Chapter 26 – 中国 Part 8 – Hubei, Anhui and onwards to Shanghai

The point at which we actually crossed from Chongqing into Hubei province was high up in the beautiful misty mountains of Huangshui (Yellow Water) National Park. We had thought of staying there for the night, but it was late autumn, getting quite cold and the locals told us that all the bingguan and hotel owners had locked up and gone back to the city until the season starts again in the Spring. It was a shame because it was a very picturesque and peaceful place, probably because all the tourists had left. We therefore planned to push on towards Yichang where the Three Gorges Dam project is located on the Yangtze River.

But in order to make any form of progress we needed to get onto the G50 highway and head east. Whilst we were banned from using national highways in Sichuan and Chongqing provinces, motorcycles were allegedly tolerated on highways in Hubei and Anhui provinces. Why the difference? Who knows?

One of many bridges spanning the gorges in Hubei

One of many bridges spanning the gorges in Hubei

 

The officials at the highway toll in Hubei

The officials at the highway toll in Hubei

We were both quite tired after a long day of riding in the mountains and thought that when we reached the toll booth of the highway we could ride straight through, but no… the officials stopped us. I was not entirely sure what was going on, but after a good fifteen minutes of Fanny arguing the toss the entire shift of officials just walked away towards their administration building and I looked towards Fanny and she shouted, ‘GO’ and so we rode passed the barriers and onto the highway just as the sun was setting. I later asked Fanny what it was all about and she explained that the toll booth officials had not encountered bikes like ours before, and so to save themselves from making any decision or lose of face, they just turned a blind eye, knowing we would either ride onto the highway or turn around and go away.  .

All was going well, but we soon came alongside a highway patrol car and I faced the dilemma all vehicles have. Do we hang back or over take them and risk being stoppped for speeding or whatever. They did not seem to be taking any notice of us, but after five or ten minutes the officers in the car directed us to pull over. Here we go again I thought. For reasons I can only put down to fatigue, Fanny decided that she was going to pretend she could not speak any Chinese and so I was left to chat with the officers. ‘Is there any problem, Officer?’ I asked, ‘I thought it was OK for us to ride on the highway in Hubei’.

‘Oh, it is OK’, replied the officer,’ but we are closing the highway because of a big traffic accident up ahead and you must leave the highway at this exit’.

As I unnecessarily translated what was going on to Fanny she put her head in her hands and I thought she was going to weep. ‘We are not leaving this highway’, she insisted.

I asked the officer if we could either wait or ride carefully past the accident.  After a lot of discussions over their police radios they said we could wait, but told me it would be about 2-3 hours before the road would open again.

I did not think it was a good idea and tried to reason with Fanny, ‘I think we should get off the highway now, its late, let’s find a place to stay or even camp by side of road and get going in morning’, I suggested, ‘Riding on motorways in the dark AND in the rain is not a good idea… we’re tired and its been a long day’.

‘I WANT TO CARRY ON’, Fanny demanded.

So we waited.

Fanny sat by the side of the road, chain smoking and keeping out of the way of the officers, and I was left to chat with the police in Mandarin for several hours. A very daft situation and it got even more ridiculous when more and more police officers arrived in an assortment of police vehicles and insisted on taking pictures with us. I knew Fanny had been posting our motorcycle adventure on the very popular Chinese online forum called http://www.weibo.com and had recently posted the account of the traffic cone throwing incident (described in previous chapter) and it had gone viral resulting in hundreds of thousands of comments and responses. I knew Fanny was becoming somewhat of a celebrity in China, but did these police really know who she was? If they did, they were not letting on. None of it made sense to me.

We were asked for our documents and as usual when stopped by the police I showed them my UK passport, the motorcycle registration documents, our insurance policies and my Chinese driving licence.  Of course Fanny also had all the legal documents for China, but she just pulled out her Hong Kong driving licence and gave them a “that’s all you’re getting” look.  I was surprised that they seemed quite satisfied with the Hong Kong driving licence as it is not valid for China, being technically a foreign one. I was even more surprised that the police never asked for her passport or Chinese ID card which would have confirmed she is actually Shanghanese.

I continued chatting with various officers, and they continued taking pictures of us posing with their cars as we all waited in the dark and rain on an empty highway in western Hubei. Something was definitely going on, but to this day I have no idea.

The first officer taking some pictures of us.

The first officer taking some pictures of us.

Literally one of hundreds of pictures that were taken of us.

The police moved their cars and vans around so they could use the headlights to take more pictures. We were slightly bemused by it all, but it was all done with good humour  and in a friendly manner and so like much of the last 20 months we just went with the flow.

What is going on?

All a bit odd… standing in the middle of a closed highway. At least we were not being thrown off the highway for once.

Oh well.. go with the flow.

Oh well.. go with the flow.

At one stage an officer asked if he could have a picture of Fanny.  Fanny? How does he know she is called Fanny. All her documents say 方怡。Did he hear my call her  name? Odd.

At one stage an officer asked if he could have a picture of Fanny.  Fanny?  How does he know she is called Fanny. Her documents say 方怡。Did he hear me call her name?

The character "e" used as prefix on all Hubei licence plates.  'You guys are a lot nicer than your colleagues in Chongqing'  I told the officers.

The character “e” used as prefix on all Hubei licence plates.  We liked Hubei as the police were a lot nicer and more friendly than their colleagues in Chongqing.

After waiting on the highway for a few hours a very small and slightly built senior ranking police officer arrived in a command car, and after more posing for photographs gave me a serious briefing…… ‘Maximum speed 100 kph, keep right, keep lights on, and drive carefully.’

You can’t argue with that, and so I thanked and shook the hands of at least ten police officers and then we rode off in the pitch dark with cameras flashing behind us, seemingly the only vehicles on the highway.  At 8.30pm we passed under a sign indicating that we had 380 kilometers to ride to Yichang and that meant a good four hours of riding in the dark and rain. We had already ridden over 500 kilometers that day and I braced myself for some iron butt riding.

Pulling up at one of the highway petrol stations and getting petrol pumped straight into the tank from a friendly attendant. We like Hubei.

Pulling up at one of the highway petrol stations and getting fuel pumped straight into our petrol tanks for once from a friendly attendant. We like Hubei.

We rode through about fifty tunnels and probably across an equal number of bridges. Some I knew were spectacular and civil engineering wonders, but because of the rain and darkness I could see nothing. It was slightly stressful because I was worried about Fanny, but she was doing perfectly well and when we stopped off for petrol she said she was actually enjoying herself. I really couldn’t think why.

I did, and still do to this day, regret not waiting until the morning to ride to Yichang. Apart from giving Fanny the experience of riding in the dark on a motorway, there was little to recommend taking the risk of riding in the dark and missing out on some of China’s most spectacular gorges and river systems. In this particular area hundreds of towns and villages have been submerged by rising waters due to the dam, and millions of people have been relocated. This is almost unimaginable in any country other than China where, rightly or wrongly, things get done and done quickly.

175 meter sign indicating rising waters upstream of Three Gorges Dam in Hubei

175 meter sign indicating rising waters upstream of Three Gorges Dam in Hubei

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We were not really in a rush and without being able to see much had ridden through the mountains and over the spectacular valleys of the Three Gorges.  I am lucky enough to have hiked in this area four years previously when I was studying Mandarin in Beijing and it was before the waters had started to significantly rise.  It is a very beautiful part of China.  At that time the Three Gorges Dam project had not been completed and so this time we made a plan to go on a day tour to visit one of the engineering wonders of the world and at least see what all the fuss is about.

The region from the air.

The Three Gorges … with the huge dam to the right.

Many of the gorges have been flooded due to the hydro-electric project, displacing hundreds of thousands of people and engulfing whole towns.

Many of the gorges have been flooded due to the hydro-electric project, displacing millions of people and engulfing whole towns and communities.  China needs the energy and having lived in Beijing I can definitely say this is a better way of generating power than the ubiquitous coal power stations that create pungent smog and choking pollution.

Not my picture, but a typical Chinese tourist industry one framed Chinese style with flowers in foreground ... just like a classical Chinese painting. However, on a good day it will look like this.

The three gorges …. looks just like a classical Chinese painting.

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We arrived in the heart of Yichang at about midnight. It had been one hell of a ride and we had ridden close to 900 kilometers since we set off fifteen hours earlier.  I can safely say I did not enjoy riding on the highway in the dark, but I was happy we had made progress and that Fanny had cheered up.  On arrival in yet another huge Chinese city we were gratefully met by a member of Yichang’s BMW motorcycle club who had been patiently waiting for us and he escorted us on his GS1200 Adventure to a tourist hotel. Given the choice I would prefer to camp and save money, but camping is not easy in large cities, it was late… and it was raining.

We made it... its a motel.... not that exciting .. but warm and dry

Our motel in Yichang near the Three Gorges Dam project

For those of you who have never been on a Chinese guided tour it is a definite “must do” on life’s bucket list. It is an experience if nothing else and gives one an idea of what the average Chinese person has to put up with if they want to do anything vaguely touristy or do any travelling.  Independent travel is growing very quickly in China, especially among the new generation of upwardly mobile, but for the average person the organised guided tour is the only affordable and practicable way to visit their own country or travel abroad.

So what’s it like?  Well the day starts by getting picked up at a designated location by one of the thousands of tourist buses and after finding a seat (or not) don’t be surprised if the person sitting next to you immediately settles down to sleep and closes the curtains obscuring the view you paid to see, nor if they repeatedly empty the contents of their lungs to the sound track of a demented cappuccino machine and deposit the green blob on the floor between your feet. It is imperative that you bring your MP3 to drown out the cacophony of deafening white noise and a high decibel monologue of memorized propaganda given by a small woman hiding behind a microphone. This is your tour guide and do not under any circumstances ask her any questions unless its involves asking where to buy extortionately priced plastic replicas of whatever you thought you were going to see, or some gelatinous food substance made out of animal hooves or innards on a stick.

On the bus ... Off the bus

On the bus … Off the bus

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You will all be given a brightly coloured hat with Chinese characters on the front, an assortment of passes, tickets, receipts and coupons that you must place in a plastic envelope attached to a brightly coloured ribbon around your neck and must have prominently displayed at all times whilst queuing, which you’ll spend most of your time doing.  You only need to understand three Chinese phrases —-“On the bus”, “Off the bus”, and “quickly”.

Completely ignore any reference to the word “laowai” (old foreigner) as they are talking about you and not to you. Whilst off the bus the tour guide will tool herself up with a portable white noise machine and a radio aerial with a coloured flag on the top which she will wave above her head whilst shouting “On the bus, Off the bus” etc.  Another golden rule is never ever under any circumstances talk the driver… you will recognise the driver because he is attached to an old coffee jar with tea leaves and flower petals floating inside and honks the horn all the time.

And so Fanny and I voluntarily, and with full knowledge of what we were letting ourselves into, set off on our “glorious revolutionary number one tour”  to the Three Gorges Dam. We found our seats in the cheap section and had hardly been on the bus five minutes before a huge fight broke out between a middle aged women and our tour guide. I couldn’t catch what it was all about, but apparently the tour guide had seriously insulted the lady by suggesting she was a “tourist” when in fact she was a “local” from Hubei. Such a terrible and unforgivable mistake was cause enough for the lady from Hubei to shout and scream throughout the entire journey. The tour guide, however, was unfazed by all this commotion and simply turned up the volume on the white noise machine to maximum and carried on regurgitating her rote learned tourist guide babble without drawing breath.

Fanny's passes

Fanny’s passes

Its that our flag? Forgotten.

Waiting around for someone to do something.  Get off the bus, follow the flag, queue for something, get back on the bus, wait a few minutes, and then get off the bus again and join another queue.

Beyond! the magnificent Three Gorges Dam project..

BEHOLD! The magnificent Three Gorges Dam project..

No worries ... here's a plastic one. Behold! the plastic three gorges project

Can’t see it? No worries … BEHOLD! the plastic Three Gorges Dam project

C'mon Fanny ... I take you to all the best places.

Fanny having a great time … I take her to all the best places.

I have even got my anorak on... blah blah blah mega watts, blah blah blah litres a second

I have even got my anorak on… blah blah blah mega watts, blah blah blah litres of water a second, blah blah blah we designed it all ourselves and the lao wai did nothing

I am loving this...

I am loving this…

I am

I am, really

So is Fanny

So is Fanny

Look at her happy face

Look at her happy face

I know, I know.... its a dam

“???!!!”

Yes its a dam

I have to go on the internet to see what we were supposed to see. Ahh yes, its a big dam

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I actually quite enjoyed the dam visit. Joking aside its an amazing engineering feat and although our actual tour guide was a bit lacking in technical knowledge and didn’t really have anything interesting to say, I managed to sidle up to an English speaking guide with another tour group who had probably paid a lot more for their tour than us, and the guide really knew his electric turbines from his kilowatt hours. Not only have I become an avid bird spotter in my later life, but a civil engineering nerd of note.

After visiting the dam, the construction museum and of course several tourist shops belonging to the driver’s uncle, we headed back to Yichang where we went for a stroll along the Yangtze River and watched the locals swimming next to the “No Swimming” sign. Some of them had attached themselves to buoys and were floating off down the immense river. Not sure why as we never saw them again.

Wandering around the dam construction museum

Wandering around the dam construction museum

Local guys attaching themselves to buoys and floating across river

Local guys attaching themselves to buoys and floating down the river

 

BEHOLD! the new KTM 1190 Adventure ... with tubeless tyres.  An ugly exhaust because of the  EU emission regulations, but nothing Akropovik can't sort out.

BEHOLD! the new KTM 1190 Adventure R … with tubeless tyres. An ugly exhaust because of the EU emission regulations, but nothing Akropovik or Leo Vince can’t sort out.

