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Michael Cowen Bike trip from Curthwaite to Beijing

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During my 11,000 mile trip from East Curthwaite to Beijing I will be posting a regular blog, which you can read below. I hope that you will enjoy reading about the trip and that you will take the opportunity to donate to our local and amazing charity, Hospice at Home. I have set up a special Just Giving site to make donations easy - just click here to go there. It is my intention to match 10% of all money raised. Many thanks for reading this and for your generous support.

Note from webmaster: From time to time we will publish a map showing the approximate route. Click highlighted place names for historical perspective. Also, some photographs may be enlarged by clicking on them.

If you are enjoying this account, then please feel moved to donate to the Carlisle Hospice at Home movement by by clicking here. Remember that Michael has pledged to add 10% to all donations himself at the end of his trip.



You can sponsor Michael by donating to Carlisle Hospice at Home by clicking here  

My Blog

 
East Curthwaite, Cumbria to Beijing, China
   
 
   
 
   
 
 
Happy for a job well done
   
 
   
DAY 80

Final day!
Very very hot 40 deg.
Visited Great Wall of China. Incredible piece of engineering, built over 2000 year period to keep out the "Mongolian Hoards"
Evening theatre performance of Kung Fu spectacular, very impressive.

Finneas Fogg and Michael Palin both went round the world in 80 days, 2/3 of the world is enough for me!
It has been a terrific adventure with the best aspects being the spectacular scenery, the bikes, they are the surely the best way to do a trip like this, and the friends one makes on the way.
The downsides, the first has to be the complete lack of roads and basic facilities in some regions, also the extreems of weather, the rains, the snow, the dust and in China the severe pollution.
I have collected a few bruises and lost two stones in weight, but it has been worth it!
Thankyou to anyone who is still reading this Blog, to Ronnie Auld for making it all look right and a big thankyou to everyone who has donated to Carlisle Hospice at Home.
Looking forward to getting home again.
Cheerio. The End.

 

 

DAY 79

Beijing to Tanggu. (Container Port)
108 miles
Hot 39 deg. Clear skies at first.
Another early start. We allow two hours to prepare for the days ride. To avoid theft everything has to be locked inside the bike paniers overnight and then re strapped on in the mornings, we put our clothing on after breakfast to avoid overheating!
Rode to the huge Dock complex and said fairwell to the bikes for five weeks as they are packed into containers for their trip home.
Returned to Beijing on the 205 mph Bullet train.
Gala Peking Duck Dinner at night, we all were given our extremly hard earned Tee Shirts, a good evening.

 

DAY 78

Baoding to Beijing.
115 miles
Cool morning, hot by mid-day 38 deg.
Left hotel 8.30 for final ride into Beijing. Got permission to use the Motorway from some govt. Official who has a bike himself!
Amazing reception at BMW Motorrad China, lunch plus various speeches and gifts.
Met Mrs Cowen again after 78 days, needless to say very pleased to see her again.
Spent the rest if the afternoon catching up on family and other news.
Supper out at a lakeside restaurant, not very good. As a result of the olympics Bejing has got rid of a lot of "city villages" with their smaller cafe style bistros so prices and choices are now just like any other international city.

 

DAY 77

Handan to Baoding
212 miles
Coolish 25 deg overcast and heavy rain
Visibility very poor all morning. Everywhere there are factories putting smoke into the atmophere, it can't be very long before the Chinese authorities decide something has to be done about their polution problems. It's worse than the London smog of the 1950's and has to be having an effect on the nations health.
As we get nearer to Beijing everything gets more like home, buildings have an international look and are better finished, there are more European cars, roads are better, sometimes with up to 10 traffic lanes although the average Chinese road user, maybe a farmer with the single cylinder tractor, still has a mind of his own!
Evening meeting covered bike shipping and tips! The end really is near now.

 

DAY 76

Luoyang to Handan.
249 miles
Morning hot 39 deg then monsoon rain
Day started as usual with houses, factories and workshops but then we seemed to spend the rest of the day on tree lined roads. One could begin to envisage what rural China might have been like 40 years ago. Lots of trees, terraced productive fields and many people in small villages. Of course feeding 1.3 Billion people still requires a lot of people.
We experienced monsoon rain for the first time in the afternoon. The water just "drops" from the sky, roads become flooded and slippery. It is too hot to put raingear on so we just get very very wet! But saves washing!

 

 

DAY 75

Xi'an to Luoyang.
258 miles
Hot, reached 40 deg.
Very hot, even on a bike, we try and drink lots of water but even it's warm!, although we open all the vents on the suits the air is so hot when it passes through our clothes it doesn't cool us down!
When we weren't going through cities the farming looked good. Harvest is over here, straw is being moved all over the place and the farmers are drying their grain by spreading it out on the roadsides! All other crops look well.
We are told this part of China is experiencing a draught. Rivers are certainly empty. Seems odd when their current floods are so near.
Slight tummy problem! Hope better in the morning!

 

Not far to go now!

 

DAY 74

Visit to The Terra-cotta Army.
Overcast day as usual, up to 32 deg.
Today was one of the highlights of our visit to China as we went to see Qin Shihuang's Mausoleum which dates from the Quin Dynasty, 206 BC.
There are over 7000 terra-cotta Warriors, and Horses which were only discovered in 1974 by local farmers. Today some 2500 figures have been restored, they are all different, like a real army. All very impressive
Whilst the Museum is as usual huge, 3 halls built over the partially restored pits, due to international pressure no more reconstruction is to take place until Chinese restoration methods improve.

