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Old 09-28-2010, 07:28 PM   #16
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One of the riders, Klaus, had little experience -- not that I'm an expert -- and was not wearing a helmet. He was visibly shaky on the bike. We had gotten to talking and he asked whether I thought he needed a helmet. I told him, 'Hell, yes,' and told him why in the strongest terms. He ended up buying a cheap Chinese helmet. So, 20 minutes into the trip, on the outskirts of Yinchuan, he lost control of his bike, veered off the road (crossing in front of a truck that jammed on its brakes to avoid plastering him like a bug on its front grill) and hit a tree head-on with the front wheel, splitting his helmet when his head hot the same tree and bruised from thigh to ankle from going over the handlebars. So Klaus rode in one of the support vehicles for the rest of the trip.



Stop for lunch to visit the pyramid tombs of the Tangut Xi Xia dynasy circa 100 AD. Looks like the cake left out in the rain.



Outside of Yinchuan, you cross from Ningxia Provice to Inner Mongolia Autonomous Zone by piercing the Great Wall -- which here in the hinterlands is unlike the stone edifice outside Beijing, but which is nevertheless an impressive structure that still runs as far as the eye can see:






You can see how they built it: two walls running side-by-side that they let collapse on each other. I'm told the wall here had look-outs every 10-12 miles who would light a signal fire if they spotted the Mongol horsemen approaching and the next watchmen lighting a fire in turn in relays and in this way Beijing could be warned in 12 hours of an approaching invasion:



The Great Wall here runs right up the ridge lines of the Helan Shan forming an impenetrable barrier. And there too is a military roadblock checking passes to enter.

Here's what National Geo said:

"The word Gobi is shorthand for "gravel desert." And at this rocky, gale-scoured desert's heart, in the reaches of northern China, is the Alashan Plateau, a place so remote and sparsely inhabited it has scarcely figured in China's long history. Today it remains rarely visited owing to its status as a missile testing zone for the Chinese military."

Paolo finagled some internal visas that let us travel to this area -- he had me down as being on business for his multinational company employer (O.K, Siemans). I don't know if it is still closed, would appreciate hearing about this from ADV-ers in China.

Day One:



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Old 09-28-2010, 08:02 PM   #17
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Day one an easy day almost all on asphalt, some on gravel, arrive in the early evening at the small city of Alashan Zuxoi to stay in a hotel. That evening, incendiary Mongol food, dancing to recorded music and uncountable toasts with Mao Tai. I have the photos but I'll spare you. That night, awoke to sounds of heavy rainfall -- like so many nights here in Seattle. Completely unexpected, and morning it was raining hard.

Jens and Diana in the hotel courtyard in the morning:



Stopped to gas up on the outskirts of town:



This pretty Mongol girl pumped our gas:



Gotta love her jagged, asymmetric bangs, the camo coat, and her perfectly shaped fingers and smooth glossy fingernails like little legs into glass slippers.



Riding in the rain got miserable.






One of the riders, Hanno, a German. Well, they were all German except me.



We wore oilskins but were soaked. And it was cold. I took to laying my gloves on my cylinder airheads to warm them up but they were soaked through and I was soaked to the skin, we were all shivering. We stopped in a squalid truck stop to warm up, got some soup cooking.



Soup from scratch, the plastic bag contains dough that Xiaoh Fef pressed and cut into rough noodles; that with the chilies, garlic, ginger and onions you see. The kitchen was warm and steam rose from our clothes. Coal-burning oven:






Diana and Jens in the truck stop:


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Old 09-29-2010, 08:29 PM   #18
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We had planned to go into the desert and camp this night but were so wet and cold that late in the afternoon we stopped at this modest inn located in Bayan Nuru.



Xiao Feh (foreground) doing some maintenance on the bikes:



Morning was clear but cold. We continued on paved roads. Vast empty distances and no traffic. We stopped once in a while for one reason or another.



Diana bundled up in the cold:



Marco riding, Klaus is passenger:



Jens scoping out the way:



We veered off the highway into the desert around mid-day to find a place for lunch. I walked further into the desert; it was quite beautiful and kind of draws you in.



There were unusual rocks, some volcanic, strewn all over, which we some of us collected:



We had some visitors. I really liked the smiling eyes, the jacket shrugged down from her shoulders, the white gloves. She's got it going on in her own way:

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Old 12-05-2010, 05:19 PM   #19
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Paved highway most of this day. Completely deserted with no other traffic for long stretches.