The next day we were escorted out of the city by the BMW riders’ club members, and just as we were leaving the city I got a puncture in my back tyre. The first and only on the trip in China. Unlike the KTM 990 Adventure, repairing a tubeless tyre on the CF Moto is extremely easy and just requires pulling out the nail, or whatever, and pushing through and plugging the hole with a strip of gooey rubber. It took me less than 5 minutes and off we went again. The new KTM 1190 Adventure is being launched in 2013 and among many new updates on our 990 Adventures, including being 50% more powerful, is fitted with tubeless tyres. Its definitely the way to go as anyone who has had to repair a puncture on a tubed motorcycle tyre will agree (see Austria, Egypt and Tanzania chapters).

We rode all through the day, covered more than 700 kilometers and just as the sun was setting decided to pull off the highway at a lake in Anhui province called Huating. A really beautiful place where we managed to find a very cheap and pleasant room above a restaurant with a view over the lake.  Again, we were not in a big rush and so we decided to stay there for a couple of days and explore the area, before carrying on towards Shanghai.

Repairing the puncture and the guys who helped us.

Repairing the puncture and the BMW guys who helped us.

saying goodbye to the Yichang BMW club guys who guided us onto the highway to continue our journey eastwards.

Saying goodbye to the Yichang BMW motorcycle club guys who guided us onto the highway to continue our journey eastwards.

No problems getting through toll onto the highway in Hubei on a beautiful sunny day

No problems getting through toll onto the highway in Hubei on a beautiful sunny day

Crossing one of many bridges. Roads were relatively quiet and we made good progress passed Wuhan to Anhui

Crossing one of many new bridges in China that now link the biggest road infrastructure in the world.  On this occasion the roads were relatively quiet and we made good progress through cities like Wuhan into Anhui province.

Fanny cruising along the highway in Hubei. Bikes going well and no worries about being thrown off highway until we get closer to Shanghai

Fanny cruising along a highway bridge in Hubei province. Our Chinese made motorcycles were going well and in Hubei we had no worries about being thrown off  highway until we got much closer to the mega-city of Shanghai. Chinese cities don’t just have one or two bridges spanning their rivers, they have dozens. The scale in China is immense.

Where ever we stop, large crowds come up to see the bikes. A rare sight  I guess to many people in China.

Where ever we stopped large crowds came up to see the bikes and ask questions. The big Chinese made motorbikes were a rare sight to many people.

After riding 700 kilometers on the highway we decided to pull off highway and stay at Huating lake in Anhui Province.

After riding 700 kilometers on the highway we decided to pull off and stay at Huating Lake in Anhui Province.

Enjoying the last few days of autumn in Anhui

Enjoying the last few warm days of autumn in Anhui

Swimming in Huating lake as the sun sets

Swimming in Huating lake as the sun set.

We found a small restaurant in a village next to the lake and managed to book a room upstairs for about five pounds. But first, fresh fish hotpot for dinner. Absolutely delicious.

We found a small restaurant in a village next to the lake and managed to book a room upstairs for about five pounds. But first, fresh fish hotpot for dinner. Absolutely delicious. This is what touring in China is all about. My view that Chinese food is best in the world was vindicated where ever we went.

View from our room. We were delighted to find this idyllic spot in Anhui. A perfect place to relax for a few days near the end of our big bike trip

View from our room. We were delighted to find this idyllic spot in Anhui. A perfect place to relax for a few days as we come to the  end of our big bike trip.

I have been all over the world and stayed is some of the best hotels, but few compare to this little paradise.

I have been all over the world and stayed is some of the best hotels, but few compare to this charming little place on the shores of the Huating.  Clean, simple and cheap… just how we like it.

Drying a kind of fungi in the sun for cooking

Drying a kind of fungi in the sun for cooking. The ingredients used in Chinese cooking always reflect the local area and tastes and flavours changed as we moved from one province (or even county) to another, but one thing always remained the same where ever we went… a passion for freshness and quality.

And lake fish

We ate some delicious fish, prepared Anhui style.  These are dried lake fish which are often used in soups and stews.

Fanny eating "mantou" (a kind a bread bun) from a hawker in the main town

Fanny eating “mantou” (a kind a plain bread bun, normally from northern China)

Local fruit stall... selling You Zi (Pomelo) which we eat often

Local fruit stall… including the large grapefruit looking You Zi (Pomelo) which we ate often at this time of year. Chinese people do not really eat puddings and sweets, but fresh fruit is always an important staple. No wonder the average Chinese person looks lean and healthy.

Having our dinner next to the lake and watching the local fishermen in their small boats

Sitting by the shores on Huating lake having our dinner and watching the local fishermen in their small boats

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Peaceful

A local girl picking cotton

A local girl picking cotton in the autumn sun

Cotton fields by the lake

Cotton fields by the lake in Huating, Anhui.

View from dinner

View from the small restaurant where we had our dinner

Last night at Huating before we set off towards Shanghai

Last night at Huating in Anhui Province before we set off towards Shanghai.

Our last evening on the Big Bike Trip. Couldn't ask for a nicer place.

Our last evening on the Big Bike Trip. Couldn’t ask for a nicer place.

Back on the road and the last stretch before we get to the outskirts of Shanghai

Back on the road and taking a petrol stop before we get to the outskirts of Shanghai

Our last petrol stop ... as always in China draws a crowd.

Our last petrol stop … as always in China the bikes draw a crowd and Fanny entertains them with stories from our trip. For many of the people we met they are witnessing the new generation of  modern China. The pace of change in China is phenomenal.

Arriving at CF Moto in Shanghai. We rode over 12,000 kilometers in China and our total mileage was 53,800 kilometers from South Africa and taking 18  months... with a few stops here and there.

A very proud Fanny arriving in her home town of  Shanghai and being met by the owner of the local CF Moto shop. We rode over 12,000 kilometers in China and our total mileage was 53,800 kilometers altogether from South Africa. It took  18 months… with a few stops here and there.  More adventure?  Of course.  Alaska to Chile? …. yes…. one day

We did it.

We did it.  53,800 Kilometers from Cape Town to Shanghai

The bikes did well.

Our CF Moto TR 650 bikes did well too.

We got into Shanghai after dark and left our bikes with the local CF Moto dealership as riding motorcycles without “沪” licence plates in Shanghai is illegal and could incur a big fine or even confiscation of our bikes.  We had ridden 12,300 kilometers in China on the CF Motos and 53,800 kilometers altogether since leaving Cape Town in June 2011.

Quite an adventure I would say.

Big Bike Trip Presentationin Shanghai

We were invited by Harley Davidson, Shanghai to use their facilities where Fanny and I gave a presentation about our Big Bike Trip to our guests and the local press.

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Presenting in Shanghai

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Fanny had a banner made up for the presentation in Shanghai

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Getting back into Shanghai life …. I had to have my “Chobe Safari Lodge” beanie and red fleece surgically removed.

a contrast to what we have been wearing for last 18 months

A contrast to what we have been wearing for the last 18 months

Fanny at charity boxing dinner in Shanghai.

Fanny at a charity boxing dinner in Shanghai.

Fanny looking lovely at Shanghai boxing charity event

Fanny…….my tough and beautiful round the world motorcycling partner

Looking very different to how she looked in north Kenya on the road to Moyale. A lady of many achievements

Looking very different to how she looked in north Kenya on the road to Moyale

Fanny looking very different to how she looked in Shanghai

Fanny in the deserts of north Kenya looking very different to how she looked at the charity boxing event in Shanghai

The end...

Life isn’t a dress rehearsal…

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Fanny and I stayed in Shanghai for two months where both of us were very busy catching up with the lives we had left behind. Fanny’s family live in Shanghai and they were very proud of her achievements and extremely pleased to see her back safe and well. Whilst Fanny had many things to attend to, including preparing for her bar exams and negotiating the new job she will start in the new year, I went back to language school to brush up my business Mandarin and get fit again in the gym and shed some of the kilograms I put on in Europe. In actual fact, I lost 7 kilograms, was back to my middle distant running form, fighting fit and looking forward to getting back to work myself, surprisingly.

We continued writing for our magazines, started on “the book” and  wrote some technical reviews of the motorcycles we had ridden. We attended presentations about our trip, gave interviews, and swapped our biking kit for dinner jackets and party dresses to attend some of Shanghai’s social events.

As the beautiful autumn sunshine in Shanghai turned to a decidedly chilly winter, we headed back to our starting point of Cape Town where we were reunited with our trusty KTMs. Bikers, and especially adventure bikers like us, become very attached to our seemingly inanimate two wheeled friends. We were both very excited and delighted to see them again. Fanny, me and our bikes had been through a lot together and seen the world as few will ever see it.  Adjusting back to so called normal life is quite difficult and for me a bit depressing, especially in winter, so we cheated the cold and gloom by simply changing hemispheres.

 

Arriving back where we started.... Cape Town

Arriving back in Cape Town with our biking kit

开普敦。

开普敦。

Back in South Africa with our KTMs

Back in South Africa with our KTMs… we have got this riding and camping lark down to perfection

KTMs arriving back in Cape Town --- where we started 18 months previously

My KTM 990 Adventure R being unpacked at the shippers in Cape Town and looking as good as the day we started off… which is more than I can say for myself.  We have cheated the northern hemisphere winter and back to the sun and beautiful of South Africa

Fanny's bike being unpacked

Fanny’s bike being unpacked and also looking like it could ride round the world again.

Both bikes back home at KTM Cape Town

A visit back to see Louis, Charl and the team at KTM Cape Town. Also, to have a quick look at their wonderful KTM 690 Adventure Onyx… very nice.

Back in Arniston ---southern tip of Africa

Having breakfast at “Willen’s” in Arniston …. the southern tip of Africa … and my home

Hout Bay

A ride out to Hout Bay for fish and chips … we love the northern hemisphere winter

Whilst relaxing in South Africa and watching television one day we made the mistake of switching over to the UK’s Sky News channel (which is to journalism what King Herod is to babysitting) and managed to catch up with what was going on in the rest of the world.  World economy? …still 乱七八糟.

Syria and middle east? …still fighting.

Terrorists? … still blowing people up.

Britain? ….still raining.

And America? …. nutters running amok and shooting up small children with “second amendment” assault rifles.

Same old same old.  Enough of that. Click. 

‘Let’s go out for a ride’

Cruising about Cape Town

Cruising about Cape Town

Borrowing a glider to fly off Signal Hill. Thanks www.paraglidesa.co.za

We rode up to Signal Hill in Cape Town and a tandem paragliding company lent me one of their gliders so I could have a fly.  I hadn’t flown for 18 months, but it’s like falling off a bike … just higher. Many thanks to http://www.paraglidesa.co.za

Riding around Cape Town with Fanny

Riding around Cape Town with Fanny

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At my home in Arniston

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Enjoying the amazing riding routes in the Cederberg and Karoo. Its going to be difficult for both of us to hang up the riding boots.

Chapter 25 – 中国 Part 7 – Chongqing

Having been unceremoniously thrown off the Chengdu-Chongqing highway by the local rozzers we were faced with at least a days ride to Chongqing along indirect and badly maintained triple digit “G” and “S” roads (i.e. the really really bad ones). Unfortunately, my  GPS had completely given up trying to calculate where we were, let alone set a route to where we wanted to go. It was confused, no doubt by the rapid pace of road construction and deconstruction in this part of the world, and so like all electronic devices when you really need them, had decided to go into “freeze” mode. No amount of shouting and cursing was going to change its mind.

There were many road signs showing the characters 重庆 (Chongqing), but apparently there was no consensus of opinion and they indicated going left, right, back, forward and even up. I couldn’t even tell which was east or west as the sun was hidden behind the smoggy haze that often envelops much of China.  So we stopped to ask for directions.

My carefully constructed questions were met with shrugs, blank stares, embarrassed grins, pointing in all directions, and occasionally dashes for freedom.  Annoyed that my years of Chinese study had come to nothing I asked Fanny to take over the local interrogation, but I soon realized when I heard her doing a Chris Rock like “DO YOU UNDERSTAND THE WORDS THAT ARE COMING OUT MY MOUTH” that she was getting nowhere either. So we did what all couple’s do when they are completely lost on a road trip. Blame each other.

Strolling along Chongqing Bund at night

The Bund in Chongqing with the mighty Yangtze River, colourful skyline, barges and impressive bridges.

Our brief, but noisy exchange in the middle of a concrete purgatory drew a bit of a crowd, but did little to help our situation other than blow off a bit of steam. I remembered I had my Casio watch, that up until now I had only used as an altimeter, and so I used the compass function to set a vaguely south east course.

I had studied and become quite good at navigation when I did my Royal Yacht Association Ocean Skippers sailing course some years back in South Africa, but navigation requires a compass AND an accurate map or chart.  We only had a map of the whole of China and a freebie tourist map, neither of which were good enough and so I pointed in a south east direction and declared in Maggie Thatcher style,

‘We go that way and we are not for turning’.

Chongqing

Chongqing province, with its capitol city being one of the largest and most crowded cities in the world.  It is a center for China’s “Go West” policy and famous for heavy manufacturing, especially the growing motor industry. The mighty Yangtze River cuts through the hilly capital city which is navigable all the way to Shanghai. Like Sichuan province, which Chongqing used to be part of until 1997, both of these south western provinces are extremely motorcycle unfriendly and their officials and local government are unruly, unaccountable and institutionally corrupt.  It is the wild west of China.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We followed a route that can best be described as “urban off roading”.  Ignoring signs, ignoring traffic signals and heading along whatever surfaces aimed in a generally south east direction. The route took us through scruffy towns and construction sites and occasionally along roads that were still being built. There were often concrete bollards or barriers placed at the entrances and exits to these stretches of virgin concrete and tarmac, but these were no obstacle to two wheels and clearly the local bicycles and scooters had already found some convenient short cuts and so we followed them too.

Surprisingly, nobody attempted to stop us and I was actually beginning to quite enjoying this little bit of adventure riding. Our CF Moto 650 TR motorcycles are technically touring bikes that are in their element cruising along smooth roads, but they seemed perfectly able to tackle the ramps, holes, mud and gravel that we encountered and so we weaved over and through whatever obstacles lay ahead of us.

