Day 24

24. May 2000, Naryn to Kashgar

Today is a mixed day: On the one hand we will see some of the nicest mountain scenery, on the other we have to race up to the Torugart Pass (3752m) for more than two hours. As on every test section, we decide to make the best of it, trying to drive as fast as possible without running high risks of breaking something on the car. On the first bit we are making good time and we manage to overtake most of the cars in front of us. On the second bit, with less civilisation, the quality of the roads deteriorates drastically. Torugart is one of the few passes to China but it seems to be sparsely used and we rarely see any car or truck. The main problem with the road is that they are driven-out gravel: Small heavy trucks are ploughing a track into the road, leaving a rail of gravel in the middle. So we are scratching the floor every minute or so. We do have a sump guard to protect us from any damage but it has not seen a test like this before: The gravel consists of large stones and potholes in the track let us bounce onto the middle rail which is pretty close to the bottom of our car anyway. The vibration caused by the gravel is another problem and we end up losing our right back mirror and our license plate as well as a screw on our sump guard. Hitting the floor at the speed we are driving causes psychological stress, of course, and so we probably drive the second section slightly slower than we could have but we still end up with a respectable 24 minutes. Most cars get similar or worse results but some manage to do the section with impressive zero penalty. When I ask one of them, Nr. 81, a Dutch Porsche currently ranked second, if he did not have problems scratching the floor he says "yes" but he just speeded over it anyway, ploughing the gravel with his sump guard. Others have no problems with the ground, having adjusted their vehicles for this kind of terrain. The Porsche sump guard came lose, though, and crashed off when it hit a bump in the driveway into the hotel, but that was relatively easy fixed and did not cause time penalties. Many were not so lucky concerning damage to their car: ripped tanks, ripped exhaust manifolds, punctures, broken or ripped-off dampers, one Volvo drove into a vintage car when the vintage stopped for a pothole and the Volvo skidded on the gravel. Breakdowns result in time penalties and so even though we lose 24 minutes, we only drop from overall rank six to rank nine.

Leaving Kyrgyzstan is also painful on the administrative side. The Kyrgyz border posts ask for our passports five times at different points, pseudo-search our car and pretend to do an important job. This is in contrast to our crossing into Kyrgyzstan but was to be expected on such a remote outpost. China gives us a totally new impression. After Torugart, about twenty Chinese men and women await us in perfect new uniforms, giving us a present of a printed shawl with a map of Xinjiang and a pack of raisins. Then we drive through small villages where everyone is out looking for us including the local policeman in full uniform, saluting. After 120 km we reach the customs point where a row of uniformed people stand guard for us and everything is perfectly organized and we are let off after few minutes. The roads until now have been bad but after the customs point they seem almost perfect. The Chinese have built many new roads for their jubilee last year and having not been spoiled by road quality recently we feel like driving on a flat mirror. The landscape is desert with many oasis towns. The streets are full of people watching us but policemen are making sure that they keep off the street.
We are happy to arrive in our hotel after an exhausting day (and an exhausting night as the hotel last night was not great and high altitude caused sleeping problems) and eat at John's Cafe which turns out to have very good food - something we have rarely seen after Turkey.

TC 76: Naryn OUT
preliminary passport check transit
8:12 IN 8:15 OUT  
TC 77: Torugart
03 (24 minutes penalty) 188.75 km
TC 78: Kashgar IN
03 170.00 km

Overall 1 hour 08 minutes penalty

The official results can be looked up on this website

Tien Shan mountains

solitary watch tower, like in the Alps there are many marmots running around

gateway to China upfront

The landscape towards Kashgar is desert


a rail of gravel runs through the middle of the road. We could also drive on the right, but the rough gravel shakes the car even more and would probably damage the tyres quicker.

border insignia: barb wire

the car has made it, our license plate and right back mirror have not.

The roads from border crossing to customs are not great. Most of it is gravel which makes the car easily skid and there are many potholes. Here we are rerouted from the road onto a wide river bed.

But there are many oasis towns and many people are awaiting us. The banner is written in Arabic script, which is commonly used in the area, probably for Uyghur language. Notice how good the roads are - we certainly did notice.