Stories and Photos by Niosa & Co

China Overland, 01-31.08.2009

| English

Nikolay Osadchiy, 1.11.2009
mail: niosa at mail dot ru

Route points: Beijing - Shenyang - Chengdu - Longxi - Xian - Wutaishan - Beijing, 2583 km

China was discovered long time ago - that's true. But, be honest, do you know much about this discovery? Facts are stupid things - people say. But even if you know them, I bet that you live in the past with the past facts. Actually as you read this text, it is also a matter of the past, and all the pictures of China that I have made this August, no longer pretend to say what this country is now. This is the first reason to go to China and see it yourself.

But I had others. There were good memories about my friendship with Chinese students, who lived in Moscow a few years ago. One day I had to see them again. Most other reasons are not so important, but they also make sense and influenced my trip. These are the highest development pace among Russian neighbors, the highest mountains in the world, the largest territory under communist control, Tibet. The last fact is meaning a lot for those Russians who love Tibet only for genius canvases of Nikolay Rerich.

Route points: Beijing - Shenyang - Chengdu - Longxi - Xian - Wutaishan - Beijing, 2583 km (by bike only) Bicycle route is blue, railway spans are red.
Route map
That's me
Cube Overland
Overland

This was the stimulus, now about the idea. Seeing China meant three things for me. These were meeting with my friend Dong Heng in Shenyang, visiting the open territories in Tibet and watching the central provinces of the country. There were little chances to cope with these tasks within one vacation month using only a bicycle. That's why I had to resort to trains and a plane sometimes. The logic of the trip was the following. Baijing was the starting and the ending point - these moments were fixed in my tickets from Moscow and back. Nothing else was planned in advance except for the bicycle route which was over 3000 km long and which couldn't be realized within my dates. I started shortening it from the very beginning and went to Shenyang by a very fast and comfortable train. Shenyang was a necessary point, because I had to see my friends and needed some instructions about the region that I wanted to see. The two other big cities: Chengdu and Xian were the key points on my way back to Beijing. They shaped the spine of the bicycle route to Tibet and the center of the country.

All what happened in-between these junctions, can be seen on the pictures and the subscripts. To finalize this intro, I need to say some words of gratitude to the people who helped me plan this journey. It couldn't be so intense without assistance of my friend Dong Heng, who accompanied me in Shenyang and Beijing. He provided me with some useful words and each time I needed to order food, I knew how to explain: no pepper please! His friend Igor (Wan) also helped me a lot to orient in the first day in Beijing and provided with a local phone number - this proved to be an indispensable source of advice all the way. There were also many people, who crossed my way and whom I want to thank for friendship and assistance. These are Way, who invited me to stay in Hong Yuan, Huang from Xian - he introduced me to the world of Chinese art. Also I can't forget about Hye, who assisted me with flight to Chengdu and Michelle - she really helped me transport the bicycle by train back to Beijing.

The pictures on this page don't pretend to be a detailed report of the trip, but may be they tell you something about how China lives today.