A bit dangerous in places as the flyovers under construction would occasionally come to an abrupt stop, leaving a high precipice which would definitely be a bad idea to fly off.

Urban off roading

Urban off roading

Motorcycle clubs meet in Chongqing

Meeting the Motorcycle clubs and forum groups Chongqing

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As they first said in China, and still do in other parts of the world  “All roads lead to Rome” and in this case all the roads went through Chongqing first. Somehow or another by riding along unfinished roads we had managed to get onto a national highway without passing through any of the tolls.  Also, my GPS came back to life, showing that we had only 35 kilometers to ride into the center of the city. Phew! However, my euphoria was short lived as I saw a tunnel ahead of us and at the entrance were about twenty police and highways officials directing the heavy traffic into various lanes.

I knew they would attempt to stop us, but the traffic had come to a halt and that gave me a chance to covertly weave through the stationary cars and trucks and avoid most of them. One official in a hi-viz jacket caught sight of me and bravely lunged in front of me and so I slowed down, punched my arm in the air and shouted ‘Chelsea’. I couldn’t think of anything better to do, but it worked and as he reared backwards in surprise, I rode around him and entered the tunnel and escaped.

Ha ha! Oh! …..Fanny?. I was hoping she would follow my lead, but as I checked my mirrors there was no sign of her. Maybe she had shouted “Arsenal”. Nobody likes the “Gooners” in China and I had to agree that would be cause enough to lock her up.  There was no sign of her as I rode through the entire five kilometers of the busy highway tunnel and as I exited in the outskirts of Chongqing I was immediately faced with a dilemma.

The highway divided.  Four lanes going left and four going right and so I stopped, a bit precariously, right up against the central concrete divider with traffic hurtling both sides of me and waited, and waited and waited. Unlike throughout most of the expedition I actually had a charged up mobile phone, with a local SIM card inside, and there was a strong signal and so I called her, but there was no reply. Tamade! I had made a stupid mistake because I did not know where we were going to stay that evening as Fanny dealt with all those sort of thing in China.  I guessed it was probably near the Chongqing International Exhibition Center, but I didn’t really know where I was going and I couldn’t leave Fanny lost in one of the biggest cities in the world. What if she really had been detained or had had an accident?

I was starting to get anxious when I saw the headlights of Fanny’s bike emerge from the heavily congested tunnel and she pulled up behind me as traffic whizzed by either side of us.  I asked what happened and she said the police stopped her, but she explained that she was with the “lao wai” on the bike ahead and must follow otherwise we would get really lost.  ‘In the end they just let me go’, she explained, but continued, ‘What did you shout? They thought you were mad’.

East

Eastwards…..

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After programming the GPS with the location of the hotel that the Chunfeng Moto delegation had booked us into near the exhibition center we cruised along Chongqing’s  city highways down to the formidable Yangtze River and crossed one of the many outrageously enormous bridges than spans it into the commercial heart of the city where we eventually found our hotel. After settling in, there was only one thing to do. Have some hotpot (火锅), the quintessentially Chongqing dish.

Chongqing ... an classic image of modern China

Chongqing

Chongqing huoguo (hotpot)

Chongqing huoguo (hotpot)

Nanping District, Chongqing

Nanping District, Chongqing

Chongqing City centre looks pretty much like most other large city centres in the world. Absolutely heaving with people, very noisy,  busy public squares, bright advertising lights, sky scrapers, heavy traffic congestion and poor air quality.  However, everything is on a scale unprecedented anywhere else in the world and, stating the obvious, “Very Chinese”.

There are restaurants everywhere from small “da pai dang“, palatial “fan dian”  to fast food stall, including not only local Chinese snacks, but western fast food chains like the ubiquitous “mai dan lao” (McDonalds) and “ken de ji” (KFC).  Also, in the early mornings and evenings thousands of middle aged and elderly women fill the public spaces and practice synchronized  “line dancing” or “tai ji quan” to a cacophony of music ranging from traditional Chinese folk, Canto pop, Western classical, trance anthems, bass and drum and hip hop.  It is extremely popular throughout China. Sometimes hundreds of couples practice ball room dancing in the streets as well. At the risk of making sweeping generalizations, I think I can very safely say Chinese people love food and love noise.

I too love Chinese food, but increasingly as I get older I hate noise and if I can will avoid crowds like the plague. I had to admit I was hoping to get the next few days in Chongqing over and done with, but the reason we were in Chongqing was to meet our kind sponsors and participate in the China International Motorcycle Exhibition. I knew it was a showcase for the Chinese motorcycle industry and would be a far cry from the bike shows in London or Italy.

There would be no KTMs, nor the latest European or Japanese speed machines on display, but I like motorbikes of all shapes and sizes, even if they are all 125cc.   Fanny was very excited though, not least because she would meet her friends from CF Moto and many of her growing fan club.  Quite rightly many Chinese are proud of her motorcycling achievements and she was looking forward to the attention. She is a woman after all. So, I put on my happy face and got stuck in.

Fanny with her Tibetan white fox hat and the CF Moto 650 NK street bike that she will ride in Hong Kong.

Fanny with her Tibetan white fox hat and the CF Moto 650 NK street bike that she will probably use to ride in Hong Kong when she moves there in 2013.  The white fox hat might not be needed though.

Fanny and friends

Fanny and chief editor of Moto8 forum

At motorcycle show in Chongqing

At the motorcycle show in Chongqing

Earning my corn by taking the Chinese motorcycle press for rides around the exhibition demonstration ground.

Earning my corn by taking the Chinese motorcycle press for rides around the exhibition demonstration ground.

"And there we were heroically riding through a pride of lions in the Serengeti" blah blah blah ......

“And there we were riding through a pride of lions in the Serengeti” blah blah blah ……

The last time we faced our lunch like this was at Lake Charla in Tanzania.

The last time we faced our “alive and kicking” lunch like this was at Lake Charla in Tanzania.

Fanny facing the press

Fanny facing the press. There were big crowds and we had many press briefings to go to.

Heaven forbid I am becoming politically correct... but what is this bimbo doing on a motorcycle. Pointy end forward, pet

Fanny arriving at the show on her CF Moto 650 TR

And free of charge our demonstration rider "Mad Max"  putting the 650 NK through its paces. A wheelie, perhaps?

Me riding around the show ground. A wheelie, perhaps?

Yes.. a wheelie.. but not from Rupert, but from Hu Hai who really knows what he's doing.

Yes.. a wheelie.. but not from me, but from Hu Hai (CF Moto’s stunt rider) who really knows what he’s doing.

Hu Hai on the ATV doing ... what do you call it? ... a sidey?

Hu Hai on the ATV doing … what do you call it? … a sidey?

IMG_0071

Would you like a bowl of noodle? Looks like you need something to eat.

And what's this idiot doing?

Messing about on the CF Moto monkey bike… good fun.

Checking out the CF Moto 650 NK. This is bike Fanny will ride in Hong Kong next year to get to and from work.

Checking out the CF Moto 650 NK in its new signature livery of black and blue … will match Fanny’s bruisies.

Fanny on a bike like ours... the touring CF Moto 650 TR. It has been a great bike. Technical review of bike to follow soon.

Fanny on a touring CF Moto 650 TR like the ones we rode 12,000 kilometers across China It has been a great bike. Technical review of bike to follow soon in this diary.

Fanny on CF Moto 650 TR

Fanny on the CF Moto 650 TR

CF Moto is famous for these ATVs. Would be nice to have one at our home in Arniston, South Africa for going down to beach.

CF Moto is famous for manufacturing these ATVs. Would be nice to have one at our home in Arniston, South Africa for going down to beach.

Chen Lei from CF Moto showing off their bikes

Chen Lei from CF Moto showing off their bikes

I used to have one of these ... if I ever get job again I will get another.

I used to have one of these … if I ever get job or money again I will get another.

Fanny still doing the press thing. She writes for several Chinese magazines and also publishes a very good blogg at www.weibo.com/bigbiketrip

Fanny still doing the press thing. She writes for several Chinese and Italian magazines and also publishes a very popular blog at http://www.weibo.com/bigbiketrip

Having dinner with imotor.com

Having dinner with http://www.imotor.com.cn

getting into the mood ..can't stay  grumpy with all these bikes to play with

Getting into the mood ….can’t stay grumpy with all these bikes to play with

I would really like one of these for Hong Kong

I would really like one of these too… or a new KTM 1290 Super Duke  … or a ????

Looks familiar

Looks familiar

Electric bike from Honda .. maybe the future of motorcycling?

Electric bike from Honda .. maybe the future of motorcycling?

Fanny and our kind sponsor, Louis from Beijing Motoway who supplied our superb Rev'It kit. www.527motor.com.cn

Fanny and our kind sponsor, Louis from Beijing Motoway who supplied our superb Rev’It motorcycling kit. http://www.527motor.com.cn

IMG_0224

Beijing Motoway Motorcycle
http://www.527motor.com.cn

Gary from Yingang motorcycles.  If you ever want to ride around the world on a shoestring and get 1000 kilometers on a tank and take one spanner with you then the Yingang 125 is the way to go.

The charismatic and entrepreneurial Gary from Yingang motorcycles. If you ever want to ride around the world on a shoestring and get 1000 kilometers out of a single tank of petrol and just take one spanner with you, then the Yingang 125 may be the way to go.

The Yingang 125 adventure bike... its go around the world and keep going on vapours. But will you?

The Yingang 125 adventure bike… it’ll go around the world, cost very little to buy, is cheap as chips to run and very easy to maintain.

Eating my third dinner of the evening and still going strong. Thanks to CF Moto and the press.

Eating my third dinner of the evening and still going strong. Thanks to CF Moto and the Chinese motorcycle press.

Harley Davidson is very popular in China and there are many people who can afford them and drink in their club, but not for the light of pocket. The bikes and a drink in their club (above). Unfortunately, far too expensive for Fanny and I.

Harley Davidson is very popular in China and there are many people who can afford their motorcycles, accessories, and shiny bits and bobs, and to drink and eat in their club (above) in Chongqing. Far too expensive for Fanny and I …which I guess is a good thing as I look really daft in leather and tassels.

Custom Harleys... very bling.

Custom Harleys… very bling.

Not sure how long those wheels would last intact in Nan Jing Xi Road.

Not sure how long those wheels would last intact in Nan Jing Xi Road.

CF Moto's stunt rider -- Hu Hai  ( or as I call him Hu Li  Gan) ... I have seen many stunt riders and none as passionate, fun and skillful as Hu. Great guy.

CF Moto’s stunt rider — Hu Hai ( or as I call him Hu Li Gan) … Riding his 650 NK. I have seen many stunt riders and none are as passionate, fun or skillful as Hu. Great guy.

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We had three days at the Chongqing China International Motorcycle Show and we both enjoyed ourselves in the end. But, clearly starting to show the signs of becoming a rather fat and prosperous looking, it was time for me to stop wining and dining and for us to get going again.  As motorcycles are banned, not only in Chongqing, but on all the highways in Chongqing and Sichuan, Fanny had been in discussions with many experienced bikers about the best possible route out of Chongqing towards Yichang in Hubei province. It was decided we would leave very early in the morning to escape the traffic and get onto the G50 highway, as many large bike riders from the east of China were planning to do, and had done in the past with success. If we could get out of Chongqing and into Hubei we would be OK as motorcycles are allowed on highways in Hubei province, and indeed later in Anhui.

We got out of Chongqing City quite quickly as it was early and rode through the toll of the G 50 highway without too much hassle from the officials, but after 20 minutes of riding along the highway I saw some officials in hi-viz jackets run into the carriageway and wave their arms about. I slowed down, but easily rode passed them. I then looked at my mirror expecting Fanny to do the same and was absolutely astonished and shocked to see one of the officials pick up a two foot high traffic cone and throw it with force at Fanny’s bike,  causing her to come off and skid on her side with bike on top of her for several meters.

I screeched to a halt in the middle of the three lane highway,  U-turned and rode back to her. I couldn’t really hear what the officials were saying as I ran up to Fanny, but I saw she was crying and had clearly hurt herself. Her bike looked damaged, but not too seriously. I picked Fanny up and checked her out and she seemed more shocked than injured ( a few bad bruises as it turned out) and then I saw the official who threw the cone.  He immediately put on a show of bravado, but he was clearly nervous as he suddenly realized I was a foreigner and extremely angry. I charged up to him like a raging bull, and really considered thumping him, but controlled myself. I was desperately thinking of what to say in Chinese and all that came out of my mouth was a rather lame and pathetic admonishment. In the heat of the moment my Mandarin let me down and all I could think of calling him was a “bad egg“.

One of officials who throw a traffic cone at Fanny while she was cruising on highway at 80kph... causing her to come off.

One of officials who was involved in throwing a traffic cone at Fanny while she was cruising on highway at 80kph… causing her to come off.  It says “Traffic” on his hi-viz jacket. Irresponsible beyond words.

Huai dan ... the bad egg who threw the traffic cone at Fanny. Instead of thumping him which he deserved... I took this picture.

The 坏蛋 … the actual “bad egg” who threw the traffic cone at Fanny. Instead of thumping him which he thoroughly deserved… I took this picture.

A fussy unfocused picture of one of the officials. My hands were shaking with rage.

A fuzzy unfocused picture of one of the officials. My hands were shaking with rage.

When I joined the Royal Hong Kong Police in the mid eighties all the expatriate Inspectors had to learn Cantonese, and of course the first thing we learnt were all the swear words (of which there are many good ones that are frequently used). This was followed by chat up phrases so we could attempt (and always fail) to impress the local talent. My Mandarin, however, was learnt at Tsinghua University  in Beijing, one of China’s top academic institutions, and although I can chat almost fluently about magical phoenix(s) in mysterious forests and use impressive “cheng yu” (idioms) that nobody really needs, my “ma ren de hua” (cursing ability) is extremely poor.  My “How do you say?” requests to become more acquainted with China’s more colourful and fruity expressions have always been met with embarrassed chuckles from my teachers and Chinese friends. Fanny is no help either as  I rarely hear her say anything impolite. In fact, mainland Chinese are much more polite and cultured than the southerners or Hongkongers and so there is a big void in my Putonghua street credibility. Perhaps its a good thing. Of course it is.