At day's end we went off road to scout for a campsite:



Se up camp:




My bike and my tent:




The cook tent:



Working on one of the bikes the next morning:



The day's drive was on paved road to the small city of Ejin Qi -- at leasts that's how it appears on maps, although the Chinese pronounce it "Aji Naji." This on the way to Aji Naji:



Tying on a flag that's come loose brings good luck:






Our hotel in Ejin Qi:



Stocked up with some provisions from the markets in Ejin Qi:










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Old 12-06-2010, 08:57 PM   #20
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To those who have been following this thread, my apologies for the delays. This is my third ride report and each one has taken me longer to write than the trip did to ride -- and that's not counting the years of procrastinating before I even started writing.

With this RR I'm also dealing with some low-res files and some bad scans from negatives and slides that seem to have color-shifted and faded and aged to sepia -- In my mind's eye there is a photo of a convoy of bikes in the desert but when I post it, it end up looking something like this:



This photo is of Sir Aurel Stein's expedition to Kharakhoto in 1917 -- the first to the ruined city since it was 'discovered' by the Russian Pyotr Kozlov in 1908.

And here is a photo of Kharakhoto from Stein's expedition. Amazing that a ruined city of such size and significance could remain unknown to the West until into the 20th century:



But even to day the site remains little visited. When I made this trip in '05 the Chinese gave Westerners permission to visit the Alashan only sparingly -- mostly to scientific expeditions. This is partly because it is staging ground for China's space program. Paolo managed to get the necessary permissions by applying many months before our trip and using contacts and connections he had forged for decades in China. And -- he had to make me an employee of Siemens to do it -- our approval was for some sort of business-related purpose to test equipment.

We went through three checkpoints on the highway to Ejin Qi, the first right outside of Yinchuan just past the Great Wall, and our papers were scrutinized at each stage.

And these were not 'flying' checkpoints but more like border crossings with buildings and cross bars straddling the highway. I didn't take pics except of these guys at the second checkpoint: I always like the local bikes:



But things change in China and for all I know, this area is open now. I read on someone's travel blog recently that they approached the Alashan from the east and a guard at a checkpoint made a phone call, shrugged and let them through.

Curious to know what it's like now
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Old 12-06-2010, 10:18 PM   #21
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I enjoy the RR, please continue.

Suqsuda, I am following your report with great interest. I lived in China (Beijing) as an expat from 1989 to 1992. In March 2009 I went back for a short vacation. It is amazing how fast China changing and opening up to foreigners (Lauwei)

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Originally Posted by Suqsuda View Post
To those who have been following this thread, my apologies for the delays. This is my third ride report and each one has taken me longer to write than the trip did to ride -- and that's not counting the years of procrastinating before I even started writing.

With this RR I'm also dealing with some low-res files and some bad scans from negatives and slides that seem to have color-shifted and faded and aged to sepia -- In my mind's eye there is a photo of a convoy of bikes in the desert but when I post it, it end up looking something like this:



This photo is of Sir Aurel Stein's expedition to Kharakhoto in 1917 -- the first to the ruined city since it was 'discovered' by the Russian Pyotr Kozlov in 1908.

And here is a photo of Kharakhoto from Stein's expedition. Amazing that a ruined city of such size and significance could remain unknown to the West until into the 20th century:



But even to day the site remains little visited. When I made this trip in '05 the Chinese gave Westerners permission to visit the Alashan only sparingly -- mostly to scientific expeditions. This is partly because it is staging ground for China's space program. Paolo managed to get the necessary permissions by applying many months before our trip and using contacts and connections he had forged for decades in China. And -- he had to make me an employee of Siemens to do it -- our approval was for some sort of business-related purpose to test equipment.

We went through three checkpoints on the highway to Ejin Qi, the first right outside of Yinchuan just past the Great Wall, and our papers were scrutinized at each stage.

And these were not 'flying' checkpoints but more like border crossings with buildings and cross bars straddling the highway. I didn't take pics except of these guys at the second checkpoint: I always like the local bikes:



But things change in China and for all I know, this area is open now. I read on someone's travel blog recently that they approached the Alashan from the east and a guard at a checkpoint made a phone call, shrugged and let them through.

Curious to know what it's like now
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Old 12-09-2010, 10:40 AM   #22
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The ride into Ejin Qi was on paved highway; we'd done little off-road so far. From the highway, vast desert vistas as far as the eye could see. But the desert was really many deserts; some places, huge, knife-edged golden sand dunes; other places flat and hard surfaced with pea gravel that in places reflected light like a mirror; and other stretches, white sand with jet black stone spines and ridges like half-buried fossil skeletons. Amazingly vivid mirages would float above the road at the horizon. And many times, sand whirlwinds, like miniature tornadoes, about ten feet high, would sweep across the road. I rode through one and it was like being sandblasted.