 

DAY 73 Rest day in Xian
Overcast but warm 27 deg.
Morning spent looking at City Walls, Old Bell Tower and a wander through some side street with their small shops and cafes.
Lunch at Haagen-Dazs! Funny how one "needs" the odd western treat. Had an expensive berry ice cream and coffee. Worth every penny!
In the afternoon started trying to sort out my BMW warranty claim on suspension and windscreen brackets.
Can not see them paying up £800 without a fight!
Group "dumpling" dinner and show at night, whilst colourful and entertaining it was aimed at western tourists and was nothing like real China.
DAY 72

Foping to Xian
112 miles
Rain, improved PM 28deg.
Rain seems to never be far away. The Monsoon season starts soon. We hear there have been severe floods to the South of us with many casualities so we are perhaps lucky that things are not any worse.
Reached Xian after lunch, a huge western city complete with skyscrapers and eight lane highways. Visited a ten story shopping mall, one of many, full of affluent young people, items were not cheap a suit for £400, branded western products, eg Timberland or Dunhill, at the same prices as London.
Very good evening meal at a Dumpling restuarant.

Riding though Xian City - click image to run videa

 

 

DAY 71 Langzhong to Foping.
303 miles
Overcast, low 20's, some rain.
12 hour day, did not finish till 7. A mixture of all types of roads, twisty mountain sections through some lovely alpine scenery, pity we can't see much of it! I am not sure if it is very high humidity or pollution, suspect a bit of both.
Also more urban sprawl with never ending houses and factories.
China's govt must be "encouraging" a co-ordinated economic policy, there is a strong banking system, lots of budding entrepreneurs, huge numbers of people who want to work and spend their money, and who do not seem very interested in democracy, whatever it takes to get things moving it seems to be working here!
Late supper, we were all ready for it.
DAY 70

Chengdu to Langzhong (Central China)
210 miles
Warm, up to 33.5 deg but overcast.
A day of two halves. The first 100 miles in the usual urban sprawl, but through a couple of completly new well laid out towns. But also Huge factories making everything from aero engines, plastic components to a vast van assembly plant.
But after lunch we got into some alpine-like country side, very green, lots of rice and veg production, small farmers with their water buffaloes working everywhere.
But this is the real modern China, a country of extreems.
Ate out at night and found everyone very welcoming on the walk to and from the venue, in fact one does not feel "threatened" here at all, unlike in the "Stans".

 

DAY 69

Rest day in Chengdu.
Drizzle, warm plus polution!
Morning spent at Panda Breeding Research Centre. Saw both Red and normal Black and White Pandas of all ages. Now only 1700 left due to the destruction of their natural habitat.
After a very moderate lunch moved on to the new very impressive purpose built museum of the "Sui Civilisation" which existed around 1200 BC. Various artifacts including fine bronze masks have been found in the last 60 years.
The evening was spent having a second moderate "group" meal before a rather good live show at the theatre. The highlight was a changing faces montage although supporting acts, acrobats, fire eaters and musicians were of a high standard also.

 

DAY 68

Mount Emei to Chengdu.
112 miles.
Hot, 33deg.
In China no motorbikes are allowed on any motorway. Whilst we would be well able to ride fast enough this would not be the case for Chinese made bikes with their small engines. Hence the ban.
Perhaps 112 miles does not sound far for a days work but what with the traffic, the pollution, the state of the roads and the whole of China seems to be a never ending "urban sprawl" 112 miles is no mean feat!
Chengdu's population, including suberbs is 20 million, larger than London and we have never even heard of it!
Supper at MacDonalds with a piece of cheesecake and a coffee at Starbucks!

 

DAY 67

2nd Rest day in Mount Emie.
Again very warm, up to 36 deg.
Having got my bike repaired yesterday a very kind fellow biker called Doug, alias "The Count", he always wears black, offered to help me re- ride the 50 miles I had missed due to my breakdown.
So this we did, it means I can still claim to have riden all the way from London to Beijing!
All agriculture here is very intensive, rice, maize, tea, sugar cane, oil seed rape and all kinds of vegetables all grown next to, or under, each other and all looking well. With China's population it's probably the only way.
Usual supper, ready for a McDonalds!

Video - expoloring Mt Emie

 

DAY 66 Rest Day in Mount Emie
Hot, 33deg. With very High Humidity.
After eight days of constant riding a rest day was very welcome.
Spent the morning repairing my bike. The parts have been brought up by car from Chendou, all went well and we had the suspension rebuilt by lunchtime.
After lunch had a walk round the resort. The town owes it's existance to old religous conections and natural hot springs but now is a rather "tasteful" modern holiday centre.
China's growth at almost 10% per year, every year, means their internal market is so strong they do not have to attract foreign tourists, we saw no other westerners or found anyone who even spoke any English!
Usual chinese supper but with a whole steamed Duck, including beak. A mistake, so never again!
DAY 65

Kangding to Mount Emie (A World Heritage Site)
162 miles all Tarmac.
Warm, 28 deg, "Polluted" atmosphere.
Not a good day. My rear suspension finally collapsed after doing 127 miles. The tempory bolt just broke, one pot hole too many! Fortunatly I was not going at high speed at the time so the bike ground to a halt In the middle of the road with no further damage to me or itself.
I spent the remainder of the day in the support vehicle along with my bike.
This hurts, as I wanted to ride my bike all the way to Beijing.
The day was spent descending from the Tibetan plateau through wooded river gorges to westerm China.
We began to see some of China's industry, lots of smoking chimneys and serious polution. Good Hotel at night.