So, having used up all the “egg” terms I could think of I reverted to tried, trusted and universally understood Anglo Saxon, took some pictures of the offending officials and got Fanny back on her bike as quickly as possible before anyone else turned up. I know all too well in China that things can escalate quickly as indignation rises and face is lost. Fanny’s bike was damaged on one side, as bikes with plastic fairing tend to be after a crash, but it seemed 100% roadworthy and so we made our escape as the officials got onto their mobile phones to plan their alibis and excuses.

I remember years ago in Hong Kong getting stopped on my motorcycle at a police  roadblock. I had done nothing wrong but I guess they needed to make up their numbers and in Hong Kong a police officer in uniform needs no justification to stop anyone. Strangely, and very unfairly they had waved on a Mercedes Benz luxury car that had dangerously cut me up and stopped me instead. I remember it vividly because it was on the very same day my son had been officially diagnosed with autism and so I had “gone off” on my bike to collect my thoughts and reflect on the lack of prospects that lay ahead for us all. Of course I was not in a particularly happy mood and unwisely remonstrated against the police officers’ surly behaviour and unfair actions towards me. This was a very bad idea as at the time I was also a police officer, more senior in rank, and a 鬼佬 (‘foreign devil’) to boot.  So, in order to protect themselves from a potential complaint from me they embellished a damaging story against me instead, and to cut a sad and long story short I ended up getting disciplined for conduct unbecoming an officer and was thrown to the dogs. Life is unfair sometimes, but the lesson learnt was that the police, not just in China or Hong Kong, are not shy in making something up to protect their necks, and as a foreigner or outsider one is always in a much weaker and vulnerable position.  As hard as it is, the best course of action is to avoid confrontation, swallow your pride and turn on your tail, regardless of the provocation.

As we rode away along the rather deserted highway I suspected that this was not going to be the end of matters and I was right. At the next toll we rode through the gap in the barrier, as all motorbikes do, and a group of about twenty uniformed traffic police ran frantically up to me and surrounded my bike, much like pit crews do when a Formula One racing car pulls into the pits. Clearly they were waiting for us, but Fanny was not in a good mood and she explained in no uncertain terms what happened earlier, but the traffic police seemed uninterested and completely unconcerned. To them, riding a motorcycle on a highway was a much more heinous offence than deliberately causing a road traffic accident and injury. Initially I though Fanny would be able to explain the seriousness of the incident and we would be allowed to carry on, but that was not to be. We both got a first hand lesson about the lawlessness of officials in Chongqing.

Bike fairing, mirrors, handlebars and crash bars damaged... but could have been worse.

Bike fairing, mirrors, handlebars and crash bars damaged… but could have been worse.

Despite being on the road for nearly 18 months, we had both heard the recent stories about organised crime in Chongqing and about the scandal of Bo Xilai and his wife who had murdered a British businessman. Clearly this unethical tone at the top had permeated throughout all of the public sector in Chongqing and government officials and the police alike were unaccountable for whatever their actions might be.  I was resigned to just getting off the highway and escaping these fools, but Fanny was very very angry and quite rightly so. Someone had tried to seriously injure her and it could have been very serious indeed. After an hour of arguing the toss, our fate was clear. No action would be taken against the officials whose reckless behaviour could have killed Fanny, and we were being kicked off yet another Chinese highway in the middle of no where.

A forlorn looking Fanny on the infamous G50 highway in Chongqing province

A forlorn looking Fanny on the infamous G50 highway in Chongqing province

I had regained my composure and while Fanny was alternating between crying and arguing I had structured a little speech that I gave to the most senior officer in as calm and articulate manner as I could. I told him about the accomplishments of Fanny–a fellow Chinese citizen, a woman and a proud ambassador for China throughout the world, and that a Chinese law enforcement officer had deliberately tried to injure her. Not only had she been injured, but her motorcycle had been damaged, she had lost serious face and the actions of the officer were reprehensible. It was quite a speech, grammar a bit dodgy in places, but it hit the spot and the officer literally rocked and recoiled on his feet. He made an attempt by telephone to persuade more senior officers to allow us to continue, but alas it was not to be and so we were escorted off the highway literally onto a sand track in the middle of very rural Chongqing.

Where are we?

Where are we?

One of many small and crowded towns we rode through in Chongqing

One of many small and crowded towns we rode through in Chongqing

I think at this stage both Fanny and I were hoping we could get the trip over and done with. I assumed the most interesting riding in China was behind us and all we had ahead was a slog of 2000 kilometers plus eastwards to Shanghai. Riding on the highways, unlike motorcycling in other parts of the world, is actually quite enjoyable as the route passes smoothly through valleys and mountains and you have time to take in the view as you cruise along. Riding off the highways was a battle of survival against appalling traffic and road conditions. In my mind Chongqing province was just another sprawling conurbation of concrete and chaos. How wrong I was.

Within half an hour of leaving the highway we were in rural Chongqing

Within half an hour of leaving the highway we were in rural Chongqing

The stress of the previous few hours was starting to fade, and although technically we were still lost I think both of us could not care less. We rode along a sand track for a while until it stopped and became farmer’s field and went no further. Like many roads in rural China it was no longer used as the highways now took the bulk of the traffic. I looked at the only maps we had of the area, one a freebie tourist one that Fanny used, but was pretty useless for navigation, and the other showed the whole of China that only reminded us we were right in the middle. I looked at the GPS and it showed a red line of the highway we had been turfed off and nothing else at all except the mighty Yangtze River and its tributaries meandering all over the place.  I surveyed the land around us we were surrounded by green fields, small thatched farm houses, small streams, rice terraces, and quite steep mountain slopes which were covered in mist. It looked like one of those Chinese paintings of idyllic rural landscapes and I think we both accepted that our China adventure was far from over.

Lots of different types of bamboo...  and other grasses

Lots of different types of bamboo… and other grasses

We rode around lost for several hours, but it was true magical mystery tour of middle earth.

We rode around lost for several hours, but it was true magical mystery tour of middle earth.

I am a true country boy and  life here moved at the pace I like

I am a true country boy and life here moved at the pace I like.

Chinese hamlets in Chongqing

Chinese hamlets in Chongqing

I cannot count how many little rice fields like this we passed by. Small communities a world away from the urban craziness in Chongqing city

I cannot count how many little rice fields like this we passed by. Small communities a world away from the urban craziness in Chongqing city

I think Fanny is smiling again. It had been a rotten day for her earlier on.

I think Fanny is smiling again. It had been a rotten day for her earlier on.

hundreds of kilometers of roads like this as we weaved through te villages, valleys and mountains.

hundreds of kilometers of roads like this as we weaved through te villages, valleys and mountains.

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Our meandering around the villages of rural Chongqing was very pleasant, but we seemed to be making no progress at all and so I made a concerted effort to try and work out where we were by asking the locals. For some bizarre reason I was having more success asking directions than Fanny. I think foreigners who speak Chinese as a second language can guess the meaning of people who speak with strong regional dialects better than say a native speaker from elsewhere in China. I knew Fanny was having trouble with the Sichuan and Chongqing dialects, as opposed to me who was having trouble with all of them.  Anyway, we decided to adopt a “get from village to village approach” and get to the border with Hubei even if it meant traveling in the opposite direction to get around the mountains ranges. It might take three days rather than three hours but we were OK with that.  We had accepted that against our original plan we were now exploring a part of China very few people will ever go to. It doesn’t really feature as a tourist attraction, despite being infinitely more interesting, beautiful and tranquil than the so called official tourist destinations.

Cruising

Cruising …

Still cruising ... where the streets have no name sort of thing

Still cruising … where the streets have no name sort of thing

Lots of lily ponds and ducks

Lots of lily ponds and ducks

Farms

Farms

Roads not always up to much and recent rains making conditions muddy

Roads not always up to much and recent rains making conditions muddy

Sometimes very muddy

Sometimes very muddy

Lets go round and detour?

Lets go round and detour?

That's better

That’s better

A reminder of modern China creeping in.

A reminder of modern China creeping in.

Typical scenery

Typical scenery

Its as if everyone has gone to Chongqing City and left the rural parts of the province

Its as if everyone has gone to Chongqing City and left the rural parts of the province

Valley after valley

Valley after valley

We stopped to have some noodles and it seemed the whole village came out to see us. It caused a lot of excitement

We stopped to have some noodles and it seemed the whole village came out to see us. It caused a lot of excitement

Onwards.... Fanny and her bike cruising along

Onwards…. Fanny and her bike cruising along

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We rode through many beautiful villages and some how or another were gradually making tracks in an easterly direction. We took each village as it came and asked for directions to the next passing over mountain and through valleys and paddy fields. We were aiming for Fengdu where we planned to spend the night. It is located on the banks of the Yangtze River and in China is known for its “Ghost Culture“, hence its called China’s Ghost City.  Fanny found a pretty good hotel and after a good spicy catfish hotpot we went for a walk along the banks of the river and saw many of the locals dancing the evening away in the public squares.

Arriving in Fengdu .. the Ghost Town of China.

Arriving in Fengdu .. the Ghost City of China.

Lots of ghosts dancing in the town square i the evening.

Lots of ghosts dancing in the town square during the evening.

More ghosts dancing in Fengdu.... they really like dancing

More ghosts in Fengdu…. its true.. they all come out at night and it seems they really like dancing.

Riding eastwards from Fengdu along a very misty Yangtze River

Riding eastwards from Fengdu along a very misty Yangtze River. When its grey , its really grey in China.

We could see the highway high up above us... passing through tunnels and over impressive bridges for many miles.

We could see the highway high up above us… passing through tunnels and over impressive bridges that spanned the many gorges for many miles.

800px-Fengdu

Fengu – Ghost City

Back into rural Chongqing heading to border with Hubei

Back into rural Chongqing heading towards the border with Hubei

Don't look down

Don’t look down

IMG_0536

Locals selling mushrooms and fungi such as ‘black wood ear’ (黑木耳)

Climbing back up into the mountains towards border with Hubei.

Climbing back up into the mountains.

This part of China near ShiZhuTuJia mountain ( 石柱土家)

Shi Zhu Tu Jia mountain ( 石柱土家)

We saw nobody except a few local villagers all day

We saw nobody except a few local villagers all day

Above the mountain mist

Above the mountain mist

Lunch

Lunch in a small town

Reminders of the pace of development in China.

Reminders of the pace of development in China.

IMG_0592

Bit muddy again

Waaahaaayyy ... mud.

Like chocolate pudding

Goes on a bit

Goes on a bit

Fanny trying to avoid another mudbath

Fanny trying to avoid another mud bath.

Waiting for Fanny .. who is enjoying herself in the mud

Waiting for Fanny .. who is enjoying herself in the mud. On the right is the G50 highway which we are banned from riding on..       Of course, who wouldn’t want to go this way?  Its the spirit of free adventure motorcycling, so we’re told.

Passing under the G50... its for wimps

Passing under the G50… its for wimps

If we had gone on the highway we would have missed this little chap's happy smiling face.

Look .. its a ... (but you'll never know because you were on the highway.)

Look .. its a … (but you’ll never know because you were on the highway)

get off my land....

“ge roff roff my land….”

or I'll eat your liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti

“….or I’ll eat your liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti”.

I hope you like corn on the cob.

corn on the cob.

or chili ..

or chili ..

Washing off the husks in the stream next to the farm house

Washing off the husks in the stream next to the farm house

Rising up into HuangShui (Yellow water) national park at border with Hubei

Rising up into Huang Shui (Yellow Water) National Park at border with Hubei

So China

So China

A portrait of my super Chinese motorcycle in the heart of rural China.

A portrait of my super Chinese motorcycle in the heart of rural China.

Agricultural Artwork

Agricultural Artwork

Deserves a second picture

Crossing beautiful valleys and rivers… very remote … very few people.

China... a place of stark contrasts

China… a place of stark contrasts.

IMG_0688

Crossing another valley and up into mountains .. surrounded by autumn colours.

Look back down at valley bridge we just crossed.

Looking back down at valley bridge we just crossed.

I kept seeing this bird flying in the tree tops in Huang Shui, but I could never catch it on film. However, I found it and its called a Shou Dai Niao. Very beautiful.

I kept seeing this bird flying in the tree tops in Huang Shui, but I could never catch it on film. However, I later researched it and its called a Shou Dai Niao. Very beautiful.

Forget at Fengdu, this is the real ghost town in Chongqing. We rode past it in the middle of the forest and it seemed completely deserted.

Forget about Fengdu , this is a real ghost town. We rode past it in the middle of the forest and it seemed completely deserted.

Very remote part of Shi Zhu Tu Jia

Very remote part of Shi Zhu Tu Jia

Remote farm houses

Local farm houses

Like in Tibet, there were quite a few rocks and boulders that had rolled down the mountains onto the road.

Like in Tibet, there were quite a few rocks and boulders that had rolled down the mountains onto the road.

One of the first humans we had seen for a while. Not often you can say that in China.

One of the few humans we had seen. Not often you can say that in China.

Our last mountain pass before we ride into Hubei. Misty up at about 2000 meters and we encountered very few people.

Our last mountain pass before we rode into Hubei.

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The ride through eastern Chongqing was awesome. Fate had forced us off the highway and into a part of China that it seems few people venture into…because of the efficient highway system I suppose. We thoroughly recommend anyone wanting to experience an unspoiled trip back into the rural China of old to visit.

Next…….