We had the afternoon free to wander around Ejin Qi. It has the feel of a frontier town, and is also an oasis surrounded by poplar trees and cotton fields. Only a few main street were paved. The market was stocked with pomegranates, pyramids of golden raisins; tree-sized dried cacti that looked like elephants' trunks; ears of fresh wild mushrooms; white-furred ermine pelts; whole heads of sheep hanging from meat hooks; red goji berries; and platter-sized pressed cakes of black tea. Open-air charcoal braziers grilled lamb kebabs and other street vendors selling roasted chestnuts. Cannabis plants grew wild on the sides of the dirt streets, although smoking it doesn't seem to be part of the local culture. Small motorcycles were the main mode of motorized transport, typically kitted out with leather saddle bags and a sheepskin seat cover; you'd see whole families on these bikes, bundled up against the cold.

I've had trouble getting this map to display what I want, but if you zoom and pan a little you can see a green oasis area in the northwest quadrant of the map with roads converging on it, which is Ejin Qi. You can also see the fastness of the Chinese Gobi to the south and east of Ejin Qi, with no roads crossing it. I'm told this part of the Gobi is effectively impenetrable (except maybe by camel), and is very little explored. The southern part of the Chinese Gobi is called the Badain Jaran desert and if you zoom in on that part you will see small blue circles, which surprisingly are lakes at the base of giant sand dunes.

View Larger Map Get Directions

Khara Khoto lies in the desert some 20 km south of Ejin Qi. In 2005, it was by dirt road, although a satellite photo shows that the road has since been paved.


View Larger Map

The day we arrived in Ejin Qi, Paolo took the jeep and drove out to scout the river crossing on the road to Khara Khoto and this is what he found. The heavy rains we had passed through earlier had turned what was normally a dry river bed into a torrent. Paolo decided against crossing, worried that the bikes could get swept away.



But the local government had made us take along one of their minders as a condition of letting us go into the desert, and with his help and much consulting of maps, Paolo was able to chart a course through the desert to Khara Khoto that bypassed the river crossing.

First through the outskirts of Ejin Qi on dirt roads:



Then into the desert, with soft sand. The bike and sidecar combos handled this terrain very well, provided you maintained speed and didn't get bogged down.



Our government 'escort.'



After a while the terrain opened up and the ground firmed up:



We arrived at these stupa-like structures:



We passed a number of other small ruined structures eroding back into the earth:



Because of the way they were built, and the way they are eroding, a lot of these ruined structures develop whistle-like chambers and flute-like apertures. This one was like a harmonica. So, as I was to learn later that night, when the desert winds pick up and blow through them them emit unworldly shrieks and howls, which is one reason the Chinese believe the ruins are haunted.

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Old 12-15-2010, 05:39 AM   #23
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I really enjoyed reading about your adventure. It brought back memories of a ride I made with my son back in 2000 to Yinchuan. Back then the ride was about 70% off road and it took us 12 days to reach Yinchuan. We were trying to make it for the first national motorcycle event but missed it by a couple days. So instead we rode around Ningxia for a few days before heading back to Beijing. I think my pictures are posted somewhere at www.changjiangunlimited.com
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Old 12-15-2010, 05:57 AM   #24
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Old 12-16-2010, 08:25 PM   #25
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I found it thrilling to approach Khara Khoto from the desert (picture quality is bad but still gives an idea):








So many archaeological ruins in the world are inundated by tourists -- tour buses idling and spewing diesel. Not here -- it was totally deserted -- we had it to ourselves.





Marco:



The sand dunes have drifted in places up to the ramparts of the wall, so you walk up and over them to enter the city.



The city was founded in 1032 and became a thriving center of the Tangut empire in the 11th century. The walled fortress was conquered by Genghis Khan in 1226 after which it continued to flourish under Mongol overlordship. During Kublai Khan's time, the city was expanded, reaching a size three times bigger than during the Tangut Empire.


In The Travels of Marco Polo, Marco Polo describes a visit to a city called Etzina or Edzina, which has been identified with Khara-Khoto (which means 'Black City' in Mongol).


in 1372 a Mongol military general named Khara Bator (Mongolian: Black hero) was surrounded with his troops by the armies of China's Ming Dynasty. Diverting the Ejin River, the city's water source that flowed just outside the fortress, the Chinese denied Khara-Khoto water for its gardens and wells. As time passed and Khara Bator realized his fate, he murdered his family and then himself. After his suicide, Khara Bator's soldiers waited within the fortress until the Ming finally attacked and killed the remaining inhabitants. Another version of the legend holds that Khara Bator made a breach in the northwestern corner of the city wall and escaped through it. The remains of the city has a breach through which a rider can pass. After the defeat, the city was abandoned and left in ruins.