 

DAY 64

Litany to Kangding (2616 meters)
180 miles all Tarmac, some very rough.
Warm day
Our last full day on the "Tibetan Plateau". Morning ride through ever more good looking extensive grassland, not unlike the Scottish Border Country, but without the Yaks!
After lunch climbed our last mountain pass before starting our decent to western China on an amazing new road.
The Chinese are not currently very environmently minded. New roads are like scars nothing is landscaped, modern buildings are not easy on the eye, small towns and villages have little or no sanitation and litter is everywhere.
Good hotel at last, very welcome

Photo - Peter Morgan

Tibetan Plateau Railway

Yak

 

DAY 63

Lieda (Tibet) to Litang (China)
275 miles, 100 roadworks and Gravel.
Cold start but then up to 33.5deg.
A terrific day for scenery. Getting out of Tibet is almost as difficult as getting in! We rode over 4 passes with the highest at 5090 metres, all the others over 4000 meters, and crossed two major rivers, the Mekong and Yangtze
Again terrific gorges and high mountains.
The day ended with huge expanses of rolling grassland stocked with large herds of yaks.
Our evening stay Litang is a Tibetan "wild west town" and the birth place of the 7th and 10th Dalai Lamas.
Hotel had neither hot water, room keys or electricity. Ate a very poor supper!

 

DAY 62 Ranwu to Lieda (Tibet)
182 miles, 32 gravel.
Another warm day, but nippy on pass.
First 70 miles spent following the river Nu Jiang thru terrific gorges, very narrow and vertical sided, it looked impossible to construct any sort of decent road.
We then climbed the highest non stop road ascent in Tibet, over 1600 meters or over 5000 feet, with 72 hairpin bends, what with the gravel and dust it seemed never ending!
Noticed clever, but simple, water powered paddle wheel corn mills and also rows of wooden poles in the fields for stacking hay crops. All Clever stuff!
Day ended with another Chinese supper. Starting to tire a tad of them!
DAY 61 Bomi to Ranwu Lake 3925 mtrs (Tibet)
85 miles. Half Tarmac half Roadworks.
Pleasant sunny day at Altitude.
A short day due to the closure of the only direct road to Shangri-la in the Yunnan province. This re-routing is all part of the Adventure Factor!
Rode up through an incredible assortment of diverse valleys and high passes plus varied riding surfaces finishing at the alpine lake of Ranwu. The Chinese think nothing of working on 50 miles of road at the same time using lots of people, wheelbarrows, stone out of the river, and cement mixers. Little or no big plant.
Another good Chinese supper. When will we get tired of them!
DAY 60

Linzhi to Bomi (Tibet)
Rain on and off all day. 15 deg.
A mix of Tarmac and interesting dirt sections. Left Linzhi and again climbed up through an alpine landscape to a pass at 4600 meters. Although everywhere is very overgrazed there were alpine flowers and even some heather. As well as all the usual animals we have started to see a lot of black Chinese pigs plus their litters. They seem to be "free range" and think nothing of a quick sprint along or over a main road!
We are now into the last quarter of this Adventure and I am relieved that the end is in sight although we still have some interesting places to see.

GlobeBusters - The Road from Linzhi to Bomi with Traffic Jams - Silk Road 2010 Click graphic above to view video
DAY 59

Lhasa to Linzhi. (Tibet)
248 miles all Tarmac.
Warm all day 20 deg, but cold on pass.
Left Lhasa and rode over 4700 meter pass after 50 miles of climbing. Therafter the scenery changed to high upland Grassland with large numbers of Yaks, cattle and horses and their nomadic owners. We then followed the river for over 100 miles through wooded gorges and ever greening valleys, very picturesque. Saw several pilgrims continualy prostrating themselves on the road to Lhasa, pushing a stone at the same time. Some had over 200 miles to go. I find it all very difficult to understand.
Another very tasty Chinese meal at night.

 

DAY 58 Last day in Lhasa.
Again warm all day.
Spent the morning on a city walk of the old town which was most interesting. However, one could not help but notice the large number of Chinese soldiers and police, all with arms, stationed at road junctions or even on roof tops. It seems it is only 12 months since there were riots here with some deaths.
Tibetans have a real anti Chinese feeling. They now have little or no freedom, their religion has been down graded and they feel their country is being "plundered" by the Chinese in that there are now many new large mining projects. The traditional Tibetan way of life is definatly at risk.
Afternoon spent sorting out bike gear for next week. Supper of yak steak and chips (the yak could have been 15 years old) anyway very good at £4.50.
DAY 57 Culture day in Lhasa.
Very warm all day, 28 deg.
Morning, Visited the Jokhang Temple, the holiest in Tibet, with a personal Guide. Most ornate inside with parts going back to the 7th century.
Afternoon. Group tour of the Potola Palace, a World Heritage Site. Surely one of the most spectacular buildings in Asia. 13 stories high with 370 steps to get to the Dali Lama's living quarters. Several tons of gold used in very ornate carvings. Difficult to square with the poverty that must have existed outside at that time.
Evening. Went to the theatre. The show was for tourists and called "Happyness on the way". A romantic view of Tibetan country life. In practice it was a tibetan version of River Dance and way too long. 5 out of 10 tops.
DAY 56 Rest day in Lhasa.
Hot, 30 deg.
Morning spent working on the bike, changed the air cleaner and checked it over. My windscreen seems determined to detach itself! Suspension still Ok.
Also had my sore eye looked at, all Ok just dust, needed a good wash out.
Max has decided to go home. Not likely to be fit enough to ride for some time. Even worse now as he has lost his iPhone! So it must be the right decision for him
Walked round old Lhasa in the afternoon. Lots of "shops" selling everything from souvenirs, household goods to chunks of yak meat! But not sure how much is local.
Had a Tibetan meal at night, different from a Chinese meal, very basic, oily, some spicy bread, no veg, not as many different courses, in a word "grim"!
DAY 55

Dingri to Lhasa (Tibet)
321 miles all Tarmac.
2 deg first thing then up to 29 deg.
A day of two halves. Terrific climb to pass at 5200 meters, very cold. Then a descent following a river, first through gorges and later flat cultivated lands right into Lhasa itself, where it was extreemly hot. Much of the water is taken out of all rivers for flood irrigation schemes. This would not be tolerated In Europe.
On reaching our Hotel met Max who is minded to return to the UK. Most of us have been taking Diamox for high Altitude Sickness with great success. Max seems to gathered up a mumber of additional problems which when all added together seem to have got the better of him.

