Cycling through the Taklamakan desert

Cycling through the Taklamakan desert

A fierce headwind gave us the message. The Taklamakan desert would be no fun. The blowing sand, heavy trucks that passed us, the dryness and kilometers emptiness. We had no choice, we had to get through it.

Thorsten had somehow arranged a phone number in Kashgar from a Chinese host in the town Hotan. After several days of bumping through authentic Uyghur villages, we were welcomed in the city of Hotan by Shening and his (ex) girlfriend LiLi Su. A nice welcoming because we were eating noodles and sheep feet right away.

Chinese hospitality in Hotan

And the next day we strolled around in a city where almost no foreign tourists are seen.

Entrance of the bazar in Hotan

The following days we cycled further through villages that turned into sand and the sand landscapes back into villages. The daily routine of cycling was again nicely. In the morning get up and have breakfast with a cup of instant coffee. Cycling and then in the early afternoon buy somewhere a nice fresh Uyghur bread.

Tandoori oven in the Uyghur region in China

At the end of the afternoon, we bought something to eat dinner, such as fruits and vegetables to cook with in the evening. If there was wood in the area, I made a campfire and otherwise we used our camping stoves. Pitch the tent, cook dinner and then sleep to continue the next day to go on a lonely highway with a fierce headwind between vast sand plains.

Thorsten and I agreed to each other. It was impossible to go cycling all the way though China like this. I mean, China is so big. The Taklamakan desert stretches up to more than 2000 kilometers. With a Chinese visa of less than two months to go, it was virtually impossible to keep this up. Don’t get me wrong, the desert attracts me, the emptiness, the silence, the drought and the challenge. But it was time for something else. Like mountains in a more tropical climate, where I recently had a sneak of. We decided not to wait too long to include parts of the desert with hitchhiking.

In the small town of Yutian Xian it began finally to be a bit more exciting again. We decided after several attempts for a hitchhike that resulted in uncomfortable money negotiations, to take a local bus.

I began working with Thorsten on the most exciting bus trip I’ve ever had in my life. We bought a ticket from a intrusive row of people and were assigned to a bus. First it was figuring out when the bus leaves, local time or Beijing time? It differs two hours and is used interchangeably.

When we loaded our stuff, we waited for the bus driver to give us the sign that we were going to leave. At one point the bus driver said that we had to unload our stuff again. We unload our bikes and the Uyghur people pulled all their huge bags from the cargo spaces. Without further notice, the bus drives off the square. We are perplexed because in the lounge, we had both a bag with passports, money, bus tickets and other personal items. And yes, how do you explain that in a bus station where nobody, and then I mean really nobody speaks a word of English.

Bicycles ready to be transported

Luckily I managed to inform the security with a translation app that we had a problem. The bus would come back to bring our stuff. We had to wait.

Fortunately, the bus actually came back and we had our passports back. A few hours after departure, we were dropped in the middle of the night somewhere in a small town. Not a very comfortable ride in a van with our bikes attached with a few strings to the roof. Anyway, we were again a bit further in this huge desert.

We continued cycling with no authentic villages anymore, only large sandy landscapes. Places for water and food became increasingly scarce. A highway, a power cable and sand. That was pretty much it.

It began to be a big challenge, cycling on a highway with a heavy headwind. The dry flat sandy plains didn’t help that much either. And then the dusty passing trucks.

Still, I love the desert. There is always a challenge. It’s never comfortable. When I’m not worrying about the shortage of water, then it is a fierce headwind. In the evening camping among the dunes, in silence, and with a view of the mountains of Tibet.

Cycling the Taklamakan desert in China

Images from the road

Camping at sunset in the desert

Another two hours long attempt the next day for a hitchhike didn’t work that much. Thorsten said disappointed: “Another 30 minutes and then let’s move on again.” When suddenly a jeep stopped in front of us, and behind it another. A moment later a third car stopped! It turned out to be the local power line repairers. What a luck! They took us and if they had to arrange something to the cables we cycled again to be pick up an hour later and to load the bikes back in the jeep.

In this way we were getting somewhere!

Hitchhiking in the desert

At the end of the day we drove finally to the highlands after a climb. We camped in an amazing mountain valley.

Camping in a valley in China

Could this finally be the end of the desert?