 6 of them in one single day. Fortunately the support from Vaude is good, they send us those 3 pairs to India.

After reaching Bulunkul, last town before the Lake Karakul, we got awesome views of the Chinese part of the Karakuran. First we came past a wonderful dammed lake surrounded on the southern part by huge dunes. Later on we saw the full of Muztagata, Kongur Shan and their amazing glaciers. We camped directly at the lake, so we could see the sunrise over Muztagata. By coincidence we met Jason from New Zealand again, great! Once back on the bikes it was quite tough again, slight incline and strong head winds. But as soon as we made it over the last mountain pass we had a long, long downhill ride. Even though we were quite exhausted, we maid it to Tashkurgan in no time.
By the time we found an ATM and the Immigration Building, their office was already closed. So we had to camp in town, which was not easy, since the Chinese were working almost all night long. Eventually we found a place and were not disturb, even once. On Thursday, after receiving our departure stamp we were watching how the Pakistanis tried to get all their stuff on the bus. When we told them that it will never fit, they were sure it would. In the end it was distributed on 4 different buses. The bus ride to Sost was quite fast. Unfortunately the Chinese driver wouldn't want to let us out at the Khunjerab Pass. We reached Sost in the afternoon. We had lunch with John from the States who is living and teaching at the Beijing University. A nice fellow who invited us to his class, to give a presentation about our road trip. That's going to be some work!

Anyway, we started cycling and cars and motorbikes, one after the other went passt us, with cheering Pakistanis. What a welcoming. They were so happy and we too. The only strange thing was cycling on the left side of the road. What ever image we had about Pakistan was totally off. After 5km on the road we loved that country already. the last time we had a similar feeling like this, was in Turkey. Damn, those mountains were so impressive, we have never seen anything similar. on perfectly paved road we went a long the Hunza river passing by steep mountains with sugary topping. Glaciers we so close and peaks of more than 7000m were all around us. We couldn't get our eyes of this landscape. Lush green villages along the river with lots of apricot trees, loving people and amazing mountains.
When we reached Karimabad, we had to stay for a few days. It was a real petty that we were short of time. But we had a good time with Jia from China, exploring town, hiking up to eagles nest, which offers a beautiful view over the whole valley. Even getting onto the Hopar Glacier. we could hear the water flowing and the ice cracking, and we tasted hundreds of years old ice.
But that wasn't all, we also met Josh and Pete again who came back from a hike. Every foreigner we talked to (really few), and local had the same feeling about this region. It is a must go. It couldn't be any saver.

After 3 days in Karimabad we cycled to Gilgit, from where we had to get a bus to Islamabad. Due to security issues, they won't let anyone cycle past Chilas. Another option would have been the Babusar Pass, but to get past the check point, you have to hire a taxi, which cost around $170. That would have been simply too much for us. So instead of paying that money and being able to cycle a bit longer, we got on a 19h bus ride. 530km and 9 check points later we reached Rawalpindi at 3:20 in the morning. Fatima a friend of us, we have just been mailing with, was waiting all night long. So nice of her. Our arrival in Rawalpindi marked therefore the start of another great chapter in Pakistan -  Becoming kind of celebrities.

Her siblings and mother were so welcoming and always making sure we were fine, and that we had enough spicy and greasy, but tasty Pakistani food for breakfast. During the first days Fatima showed us around. Her friend Usman also accompanied us a few times. Mostly when we went out for dinner or did the special shopping tour for the wedding of one of his friends. It was a lot of fun with them, joking around a lot.
Even when the two of hem had no time we somewhat stayed quite busy. After the application for the Indian Visa was handed in, a guy living in the same guest house, we moved to asked us about an interview. He is working for 92NewsHD. Being on Pakistan TV, sounds nice, when will you get a chance like this one again, so we agreed to the interview. But before this one, we got a call from the Indian Embassy, they wanted to see us for an interview. As it turned out, it was mostly out of curiosity. But, the good thing, we got our Visa on that same day. The head of the Visa Section was simply interested in our case. He told us about it while having lunch. Regarding being invited for dinner, it was not the only time. In the end we were invited by so many people, we couldn't join all the invitations.
So after the interview at the Indian Embassy, we went to the one at 92NewsHD. The interview itself was quite short. They did a few shots of us on the bikes and asked us how we felt about Pakistan and the people. Of course we had only good things to tell, as we enjoyed this country like almost no other before.