 

DAY 54

Dingri to Everest Base Camp. (and back)
132 miles round trip.
Warm all day, averaged 17 deg.
The first few miles to Everest were Tarmac before going onto the amazing new Chinese gravel road which was full of hairpins and very exposed drops. The first pass at 5200 meters gave us our initial view of the mountain, being a clear day, it was spectacular.
We then rode on the locals base camp (5100 mtrs) wherei we caught a small bus for the final two miles to the climbers base camp at just over 5250 mtrs.
It was a great piece of luck to see Everest on such a clear day the views were truly stunning, when we were "Everested" out we returned to Dingri after a memorable day.

Video to Everest Base Camp -

 

DAY 53 Saga to Dingri (Baiba) (Tibet)
175 miles, half Tarmac half Gravel.
Usual nippy start then sunny 19 deg.
First half of the day on good Gravel roads but with difficult sandy patches.
After 70 miles joined the Friendship Highway, which runs from Lhasa to Kathmandu and the Chinese have rebuilt and is now completely tarmac. Mount Everest came into view.
We heard our third casuality Max has got pneumonia. He has gone onto Lhasa and is to stay there until we arrive in 48 hours time.
DAY 52 Paryang to Saga 4600 mtrs. (Tibet)
147 miles, all gravel.
Cold start then warmed up, 12 deg.
Perhaps our second hardest day, the most difficult being the one spent in the snow on the pass getting into China.
The problems today were twofold. Firstly roadworks, as per yesterday the whole 147 miles is one huge construction site with diversions and hold-ups. Thousands of Chinese are working on the project. Secondly, dust and sandstorms made riding most difficult and often unpleasant.
This section of the Tibetan plateau is almost desert-like with sand dunes.
DAY 51 Lake Manasarova to Paryang. (Tibet)
168 miles All Gravel.
Lovely crisp morning then 13 deg.
After a breakfast of "boil in the bag" left at eight. The Chinese are building a completely new road accross Tibet. The whole 168 miles was a construction site. People and plant everywhere, perhaps rather like when the railways were built in the UK in the 1800's.
The Dali Lama may come over as the wronged party but it's Chinese money putting in the roads infrastructure and education into Tibet and so improving things for everyone.
Do poor people prefer a "fridge or a vote?"
DAY 50

Ger to Lake Manasarova (Tibet)
168 miles all Tarmac!
Cold all day, bike computer never showed more than 5 deg. Some snow.
Woke up after very cold night in our "hotel". All felt it must have been designed with summer in mind! Left Ger and climbed up to a pass of almost 5000 meters then good new road built by the Chinese ending up at Lake Manasarova at 4560 mtrs. The Hindu sacred mountain of Mount Kailash was on our left although we did not get good views of it until later in the day.
Walked in late afternoon to Tibetan Monastry on the hill near our "Tea House". Again accommadation very basic, no hot water or shower and communal facilities over the road!

 

DAY 49

Duoma to Ger (Tibet) 4620 meters.
143 miles 50/50 dirt and tarmac.
Cold on passes 3 deg. Otherwise nippy.
Scenic lakeside route in parts. First gravel section not easy, pockets of sand and lots of loose stones. The number two Globebusters guy Mark took a very heavy fall and damaged his leg, limping on for the moment. Sand and deep gravel are the worst surfaces to ride on, the bikes just go their own way! I normally "paddle" my way through. May not look good but it works. Evening Hotel rather better. First shower and decent wash for 4 days! Ate out at very tidy small local establishment, good meal for £2.50.

 

DAY 48

Quanshuigeu (China) to Duoma (Tibet)
217 miles All Gravel
Cold -6 deg on passes, 12 by evening.
Started off day at seven having had our Chinese breakfast of noodles, eggs and "che" or tea. Sounds better than it is! Climbed pass to 5248 meters, cold on the top.
Tibet has been called the roof of the world for good reason, we seem to be riding and living between 4000 and 5000 meters, dust, yaks, yurts and frozen lakes and very few people seems to be the order of the day.
A couple of people not so well tonight and various bikes have developed faults. All the gravel roads and no facilities starting to take their toll.
Accommadation again carry basic.

DAY 47 Mazar to Quanshuigeu. (China)
157 miles All Gravel.
Altitude meant nip in the air all day.
Woke up after a dreadful night's sleep. Our room was next to the 24 hour kitchen! Noise, arguments, smells, customers and chilli all night.
Continued east all day on rough high altitude gravel roads. We had to watch for trucks on the tight bends. Tibetan truck drivers do not stop for anyone or anything. We simply stop and let them pass.
Amazing scenery, big flat desert like valleys overlooked by high mountains covered in snow.
Overnight stop very basic again, no hot water, loos, showers but good Chinese meal for supper plus a cup-a-soup!
DAY 46

Kashkar to Mazar
320 miles, 265 Tarmac, 55 Gravel.
24 deg in valleys, 0 on top of passes.
Early start, left Kashar at 6. First 200 miles over flat prairie, much land farmed intensively, some rice, many different vegetables, fruit and grain.
Several new roads and a new railway line.
We then started to climb up onto the Tibetan plateau. Two passes 3700 and 5100 meters. Great views of the mountains, may have seen K2 from the top of the second pass.
Nights accommadation in a class of it's own, one room for all, no loos, no hot water, no evening meal so cooked our own, pasta plus various bits and two local ducks. Killed very quickly!