…. a bizarre and enjoyable encountered with the Hubei traffic police, a long long night of riding in the dark and rain, the Three Gorges Dam project, idyllic rural Anhui, my first puncture, and arriving back in Fanny’s hometown of Shanghai and the end of our big bike trip (for now).

Chapter 24 – 中国 Part 6 – Sichuan

As hard as one tries, it would be impossible to ride around the world on a motorcycle and completely avoid any bad weather. We had heavy rain in the Basque Country and its border with France, and later in England and Wales where it pretty much rained throughout the whole of the summer.  In China we had been lucky so far and enjoyed the best of the autumn weather, but now winter was well truly and on the way, at least high up on the Tibetan Plateau, and so we had to endure a few miserable days of grey skies, snow in the mountains, and blinding rain in the valleys.  Like Wales, the scenery in Sichuan (四川)does make up for the rain somewhat, and between Langmusi(郎木寺)and Chengdu (成都)near the town of Songpan(松潘)we rode through some very impressive high altitude grasslands that stretched as far as the eye could see.  This area is home to very hardy Tibetan herdsmen who tend to their livestock high up on the plateau on sturdy ponies, which also double up to take tourists on pony treks.

Tibetan herdsmen on the high grasslands near Songpan, Sichuan.

Further south towards Chengdu is Wenchuan County (汶川), the epicenter of the 2008 earthquake. Like everyone else, I suppose, we had a morbid fascination to look at the carnage that mother nature can unleash and explore the surrounding mountains and lakes. However, as the weather and the traffic conditions had become increasingly bad we both just wanted to get out of our damp and soggy clothes and get to Chengdu as soon as possible.

The CF Moto bikes were going very well, nothing seemed to faze them and they just purred along eating up the miles on whatever roads and surfaces they were presented them with. The sheepie that I had bought in Yunnan to cushion my bottom, however, was no longer fluffy white, but rather a bedraggled shade of increasingly darker grey. At the beginning it smelt like sheepskins generally do, but a little later on in the trip had the delicate whiff of wet Labrador lying in front of the fireplace. More recently, I have to admit,  the smell was more like wet Labrador that had died… quite some time ago. But it was still comfortable and a considerable improvement over the standard pile inducing seat fitted as standard and when traveling at speed did not attract too many flies. It was, however, pushing Fanny’s tolerance and general good humour a little too far and I noticed she was no longer referring to my beloved furry seat pad as “sheepie”, but as “IT”, as in, ‘You’re not bringing “IT” inside, are you?’. Women can be cruel.

Anyway, we were expected to show an appearance at the China International Motorcycle Exhibition in Chongqing in about a weeks time and so if we made good progress to Chengdu we would have plenty of time to relax and explore one of China’s more prosperous and attractive cities and try out the famous hot and spicy Sichuan food.

Lots of pandas and tigers adorning the walls and building in Sichuan, but  as much chance of seeing a real one in their natural environment as a dragon or phoenix

Takin …. a rare ox/goat muskox creature that is found in the Sichuan mountains… never saw any of these either.

Goodbye to Lang Mu Si .. we’ll be back when you’ve tidied it up. Looks nice from a distance though.

The river demarks the Gansu/Sichuan border

Still looking for that otter… disappeared with the pandas I guess

Riding through the northern Sichuan grassland. A bit bleak under the grey skies and decidedly chilly on the bikes

A Tibetan lady hurrying along against the winds

High altitude grassland and snow peaks in northern Sichuan

Heading toward Songpan, famous for pony trekking rides on the grassland

Our digs in Songpam… a sort of green house thing that was rather drafty  and cold

At least we could get the CF Motos out of the rain and keep an eye on them next to our room

Soggy Songpam

Road to Chengdu

Traffic and weather really foul.. as usual our 4 wheeled cousins were constantly trying to bully us off the road. Generally, I find Chinese people extremely friendly and hospitable, but as soon as they get behind the wheel of a car many turn into Hyde 先生 or Hyde 太太。

I was not particularly enjoying this bit of the journey, should have done, but the weather was not that great, it was a bit slippy on the roads and the traffic was atrocious.  Cars, buses, coaches and trucks  often squeezed into us forcing us to brake, skid or swerve. When these vehicles had to stop in traffic we overtook them easily enough, only to have them aggressively re-overtake us as soon as they had a chance as if we had made them lose face. Later our 4 wheeled cousins would all get stuck in a 15 kilometer monster traffic jam and together with all our other 2 wheeled brothers we left them for dust,  despite many of the cars deliberately trying to block us. It would be a massive overstretch of the imagination to describe Chinese road users as “courteous”.

Sichuan…a rare stretch of clear road after taking a road diversion. It is quite a coincidence that both Egyptian and Chinese drivers do not like to turn their lights on, would rather queue in traffic than take a longer more peaceful diversion and are generally inconsiderate and aggressive to other road users. Psychologists have a theory why this is.

Rebuilt town in Wenchuan that was destroyed by the 2008 Sichuan earthquake

Reminders of the devastation that the earthquake caused are seen everywhere

A few buildings seem to have been deliberately left in ruins to remind everyone of the disaster

The actual epicenter of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. I couldn’t help thinking what would happen if another earthquake struck as we passed by the many steep mountain sides or crossed the many bridges and through the tunnels … not good I guess. India is pushing into China causing the trust fault line at this exact location and so its just a matter of time before there is another earthquake.

We rode along the trust fault where the Indian plate is pushing into the China one. I was actually at the border of Yunnan and Sichuan in 2008 and experienced a strong aftershock of over 6 on Richter scale. The original quake was about 7.9-8.0 and killed hundreds of thousands of people.

We met the largest traffic jam of the entire expedition in Wenchuan, and managed to overtake about 15 kilometers of traffic into the city centre. We then got to a T junction where to the left was even more gridlocked traffic and to the right a much quieter but longer detour over the mountains and along the shores of various lakes to Chengdu. We asked the police what they thought, and they thumbed … go right …and we did. A good choice as we could take in some scenery that looked a bit like the Lochs of Scotland

Again the thought of the ground rumbling beneath us and rocks crashing down the steep mountain sides and destroying the bridges was rather sobering.  We rode through some tunnels as long as 5 kilometers and I kept wondering how the civil engineers protect them against seismic activity

It had been a long day riding in bad conditions and heavy traffic. Despite the interesting scenery Fanny and I were both looking forward to finding a dry place to stay in Chengdu for a few days

Superb scenery .. even on a rainy day.

Cockpit of my CF Moto TR 650

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………The cockpit of my bike had a Garmin Zumo 220 GPS, a Casio multi fuction watch strapped to the handle bars and the excellent CF Moto instrument panel that had everything a rider really needs to know, logically and clearly displayed.  However, navigating in China can be really confusing and I had to make sense of signs that not only used Chinese characters, but were ambiguous and confusing to even mother tongue Chinese speakers.  Our GPS maps were not that good either as Fanny had acquired all the maps in the world for “a few kuai” on one of her bargain basement Chinese websites, and so the world map programs for my Garmin were not very good … being neither up to date, accurate or complete.

Also, the road construction and development of the towns and cities in China was on a scale unprecedented anywhere else on the planet.  It was constantly changing and being re-built, upgraded or knocked down.  We found twelve lane super highways seemingly in the middle of nowhere that did not appear on any of our maps, and occasionally we would follow GPS directions to non-existent roads, non-existent places, and onto the “高速公路” (high speed highways) which we (bikers) were banned from riding on with no obvious alternative route to our target destination. We often arrived at seemingly simple T junctions, as indicated on my GPS,  to find enormous spaghetti junction type structures with numerous entrances, exists and slipways.  Because of the heavy traffic and appalling driving standards at some of these major intersections there was never enough time to make an accurate assessment of all the available options and we would occasionally get lost.  However, more often than not, we would actually end up going the right way. I think over the months we had developed a very acute sense of direction and fined tuned our navigational skills.

My 15 year old Casio watch that I used for paragliding in the day was brought out of retirement to let us (me really) know our exact altitude as the GPS could not be calibrated to altitude intervals of less than a kilometer. 3,090 meters is very different to 3,990 meters and I am nerdy enough to want to know exactly how high we actually were so I could bore Fanny with another, ‘Do you know we have been riding five times higher than the height of Mount Snowdon?’  To which Fanny would charitably reply something like, ‘wow!’

We arrived in Chengdu and settled very comfortably into Sim’s Cozy YHA where we saw our first large collection of foreigners for quite a while. A very well run and a nice place to stay.  Later I make up for lost drinking time by getting absolutely slaughtered watching footie in an Irish Pub with some of Chengdu’s Aussie, Kiwi, Brit and Irish expatriates

I think there is a Lan Kwai Fong in Hong Kong… not sure … I am usually rushing through the HK bar areas on my way to Mass

Wandering around Chengdu city centre at night

Christmas presents … who wouldn’t want one?

Would you believe it? Fanny eating again. Chengdu is famous for Xiao Chi (lit.. little eats)

Chengdu parks

Decorated trees in the park

Very pleasant gardens

A Xinjiang hawker selling preserved fruits. Profits were going well until Fanny arrived and tried them all before buying two plums..

Washing day in a Chengdu housing block

Strange goings on in People’s Park.  I haven’t laughed so much for years and still do whenever I watch the video we made. Old people dancing to rave music, accompanied by a trumpeter, and slightly odd people repeatedly walking up and down a catwalk carpet, and I must say, thoroughly enjoying themselves.  A must see in Chengdu

I still laugh… shouldn’t but can’t help it

Chengdu panda sanctuary

Very cuddly creatures .. but slow, fussy eaters, a bit lazy, black and white and live in China …. the perfect extinction candidate

We stayed in Chengdu for a few days, did some touristy sightseeing and  then continued on our way to Chongqing, the largest city in the world with an urban population of over 33 million and where we were to attend the China International Motorcycle Show and meet our sponsors, the media and Fanny’s followers of her magazine articles and blogs. Chongqing is not only a huge polluted concrete jungle, but also home to some of the most notorious and corrupt public and government officials on the planet. If they are not lining their pockets with backhanders they can be found entertaining their mistresses in the ubiquitous KTVs and VIP rooms around the city. If it wasn’t for the fact that these government triads seem to get away with murdering locals and foreigners with impunity, it would be a land of untold opportunity for a forensic investigator like me.

En route to Chongqing… filling petrol direct from the pump.  Joy.

Oops!

We were riding along highway from Chengdu to Chongqing and saw this “unlucky” truck on its side. Must have been motoring as it flew over the central reservation from the westbound carriageway and landed on its side spilling melons all over the eastbound carriageway. I know what Fanny is thinking. Not what a terrible accident, but could she snaffle away a melon.

We rode on the Chengdu-Chongqing highway for a while but the police stopped us and threw us off in the middle of nowhere. We did not want to spend a day riding the same distance covered on the highway in 2 hours… but that is what happened. Chongqing and Sichuan are very biker unfriendly places. A few other provinces (we were to find out later) were slightly more tolerant. Motorbikes are considered dangerous machines ridden by peasants, and cars are safe and sensible machines driven by civilized people, allegedly.

The police escorted us off the next “exit” and gave Fanny a dressing down. I pretended not to speak or understand Chinese so they left me alone.  The police in China are very motorcycle unfriendly. I know they are just doing their job, but its a daft and illogical policy.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..I studied the PRC traffic law and regulations to get my Chinese driving licence and it stipulates very clearly that any vehicle is allowed to drive on a highway and in a particular lane subject to minimum and maximum speed requirements.  That is it.  Therefore a fully taxed and licensed CF Moto 650 TR touring motorcycle capable of cruising comfortably and safely at 120-140kph should be allowed to ride on any road in China. The reality is that in Sichuan, Chongqing and many other provinces of China they are not.

The problem is that it is nearly impossible to get anywhere nowadays in China without going on a highway and so motorcycle touring in China is limited and fraught with risk, danger, restriction and uncertainty. It is a stupid and illogical policy because the rules that apply to the rest of the world could so easily be applied to China. A policy could be made overnight allowing motorcycles above a stipulated cubic capacity (say 250cc) to ride in cities and on highways, follow the Highway Code as all vehicles should, and be required to pay an appropriate toll to use the highway. Such a policy would promote the Chinese motorcycle industry and also alleviate the growing traffic congestion in China. Let’s not forget a large Harley Davidson, Ducati or BMW costs upwards of fifty thousand US dollars in China due to high import taxes and vehicles licences and many Chinese firms are now manufacturing good quality motorcycles like our CF Moto 650s and so there is an opportunity for the Chinese to promote an increasingly popular mode of transport and successfully compete against the Japanese and Europeans in this market.

As it was the Sichuan traffic police caught up with us, pulled us over and then escorted us to the nearest exit. Apart from wasting time checking Fanny’s documents (not mine), they were particularly unhelpful and gave us no alternative routes or suggestions on how to get to Chongqing City. In the end it took us a long day to make the 200 kilometers because many roads in this part of China, other than the highways are left to rot, are badly maintained, are badly sign posted, dangerous and extremely indirect.  This is OK if you want to look around, but I for one had had enough of riding through one dusty ugly polluted concrete shithole after another. I was also tired of being on high alert, riding defensively and worrying about Fanny being wiped out by the atrocious and selfish drivers. China needs to sorts this nonsense out. It is double standards as there were overloaded trucks, appalling driving standards and badly maintained vehicles on the highway,  but alas the police did absolutely nothing about them.

Suffice to say we had a truly awful and stressful ride into Chongqing, and I can’t think of anything vaguely pleasant or memorable to write about on this section of our journey. I definitely didn’t see any pandas.

Next….. Chongqing Mega-city, The China International Motorcycle Exhibition, the motorcycle and adventure travel media, posing for photos, three dinners a night, muddy roads, an unexpectedly enjoyable and beautiful ride through the countryside Chongqing province, The mighty Yangtze River, a real ghost town, and high drama and tension after the Chongqing police throw a traffic cone at Fanny causing her to come off her bike and get injured.

