China: Down the Old Silk Road

Text: Josef Pichler • Photography: Josef Pichler

Five months of preparations behind us, we finally have all the required visas and travel permits for China in our hands. We had been waiting for the written invitation of Almaty. Without it, we wouldn't get the visa for Kazakhstan. When we finally received the expected fax, our trip to China could begin.

[Editor's Note: From an American perspective, the tenor of the times in some sectors of this tour doesn't recommend a solo adventure anytime soon. Should one choose to persist, however, take all precautions for safekeeping and adhere closely to the guidance and warnings of US foreign-service experts.]

In Turkey, friendly people and icy cold conditions welcome me and my wife Renate, who will accompany me only part of the way on our KTM Adventure 640 before returning to Austria. Escaping the chaos of traffic in Istanbul, we ride the dirt roads through the Taurus range to Kappadokien. A fellow named Lars takes us skyward for a nice break in his hot-air balloon to see the city from a bird's view. But soon the time to relax is over - the big adventure is waiting and our next stage takes on eastern Turkey through the wilds of Kurdistan.

Between two worlds
The trip to eastern Turkey crosses two very dissimilar worlds. The European appeal of Turkey is found in its big cities along the busy streets where the women shop in jeans and tight t-shirts; traditional Turkey lives on elsewhere, in countless villages where cow dung is gathered, dried and stacked high for use as winter fuel. The women are veiled and the restaurants segregate areas to separate women and families from the men.

We encounter more military and police checkpoints the closer we come to Van Lake. The majority of the population here are Kurds and their political problems are far from being solved. A barrel of gunpowder waiting to explode any minute! The political discussions in the coffee shops seem very impetuous, and it's evident the people are displeased with the government in Ankara.

After a refreshing swim in Van Lake (4,800 ft.), Renate leaves and flies home. She will join me later. I'm on my own now, crossing Iran, where gasoline costs almost nothing but I can't buy a beer.

Esfahan nesf-ejahan
"Esfahan is half of the world" - A bit of 16th century exaggeration, that, but Esfahan is certainly the most beautiful city in Iran.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the May/June 2003 back issue.