Baltoro Region from space

 

DAY 45

Free day in Kashgar
Warm, 25 deg.
Visited Kashgar livestock Market in the morning. Like something out of the middle ages! Animals tied up in rows, cattle, sheep, donkeys and camels. Farmers everywhere. As far as we could make out their prices not unlike ours! But all trading done directly between buyer and seller. As for Bio Security and animal welfare, non existant.
At our evening meeting we were given our Chinese numberplates and permits. The next few days are going to be tough, gravel roads, poor homestays, and perhaps some much colder weather as we go up onto the Tibetan plateau.

<< Click to view video

 

DAY 44

Rest day in Kashgar
Warm 24 deg.
Expedition in 4x4's to Shipton's Arch.
Well worth seeing, at 1200 feet high perhaps the worlds highest natural arch.
Discovered by Eric Shipton, an English mountaineer when he was consul/ spy here between the wars. He was a friend of Tilman and they climbed all around this area even doing the lower parts of Everest.
A Good day spoilt by the inevitable visit to the Carpet Factory that followed!
Riot police in evidence.
Light Supper in Western Style Karakoram Cafe.

DAY 43 Taxkorgan back to Kashgar
Crisp morning, but 22 deg in Kashgar.
Walked from overnight hotel to 1500 year old fort. Discussed Chinese history including 1935 Mao Freedom March. It is clear China is spending part of her wealth on the ordinary people, yurts for the farmers, housing in the towns and cities. However it is not possible to own anything freehold. All land belongs to the govt and houses can only be owned for 70 years.
Terrific road built through some very wild steep mountains, it goes right up to the Pakistan Border.
Went to evening "show" involving dancing and child tightrope walkers, not quite as we would do it in Europe.
DAY 42

Third day in Kashgar.
Expedition down Karakoram Highway.
Because of the recent political troubles in Kyrgyzstan we were unable to complete our proposed route to Jalalabad hence we now have an extra two days here in Kashgar.
Spent the morning at the local hospital having a medical examination for our Chinese driving license. This was most amusing, in the eye test, for illiterate people, we had to recognize different animals! We all passed with the verbal help of other group members!
After lunch drove 220 miles down the Karakoram Highway to Taxkorgan, 30 miles from the border with Pakistan.
Good traditional evening meal with locals.

DAY 41 Second rest day in Kashgar (China)
Warm day, 27 deg.
Spent the morning sorting out the bike. Took it to a wash shop and had it cleaned by three people £2, then filled it up with petrol £16, but by watering can as bikes here are not allowed onto petrol station forecourts. This is simply because there are so many scooters and small bikes they would block up the system! We are treated the same way as everyone else.
Repaired a broken mirror and changed thr oil and air filter but the bolt for my rear suspension has not yet arrived.
We have two Chinese "guides" with us all the time so going off the pre-arranged schedule is not possible, this is a pity.
DAY 40

Rest day in Kashgar (China)
Our first day in China. Although it is a communist country capitalism is the name of the game. The streets are full of people, pushbikes, scooters, many are electric, cars, all sorts of lorries, even tractors and handcarts, everyone is busy. Money is being spent on the infrastructure, new roads, public buildings and services. China is not poor but as usual how do you get the wealth to the poor, there may be plenty of rich people but there are certainly many who do not have very much.
Had a chinese pizza for supper, very original spicy taste!

 

DAY 38 Murghab (Tajikistan) to Sary Tash
(Kyrgyzstan)
142 miles.
Cold all day, down to 0, driving snow.
A day of big open spaces, arid upland plateaus, high altitude passes, extremes of riding and weather conditions. The driving snow was difficult as visors would not stay clear.
Our first day of really cold weather, had all the appropriate gear on, heated grips jacket etc. it all worked well.
We are now having to get used to high Altitude. Homestead last night at over 11,000 feet and rode over passes in excess of 15,500 feet today.
Stayed in cramped homestead and ate "plov", soup, two beers and green tea in yurt while it continued to snow.
DAY 37

Khorog to Murghab (Tajikistan)
188 miles
Overcast with hail on passes, 8.5 deg.
Terrific Ride, Left Khorog and climbed up on the plateau between two ridges of the Pamirs. Barren landscape of rock and sand with huge sweeping valleys. Several very blue salt lakes.
Got caught by a spectacular hail shower on highest pass of 4137 mtrs.
Some population but very isolated. Saw first Chinese lorries heading west.
Excellent supper, vegatable soup, Yak and onion stew with mashed potatoes washed down with green tea and Welsh Single Malt Whisky.

