Day 120 Zhangye – Minle 69 km
Day 121 Minle – Ebuchen 62 km
Day 122 Ebuchen – Menyuan 97 km
Day 123 Menyuan – Ganchankou 106 km
Day 124 Ganchankou – Minhe 120 km
After having spent a month in the chinese deserts of Taklamakan and Gobi we have now entered the mountainous areas of Qinghai province in central China. Gone are the dry days with only sand and stone and now we have started to enjoy high altitudes, rain, cold weather and steep climbs.
The landscape that we have passed the last few days have been absolutely stunning and there are not words to describe how beautiful the sceneries have been. The saying that a picture says more than a thousand words is what comes to my mind so I in this blog post I will let the photos speak….
Day 120 Zhangye – Minle
One of the advantages with going by bus for 450 km was that we could catch up with Bartek from Poland whom we cycled through Kazakstan and most of Uzbekistan with. We stayed at the same hotel in Zhangye and since he is going to Singapore we will be riding pretty much the same route all the way to Bangkok. We don’t cycle together during the days but try to get to the same place in the evenings.
As we left Zhangye we cycled past some buildings that looked very traditionally chinese.
The areas surrounding Zhangye seems busy with all sorts of agricultural activities. After a month in the desert we highly enjoyed seing colorful flower fields.
Zhangye is situated at about 1500 meters altitude just north of a mountain range. Since we are heading south we would have to pass those mountains and the road out of Zhange would take us slowly up to 3700 meters in 100 kilometers.
The gradient from the city to the mountain pass is not steep at all. The road is straight and only slowly uphill and it would definately be possible to go straight from Zhangye to the pass at 3700 meters in one day if it wasn’t for the altitude related problems such a quick ascent would cause. Our plan was therefore to stay at the town of Minle which is located around 2300 meters above the sea level.
About half way to Minle we caught up with Bartek who was eating a light lunch at a shop in a village. We joined him and had a delicious lunch consisting of instant noodles and some chocalates…..
When we arrived in Minle we discovered a rather big town that would definately be called a city in Sweden. When we cycled past Bartek we made a plan that we would go ahead and look for a hotel and if we couldn’t find any we would send and SMS to him and then go and find a good place to camp outside the town.
Fortunately we found a good and very priceworthy hotel. We paid the equivalent of 18 Euros for a room for all three of us that had a nice bathroom, good beds and a proper internet connection.
Day 121 Minle – Ebuzhen
The mountain pass above Minle is actually a double pass. The first pass is slightly below 3700 and the next one 30 km later is almost 3800 meter high. Our plan when leaving Minle was to get past at least the first one and if possible also the second one.
We were a bit concerned that this would be a too quick ascent that could cause us altitude related problems. During our trip in Pamir two years ago we both suffered swollen faces and in Kyrgyzstan a month ago Wej got a swollen face while we both had light head aches. 3800 meters is not very high but it seems that both of us are a bit sensitive to high altitude but we hoped that our recent stay in Kyrgyzstan had made us at least a bit aclimatized to the altitudes we were now going to spend time at.
The ride out of Minle was wonderful. It is late summer or early autumn here and everywhere people were busy harvesting whatever they grow in their fields. The tailwind that pushed us up to Minle the day before wasn’t as strong this day but it was an easy uphill ride.
Bartek had left Minle almost two hours before us and when we got a glimpse of another cyclist far ahead of us we were quite sure that it was him. When we got closer it turned out that it wasn’t Bartek after all, it turned out to be a chinese cyclist who introduced himself as ”Fisher”.
Fisher spoke very good english and we stopped and talked to him for almost half an hour before we continued. He told us he has an education in computer science and worked with software development for three years when he realized that he wanted to travel around China by bike.
When leaving Minle we cycled past farms and fields for a few hours before the landscape got more barren and steppe like. The views resembled those we enjoyed in Kyrgyzstan a few weeks ago and instead of enjoying colorful flowers we now had to enjoy the views of Yaks and sheep in their summer pasture.
It turned out that we had no problems with the altitude and when we later caught up with Bartek he seemed to be doing just fine so we cycled ahead of him. Two hours later we stopped to wait for him 300 meters below the pass and when he arrived he was feeling bad. He had troubles with his stomach and had got a fever. I wasn’t sure, but I suspected that it was altitude related and we stopped for half an hour so that he could get some rest before deciding whether to go back or continue forward. Meanwhile, the chinese cyclist Fisher arrived and joined us. Bartek said he felt better and we decided to continue over the pass and down to the next village where we believed we could get some indoor accomodation.
The temperature dropped and when we finally arrived in the little village of Ebuzhen it was only 6-7 degrees and very windy. Fisher immediately started to run around to find accomodation while we and our shivering Polish friend who had a fever could do nothing but wait.
Day 122 Ebuzhen – Menyaun
Everytime we plan to enter a place we think will be a small town we run into a very big city. With Ebuzhen it was the other way around. We thought it would be a small town but it was only a medium sized village. The room Fisher had found for the four of us was just a simple room with two beds so Wej and I slept on our own mattresses on the floor while Fisher and Bartek had a bed each.
