The Alashan on a Chang Jiang 750

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Suqsuda, Sep 24, 2010.

  1. Suqsuda

    Suqsuda Secret Sharer

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    I'd been wanting to visit the Alashan since reading an article about it the January 2002 issue of National Geographic: "China's Unknown Gobi: Heart of the Desert."

    The magazine had this opening shot, of which I am making a little 'fair use':

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    And Nat Geo this opening blurb:

    "Spring-fed lakes, thousand-foot-high sand dunes, and the ghosts of an ancient walled city lie at the heart of the remote Alashan Plateau."

    Sign me up! Easier said than done, but in 2005 I was fortunate to attach myself to a German-Chinese group touring the Alashan.

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    #1
  2. booger1

    booger1 Long timer

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    keep it coming, stop the teasing:clap
    #2
  3. Suqsuda

    Suqsuda Secret Sharer

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    The trip was led by Paolo -- a German, notwithstanding the Italian-sounding name. Interesting guy -- he had lived as an expatriate in China for 25 years, working in Chongqing for a major European multinational. For some years, he had been leading motorcycle trips for friends and family into different parts of China. He ended up with a small fleet of Chang Jiangs garaged in Yinchuan, the staging point for trips to the Alashan.

    Paolo was on the verge of retirement and was in the process of forming a motorcycle tour company he called Extreme Motorcycle Tours China. I think I was his first real customer.

    He was laying plans to ride the Taklamakan in 2006 and I was set to join him. Sadly, Paolo died just months after this trip while en-route to the Alashan a final time.

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    #3
  4. China2wheels

    China2wheels Been here awhile

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    This should be good!

    Going anywhere on a CJ750 is always an adventure!

    :lurk
    #4
  5. Abenteuerfahrer

    Abenteuerfahrer Deaf on Wheels

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    Keep telling the whole story....whole hog...wanna hear it all as I am a sidecarist myself. Always loved extreme adventures to far lands like China.

    So sorry to see Paolo go....
    #5
  6. Suqsuda

    Suqsuda Secret Sharer

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    I'd never been to China before so I spent some time in Beijing before meeting up there with Paolo and his group and flying to Yinchuan, the staging point for our ride.

    What intrigued me about Yinchuan is that it is a city of 1.65 million population (by the numbers it would be the 5th biggest U.S. city after Houston) but few people in the U.S. or the West would have reason to have ever heard of it. It feels like a wholly Chinese city. I didn't see a single other Westerner outside our own group, from the time I boarded the plane to Yinchuan, until I returned to Beijing.

    Paolo's garage in Yinchuan:

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    The bikes. The silk flags are so the riders can see the other bikes at distance in the desert:

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    Unlike some other big cities in China, a lot people here still get around by bicycle:

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    This guy with the corner tire repair service had customers waiting in line:

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    Orientation ride on the bikes: this is Paolo's son Marco, a medical doctor:

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    Jens and his gf Diana:

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    Me on the wide streets. The Chinese certainly think big.

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    #6
  7. yellowknife

    yellowknife Is In Canada

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    This looks real gooooooooood ...

    :ear

    YK
    #7
  8. Suqsuda

    Suqsuda Secret Sharer

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    For the bike afficionados -- a Chinese military surplus bike. Paolo buys these as well as stock civilkian models, re-paints them and customizes them for the desert.

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    Modifications as you can see in the pics include a heavy-duty hydraulic brakes on the front wheel, replacing the standard drum brakes; heavy springs on the front forks replacing telescoping shocks; and hubbed wheels replacing spokes wheels on some of the bikes.

    The bikes lined up outside Paolo's garage:

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    We had a couple days to acclimate in Yinchuan. Dinner one evening was at a hot pot restaurant. I don't remember ever seeing a dried noodle here, they always started with fresh dough being thrown:

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    #8
  9. Suqsuda

    Suqsuda Secret Sharer

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    Breakfast usually was steamed buns or soup of noodles, cubed tofu, some shavings of ham, cilantro and a egg soft boiled in the hot broth; another soup was plain yogurt whisked into hot broth with matchstick pickled vegetables and a dollop of hot chili oil.