1-3.08 Beijing, Shenyang
Like the Red square is the centre of Russia and
Gate to the forbidden palace
The emperor's palace
Tiean An Men captured by tourists
Houses are often open in the daytime. In many cases you are welcome to get in and buy something inside. Trade is a common business here.
A small yard un the downtown
This is Dong Heng, a friend of mine. He studied in Moscow once and now he is back to native Shenyang. This Southener holding a peanut, is familiar with russian winters and even pretends to know how to ski.
In the own garden
I've never tried riding on a ricksha before. Because Dong Heng also hadn't, we decided that it's worth trying once and took our seats.
Ricksha driver
I went to a bookstore to buy s map of China in chinese, which could help in communication. There were no detailed province maps, but only a large country map. I bought it. Lots of other people come here not to make a purchase, but to read something. A shop turned to look like a library.
Why buy books in a store?
Electric scooters have almost entirely replaced bicycles in big cities. It's a little bit pity, because chinese streets have lost much of their individuality. But natives don't seem to panic about it. Scooters are faster and you don't have to expose your bronchs to excess air pollution when you ride on them.
Scooters parking
Dong Heng showed me a school in Xin Min where his father worked. Very soon these desks would be replaced and pupils begin their study. By the way, communism is one of the subjects in the schedule.
These desks are waiting for replacement, Xin-Min senior school
7.08 Set off from Chengdu
Construction works change the face of the country inducing endless movement around. Trucks, workers, concrete and water - everything is involved in it. It bores when you pass it by on a bike, but that's what people call progress.
Highway under construction
The province of Sichuan will long remember the date 12.05.2008. Mountains have chianged their outlook that day and dozzens of thousands of people were blocked under ruins. A lot of people here have to live in camps and temporary shelters nowadays. Though the process of reconstruction goes very quickly. Much workforce is involved in it and building material abounds. This is really the place where one can see how the country teams up to help the earthquake victims.
A monument to the victims of the earthquake in Sichuan (May 12,.2008)
Consequences of the earthquake
These wonderful roads crushed my tiny hopes to find some wild corners even in the mountains. They provide fast and comfortable access to the most instant places of the country.
Min river - bridge over a reservoir
Highland cabbage
Unlike town houses these small villages seem to have better resisted the earthquake. May be locals are more aware of their land habits.
9.08 Tibet approaching
People in the plain and in the mountains are different. This difference relates to construction design, manner of clothing and haircut. Although the basic source of living is the same - the soil, mountainers bring a lot of efforts to make it look different too.
Bright colorful flags are hanging everywhere where Tibetans live.
Territory signs
Chorten
Tibetans are used to live in the mountains. Their houses are well grounded and have a slightly trapezium shape. Probably their architects have evidenced a lot of earthquakes here and know how to withstand the Earth.
Switzerland? It's Tibet
This pass was the highest point of my route. It connects the two importnt valleys on the road to the center of Tibet and there was a good gravium road here in early days. But today all the traffic is redirected to a 4-km tunnel inside a mountain and the pass became completely unpopulated.
Chiguguan pass, alt. 4150 m
11-12.08 At the Tibetan plateau
Bai He  river is a tributary of Huanhe. It's wide valley is spread on the altitudes 3400-3500 m. There are a lot of cattle raised on it's green hilly banks.
Bai He valley
Mountainous steppe
This camp is a summer shelter for a family of Tibetans who hosted me for a night. I found there several brothers and sisters with their mother. Her elder son Way invited me to stay, and I just couldn't refuse. I've always dreamt of trying a real tibetan tea made of oil and porridge dzampu. The next morning, when I was going to leave, Way granted me his white silk scarf. I hadn't any unnecessry things in my luggage, so all I could give was my swedish compass. This time I almost fully relied on GPS.
A night with herders
Although Dalai Lama is not in China today, he is a living symbol who unifies the tibetan nationality.
Common place
Motorcycle is the main mean of transportation in the mountains. It makes civilians here very mobile. Those guys on motorcycles passing by, often produce rather brigandish impression. But their outlook doesn't keep them from being quite friendly. Look at their long sleeves. They might be comfortable for carrying anything inside, but hardly for bicycling.
Hello!
Children
It's really great to meet people like you on the road. This couple of bicyclists has traveled for 30 days and heads towards their finish in Chengdu.
Bicycle travelers
Lhasa is somewhat 1500 km from here. These pilgrims need to hurry before it gets cold.
On the way to Lhasa
Younger tibetans don't have their hair cut and so they look very modern and pro-Western. Though some people think that its Western youngsters who want to look like Tibetans.
Young Tibetans
Women here wear even more wonderful clothes than men. It's a real surprise to look at them because it's something that simply shifts your sense of epoch.
Zoige country
Farmers
Haydrier
Buddha listening
In a temple
Litzju he valley
14-15.08 Escape from high mountains
Serpentine road to the pass 3200
This was actualy the most cute tunnel on my way. It's so new that it looks like a real pit inside.
A small tunnel
This police car helped me pass through the tunnel. But probably, tonnels are the worst impression of my trip. most of them are long (up to 4 km), absolutely dark and smoky. Cars attempt overtaking each other even despite the prohibiting signs. One day I've passed through several long tunnels, but after getting in a quite unpleasant overtaking maneuver I decided not to risk more and hiked a small truck. It helped me escape to a less busy road.
This police car escorted me through the tunnel
Bailong jiang gorge
Living on a slope
Threshing under wheels
Fields cover every square meter of soil in more densely populated areas. Even mountains couldn't withstand human activity and offered their slopes to farmers' hoes.