The ruins were 'discovered' by the Russian explorer Kozlov in 1908. He removed thousands of Tangut paintings and manuscripts on canvas, paper and silk that were located in some of the suburgas, or stupa-like structures nearby the city (like the ones we had passed earlier in the day). They are now in a museum in St. Petersburg.

Kozlov also found some large Buddhist sculptures that were too big to transport. He buried them in the dunes near one of the walls. When he returned in 1926, the sands had shifted and could not find them. They have not been seen since.

Before Khara Bator committed suicide as the Mings overran Khara Khoto some 600 years ago, he was said to have dumped the city's vast treasury into a well in one corner of the city, and sealed it. The treasure has never been found.

The city remains largely un-excavated and is littered with bleached bones, scraps of wicker and fabric and othe relics of the time it was sacked.




KK Stupas 2:



History says that the Mongols breached this gap in the north wall of the city in a bid to escape the Ming siege but were found out and slaughtered here in large numbers:






After Khara Khoto we proceeded deeper into the desert toward a ruined city that Paolo had found the previous year, called something like 'Lu Shan,' meaning the green city:



Long stretches were flat, hard pea gravel where we could ride the rigs flat out; they fishtailed but the stability with the sidecars kept them upright. It was a blast:






After a while the desert changed to fine, silt-like sand, where you could get bogged down if you couldn't maintain speed:











The Chinese government has sown these roads with many fields of spikes like this one, to keep people from driving out into the desert to loot tombs and archaeological sites. Our Chinese 'minder' knew his way around these hidden fields of spikes and directed us on detours around them.

Archaeologists believe that there are scores of as-yet undiscovered ruined cities half-buried in sand deep in the Gobi, all abandoned or sacked around 600 years ago at the same time that Khara Khoto was destroyed.




There also were small dunes we had to surmount with the bikes:








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Old 12-17-2010, 06:47 PM   #26
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The ruined city of Lu Shan is about 50 km south east of Khara Khoto. It is not a walled city. The ruins are spread out over a very large area.

Most of the structures like these are melting back into the earth:





But you can still get a feel for where the streets ran, how the city was laid out.



This structure had eroded to expose a sea-shell like spiral:



After we set up camp I took the bike back out and toured the ruined city:



Anywhere you looked down at the ground, it was littered with potsherds. Also to be found were coins, horseshoe nails, and many small discs the size of silver dollars stamped with Buddha figures:





Hard to resist picking things up but we left them behind.



Many of these mill stones were scattered around:



I ended up riding alone among the ruins. I took a pic of my bike against the backdrop of a ruined wall.



One thing I found that intrigued me -- an aqueduct, made out of mud bricks, the width of a single-lane road, smooth and convex on the inside, like a shallow swimming pool, built up to be elevated about one and a half meters above the desert, and stretching into the remote desert as far as the eye could see. The aqueduct's walls were collapsed in places and I drove the bike up into it and it was like a smooth road leading in to the desert. I rode for about half a kilometer, then came to a place where it had been cut in half by what looked like a watercourse that had washed it out. No way to get the bike over the gap, there was a drop off of one-two meters, but I could see the aqueduct continuing into the desert on the other side of the washout. And it no doubt led to a string of other ruined cities deeper in the desert. Very tantalizing but I turned the bike around and went back
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Old 12-17-2010, 07:12 PM   #27
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Old 01-11-2011, 08:52 PM   #28
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Old 01-11-2011, 09:00 PM   #29
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Had to ride to find firewood to load in the sidecars for the bonfire that night:






Bonfire that night:



Jumping the bonfire:



The next 7 days doubling back toward Yinchuan with excursions to the desert:

Diana at lunch one day:



Desert camp one night:








Lunch in the lee of a giant dune:



The giant dune:



Diana displays melon at the giant dune:



The dune:



Pit stop at some yurts where I cuddled a pussy cat:



We worked our way into the Badain Jaran desert. Klaus on the bike for the first time since his crash:



Up a long, dry riverbed:







Group photo at a giant tree all alone in the midst of the desert:




This striking, solitary tree:



Me at the tree:



Progressing into the Badain Jarain:



Another pause:



Jens rests on his bike in the Badain Jarain:



I rest too:


Bike at sunset one night:



Into the desert:















Campsite in the Badain Jarain:



Campsite:



Campsite:



Campsite at sunset:



Bonsai:




Monastery in the Badain Jarain:







Night 2 campsite in Badain Jarain:

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Old 01-12-2011, 07:55 AM   #30
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This is a really great report. I'm learning a lot about the area that I knew nothing about. The ruins are great, i wonder what a sight they would have been back in antiquity.
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