I set off from Kashgar along the G314 – or, as it’s more popularly known, the Karakorum Highway. For this section that is something of a misnomer, as it is the Pamir mountains I was riding towards. They loomed high in the distance as I cycled south.
On the way out of Kashgar there was – of course – a police checkpoint. I was sent inside, accompanied by an armed policeman. He turned out to be very friendly. Ahmed was about my age and spoke fluent English. We chatted for the ten minutes it took to process my passport, then I set off.
The road was quite flat for the first 60km or so. After that the gradient increased, though was still very gentle. Over the next 60km I climbed about 1000m as the road followed the course of a river. The surroundings were absolutely beautiful and I stopped frequently for photos.
At the end of this gentler part of the climb there was a police checkpoint. After this the gradient increased – though it was still quite gentle, rarely exceeding 5% as I climbed up through the mountains. I say through in the literal sense – there was a 2.6km tunnel.
When it started to get dark I stopped and set up camp in a culvert, almost 2000m higher than where I’d started. I set up the tent and put on my warm clothes; this was the highest I’d camped in a couple of months so I expected it to be cold.
The temperature dropped to around freezing, which wasn’t too bad. There was a fair bit of wind though which meant I got a lot colder when I left the tent and started cycling along the side of a lake.
It wasn’t until about an hour and a half past dawn that the sun finally appeared over the top of the mountains. The temperature increased markedly and I stopped to remove a couple of layers.
The road began to climb again, and the road quality deteriorated. There were lots of road works going on and traffic was frequently diverted onto temporary dirt tracks.
Again the road levelled out by a lake, this time called Karakul. (As are many Central Asian lakes!) Here a headwind picked up and so I was crawling along despite the practically non-existent gradient.
The final section of the climb took the form of an enormous switchback – which provided welcome wind protection.
This climb topped out at an elevation of a little over 4000m. A sign states that this is the entrance to an autonomous Tajik county – Tajikistan proper is some 12km away. At a distance of about 75km lies Murghab, a town I passed through about three months. As a symbol of the complex overlay between ethnicities and countries in the region, the Tajikistan town of Murghab is populated mostly by Kyrgyz.
The road returned to being mostly dirt for much of the descent. A new road is being built, but so far progress seems to have amounted only to ripping up the old road. And so I bumped my way down, somewhat slower than expected, to an elevation of about 3100m, where the road mostly levelled out.
After cycling around a large pasture area, the road travelled through a narrow gorge. When the terrain opened up to another pasture, about 10km from Tashkorgan, there was a police checkpoint – because of course I couldn’t have a day of cycling without one! This was a quick one: a policeman photographed my passport and me, then waved me on.
I rode onward to the town of Tashkorgan and checked into a hostel. This is my last stop in China before I move on to the next country: Pakistan!
The border was closed on weekends so I took a rest day here. I didn’t get up to much, besides picking up some warm gloves. Unlike in Tajikistan, the Tajik women here tend to wear a particular style of hat. I’ve included a picture of a photo in the hostel.
October 11: 148 km
October 12: 139 km