Fields all-round
Farmers' work hours begin at 5:30 and end at19:00. I can't guarantee that this is the same shift of farmers: every day I saw different people. But the truth is: all the daytime is used to work
Market is the central point of most small towns
16.08 Xian
Chinese drivers are not used to respect road discipline. Even in big cities semaphores are ignored, unless a police officer appears in sight.
Semaphores in Xian need explanation
Wild Geese pagoda - a truly elegant sample of ancient architecture. Better reading in <a href=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giant_Wild_Goose_Pagoda>Wiki</a>
Wild Geese pagoda, Xian
Bell tower in Xian
Riding across a busy commercial district, I was attacked by an extremely persistent person whose name was Huan. He spoke English very fluently and persuaded me to buy ... a ticket to an opera.
Xian opera
Writing about opera is a useless thing. Especially if it is a Chinese opera. Music sounds here in a different way just like if it was composed of different notes. But still it is a very balanced and expressive music. More about Tang opera here: <a href=www.tang-dynastyshow.com>http://www.tang-dynastyshow.com</a>
17.08 Xian. Terra-cotta army
Terra-cotta army is listed among chinese visit-cards. <a href=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terracotta_Army>Wiki</a> would say more about it. Where else would you find a museum where there's still something to dig?
Terra-cotta army
Bricks from this works might be used to build the foundation for the Terra-cotta army. This is the most common construction material here, since loam is what local terrain is made of.
Brickworks
Inside a brick furnacle
18.08 Ascent to Hua shan (2155 m)
When I learnt in school and our history teacher told us about the Daos religion, I firmly decided, that this should be the best doctrine ever invented. Much time has passed. When I appeared in Xian now, I couldn't help but visit a Daos temple located on the top of the sacred mountain Hua Shan.
Hua shan
Like many other sacred places, Hua Shan is also a big tourist center which attracts lots of religion seekers. Most of the climbers get to the summit by a cable road, but these youngsters prefer the traditional way.
Climbers
Tourism and religion are in certain controversion on Hua Shan. The commercial impact of this mountain is so great that hardly there finds much space for something sacred behind it. But those who seek don't bother much about what they find.
I couldn't stand temptation to try it...
19.08 Crossing the Huan he
We are used to think that living in caves hasn't been practiced since the stone age. And houses should have square rooms with flat roofs against rain and snow. But civilians in Shanxi province preferred not to leave their comfortable shelters and build caves even today. What does it mean which century is today? It's ad interim.
Fresh appartment
Lux
This machine works. Not in a museum, like you might suggest, but right on a street.
Weaver's works
My route along Huan He proved to be not so simple. This yellow sandy river smells like a thousand of apple gardens planted on its banks. But it's banks are as flat as a skin of a hedgehog. These mountains are not so high, but their density makes roads like snakes.
Huan he. It's really yellow!
There are a lot of big prospects built in chinese towns in recent years. Although not all of them are used by cars, they also find application for such simple things like drying corn.
Wide avenues good for drying corn
This simple hand-driven mechanism helps mill corn into coarse flour.
A small roll mill
Pagoda near Xiaxian
Mountains in the valley of Qingshui he
Straight square blocks of plain villages go in contrast with curving tricky paths between houses in the mountains. All their windows look inside a small yard, wheras the outside wall looks not so friendly. But villagers prefer not to block themselves inside their walls all the time and streets are always populated.
Solid village
Most sorts of waste like plastics, glass and metals are worth recycling. This makes a big sense, because civilians prefer to earn a bit on rubbish than to produce a big dump. Dumps are simply too expensive: every inch of land is used in agriculture.
Plastic for recycling
28.08 Ascent to Wutai Shan (3061 m)
Standing near this monument was a great feeling for me. That's where I could say at last: it's done! In fact no one else could understand this: what is done? But this was my route and only I could decide when to say that it's over. I did it on the top of the Wutai Shan (3061 m). It was time to return to Beijing.
The summit and my finish point
Wutai Shan is also a sacred mountain, but only for Buddha followers. There are several palaces located on the roof of it. I visited only the highest of them - the northern palace. But if there was some more time, I could easily pass through the others which are located at close heights. All the palaces are interconnected by a wonderful curving block road hid in the clouds.
The north palace
Monk
Monastery in Wutaishan
Inverse swastika
Lucy in the sky
29.08 Back to Beijing
Beijing met me again at 3 a.m. after 7 hours spent in a vestibule of a train car in an embrace with my bycycle bag. I was dreaming only about returning to my hotel as I descended to the platform. But my hopes were in vain. The police had blocked all the central streets this night: the capital was getting prepared for a National day holiday. Later I found another hotel that served me, but before that happened, there were several hours to look at the city waking up.
Back to Beijing
Southern archery tower, Beijing
Markets grow in size on weekend and even wide streets become difficult to walk through. The majority of buyers are chinese, but foreigners are also welcome. Food, drink, souvenirs and whatever else you need, is here.
Evening market
My friend Dong Heng insisted that the Great wall is a mustsee and that without doubts it must be seen in Baadolin. We went there by bus, like most other tourists going to see this wonder of the world. The wall itself is not so high, and it is very populated until you walk far enough from the bus stop. But little by little crowds vanish behind and at some moment you discover yourself tete-a-tete with history. I was standing on the grey bricks and watched the wall winding along green hill slopes. It seemed endless. There was no desire to check its length this time and we turned back. It was time to return home.
The Great wall
Zai Jian China!
31.08 Takeoff to Moscow