As we prepared to leave I got to witness where Yak meat comes from. I saw how two men led a yak into the backyard behind our guesthous, put it on the ground and cut its throat over a big bucket to collect its blood. I haven’t seen such a big animal being slaughtered before so I watched the process with interest.
Some of you who follow this blog might find this pictures disgusting, but if you are a meat eater, then remember that all that meat on your dinner plate have gone through this process but maybe under more hygienic conditions.
Apart from watching a yak being slaughtered I also had to repair both my tyres. I knew that my rear tyre was leaking but I didn’t know there was a leak in my front tyre as well. If there is something I don’t like with this trip, then it is all the flat tyres and the number of flats has risen sharply since we entered China.
The landscape around Ebuzhen towards the next pass offered great views of snowcapped mountains. The area is very green and there are small farms along the road. I am not quite sure but it seems that there are Tibetans and Wei Muslims as well as Han Chinese living in this area. Many of the houses have very nice decorations but I am not sure which of the ethnicities that lives in this kind of house.
Bartek felt better this morning, but instead Fisher was feeling ill. He had to cycle very slowly and we didn’t want to leave him behind in that condition so we cycled with him to keep him company and be able to assist if needed. When we reached the pass at 3767 meters altitude after some 25 kilometers he had recovered completely and could go on at normal speed.
Just like all other uphill struggles this one also had a downhill joy on the other side of the pass. We quickly descended on the nice road and soon we left the grassy mountains behind us and entered into a valley with lots of people who were busy harvesting their fields.
We had all got split up during the day and Bartek was cycling in front of us while Fisher was behind. Fisher was going towards the city of Xining while Bartek and we were going to turn left for the city of Minhe some 100 km west of Lanzhou.
The weather got worse with increasing windspeed and dropping temperatures so Fisher decided to change his plan and ride with us instead. This would be a detour for him but very positive for us. Besides the good company Fisher could also manage to get us into a simple and cheap but very nice hotel that wouldn’t otherwise have been able to host foreigners. The situation was solved by Fisher renting a room and the staff turning a blind eye to him having three guests staying overnight in that room.
Day 123 Menyuan – Ganchankou
When we were cycling in the heat in the Kazak and Uzbek deserts we discussed if we would be able to get past the Taklamakan desert and get south before the arrival of autumn or if it would eventually catch up with us. Now we know the answer to that question. The autumn is here and the weather we are enjoying right now is very much like what we would expect in Sweden at this time of the year.
The alarm clock in the room that the four of us shared woke us up at 7 AM. Bartek went up to have a look at the weather and told us it was raining heavily. That was bad news for all of us but maybe mostly for Wej and me since we had decided to send home our rain gear and warm sweaters. Once outside it turned out to be 7-8 degrees, rain and windy. The only good thing was that the wind was on our backs.
Wej and I went to buy an extra sweater and long johns and when we were ready to leave the rain had already stopped, but it was still cloudy and cold. Even if the day started badly this was going to be one of the finest cycling days so far. A slow downhill, tailwind and a marvelous mountain scenery made this day a day to remember. We hope we will have plenty of days like this one during the coming month when we cycle through central China.
The little village of Ganchankou has nothing more than a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains and an intersection. The next morning Fisher would turn right towards Xining while Bartek and we would turn left towards Minhe and Lanzhou.
Day 124 Ganchankou – Minhe
After four people riding together for two days it was inevitable that someone sooner or later would get a flat tyre. Guess who was the lucky one to find a flat rear tyre in the morning…… At least I could sit inside the glass covered verandah to fix not only this puncture, but also the previous ones that hadn’t yet been repaired.
With bikes loaded onto bikes with tyres that hold the pressure we went to have breakfast which would be the last meal we shared with Fisher, at least on this journey. We hope to cycle with him in Thailand or in China some other time.
The last day in the valley between Menyuan and Minhe was just as beautiful and today we could even enjoy some nice weather with a clear sky and nice temperature. When I say nice temperature it means neither cold like yesterday nor hot like in the desert – it’s just pleasant and we can ride with a thin long sleeve shirt.
When we cycled along the Taklamakan desert we didn’t see how the local people live. The reason for that was that there were very few villages and that we mainly stayed on the motorway. This made us to see too much sand and rocks and too little of how the locals live. We have now left the motorway and cycle on very small roads and pass numerous villages and it is very interesting to see what they look like.
Some 40 kilometers before Minhe there was an abrupt change from a beautiful small road in a narrow valley to first a 20 km long section of dusty road work and then to busy suburbs with hundreds and hundreds of trucks carrying sand, rocks or coal. It was so dusty that we had difficulties seeing the road we were traveling on.
When we arrived into Minhe we were denied to stay at the first hotel we tried at. Our luck was better at the second one. Unfortunately the hotel has no luggage room so we had to bring our dusty bikes into the lift and park them in the room.