Click image to see more pictures of area on TREKEARTH

DAY 36 Layangor to Khorog (Tajikistan)
139 miles
Lovely clear sunny day 22 deg.
Today's route north barred by 40 foot deep washout, the authorities propose to use dynamite to refill the hole!
Retraced our steps but ride excellent on gravel roads. Dropped bike on some soft sand, all protection gear worked well, nothing that can't be patched up, no harm done.
Another cash incident. There no ATM's or banks as we know them east of Istanbul, hence need to carry cash for petrol and living expenses.
Supper of excellent chicken curry, but got lost in rain on return to homestead
DAY 35 Khorog to Langar (Tajikistan)
141 miles fourth day on Pamir Highway
Overcast then warmed up to 20 deg.
Amazing ride along the Ishkashim and Wakhan valleys with the gorges and huge areas of gravel. Noticed farmers using cattle to plough both in Tajikistan and Afgahanistan on the other river bank. Climbed up to Yamchun Fort, views of both the Himalyas and Hindu Kush mountain ranges.
Evening Homestay involved all of us sleeping in the same room, but good evening meal.
DAY 34 Rest Day in Khorog (Tajikistan)
Warm all day, overcast at night.
Rest days are needed not only for the welfare of the riders (sometimes very welcome, like today!) but also to allow the bikes to be serviced and repaired.
Another problem can be that landslides or rivers which are too full of water can delay progress. With entry into some countries on specific dates rest days in effect then become catchup days.
Looked round the town in the morning, statues of Lenin still everywhere, met interesting locals who spoke very good English.
Personal email from Michael dated 15th May 2010

In this email Michael talks candidly about the great difficulties which travellers have the further east that they go across the roof of Asia. The roads all date from the period of Russian occupation. They are full of potholes, a nightmare for bikers. Tajikistan is a former Soviet republic which, in 1991 on the retreat of the Russians, was plunged into civil war. It is a rugged mountainous country with lush valleys to the south and north. It is central Asia's poorest nation.

Images from BBC

According to news agencies neighbouring countries accuse Tajikistan of harbouring terrorist training camps. The economy is terrible. The country is the first stop on the drugs route from Afghanistan to Russia and the west.

Michael goes on to to say that the food encountered on the trip so far is terrible and that weight loss is inevitable. On the border crossings he has this to say: 'Border Crossings are a real challange, corruption, hand written paperwork and checks on ourselves, our luggage and our bikes. Took 7 hours yesterday. Bikes being serviced and off road tyres fitted today ready for Pamirs and the Pamir Highway, the worlds third most dangerous road!'

The group will now be staying at local homestays and eating local food. He doesn't expect any internet access now for 10 days, so his near daily blog will go silent for a time. They will now be heading east from Dushambe to Tibet and Lhasa.

If you are enjoying this account, then please feel moved to donate to the Carlisle Hospice at Home movement by by clicking here. Remember that Michael has pledged to add 10% to all donations himself at the end of his trip.

 

YouTube Video link showing driving conditions on the Pamir Highway - click image to run (will load in a separate window)

Pamir Highway
Perhaps a typical homestay
 
Someone else biking through the East Bazar Pass
DAY 33

Kalikhurum to Khorog (Tajikistan)
146 miles third day on Pamir Highway
Fine day, 17 deg.
All 146 miles along river Amudarya seperating us from the North Afganistan border. From what we could see the people there had no electricity or roads and still used donkeys and mules for transport and farming.
Fantastic river gorge scenery, the best day yet for scenery. Road a mixture of Tarmac, and gravel in the sections where landslides had taken the road away.
Some evidence of failed Soviet attacks on Afgahnistan, burnt out personnel carriers and areas of land mines.
Yesterdays road into the Amudarya valley now closed as too much water in rivers.

 

DAY 32 Blue Lake to Kalikhurum (Tajikistan)
71 miles Second day on Pamir Highway
Rain never far away all day.
There are two roads into the Pamir valley. As the southern road is closed due to impassable river crossings we have been forced onto the more difficult northern higher route.
This has been by far the most challanging day yet. 8 river crossings of which 2 presented major obstacles and a 3200 meter pass with snow in several places.
Several bikes were dropped and one is out of action and in the van due to severe water damage.
Found the day difficult.
Evening homestay and meal adequate, improvement over last night!
DAY 31

Dushambe to Blue Lake (Tajikistan)
100 miles First day of Pamir Highway.
Late start as awaiting information on entry into China.
Rained all day.
First 50 miles on Tarmac then onto
very rough mountain road. All 50
remaining miles done standing on the
pegs. Hard work but did not drop the
Bike, but got lost twice! Wrong turning
and going past Homestay. Must stick to the "buddy" system. Bike repair held.
Evening meal and room in very basic Homstead, not even a chair to sit on.

 

DAY 30 Rest day in Dushambe (Tajikistan)
We were told this was our last day of luxury, certainly the Hyatt Regency is just that although it seems to employ few local people or use any locally produced food.
My bike required a major repair, the bolt in the rear lower suspension had sheared, although covered under the BMW warranty it's not much use out here! Anyway, our fitter Jeoff with local help from the Hotel maintenance dept patched it up. New parts are to be sent out from Germany to China.
Farwell dinner to Anne Frick at night.
She is going to LA to have her broken ancklc checked over.
DAY 29

Denov (Uzbekistan) to Dushambe (Tajikistan)
60 miles
Day dominated by frontier Passport Controls and Customs. 7 hours in total. Charles and Robert were caught with incorrect monies re. their forms, they were fined over £500 each. Those of us further down the line had time to re-group,. I managed to move £3500 in cash to Goeff in the van before being searched. All heart attack material!
Stayed at the Hayatt Regency, full of expats and diplomats, excellent but expensive, Angus steak meal, with french wine and coffee £100, everything flown in from Dubai, but worth every cent, or dollar! Slept like a log.

Dushambe images from various sources
 

DAY 28 Samarkand to Denov (Uzbekistan)
245 miles.
Warm, rain, then 32 deg in afternoon.
A day of two halves, flat arable plains with moderate crops of wheat, barley and linseed. The old Russian agricultural technology is at least 25 years behind us, still inline forage harvesters, hand hoeing of crops and poor livestock and machinery.
But it was nice to see green mountains again. We had three river crossings and roads with potholes, but worth it.
Local wedding in hotel at night. Meant our meal even poorer than usual, cheap vodka seems to be drunk by everyone.
DAY 27

Samarkand, rest day.
Spent morning on historical tour of old buildings, "Dela" was our excellent Guide, if rather over enthusiastic! Mostly mosques, mausoleums and madrassas. The soviets have rebuilt much, almost too much, but the blue mosaic tilework was impressive. From here Amir Temur (1365-1405) built up an empire including Delhi, Kashgar and Istanbul.
Met some local school children, keen to try out their excellent English. It seems it is impossible for anyone to leave Uzbekistan.