Conclusions

Drawing conclusions about this trip is a difficult thing. Conclusions is not what you think of when you push on pedals, but something that leaves after. It's difficult to describe the whole country, moreover I didn't see it entire this time. But even those provinces which I visited, make a quite different impression and give a sense, how complex this country is.

In my opinion, certainly China is a developing country. I base this statement on what I've seen. Most of its population is involved in agricultural activity which brings rather low revenue. Most people are far from being rich, but when they form households, their living standard moves higher. Their income is strongly correlated to their own efforts and this makes their work especially intense. Farmers stay in the fields harvesting since 5:30 a.m. till 7 p.m. People involved in trading activities have more comfortable working conditions - they comprise the other important layer of Chinese people. Plant workers were out of my sight most of the time, because I preferred to stay away from industry. But watching their time schedule, I can't say that their labor is much easier than for land users.

All the three sources of wages: soil, industry and trade don't guarantee great profits and making savings is difficult. Old people need to work like their children. But at the same time these sources are diversified between family members and it provides sufficient flexibility to people in job finding which prevents serious disproportions in economic development and doesn't lead to strong inequality. This is also to a large extent an achievement of the government policy which puts its objectives in line with sustainable social development.

Flexibility seems to be the right word to use both for the social groups and for individuals. This is one of the important traits of the culture along with others that I noticed. These are diligence, curiosity, conflict-free behavior, hospitability and literally - optimism. May be I mistake or it's a temporary appearance, but optimism is the word which I need to describe the faces of the people whom I saw this time. And this makes a strong contrast to the faces which are seen in Russia today.