Fanny motoring along in the mountain roads of east Chongqing province

Chapter 23 – China Part 5 – Gansu Province

Fanny had done an excellent job setting an interesting route along the quiet “S” roads of south east Qinghai into Gansu, and so we had a chance to relax, enjoy the scenery and take a break from worrying about being wiped out by black Audi A4s and tourist coaches.  However, we were in China and 1,340,000,000 people must be lurking about somewhere and inevitably we would find them –all of them I think–on the G213 around the epicenter of the 2008 earthquake in Wenchuan County, Sichuan.

But until then we had some relatively enjoyable and peaceful riding to enjoy in Gansu, a province with a largely Muslim population that buffers Xinjiang and Qinghai from the rest of China and extends from Mongolia in the north to Sichuan in the South.

As long as you keep away from human habitation, the geography and scenery in China is en par with the best that Planet Earth has to offer. Sadly though, apart from God’s given natural environment there is very little left of any cultural or historical interest in the Middle Kingdom as Mr. Mao was considerably more successful than all the natural disasters in wiping out 5,000 years of remarkable human accomplishment and endeavour.

With the exception of some of the first tier cities (like Hong Kong, Chengdu, Beijing and Shanghai), and the remote and small rural villages, any human habitation in China looks like an ugly grey concrete construction site, covered in dust and decay, surrounded by rubbish and pollution and accompanied by a cacophony of jack hammers and vehicle horns. Will it change? Perhaps, but not anytime soon as more than three quarters of a billion construction and factory workers need to be kept employed somehow otherwise the economy of China will collapse.

There are two big holidays in China, one is National Day in early October that celebrates the forming of the People’s Republic of China, and the other is Chinese Lunar New Year in January or February. Both are week long periods of public holiday that produce traffic jams that make roads in England on a Bank Holiday Monday look relatively tranquil and peaceful.  In fact, Chinese New Year results in the largest migration of human beings anywhere on the planet and the National Day holidays are not much quieter.

Crossing the Yellow River

 

Gansu

Gansu

 

Gansu Province

 

Still on the relatively peaceful “S202” in Gansu … lots of “乡巴佬”  farmer trucks everywhere moving their farm produce about, or acting as taxis or the family car .. more often than not, all three activities at the same time.

 

Many homes in the south east of Qinghai and Gansu have gates and courtyards… beautiful scenery, fresh air and clear skies

Crossing from Qinghai to Gansu

Loess mountains that turn the Yellow River … yellow

Beautiful contrast in colours and textures. I sound like an artist or a poet, but joking apart many people over the years have been inspired to paint, write and verse by this sensational scenery

The cradle of Chinese civilization.  Eroded Loess mountain slopes that surround the Yellow River valley give the river its name. Due to the topography and geology the valley has a long history of flooding, thus bringing both life and death to the region (I really am being poetically inspired)

A painting of the Yellow River by Ma Yuan (1160–1225),  Song Dynasty

Lots of mosques and minuets in Gansu

A picture taken on the move … not very well framed….but showing the amazing colours and topography of  southern Gansu

Local towns and local bikers. We liked Gansu… friendly people,  relatively pretty towns, better architecture and Lanzhou La Mian … one of our favourites. Try asking for this noodle dish in your local Ho Lee Fuk Chinese Restaurant in the US or Europe.

In this part of China, at the Gansu and Sichuan border, Islam meets Buddhism and they seem to get on all right without the need to blow each other up

Linxia with its minuets and mosques. Picture taken from the Yellow River which is lined by an assortment of magnificent trees, birds and autumn colours

Fanny and bikes on the Yellow River bridge at Linxia

Riding through downtown Linxia

Chili being sold at the side of the road. Many people outside China do not realize how important the Chili is to authentic Chinese cuisine and how many of them are actually used in the average dish, especially in provinces such as Hunan, Sichuan, Xizang, Xinjiang, Gansu, Chongqing etc… Fanny and I are huge fans.

Bit of traffic … nothing to worry about though

Back in the mountains again… ahead is another 4,000 meter pass and we will ride up and down it along the sort of hairpin roads and twisties that are a joy to all bikers throughout the world

Occasionally the road just disappears and we do a bit of “off roading”… OK for our bikes which despite not being true adventurers like our KTMs had no problem whatsoever climbing over rocks and potholes.  Alas, a bit of a challenge to the cars without much ground clearance

Sometimes the road erosion or damage was so bad regular cars either had to turn back or got well and truly stuck.  For bikes, trucks and 4×4 yue ye che (越野车) … no problem and I suspect, like us,  the 4×4 drivers quite relish such obstacles. Not sure whether floods, frost expansion, earthquakes, or overloaded trucks caused such damage… probably a bit of all these factors I guess.

I bet many bikers would like to ride this? As we got nearer to northern Sichuan the snow capped mountains, twisty roads and of course yaks of the Tibetan Plateau re-appeared

The S202 road –now turning into classic  “twisties” rising up towards a 4,000 meter pass in southern Gansu. Autumn colours, snow capped mountains, pleasant fresh temperature and ….aaahhh … quiet and peaceful.

One of the best roads we rode in the whole of China… if not the whole expedition. The photo doesn’t do justice, but we had several continuous hours of riding on this kind of road.

The metal netting did little to stop the rocks and boulders falling from the steep mountain sides onto the road. Its an earthquake zone of note which all adds to the sense of excitement and adventure

Up and over the 4,000 meter pass and down the other side through the mist…

A very remote bit of Gansu… high up in the mountains. Reminded me of Wales for some reason… probably because of the rain

Seemingly endless twist and turns…

I once went to GE’s headquarters in Fairfield, Connecticut in the USA during the Fall/Autumn and this reminded me of the colours I saw there.

Happy times… our Chinese made touring CF Moto TR 650s in their element. I was not sure what to expect of these bikes as its a big leap forward for the Chinese motorcycle industry, but they were great. Now all we need is for the Chinese government to open up the highway network to big bikes (say over 250 cc) and this bike will be a phenomenal success.

Out of the mountains and down into the valleys and little towns.  The buildings are an interesting blend of classic Chinese and Muslim architecture.

This looks like a Chinese Pagoda, but it is actually a minaret for calling the faithful to prayer above a small mosque

And we enter yet another construction site town… one of hundreds we passed through. The sky is full of cranes, 15-20 story concrete shells, cement trucks, dust, noise, debris…. depressing and soul destroying in so many ways

Little villages like this are absorbed into the new concrete towns, and the rivers are turned into managed canals into which rubbish, pollutants and waste are freely strewn. The scale of all this is almost unimaginable outside China.

We turned off the idyllic S202 and onto the busy G309 to Hezuo. We were joined by heavy trucks on the route from Lanzhou to Chengdu, the holiday traffic, and in this case hundreds and hundreds of xiangbalao trucks ferrying the local Tibetan people from a Temple fare in the county town back to their homes. We rode for 200 kilometers overtaking them to Hezuo, mostly on the wrong side of the road and later in the rain and snow

We arrived in Hezuo just as it was getting dark and the skies opened up turning everything into a mud wrestling pool. Fanny did a great job finding a fantastic hotel given so many people were looking for a place to stay and then we hiked into the town center looking for food

Fanny choosing our dinner at the night market in Hezuo。

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The next day we decided to take a rest day in Hezuo, explore the temples and monasteries and do some hiking in the mountains

Hezuo Buddhist monasteries

This is a replacement for a similar Buddhist building ( I think “Pavillion” rather than “Parilon” as the sign says ) that Mr. Mao had knocked down during the cultural revolution. Re-built in the late 80s to appease the large Tibetan population in Gansu

“And besides for satisfied worshipers’  request” …. good old Chinglish…. you can’t buy it.

Bling bling ding dong

Hezuo monasteries.

Wandering around the newly constructed temples in Hezuo

Always ornately adorned – I guess you can never use too much gold and red

The magical world of Buddhaland…. bring the whole family and throw your rubbish in the nearby stream

Don’t stress little “Tutu” out by teaching him put rubbish in a bin.. just lob the plastic and wrappers out the car window, or better still lob it in a stream or river so that it can float down stream and wash up in someone else’s village.

Don’t worry, someone will eventually pick it up and throw it in the river.

Its very difficult to describe how revolting and disturbing the general Chinese tourism industry actually is… you have to see and experience it to believe. Perhaps its my western background, but I suspect not as Fanny from Shanghai also finds it intolerable and embarrassing.  I venture that I will never come to terms with the selfish and slovenly behaviour of the bus and coach drivers and tour guides, nor the tourists who freely spit phlegm out of the windows of their vehicles, throw rubbish everywhere, argue, squabble, queue jump, park, drive and overtake appallingly, honk their horn incessantly, and generally behave without consideration or respect for the local /indigenous people and their way of life.

The average Chinese worker really does work hard .. and often in harsh conditions for hours and hours and for weeks and months on end and with very little pay or compensation. We were constantly reminded of the poverty and day to day struggle of so many Chinese people just to survive and make a living.  When we were in Africa and Europe the local people told us how hard they worked,  and I guess some do, but everything is relative and its true… nobody works as hard as the Germans or Chinese … and there might just be a logical reason why the economies of  Italy, Spain and Greece are in such dire straits

A look down at Hezuo from the hill above showing a major traffic route, Buddhist temples, the remains of the old town and perpetual construction of new high rise buildings… all existing in chaos and disharmony together… which makes the name of this town rather ironic…..  Hezuo = Harmony

Nice horns

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Unlike the good old commie days when everyone piled onto public transport or rode a bicycle,  China’s new middle class (now more populous than that of the entire United States) gets the SUV out, stuffs granny, grandpa and little “tu tu” in the back, covers them in duvets, fills the remaining spaces with instant noodles and chickens feet in cellophane wrappers and heads for one of China’s “most glorious happy revolution number one tourist sites in world”,   which could be anything from a rock that looks like a cock, a three foot dribble of water pouring into a decaying pool of human detritus and rubbish, or even an earthquake disaster zone.

When I was a kid my father occasionally tried to employ some parenting skills on his sons and teach us some manners, and would often say things like, ‘Stop eating like a peasant’, or ‘You and your brother are behaving like peasants’. This was meant as a reprimand, rather than a compliment.

In China its different. Being, and indeed behaving like a “xiang ba lao” or country bumpkin has been glorified by the cultural revolution and subsequently through propaganda in the media as some kind of virtue. Something for the great unwashed to aspire to and revere. Behaviour such as eating endangered flora and fauna,  giant salamanders and pangolins for instance, or the parts of animals like rhino horn is considered having “face”, pushing and shoving is considered an expedient method of getting something before someone else and thus ensuring one’s survival among the masses, spitting is considered no more than getting rid of phlegm at the back of your throat and what better time to do it than immediately, and cheating, bribery and corruption is considered just an effective way of doing business and getting your own way. If nothing else, a pragmatic way of survival among a billion and a half other mouths in the human jungle.

There are of course millions of cultured and thoroughly charming Chinese people, and based upon my observations, they are mostly to be found in the northern parts of this huge country. Like many northerners, I share their view that their southern comrades generally fit into two categories. Poor peasants or rich peasants, the latter being far more annoying and obnoxious.  I reckon I could now do a thesis on the relationship between driving standards, eating dogs, peeing in metro carriages and my ethnological stereotyping. 反正。

There was also no escaping from the fact that most Chinese think cars are for rich people and motorcycles are for the poor. The fact that a new BMW GS1200 Adventure will cost upwards of 50,000 US dollars in China is besides the point. Large motorcycles like Harley Davidson, BMW, Ducati and now KTMs do exist in China, but are rarer than pandas and clearly owned by eccentrics.  Also, motorcycles are banned in most cities, are not allowed on the extensive network of highways and so are fair game to be bullied at every opportunity and nudged off the road into the nearest ditch.

That said, motorcycles and bicycles are considered so low and unworthy that their riders are not expected to comply with any traffic laws or regulations whatsoever. I guess being a former motorcycle policeman I had a natural instinct to at least try and comply with the local laws, after all a motorbike and rider will always come off worse when T-boned by an overloaded truck, or indeed by anything on four wheels.

However, after a few weeks in China I was riding like a true local, jumping red lights, riding on pavements, surfing the internet on my smart phone and weaving the wrong way down streets. The crazy thing is nobody cares, least of all traffic enforcement officers. All they care about is that you don’t ride on the highway and your don’t waste electricity by having your headlights on. We are definitely going to need re-educating before we start riding again in law abiding lands, or else we will both become adornments on the front of some Mack trucks or locked up.

We continued riding southwards through Hezuo and across the high altitude grasslands towards a rather popular tourist town called Lang Mu Si at the border of Sichuan. Here there are temples and monasteries, rivers, mountains and amazing hiking routes where we actually saw some otters by a stream. However, what really makes Lang Mu Si famous is that it is one of the few places in China you can go and watch a “Sky Burial”.

I vaguely remember reading about Sky Burials in a National Geographic magazine, but it was not until my friend Andrea Corbett recently told me that when she pops her clogs she wants to be disposed off by “Sky Burial” that I gave it much thought. I am not sure the Derbyshire authorities allow bodies to be left on Kinder Scout and eaten by magpies and other birds that live in the Peak District, but on the Tibetan Plateau this is actually a common way for Buddhists to move on to where ever or what ever awaits them in the after life…. the atoms of the former human being rearranged into bird farts and bird poo I suspect.

One of hundreds of new highway being constructed through rural China. The civil engineers construct a huge number of impressive bridges and tunnels across the valleys and rivers and through the mountains

A small Buddhist shrine on the mountains above Hezuo

The skies turning grey as we continued into high grasslands and towards the Sichuan border at Lang Mu Si. Villages and farmers arstarting to bunker down for the hard winter ahead. We also started to encounter snow and sleet that made riding a bit miserable and uncomfortable

 

 

 

Into the high altitude grasslands

My CF Moto TR 650 at 8888.8 kilometers… all good.. all going well

The snow capped mountains of Sichuan ahead of us

Grasslands and peaks

Long roads through the massive high altitude grasslands

Now riding at the snow line and it had become quite cold on the bikes, especially through the snow showers.  Our visors would get completely misted up and we would have to lift them up and get frozen noses and watering eyes.  Fifteen minutes prior to this picture I lost my sunglasses trying to take them off with frozen hands.