DAY 26

Bukhara to Samarkand (Uzbekistan)
174 miles
Warm all day, clear skies, 27.5 deg.
Silk Road, rough in places, passed through wheat and hand weeded cotton fields. Farmers collecting mulberry leaves for their silk worms. They get them in the spring, feed them all summer on mulberry leaves then hand them back to the govt.
Petrol bad to find. Ok for those of us with large tanks. Repaired bike tyre puncture with "plug", caused by nail,
Alex Frick lost his £4000 worth of cash, bag fell or was stolen off bike.
Group supper to say farewell to Ann Frick.

DAY 25

Khiva to Bukhara (Uzbekistan)
285 miles.
Wet morning but up to 25 deg later.
Desert road, the old silk road, straight for almost 200 miles. Sections in poor condition, large pot holes, wind driven sand and oncoming traffic going anywhere made for an interesting ride!
Bukhara is Central Asia's holiest city. Full of medressas and markets in the old town. Some great buildings. Much of the central district has been rebuilt with western aid money.
Stayed night in an old camel caravan overnight stop. Intersting Plumbing.

DAY 23

Davarza (Turkmenistan) to Khiva (Usbekistan)
220 miles.
Damp morning, 19 deg C, however day warmed up and ended at 29 deg.
Continued along the desert road for 100 miles, lunch in planned village cafe, poor. The Russian policy of "greening of the desert", or draining the Aral sea, to be seen here. An environmental disaster but now could not be changed back.
Border into Usbekistan took 4 hours to carry out hand written passport and customs tasks.
Got to Khiva and ate in the old town.
Exchanged currency, 17,0000 summa to the US dollar! You get a brick of dosh!

DAY 22

Ashgabat to Davarza (Turkmenistan)
171 miles.
Morning spent in preperations for ride onto desert and a night spent "rough camping".
Good new road, very straight, through the desert. Stopped at two large craters, one with water the other with mud, both bubbling natural gas. We stopped at the only Petrol station. It had petrol but no electricity.
After poor camp supper visited third crater which was on fire. Russians tried drilling for gas 50 years, got it wrong, hence three craters.

 

DAY 21

Rest Day spent on Ashgabat.
Morning tour of capital City of Turkmenistan. Earthquake in 1948 meant whole city rebuilt in Soviet 50's ceremonial style, low rise clad with White marble. Lots of formal green spaces. Visited Tower of Neutrality, Statue of Lenin and large Mosque outside town.
Bought replacement sleeping bag in the afternoon and sorted out panniers. Supper, of moderate quality, taken in local Market.
First casuality, Ann Frick announces her ankle is fractured and has to leave.
General Election day in UK.

Tower of Neutrality
Ashgabat Mosque
 
DAY 20

Turkmanbashi to Ashgabat. (Turkmenistan)
255 miles, rain in the morning but the day improved getting up to 16 deg.
Woke up to find all camping gear had been stolen off the back of my bike during the night. Spent all day on a very straight road, the silk road. Some motorway, some bits OK, some not OK and the usual road repair schemes.
Cattle and sheep with irregated arable crops. Hotel at night was good with plenty of girls about!
Supper in "English Bar", noisy.

DAY 19 Woke up outside Turkmenbashi harbour. (Turkmenistan)
After good nights sleep, in Dougs cabin, had breakfast of coffee and "Allday Breakfast" in a bag, felt better after warm start to the day. Finally got off boat at 1.30.
Four hours later left port area £60 worse off. Usual waiting, form filling and getting stamps in boxes!
Hotel very good so ate in.
Turkmenistan is a police state. First impressions good, no litter or half built houses.
DAY 18 Whole day taken up with getting onto ferry to Turkmenbashi.
Left hotel at one and got onto boat at five. Four hours were taken up with customs and passport routine including taking our photographs yet again.
The boat was worse than expected, dirty cabins, loos that did not work bunks and seats with no covers. We decided to upgrade at a cost of £7each,
well worth it.
Evening meal provided by ourselves helped along with various local wines.
DAY 17 Saki To Baku (Both Azerbaijan)
195 miles. Cloudy day but no rain. PM temp to 13 deg.
After bad night set off for Caspian Sea and port of Baku. Open country with sheep and Cattle but agriculture at a very low level. As Baku is approached things change, good roads, big new cars new buildings of all descriptions. Oil money from Caspian sea oil field. Sea Port Hotel comfortable, caught up on lots of domestic matters.
DAY 16 Tbilisi (Georgia) to Saki (Azerbaijan)
190 miles, rained all day, very wet, temp around 10 deg.
Rained from morning to night. Wet weather gear severely tested and worked OK except for gloves, both sets wet through. Passed through some great farming country. Must have been the old estates before collective farms took over. Saw several, now all derelict with much of the land unfarmed. Milk factory with only three micro milk tankers.
"Camel" hotel poor, no hot water or heating. Food unedible.
DAY 15 Kars (Turkey) To Tbilisi (Georgia)
210 miles, zero over the pass into Georgia then springlike day.
Left Kars crossing flat grassland with a lot of livestock just turned out. Herdsmen must have a long lonely day, but needed to keep herds apart and off arable crops. Climbed up to 8500 feet and into snow before crossing border into Georgia. Small, only 4M people, European like Country. Looks like the Canadian Rockies. Russia wants it back.
Tibilisi could be a lovely city but very run down after communist period.
DAY 14

Ispar To Kars (Both Turkey)
225 miles. Cool morning but as we climbed temp dropped to 2.5 deg.
A very tough day but did not "drop" the bike, 4 others did including Colin.
First 75 miles along a gorge with road works plus a diversion through a village, never to be forgotten! The new road will be an engineering masterpiece.
We then stayed in the mountains before climbing to 8500 feet complete with snow drifts and a temp of 2.5 deg.the descent was different again through flat uplands with herds of sheep, cattle and horses. Kars is a very "rough wild west" town.

