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03/04/2013

Winds of Silk Road

The Silk Road, stretching from China to Europe, ages ago achieved legendary status as a conduit for friendly exchange between China, other Asian countries, and Europe as well as a bridge for cultural communication between the Orient and the West. To become more intimate with its legacy, a group of 10 female motorcyclists from urban China realized their dream of “Traversing the Wind of the Ancient Silk Road.” The 4,500-kilometer journey started at Jiayu Pass at the western end of the Great Wall in Gansu Province and ended at Khunjerab Pass along the Sino-Pakistani border. The Silk Road tour is a challenge for most tourists.

The journey passed through Dunhuang City in Gansu Province, Hami, Korla, Tazhong, Minfeng, Hotan, Karghalik, and Kashgar in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, before finally reaching Khunjerab on the Pamir Plateau 4,500 meters above sea level, surviving crosswinds, hot gusts, a tornado, and cold Siberian chills along the way.

Crosswinds at Xingxing Gorge

As a strategic pass along the ancient Silk Road and a portal to eastern Xinjiang along the Hexi Corridor - the most important route from North China to the Tarim Basin and Central Asia for trade and military purposes - Xingxing (Star) Gorge and its rolling hills serve as the boundary between Xinjiang and Gansu(these two are an option for China tour deals).

A sudden shower welcomed us as soon as we set foot on the land of Xinjiang, soaking us through our heavy biking apparel. Although the wind was so strong that we could barely keep steady, we zoomed wildly past large trucks dominating the roads.

Realizing the potential danger, we began exercising some caution. Nevertheless, the woman ahead of me lost control and skidded off the road, rolling down into the desert to our left. Fortunately, her injuries were minor because the land was flat and there was no traffic.

Hot Wind of Turpan

Hot gusts of wind at Turpan proved a great challenge for our heat tolerance because we lacked the protection that cars afford. Turpan is known as a stove in summer. Temperatures shot as high as 48 degrees Celsius around 2 to 3 p.m., when we were passing the foot of the Mountain of Flames. To the right of the highway, a typical Danxia landform appeared like flames against the blue sky. We had to pull over for a rest in the shade by a gas station because two of us were on the verge of fainting from sunstroke.

A dry ditch seemed to be the only path cutting through Mt. Tianshan. According to locals, it hadn’t rained for four years, yet we happened upon a rare spell of wet weather, so the road was extremely slippery. Still, we didn’t slow down because we couldn't resist the joy of high speeds on flat land. Rather than worrying, we enjoyed practicing the control we learned through the twists and turns.

Tornado at Taklimakan

It took us two days to cross a winding 550-kilometer stretch through the “sea of death” in the Taklimakan Desert. My favorite part was a slope providing a panoramic view of the desert and the rush of falling down to hug the earth.

We were struck by a tornado during the last few dozen kilometers before the end of the desert highway. A huge yellow pillar rotating at a high speed moved sideways towards us from our left, like a ghost creeping across the asphalt road. We saw no other options than to stop and wait for it to carry away all its sand.

Minfeng appeared as another world when we rolled off the highway from the Taklimakan Desert. Plentiful green bushes welcomed us from the boundless sand - I guessed it to be one of the longest green stretches within a desert in the world. All of us were touched by the tenacity of mankind overcoming the strains of the desert. Every five kilometers was a well to irrigate its surrounding area. The signs near an oilfield read: “There is desolate desert but no desolate life in the world.”

Cold Wind at Pamir

The most exciting stretch of our journey may have been the Pamirs. Our bikes seemed to act abnormally in reaction to the altitude: they topped out at 70 kph regardless of how much gas we gave them - a sharp contrast to the lightning-fast race across flat land. However, the slowdown allowed us to better enjoy the landscape different from the rest places of China tour packages along the way: Muztagata Peak reflected off Khareg Keli Lake along with splendid snow-capped mountains towering one after the other.

The 300 kilometers between Kashgar and Taxian run from 1,200 to 3,200 meters above sea level. The national highway winds its way along the river valley of Ghez. Cold wind chilled us to the bone, but we still managed to stand at the gate of China at Khunjerab at an elevation of 4,500 meters.

We had battled winds the entire China trip, a thrilling experience of freedom and determination - the spirit of our journey.

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