Riding down into the Lang Mu Si (pronounced lang moo ser ) valley where Gansu borders with Sichuan. There had been a lot of rain, snow, sleet and traffic and we were both looking forward to getting off the bikes. Our Rev’it motorcycle jackets and trousers had been superb though, perfectly dry and toasty inside. Ours hands, noses and feet? No so toasty and not so dry. Later we would use the tried and trusted method of putting our feet inside plastic bags and then inside our boots–instant water proofing.

Entering a very muddy and crowded Lang Mu Si right on the border of Sichuan and Gansu. Its the middle of the Chinese National Holidays and its mayhem. All the hotels were booked out, but Fanny managed to find us a room in a Muslim family’s home. We were lucky otherwise it was camping on the mountain in the rain with the Tibetan vultures from the Sky Burial, which would have been risky given that sheepie and I together smelt considerably worse that most of the corpses.

Crazy roads in Lang Mu Si.. but no problem on bikes … although both Fanny and I got completely covered in mud. The tourist cars were very impatient and often got stuck and the drivers got in arguments and started quarreling with each other

Have these guys ever read Animal Farm?… two wheels good, four wheels bad.

Beautiful mountain ridges above Lang Mu Si

The human inhabitants have no consideration or care for the environment, and like much of China and Taiwan just throw rubbish and pollutants into the rivers, streams, outside their homes and anywhere except in a rubbish bin. Its extremely depressing and disturbing. It will require a major campaign by the government, authorities, universities and schools to change this appalling attitude to conservation and the protection of our planet.

I try to look at the mountains and spot birds and wildlife, but my eyes are always drawn back to the environmental vandalism in this part of the world. Its wrong.

Jeeps, scooters and ponies to take tourists up the mountain to the temples and Sky Burial site

 

 

The Sky Burial site at Lang Mu Si

Yuck is all I can say..

“Fanny, come and look at this…a jaw bone bigger than mine”

It looks like Fred West’s tool box.

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After looking around the muddy and rather disappointing town, Fanny and I  decided to climb to the top of the mountain and investigate a bit more. I wish I hadn’t. I assumed that the recently deceased “grandpa” would be left on the mountain and the Tibetan vultures would fly down and in a mass of feathers and frenetic activity eat him up. The reality it turns out is much more gory.

I suppose I have had more exposure to grizzly sights than most people having been a policeman for many years, but I have never got used to it and I am actually more squeamish about blood and guts than most. Reluctantly, over the years I have pretty much witnessed everything that can be done to a human body. Hanging, burning, decapitation, being blown up, eaten by maggots, fallen from skyscrapers and on hitting the ground literally “gone pop”, being shot, drowned and all bloated up…. and I have attended  more postmortems than I care to remember. It all comes with the job. When I was a young police constable in London, doing the school crossing patrol and babysitting the remains of human beings seemed to feature highly in my policeman’s lot.

Little did I know that the bodies of Sky Burials need to be prepared first, butchered if you like, so that the “eating” process is quick and efficient. The vultures, just like other animals, go for the best bits first, and once they are full leave body parts lying on the mountain side and so the bodies are filleted first so that the bones and marrow is fed to the vultures for the main course and then they can have the flesh and organs for pudding.

When we got to the peak the first disturbing thing we noticed, or heard, were Chinese tourist howling, screaming, shouting and generally messing about and I was a little surprised, but pleased when Fanny admonished them in no uncertain terms about not showing appropriate respect and desecrating a sacred site;  the second was that a container full of various sharp instruments and axes caught my eye at the butchering point. It looked like they belonged to the Sun Yee On triad and 14 K triad who were getting tooled up to have a major turf battle; and lastly and more disturbingly there were body parts like jaws and rib cages lying about that smelt quite revolting.

Realizing that there was a strong likelihood of a reenactment of a serial killer disposing of his victims with Chinese made carpentry tools I looked at Fanny, and she looked back at me and we both scurried off down the mountain side as quick as we could. When we got back to Lang Mu Si we were immediately descended upon by a tourist tout who asked us if we’d like to see a Sky Burial.  “NO WAY” was the resolute answer.

Lang Mu Si is located in an amazingly beautiful location and I was absolutely delighted to have spotted an otter by a river which I pursued like a mad naturalist. However, unlike my hero David Attenborough, the critter got the better of me and I never saw it again.  The town of Lang Mu Si itself is a real mess though. There was rubbish strewn about everywhere, sewage pouring into the canals and streams and the tourist touts were overwhelmingly annoying and rude.

The road was a muddy mess and the local restaurants and shops were not up to much and looked rather sorry for themselves.  I really hope the Chinese authorities recognized that it is a place of special cultural interest and natural beauty and give it the management and protection it needs. I would certainly like to go back and do some hiking in the mountains and find that otter and his friends, but only after the area has been protected and given the respect it deserves.

We did manage to get into one of the temples and have a wander about and make some offerings. There are two temple complexes, one on the Gansu side and another across the river in Sichuan. I had bought some beads in a village on the Tibetan Plateau to give to my daughter and a special forces friend and wanted to get them blessed by a Lama before I gave them to them, and that is what I did. The Lama was very friendly, took the beads, and took some time concentrating on chanting some prayers.

I later found out that the prayers do not actually add “something” to the beads, but take away everything from the beads, including negativity, in a 佛家 “nothingness” sort of way. A bit complex to explain but I’m told “wuwei”  equates to the sort of blessing a Christian priest may give. The temples were amazing to see, both inside and out, and we spent a long time looking around at the ornate decorations and Buddhist statues.

Fanny taking in the scene from a safe distance- but we didn’t hang about. We both thought it was rather grotesque and I was keen to look for more otters by the river and so we scurried down the mountain as quickly as we could

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I understand it takes considerable skill to prepare a Sky Burial, but we did not hang about to find out… and this picture is courtesy of someone with a much stronger stomach than us

And the vultures do the rest. They are alerted that there is a body to be eaten by the burning of some incensed smoke from the temple

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Lang Mu Si (Si means monastery in Chinese)

I have yet to write a “best and worst award” chapter for China, as I did for Africa, but this takes the best “bling bling ding a ling roof ” award by a mile

 

Getting the beads blessed by the Chief Lama in Lang Mu Si in order to give to my daughter, Becky and also to a 23 Regiment friend, Gary to keep them safe and well

Lang Mu Si Temple… I would like to go back when the Chinese start taking environmental protection and conservation of our shared planet a little more seriously

Sichuan in the distance

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The next day we rode back through the mud of the main street and the few kilometer to the border into Sichuan, but not before Fanny was knocked off her bike by the impatient and rude driver of a Jeep 4×4 who failed to stop to see if she was OK. I rode after it, getting muddy myself, but the driver had absolutely no intention of stopping. He made a reckless escape, blaring his horn and dangerously trying to imitate a rally car hurtling through the muddy roads of the busy town center. Maddening, but what can you do? Fanny was unhurt, but of course completely covered in mud again. Absolutely no point getting madder than we were already, and I suppose the best thing to do was to put it down to experience and soldier on.  Attempting to look on the bright side, it was raining again and we would soon be clean.

Next…..

Southwards towards Chengdu, the capital city of Sichuan province and famous for spicy food, street snacks, mad goings on in People’s Park and of course giant pandas.  Apart from the breeding centers we were extremely unlikely to see a panda, but we might see a takin, a rare goat/ox creature that lives in the Sichuan mountains. From Chengdu we would start heading eastwards towards the largest city in the world, Chongqing where we would participate in the China International Motorcycle Show and Fanny would meet many of her fans and the motorcycling media. From there we would ride through the surprisingly beautiful countryside of rural Chongqing and into Hubei, a section of our journey that I had not expected to be particularly interesting, but which actually turned out to be an adventure and a half.

Recent scientific research has revealed that all non- African people in the world have about 3% Neanderthal in their make up … Clearly some have more… 神农架的 大脚野人。

The wild man of Shen Nong Jia in remote north west Hubei.

Chapter 21 – 西藏 Tibet

When we rode through Tibet (西藏) in September 2012, the People’s Republic of China was restricting access to Chinese citizens only. The only exception being that a “Tibet Travel Permit” might be granted to a foreign tour group, provided they all come from the same country, that their itinerary is organized and strictly supervised by an approved Chinese travel agency and they are accompanied by a guide at all times.

All very bureaucratic, restrictive and undoubtedly expensive.

Tibet and the Himalayas from space

So, how could we ride into Tibet on motorcycles? For Fanny? No problem. Unlike the rest of the world she can move freely about China with her Chinese travel document, bian fang zheng ( 边防证)。 As for me?  I could exploit a very slim loop hole in the current policy as I am a permanent Hong Kong resident and hold a Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Identity card. The reality is of course that the Chinese consider anyone, not ethnically Chinese, a “foreigner” and so using my Hong Kong ID holder status was at very best, “tenuous” and would mean I would have to be a bit lucky and apply whatever charm and wit I could muster to pass through the multitude of road blocks and security check points to get from one side of Tibet to the other.

We had already ridden about 6,000 kilometers from eastern China through the central and southern provinces on our Chinese made CF Moto 650 TR motorcycles and now we were entering the truly spectacular province of Tibet from the equally impressive province of Yunnan. It is a vast region on the far west of the PRC that averages 4,900 meters in altitude and shares the highest point on Earth,  Mount Everest  ( 珠穆朗玛峰), with the Kingdom of Nepal.

Video at https://youtu.be/jZK3Jv1g9ng

Tibet

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The reason why very strict travel restrictions were in place is that this so called “autonomous region” of China is in dispute and many of the indigenous Tibetan people want independence and greater freedoms. However, China keeps a vice like grip on the territory. China increasingly calls the shots in the new world order and pretty much does what it likes.

It is fiercely patriotic and defensive about what it calls domestic issues and sovereignty issues concerning Xinjiang, Xizang (Tibet), Taiwan, Diao Yu Dao and Xi Sha Qun Dao are not for discussion… especially by foreigners. The current situation and history of Tibet is extremely complex and its well worth actually visiting and studying its long and complicated history before forming any opinions ( http://www.tibet.org,  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tibet  or http://www.dismalworld.com/disputes/tibet.php).

Despite the geographical splendour, fascinating culture, friendly people and some of the best adventure motorcycling I have ever experienced, our ride through Tibet was one of mixed feelings. Relatively speaking, I would probably have felt more at ease had I ridden through Vichy France in 1943. It was without doubt one of the most thought provoking places I have ever been to.

Like many parts of China access by foreigners to many of the historical sites or places of natural beauty is highly restrictive or unreasonably expensive. I wonder what Chinese visitors to the UK would say if the British authorities banned them from visiting Scotland or Wales, or charged them twenty to thirty times more than local people to visit tourist sites and attractions. I think they would protest loudly that its 不公平 (unfair).

 

Leaving Yunnan and climbing up thousands of meters into Tibet

A bit muddy and rocky in places … no real problem though. Our bikes are not true adventure enduros like our KTMs, but these CF Moto 650s are very decent long distant tourers and seemed fine with everything that we came across.

Steep drops and spectacular views.

3,000 – 4,000 meters towards Mang Kang. We have started taking Chinese medicine called ” hong jing tian” for altitude sickness.

A bit like Ethiopia … we shared the road with many creatures… but none as dangerous as “Fujian peasant”  in his Toyota 4×4 with Shanghai racing circuit diagram on the back window, a years supply of instant noodles on the back seat and Mrs Fujian constantly throwing rubbish out the windows into the Tibetan lakes and streams. They did it all the time.

There were many cyclists on the Kunming to Lhasa road. An amazing feat and respect to them. When (and if) they complete the arduous ride and get to Lhasa they usually ship the bikes back by the very efficient Chinese postal services or Kuai Di. We saw very few bikes going the other way, and virtually no bicycles beyond Lhasa. I think we saw a couple of local small cc motorcycles and absolutely no other foreigners beyond the famous tourist attractions in Lhasa where they were being shepherded from site to site like sheep.

The CF Moto 650 TR bikes have been awesome… a big surprise. I would use them again if I did the same ride, or perhaps the Royal Enfield …. after all it is the Himalayas. 

In eastern Tibet the road goes up and down between 3,000 meters to 4,000 meters  – many times.  The roads are often carved into the side of very steep slopes and sometimes the road has completely or partially collapsed or has debris strewn over from landslides. It was a bit nerve wrecking on our bikes and I cannot imagine driving one of the trucks with the wheels hanging over the side. We did see some unlucky ones that had gone over the side.

Fanny cautiously looking over the edge of the road. Much more precarious than the impression given by the photograph.

The roads wind up and down for hundreds of kilometers. Some have dozens and dozens of hairpin bends and make European switchbacks look positively tame. I’d like to see the Top Gear guys try this…

We rode through massive pine forests around the 3,000 meter mark for hundreds of kilometers. So much for the deforestation debate. Seems  Chinese forestry is as advanced as that in Bavaria or Canada.

A typical Tibetan farmhouse in the eastern side of the province.

Our first 5,000 meter pass… many to come. The last time I was at 5,000 meters was on the summit of Mount Kenya and I was out of breathe then too.

Taking refuge in a local shop during a flash storm. The storm charged through the valley with lightening and thunder crashing around us and then disappeared as quickly as it came. We became all too aware how quickly the weather could change in the Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau.

I thought we had it bad going to school by Stevenson Rocket… these kids got dropped off to school soaking wet in an open tractor trailer

Yaks milk tea …. takes a little getting used to. Not sure what smelt more lively.. my wet sheep skin seat cover or the tea.

I told Fanny it would make her eyes water. 