Spending almost two weeks in Islamabad it was a little said leaving. But as by coincidence, there was a Critical Mass Islamabad on that Sunday. Well, you cannot really call it “critical”, as there were no more that 15 cyclists and on top, they started already at 6 in the morning. It was nice to talk to them and to have a bit of sightseeing in Rawalpindi. It was simply a nice way of setting out.
But at the same time we were also back in the heat. The landscape was completely different again, really nice. Hilly and green and only villages around. But the het felt almost like back in Uzbekistan. We stopped at almost every petrol station to get fresh water. And again, we didn't felt hungry, like in the desert. We both never expected to cycle under these conditions again. At least there were villages all along the way. And some people felt sorry for us and handed us a cold drink or gave us food. After the first day, of 100km, we thought we would need two more days to get to Lahore, but the second day, we did a lot of drafting behind trucks. Many were going only at 30-35km/h. That saved us time, but it was anything but easy. This way we had no wind chill at all, plus the heat from the engine. At some point it was worse than cycling in the wind, with no one in front of you. But we kept on pushing and after more than 7h and more than 180km we reached Lahore. Traffic worse than in Rawalpindi, amazingly crowded.
Lahore is a nice city with lots of history and so much to see. Unfortunately we didn't had much time, because we wanted to cross the Indian border on that same day. So we only visited the old Fort and Mughul Mosque. At around 2 in the afternoon we left Lahore and cycled to the border. When we arrived, it was already closed. What a disappointment. It is only open from 9-15. We watched the nationalistic closing ceremony from the Pakistan side and looked for a camp spot nearby, afterward. We found a nice one but someone must have seen us and called the police. At 10 at night they made us move again. We found another spot, but were discovered again. Fortunately they didn't call the police and only came over in the morning to see who we were.
After dis restless night we could finally go to India. We cycled to Amritsar, were we bought train tickets to Delhi and then went back to the Miri Piri Academy, where we were welcomed by Himmat Singh and Konrad who took the package with our new panniers.
Until the second week of October the bikes will stay there. In the meantime Jens will be traveling with his girlfriend and Björn will do the same by himself, until we meet in Delhi again to get our Burmese Visa and continue towards Beijing.

Elevation Profile: Kashgar - Amritsar

1623.7 km, 23d 03:56:34

A Journey on the top of the World

Leaving Uzbekistan and finally arriving in Dushanbe was nice. We came from the north, over tow big mountains, which we crossed on a truck. When we applied for the Chinese Visa in Toshkent, we got only 30 days to enter the country, so we were a little bit in a rush. While having a little break,  a truck driver also pulled over for a short stop. Questions and answer as usual. That way we found out, that he is going the same way. So he asked us if want to get a ride to Dushanbe. It didn't take long and we said “Yes”!
It was a good decision. We arrived the next morning in Dushanbe, where we met a lot of familiar faces, got our GBAO permit and had a two relaxed days. After reconsidering the time, having only 22 days left for the Pamir, we decided to take the northern route, which is 90km shorter, compared to the southern one. Definitely a good choice. After around 100km the road turned into gravel, but the landscape and atmosphere was great. Cycling up to Khaburabot Pass (3255m) was quite hard and we had no luck with the weather, as it was cloudy and drizzling around the top. It caused the sandy road to turn into mud. That made the downhill quite tough. After 4km we were back an solid ground, but we had to clean the bikes thoroughly in Kalai Khum. From Kalai Khum you keep following the Panj river the whole time, up to Khurog, always having a great view on the afghan side, rough mountains, small road and a strong river. Leaving Kalai Khum, we met a few other cyclist. One of them were Charlotte and Eric. We cycled with them the last two days to Khurog. Eric had some trouble with his rim, it broke already ones and the new one was also not quite ok. So we had a look at ours and discovered a couple of cracks in Björns rim. So from there on no braking on the front.