    Here's the steamed bun station at the hotel in Yinchuan:

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    Another day trip was to the Helan Mountain range -- the Helan Shan -- that rises to the north of Yinchuan. There are old trails into the mountains with petroglyphs on the rocks.

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    We had a picnic lunch in the shade along an irrigation channel:

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    #9
  10. dave6253

    dave6253 GCBAR Explorer

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    This looks promising!:lurk
    #10
  11. BusyWeb

    BusyWeb Adventurer

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    :lurk
    #11
  12. kahlgryndiger

    kahlgryndiger Been here awhile

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    Well ... you should try my russian bitch. IZH Jupiter outfit. THIS is an adventure :evil By the way, a friend of mine rides a Donghai here in Germany :eek1 maybe he can tell us stories about adventures.

    To go back topic ... this is really an interesting RR!
    #12
  13. Dessert Storm

    Dessert Storm Dances With Drunks

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    Fantastic. More please. :clap
    #13
  14. Abenteuerfahrer

    Abenteuerfahrer Deaf on Wheels

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    Tell us a bit about the rig...is it equivalent to the URAL. Reliability, durability..ease of repair??

    This is good and am subscribed:clap
    #14
  15. Suqsuda

    Suqsuda Secret Sharer

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    One last excursion before heading into the Alashan. In the late afternoon on the day before departure we piled into jeeps and vans and drove about an hour I think east of Yinchuan on paved roads, to what I was told was 'Sand Lake.' This was a vast lake in the desert -- quite incongruous and unexpected -- the shores of which were thick with tall reeds. We boarded a motor boat and wended our way around innumerable small islands and clumps of reeds -- it reminded me a little of the upper reaches of the Nile.
    It was teeming with fish and there weer vast flocks of migratory birds.
    Strange thing is, I have looked for this lake on Google Earth and can't seem to find it. Mystery to me -- maybe it has subsided back into the desert.

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    We put ashore on a large sandy island where a number of larger vessels had also docked. There was a large restaurant bustling with customers where we were guests of honor at a dinner with Ningxia Province officials.

    Paolo told me these meet-and-greets were essential for him to get the permits and passes required for him to travel in these parts of China.

    Food included muddy tasting 'Sand Lake fish,' some steamed greens they described as 'wild desert garlic' -- and a heaping platter of dried caviar or roe. Countless toast of Mao Tai until we were glassy eyed.

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    Following dinner was entertainment; we sat in bleachers on a sandy beach with a couple hundred spectators and watched traditional Chinese dance and music a a stage built on a barge moored offshore. I didn't understand a thing but was dazzled by the virtuosity and athletic, acrobatic ability of the costumed dancers. The pictures didn't come out but this gives you an idea:

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    What I found delightful was that after the performance, the dancers rushed off the barge and onto the beach and someone set of a big iron brazier of wood -- an elevated bonfire -- and put loud techno music on the speakers -- and the dancers mingled and danced with the audience members. It seemed so youthful and exuberant. Dancing girls and bonfires.

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    I snapped this pic of one of the girls I was dancing with:

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    Next morning, all somewhat hung over, we readied to head head out on the bikes, Paolo in the lead:

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    #15
  16. Suqsuda

    Suqsuda Secret Sharer

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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.

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    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.

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    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:

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    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:

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    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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    #16
  17. Suqsuda

    Suqsuda Secret Sharer

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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:

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    Stopped to gas up on the outskirts of town:

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    This pretty Mongol girl pumped our gas:

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

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    Riding in the rain got miserable.

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

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    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.

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    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:

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    Diana and Jens in the truck stop:

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    #17
  18. Suqsuda

    Suqsuda Secret Sharer

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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.

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

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    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.

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    Diana bundled up in the cold:

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    Marco riding, Klaus is passenger:

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    Jens scoping out the way:

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    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.

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

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    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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    #18
  19. Suqsuda

    Suqsuda Secret Sharer

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    Paved highway most of this day. Completely deserted with no other traffic for long stretches.

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

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    Se up camp:

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    My bike and my tent:

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    The cook tent:

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    Working on one of the bikes the next morning:

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    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:

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

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    Our hotel in Ejin Qi:

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

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    #19
  20. Suqsuda

    Suqsuda Secret Sharer

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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:

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    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:

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    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:

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    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
    #20