Our kind host… but no more yaks milk tea for now … thanks

Storm rapidly approaching down the valley. Like something out of the film “The Mummy”. Within minutes we were in the middle of a storm with lightening and thunder crashing around us. I have developed a particular fear of lightening having narrowly escaped being zapped in the Nubian desert whilst riding my motorcycle across Namibia. Here high up in the mountains I felt particularly exposed again.

Being probably one of few foreigners in Tibet at the time and stretching the rules somewhat, Fanny told me to cover up as I walked about the first sizable town we rode into, called Mang Kang. As I walked about in my masterful disguise people would greet me and say, “Hello foreigner”  and I would say “Ni hao” in reply. I’ve seen the film, “The Great Escape” and know how Donald Pleasence got caught out…

Gazing out of our hotel room at yaks wandering through the town center. As we got deeper into Tibet Fanny became more anxious that I should conceal myself. I was the only foreigner in this town, and indeed only saw other foreigners when we got to the capital, Lhasa. Even then they were in a tour group and being herded about under strict supervision. Luckily most of the time I was in riding gear with a crash helmet and riding a Chinese registered motorcycle … with a Chinese woman.

Back on the road having managed to get through the first real challenge at a security check point on the exit from Mang Kang. I think it was the “Hong Kong Pacific Place Cinema Movie Magic discount card” that got me though or my ”警察兄弟“ patter… probably the latter.

Entering town called 左贡。。。Tamade…. this time there were 特警, 警察, 军人 at the security post. Until this point we had ridden around them, under the barriers and confidently BS’d and smiled through the previous security check points.  This time they were not impressed with my selection of Hong Kong discount cards and so we were detained. Two hours later after boring the pants off them they let us go… with a proviso that I shut up.

Like much of our expedition, the bikes always got lots of attention, as did Fanny。

Whilst pondering whether we will run into another road block we saw some Lamas sitting by the side of a river in a very peaceful and idyllic location. We asked if we could camp with them and they said kindly said yes… and so started a lovely two day chapter of our adventure where we forged some wonderful friendships.

We were putting up our little expedition tent, but the Lamas gave us this much more impressive one to use.

Fanny wrapped up in her North Face expedition sleeping bag together with our bikes inside Lamas’ tent. We were at 4,400 meters and it was bitterly cold during the night and I discovered that drinking beer at altitude gives you the mother of all headaches. Lesson learned, and clearly forgotten as later on in central Tibet at 4,900 meters we drank a bottle of champagne next to Sky Lake (Nam Tso) to celebrate.  So!!!!   Word to the wise… don’t drink alcohol at altitude. In fact, just drink the local tea. The salty sweet earthy tasting yaks milk brew found everywhere does help with altitude sickness, as did the Chinese medicine we were taking.

Our idyllic camp site with the Lamas

Giving one of the Lamas (Si Ba) a ride up to the temple higher up the mountain so he could charge his mobile phone… somethings are the same where ever you live.

A visit to the Lamas’ temple with our friend Si Ba.

Fanny and I … still laughing after 18 months on the road together

Fanny interfering with the cooking plans….

We moved to our own tent so the Lamas could prepare for the special visit of 小活佛 (little living Buddha) from Lhasa. During the night we could hear the Lamas chanting and playing drums, cymbals, trumpets and the eerie repetitive low bass of the Lama long horn… As they say, you have to actually be there to truly experience the ambiance and spirituality. We were very privileged and this bit of our trip will always bring back fond memories.

The next day we were invited to join the festivities. Unlike the monks I lived with in wu wei si in Dali, Yunnan, these Tibetan lamas are not vegetarian. They do eat meat and yaks meat, yaks butter, yaks fermented cheese, and yaks yogurt seemed to be staple foods, along with fresh vegetables from the local area. I am eating for the first time yaks yogurt and rice…. a sort of variation on the famous British rice pudding. The taste is somewhat challenging, as is eating it with chop sticks.

Little Living Buddha … 小活佛。 A very shy boy who bears a striking resemblance to another shy boy I know when he was the same age. Our friend Si Ba is one of the Lamas who looked after him and ensures he receives the correct education and upbringing.

We were constantly reminded of the Chinese influence in Tibet by the new middle class Chinese exploring the mountainous province in their Hi-Tech 4x4s, the young cyclists performing the Kunming to Lhasa right of passage, and more acutely by the extremely long military supply convoys that sometimes consisted of a hundred army trucks heading back and forth to Lhasa. These convoys are often used in propaganda films as they evoke images and impressions of “Long March” heroics.

A picture paints a thousand words

I politely declined to participate in the Lama tug of war games for obvious reasons.  Right next to the temple (sen above) the Chinese authorities are building a new four story concrete police station with all the architectural splendour and creativity used in every second and third tier cities we saw across China… i.e. zero.  A slightly disturbing sight to my mind, but the explanation given by the omnipresent plain clothes “protector” person was that for the first time in centuries the temple was being burgled and so a police presence was needed. Really? I doubt it.

 Happy peaceful people.

The bikes always popular with everyone.

Little Living Buddha (小活佛) has a look at our bikes with the other Lamas. 

Lounging about after lunch by the river. This young fellow was a real character. His only English was “Let’s Goooo!” which he used often and between the many chores he was given he would spend time with us.  Little living Buddha is seated in the background. The contrast between the lives of both “Lama” boys who were about the same age was immense.

Eventually we had to go and all the Lamas came out to bid us farewell. It was a bit tearful as I think Fanny had made a real impression and they seemed extremely fond of her. Fanny, is extremely smart, gregarious and easy to get on with whether you are from the east or West. She is a true ambassador for all that is good about China and should be in their diplomatic service.

As we rode along the beautiful river path towards the main road that will take us to Lhasa, two hoopoe birds flew alongside us with their crests extended as the Lama’s waved goodbye…. if that isn’t spiritual I don’t know what is…..

Riding along generally good tar roads, with occasional potholes, and stretches of gravel, mud or water flowing from streams across gullies. Biggest hazard is other drivers. This guy in front is on pilgrimage to Da Zhao Temple, Lhasa and every few steps lies prostrate towards direction of Lhasa. Some of these pilgrimages can take years and occasionally people die.

Ran Wu …. Tibetan side of town

The Chinese side of Ran Wu …. nearly every small village and town in Tibet has a Chinese garrison regardless of how pristine or historically relevant the place may be. There are thousands of uniformed and plain clothed security police, army and often huge barracks for the military supplies conveys. Invariably ugly, intrusive and looking like an unfinished construction site. No National Trust in Tibet, nor any architects apparently. Rubbish and sewage strewn everywhere. Nearly every Chinese person we saw just throws rubbish straight into the lakes and streams or throws them out the windows of their vehicles onto the hillside. Everything is slovenly…..and with no respect for the environment, nor with any real respect for the indigenous people. The Chinese government needs to start acting responsibly.  

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Ran Wu.. with beautiful lake, although waters have receded for many reasons, including climate change and hydroelectric projects upstream.

There is definitely a live goat at the bottom of this Tibetan building, but I am not sure about the other one up in the rafters!

The geography of Tibet is always spectacular, fresh and BIG. Its pleasing that it will be there long after man has gone.

I am reliably informed by a Hong Kong friend, Franki  that these are Char Char stones. If anyone knows anymore about what they are and for please leave comment.

Under ever nook and Fanny are tiles carved with Tibetan prayers.

Its as heavy as a BMW or Triumph, but handles better off road

One of the photos that was sent to us by the travelers we met en route. Their cameras often better than ours.

Riding towards Lhasa high up on Tibetan Plateau… Beautiful lakes and forests.

We did the back of the RMB 20 note in Guilin, now the back of the RMB 50 note in Lhasa.

Riding about in Lhasa

Be a good citizen and make sure you are flying a crispy new red flag.

The most sacred “Da Zhao” Temple in Lhasa

Our Lama friend Si Ba outside the holiest temple in Tibet, “Da Zhao” in Lhasa.

Lhasa back streets

The Tibetan’s have a very different language, customs, appearance and way of life to that of the occupying Han Chinese.

Some beautiful alleyways and courtyards in Lhasa.

In addition to road blocks and security posts, garrisons and army barracks in every town and village in Tibet, there are police checkpoints on every street corner in Lhasa and Tibetans, particularly Buddhist lamas, are constantly stopped and searched. Whilst spending an afternoon with our friend Si Ba, I noticed he was constantly stopped and frisked by Chinese authorities.

Keeping a close eye on the “lao wai” who didn’t appear to be in a supervised tour group.  Some of them friendly enough young lads doing their job, but….

This yak seems to be missing some major body parts

Local ladies walking through the markets and praying.

Lots of people walking clockwise around the “Da Zhao” Temple with prayer beads and prayer wheels.

Tibetan streets, Chinese flags and skyline dominated by the beautiful mountains that surround Lhasa.

The “Bu Da La Gong” can be seen where ever you are in Lhasa.

Fanny at “Da Zhao” Temple.

Lhasa

I lost my trainers and so I klomped about Lhasa in my riding boots… which got lots of admiring looks and comments from the local Tibetans.

Tibetans are very devoted Buddhists and can be seen praying at most times of the day. Many spend years on pilgrimage to Lhasa.

Exploring Lhasa with Fanny

Just to remind everyone whose in charge.

Goose-stepping down the main road. Always a crowd pleaser.

Who are you looking at?

Having yaks milk tea and walnuts in a local tea-house with our friend Si Ba.

Many of the Tibetans look very much the Cow Boys and Girls that they are.

Handsome people.

Si Ba and Fanny in the market buying incense for the temple.

An interesting picture on many levels.

These guys offered me their prayer beads to hold… so I did.

Si Ba getting stopped and searched again, and again, and again. I asked him how he puts up with it and he replied ” mei ban fa”.. (no worries)

The tank of Fanny’s bike sprung a leak because a rubber supporting mount was missing and after 6,000 kilometers “on road” and “off road” it vibrated a crack in the attachment. A bit dangerous,  especially as self immolation is illegal in Tibet. Therefore we had to ride with no more than 30% of fuel in the tank at all times which meant siphoning fuel from my tank for several hundred kilometers until we got a new tank in Lhasa sent from Hangzhou. All part of the testing program, I guess.

And so we set off from our hostel in Lhasa…

We continued with the totally ridiculous practice of having to fill the bikes with petrol in open watering cans, kettles and tea pots. Unsafe, annoying and a hassle that invariably resulted in our petrol tanks being not full enough, or with petrol left over in the tea pots that we would donate to a fellow biker. Invariably we got petrol over everyone and everything as we trudged back and forth from the pumps.  The logic was that nearly all motorcycles in China are peasant owned small engined machines that are neither safe nor well maintained and so prone to leak or even explode. The local authorities, therefore, stipulate that motorcycles and their cigarette smoking owners be kept a safe distance from the petrol pumps.  In most of China, and particularly the wild west, modern large engine motorcycles found elsewhere in the world are unheard of … and so given that they have two wheels are subjected to the same logic…. just like their ban on Chinese highways. I am surprised there isn’t a Chinese Chengyu (idiom) “Four wheels good… two wheels bad”.

Back riding with the big peaks again.

Beautiful roads weaving between peaks and rivers high up on the Tibet-Qinghai  Plateau.

Mount Everest (珠穆朗玛峰)… which I never saw because the authorities would not let me ride the 80 kilometers or so from Tingri to Base Camp. Despite having Hong Kong papers and documentation I was deemed by my fellow human beings to be the wrong race to look at the tallest mountain on our shared planet.   Fanny did all she could to help and support me but it was no good …. I guess we’ll see it from Nepal one day.

The sacred Sky Lake (Nam Tso) with 7,000 meter peaks in background.

Camping at Nam Tso.

Camping next to sacred Nam Tso Lake at 4,900 meters. The mountain in background is Yan Qing Tang Gu La  at 7,800 meters. There is a local saying that when you are here you never think of home.

Our remote campsite at Nam Tso

There were lots of semi wild, huge and woolly Tibetan dogs. During the night the temperature plummeted to minus 15 degrees and so the dogs slept right outside our tents pressed up against us… keeping us both a bit warmer.

A lot of Yaks … very likable creatures

Tibetan Antelope … quite rare ( near border with Qinghai)

Beijing to Lhasa Railway… at this point in north Tibet around 5,000 meters. An amazing bit of engineering on the perma-frost plateau

Hundreds of kilometers of good roads in north Tibet

Geographically, Tibet is stunning.

North Tibet…. remote, big, beautiful

We had snow, rain, brilliant sunshine, fog, and a mini tornado all in one day

Fanny cruising along at 5,000 meters

At border of Tibet and Qinghai. Bit cold and pleased I invested in the bar mitts. Fanny thought they looked daft but changed her mind in the snow and cold.

The last 5,000 meter plus pass before crossing into Qinghai.

Amazing skies, clean air, big spaces and long roads.

5,300 meters … high altitude lakes, snow peaks, and permafrost plateaus… quite stunning.

Chapter 20 – 中国 Part 3

Praying for our safe travels at a monastery in Dali, Yunnan

Fanny at South gate of Dali

Er Hai lake with Bai ethnic minority people

Er Hai … they say its very dangerous to ride without a helmet. They are right… I got very burnt.

Er Hai Lake in Dali

Fanny and Dinesh (Dino) Nihalchand at Wu Wei Si (Monastery above Dali) This is where I studied Taijiquan in 2008 during a semester break from Mandarin studies at Tsinghua University in Beijing.

Fanny stretching on the Gongfu training square at Wu Wei Si or practicing to get on a Yamaha XT 660

Bikes parked up in Lijiang, Yunnan

Tiger Leaping Gorge … being careful not to lean back too much

Some roads good and some bad as we head north west towards Shangri-la

Our lodge just outside Shangri-la

Super clouds over Shangri-la

Ah… that’s why its called Shangri-la ….. a direct hit

Starting to ride further up into the Himalayas towards Deqin