In Khurog we took two days off, as we were good in time. Since the M41 was still closed, there was no choice but to take the Wakhan road. The road every one was taking, cyclist, jeeps and trucks. It was relatively busy and up to Langar there were also many homestays and markets. Anyway, the Wakhan was really beautiful, with great views on the Hindukush. Our last stop, before it really got isolated was Zong. From there on the it finally startet climbing, like really steep on a really sandy road. That day was so exhausting, after 35km we were already done, but no way off stopping. We on the way to the check point, below the Khargush Pass (4124m) we saw many trucks which got stuck or even one, which slide down a slight slope. So not only the road, but also the landscape changed quite a bit, after leaving Langar. The Pass itself was not to difficult, as it was less steep. From the Karghush Pass we returned to the Pamir Hwy, the M41, but only for a few kilometers. We left the tarmac and followed again, a gravel road to Bulunkul. Nicely situated at the Bulunkul lake, the village is named after. Although it’s a samll place, they still got a market and tasty bread. The road or better said path to Alicur let pretty much through the middle of no where. After a few kilometers it felt more like a moon like landscape, really isolated. A place where you didn't expect to see someone else. But we met Damir again. He showed us the way to the Gyser, where the three of us camped. Unfortunately, while looking for petrol in Bulunkul, he ran out of it and had to leave his bike 4km out of town. He walked all the way back to our camp site. The next morning we gave him all the petrol we had left. Luckily he made it to Alicur and didn't had to walk those 30km.
After one day with strong tail wind we almost made it to Murghab, where the last part of the Pamir laid a head of us. The Valleys before Murghab were huge and wide, seeming endless. They made us we feel so small. But they weren't just wide, it was also a really quite and peaceful place, so that even a town like Murghab felt lively. There we had a nice adventure with Mischa from Switzerland, whom we met in previously in Samarqand. We wanted to go on a small mountain to get an even better view of Muztagata (7546m ). With out thinking we went past a military camp and hiked up in their "backyard" After one third of the way two soldiers came up the hill, calling us. We had to go down. They were waiting with their machine gun. It was not allowed to go up that hill, as you could look into the military base. We also took two pictures which is way they kept our camera for the moment. All three had to follow them to the Police station. They took pictures of us, a copy of our passports and than led us to their boss. By the time we got there, they felt already a bit more relaxed. We explained again to the chef, that we didn't want to cause any trouble and didn't knew it was forbidden.The two pictures where deleted and we were released.

On our way to Sary tash we crossed three more mountain passes. The first and highest  one, was the Akbaital Pass. We have nether cycle such a high road, 4655m. Coming down from the Akbaital Pass, we entered a huge valley leading us to the Karakul Lake. A Salt Lake, at an elevation of almost 4000m. Being there, surrounded by snow caped mountains, among Peak Lenin lies. But the landscape got even more impressive. Apart from a few Glaciers, that hole region is really dry. So coming in Kyrgyzstan, over the Kizil Art Pass (4389m), we found ourselves in the middle of an alpine landscape. The northern slopes of the Pamir range are almost completely covered in snow and below lie beautiful meadows on which herdsman put up their yurts and sheep and horses are grazing. The colors were great. For weeks we have just seen brownish land and some snow. But here we had it all. Lush grassland, enormous glaciers and herds of horses and sheep scattered throughout that huge valley. From Sary Tash we had and amazing view on the entire mountain range. It is definitely a beautiful place to stay. We had a nice evening at the guest house there. Ming Xin and Flo invited us to Pasta and Coca Cola Chicken. In addition, Mischa, Yan and Mia and Ole were also there. The next morning we intended to leave together with Mischa, crossing the Irkeshtam Pass and camping close to the Chinese border. But our departure was delayed by hours. When we went to get breakfast, the husband of the host let three cows into the garden, we and Yan had pitched our tents. From the dining room we could just watch one of the cows inspecting our tent a bit too closely. The green color must have been so appealing, that it bit into the side of the tent and rub its head on it afterwards. By the time Bjorn got there, it was already too late. We had a huge hole in the outer tent. After we cooled down a bit, had some breakfast, we started sewing the tent. At least the host had a sewing machine. It took really long but we got it done and its holding really good.
Mischa left in the meantime already, but said he would wait on the way. Unfortunately the wind had picked up a lot. We were struggling a lot with the strong head wind. About 15km before the Pass we had catched up with Mischa. It was so hard doing that climb and having such horrible winds. We stopped for a lunch break 5km below the Pass and by the time we continued, the wind eased a bit. So quite exhausted we reached the 3760m high Pass and enjoyed a fast downhill ride. As nice camp spot was found just a few kilometers before the border where we had a decent dinner. The next morning we cycled past many trucks, lined up at the border. It was going to be a really long day.
Before we reached the Chinese customs office, there was only one check point on each side of the border. At the  Chinese customs office they took our Passports and our checked the bags really thoroughly. We wouldn't get them back unless we have a taxi, which would take us to Uluqat, where the official Immigration takes place. The Taxi was quite expensive. 200 Yuan/Person, for a 150km ride. But we had no choice, as there were only two taxis and the bus had already left.