 
Click maps to enlarge - below for full route to Day 12
 
DAY 13

Kangol, Fish Springs to Ispar (Turkey)
326 miles, good morning then very cold, hail stones, lightening, temp down to 4.5 deg, rain to finish off!
At first we went through some arable land, often nonwhere near any villages. People must travel miles on their small tractors. Then Rolling uplands with large flocks of sheep and herds of cattle, all with their large Kangal dogs. Day finished with several high passes.
Some military presence, all because of problems with Armenia.
Stayed in cosy log cabins at night.

DAY 12 Urgup to Kangal (Both Turkey)
265 miles, mixed day, warm first thing then cooler before down to 11 deg and some rain on the high passes.
Having left the grain growing Anatolian Plateau entered mountainous region. Crossed four passes over 6000 feet but good roads and no problems. Spent night at Fish Springs, very odd place, it is a health spa, hot spring water complete with fish that nibble your old skin off! Spent only a short time in the outdoor pool!
DAY 9

Istanbul to Beypazari (Turkey)
320 miles (35miles extra as got lost)
up to 29.5 deg, hot all day.
Left Istanbul and entered Asia. The first 50 miles, on new motorway, was through modern factories and housing developments. Turkey is not a poor country and one wonders why it is so keen to be in the EEC. Whilst there are small farmers many were involved in intensive livestock production supplying huge food processing plants.
Our maps and GPS's seem to be of little use, not all roads are shown and this resulted in us getting well lost.

DAY 8

Rest day in Istanbul.
Visited Blue Mosque and the bazar before a city tour. Many old buildings. Ships everywhere as must queue to go through Bosphprous on the tide. Everywhere busy, people, traffic and general chaos.
Repacked bike again, trying to get all non needed items into one side so only need to unload one bag at night.
Tried hotel pool, too cold.
Evening meeting at 7 as usual, were given route notes for Turkey. Distances not so big but roads maybe trickier.

 
Click Map above to enlarge
DAY 7 Serres (Greece) to Istanbul (Turkey)
360 miles, 23 deg C.
Good run to the Turkey border. Took over one Hour to get through. This is almost the third world. It is assumed everyone is either corrupt or trying to stage a coup! Turkey itself is trying to get into the EEC but whilst richer than both Greece and Bulgaria it is not "European".
The last 20 miles into downtown Istanbull took some doing, one has to be assertive to say the least!
Istanbul is a fantastic city, busy, interesting buildings and mix of Europe and Asia.
DAY 6
Despotovac (Serbia) To Serres (Greece)
305 miles, Some light rain in the morning and cold in the hills. 18 deg in afternoon.
Serbia then into Bulgaria. Took some back roads and saw the real Bulgaria. Very poor countryside? people living in terrible conditions by the road in Sofia, also potholes everywhere. Usual drab soviet style housing blocks, some no longer in use. Rubbish just left anywhere. No wonder everyone looks despondant! another big day,
It is difficult to believe that this is Europe.
DAY 5

Terme Tuhulj (Crotia) to Despotavac (Serbia)
396 miles, warmer weather, up to 22 deg C.
As we go further East the Countries get poorer. Today Crotia and then Serbia. Farming still done by many small farmers with strip system.
Belgrade has some very poor archecture, concrete soviet style blocks.
One amazing rocket like housing structure, half empty. Saw some remnants of Serbo Crotian war, burnt out houses. Good sweeping bends but road surfaces getting worse.
Very good small Hotel at night.

Click Map above to enlarge
DAY 4
Lermoos (Austria) to Terme Tuhulj (Croatia)
410 miles, 2.5 first thing up to 19.
Another long day. Mostly motorway, interesting countryside as one goes East things get poorer. Croatia however seems on the up. Hotel, although it has five swimming pools, a bit Soviet like! But enjoyed swim.
Went through Slovinia, no idea what currency they use.
DAY 3
Bouillon (Belgium) to Lermoos (Austria)
420 miles, 8 deg C up to 18 in the afternoon.
Long day, great farming in both France and Germany, biodigesters, battlefields, rain at end of day in the alps. Still lots of snow. Ate in small eaterie up road, good " house menu" for £20. Asked to share double bed! No thanks. Kevin rode with us all day.
DAY 2
Islington, London to Bouillion.
297 miles, 12 deg C, warm. 7 hours.
Good send off from Ace Cafe, Tunnel took only 1 hour from on to off. Northern France looked a picture. Passed world war I battle fields. Good group meal.
DAY 1

East Curthwaite to Crowne Plaza, Ealing, London.
289 miles, Av 11deg C, 6 hours riding.
Great send off, some traffic at M5 M6 junction otherwise smooth run.


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Click the image above to read the detail. Other pictures below may be enlarged by clicking.

YouTube Videos - click graphic to view in separate window
Riding though Xian City
Exploring Mr Emie
GlobeBusters - The Road from Linzhi to Bomi with Traffic Jams - Silk Road 2010
Arriving at Everest Base Camp (north side)

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