The highly resource-oriented economy model is a true nature-killer for China. Hardly things can change as long as the country makes high economic growth to be its main priority. The only hope is that the people which is living on this territory for thousands of years, knows how to find balance with its land.

Nature is another striking contrast which differs China from Russia. Peoples' desire to exploit 100% of the territory led the country to total domination of human population over land. The remaining woods are scarce and exist only thanks to supervision of the authorities. This situation is slowly improving due to special tree-planting programs which reassign some territories from the agricultural activity to forestry. But such hand-made forests look miserable in comparison with endless corn strips which cover even steep mountain slopes. The high mountains also couldn't encounter human activity. Cattle-breeding captured the grass fields which were too hard to cultivate. Mining in the rocky areas and endless road construction transform the nature heavily, resulting in extensive air and water pollution.

The highly resource-oriented economy model is a true nature-killer for China. Hardly things can change as long as the country makes high economic growth to be its main priority. The only hope is that the people which is living on this territory for thousands of years, knows how to find balance with its land.

Thinking about China from the pure bicycle point of view, this is a very interesting region. Its terrain is an endless source of amazing views. Its rural life, so simple and even primitive, but it is a perfect mechanism like a swiss clock. Roads are also beyond critics. The asphalt network is quite dense, especially in flat regions. The main serious problem is heavy traffic which consists mostly of small trucks and trailers. These two types of cars rule the roads and their exhaust is by no means pure. Avoiding it is a difficult task and requires serious planning. Based on this, I should note that the less-populated territories in the mountains are certainly more tempting. And if you decide to turn you wheels away from busy highways, mountains would reward your efforts over and above. It's worth discovering again!

If you want to see some more pictures from this trip, please refer to the Russian version of this page (Intro, Part 1, Part 2).

Route timetable

Day

Key points

Distance, km

total

route

01.08, Sat

Moscow - Beijing (by air)

02.08, Sun

Beijing

64,1

03.08, Mon

Beijing - Shenyang (by train)

18,9

04.08, Tue

Shenyang - XinMin - Shenyang (by train)

0,1

05.08, Wed

Shenyang

06.08, Th

Shenyang - Chengdu (by air)

43,1

07.08, Fr

Du Jiang Yan

96,5

96,5

08.08, Sat

Wen Chuan, Li Xian

83,2

83,2

09.08, Sun

86,4

86,4

10.08, Mon

80,2

80,2

11.08, Tue

Hong Yuan

119,2

119,2

12.08, Wed

Ruo Er Gai (Zoige)

142,8

142,8

13.08, Th

99,3

99,3

14.08, Fr

Min Xian

131,5

131,5

15.08, Sat

Longxi - Xian (by train)

106,2

106,2

16.08, Sun

Xian

47,8

17.08, Mon

Wei Nan Shi

119,9

119,9

18.08, Tue

Hua Yin

66,2

66,2

19.08, Wed

San Men Xia Shi

130,3

130,3

20.08, Th

85,8

85,8

21.08, Fr

Xia Xian

128,2

128,2

22.08, Sat

Wen Xi, Jiang Xian, Yi Cheng, Fu Shan

143,5

143,5

23.08, Sun

An Ze, Tun Liu

165,5

165,5

24.08, Mon

Xiang Yuan

114,6

114,6

25.08, Tue

143,9

143,9

26.08, Wed

Shou Yang, Yu Xian

172,7

172,7

27.08, Th

Shi Ju Xiang

73,8

73,8

28.08, Fr

Wutaishan - Beijing (by train)

93,3

93,3

29.08, Sat

Beijing

26

30.08, Sun

Beijing

31.08, Mon

Beijing - Moscow (by air)

Total (by bike)

2583

2383,1


The route at the Google Maps site

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