Elevation Profile: Dushanbe - Kashgar 

1568 km, 21d 04:32:06

                                                                               

Pilgrims of the silk route

It has been a long time, but finally we have some time again. We had been waiting for almost two weeks in Baku. It was a bit too long but yeah, here we are writing to you from Tashkent and guess what, we are waiting for a Visa again. It's been about four weeks since we left Baku. There we got both the Tajik and Uzbek Visa on the same day and were finally able to tell the lady at the hostel “Visa we have”! She told us that there was a ferry the next day, but we missed it. All tickets where already sold out in the morning, bought by one person. So we were trying the next day and Saturday morning, but had no luck. But then, the afternoon came. All four of us were just sitting in the room in idle mode until here daughter came down, telling us to get to the ticket office by seven o'clock. So we packed everything up as fast as we could and headed to the ticket office. This time we got the tickets. We thought we hardly had any time, as we thought the ferry would leave at midnight, but that was the arrival time. It's was scheduled to leave Alat at 8 in the morning. So we took our time, had a dinner at a Kafesi where they tried to rip us of, by making up a random number and then hit the road. We cycled through the night and got to the “International Trade Port of Baku” (80km out of town) by 3 o'clock. By the time we embarked the boat was almost ready to leave, only waiting for the fuel. In the end we left at noon. The four of us where totally tiered, but it was hard to sleep. We got lunch and dinner on the boat, like the crew members did and had in general a quite pleasant time on the boat.
After 26h we reached Aktau. The customs took a little time, but was actually quite fast. If you think Baku is hot then you are totally mistaken. It was 2 in the afternoon, and it was horrible cycling in that heat. Within 10min the thermometer jump up to 45°C. We had to go to a Restaurant, eat something and wait and wait and wait. Just before sunset we jumped back onto our bikes and cycled out of town. As recommended, we took the northern route, into direction of the airport. The road was really good but cycling was somewhat different. We began getting up early, at 5 o'clock and cycling till noon and continued at around 4:30 or 5 in the afternoon. The early afternoon was just unbearable hot. We were just laying on the floor, unable to move and just knock out by the heat. Kazakhstan didn't change much in that sense. At least the landscape was not to boring, as we were passing through canyons and had a nice short climb from time to time, as well as some gavel, but not more than 40km in total. When we reached Beyneu, the last town before the Uzbek border, we had to say goodbye to Dimitri. He decided to take the train to Qongirat, because he wanted to have a little bit more time in Samarqand and Bukhara. As usual we spend the whole afternoon at  Hotel Beyneu. By the time we said goodbye to Dimitri and were leaving town, a small sand storm came up. It was really windy and the sand was creeping into every little corner. You could hardly open your eyes. Fortunately it was only for 20min or so. Afterwords we only had a little bit of rain. The big, black clouds and thunder stayed a few kilometers away from us. The good thing about the rain was the low temperature, that made it actually quite pleasant to cycle. It would have been a lot nicer with pavement on the road, but that was over. The whole distance from Beyneu to the Uzbek border is unpaved. That made it a bit harder for the remaining three of us to reach the border.
The actual crossing took quite long, as could have been expected. When we got to Aktau, we went straight to the Migration Office, to get the registration, but they said no. We don't need a registration. So we just believed them and left, although it's said, that you need to register, if you stay longer than five days in the country. And that is what we did. So the officer made a few calls and we had to wait. After 30min we got relieved. He said we don't have a problem, we can go. We got the stamp and went to the Uzbek side. The it was taking also quite some time. First we had to put our GoPros away, as cameras weren't allowed at all. Then we had to line up in a long ques, before going to the custom office, filling out two forms. Jens had to show all his medicine and the paper maps we were carrying. Why, we still have no idea. After all that was done, we were finally allowed to enter Uzbekistan. Now part two of the race through the desert was on. We had only 26 days left on the visa, with 1800km to go and the application process for the Chinese Visa.
After arriving in Uzbekistan, we kind of appreciated the “short” distances between villages in Kazakhstan, because the distance was getting a lot bigger. We had to go between 100 and 140km to reach the next place. That meant that we had to cycle longer into the afternoon. On time we were going till 1:30 and it was just a night mare. We were almost at the point of collapsing, as the heat was just unbearable. Kazakhstan was actually quite nice compared to the circumstances in Uzbekistan. We easily reached 56°C in the sun. More over, the afternoon stayed hot. It didn't cool down before 7 or 8 in the evening. So we had to do the bigger part in the morning. By the time we reached the first oasis-town, Qongirat, we were quite exhausted. Not sleeping more than 5 hour every day, since getting to Aktau and not eating enough, as it was just to warm, made us a little weak. But we made it. Those days in the oasis were quite nice. We got something to see, not just sand and some shrubs, but people, villages and trees. So after Qongirat, our first nice stop was Xiva. The night before we reached Xiva, we had the luck of being able to stay with Muzaffa, who invited us to his house. Everyone in the village was curious and wanted to take pictures and to know where we were from. After a refreshing bath in a channel, we got a really nice dinner, prepared by his wife. We had great time and good sleep at his house. Clay houses are great, they hardly warm up during the day and stay nice and cool.
The next morning it was only a short ride to Xiva. Yan arrived just a moment before us. We stayed at the Alibek Hostel, which was great, specially the breakfast, best one in Uzbekistan! The old city is really small. You don't need more than two days there. The old clay wall surrounding it is quite impressive. Xiva was our first historical stop, the first place where we did some sightseeing and also the place where we parted from Yan. He decided to stay one more day than us. He also went to the hospital to do an x-ray, as his rib was still hurting. It turned out to be broken. Fortunately he can still cycle. So after that nice oasis, we had to go back to the desert once more, for two days, to be accurate. It was not as bad as before, because it was shorter, but we cycled a lot longer. The first day we did 180km, after not being able to find the Village we were looking for, as there was none and we had to keep on cycling through the afternoon. Fortunately it we got a lot closer to Gazli than expected and had only 100km left from Gazli to reach the next oasis. Bukhara was different from Xiva, as it appeared more busy and with more tourists around, but the interesting part was just as small and concentrated on one spot, as in Xiva. There We met the mysterious tandem, we were told about in Kazakhstan and also a Swiss couple heading for the Pamir. From Bukhara we  basically jump to Samarqand which was definitely worth a visit. Samarqand is beautiful and really interesting, there is a lot to see. So don't miss out Samarqand!
We where thinking about taking it easy from Samarqand, but than we had a good run, although Jens experienced a couple flat tires and Björn got his first one as well. We got pretty far, doing some climbing, as the landscape changed a bit, but flattened out after Jizzax. A good way to cool down during the longer rides in the heat was a bath with the locals in the bigger channels. That said, after a horrible night, due to hundreds of mosquitoes, we reached Tashkent on  the July 15th.  Thursday afternoon we went straight to the Chinese embassy, just to figure out, that they need proof of hotel- and flight booking, plus no express service. We arranged flights and Hotels for our stay and returned on Friday morning with all the documents. Everything seemed to be fine, as they had no further questions. Now we are just waiting for those five working days to pass by and chill out with a funny dutch couple and Tuan.
While we are here in Tashkent we also have to buy some new inner tubes. Jens simply had to many flats. Björn tested them in the pool. They have tiny holes everywhere. Apart from that, there is not that much to see in Tashkent. It's an old soviet city with big roads and subway station where you are not allowed to take pictures or do a handstand. But we found a really good flea market, Tezykovka in Yanigobod. You can find so much old soviet stuff and a lot of garbage as well. But it was great. We should come back and by some stuff. The time so far is really good. Overbooked Hotel, with Jens heaving to sleep on the floor and a Friday party with drunken staff members. Tashkent can definitely be fun!

Elevation profile: Aktau – Tashkent

2300.4 km, 23d 03:43:32