While we take of in our small plane Kathmandu becomes smaller and smaller. Our faces are pointed in the direction of the east where our little friends of the Noble House wave their goodbyes to every plane which takes of around 6pm.
We also wave for the last time to Bhaktapur, the Noble House, the kids, Utsab and Sita. Clouds surround us and we sit in our own thoughts thinking about the last couple of months and the journey that starts again.
We enjoy our night at Delhi international airport with fresh “Subway” sandwiches and cola. Four hours before flying we can get our boarding pass and we’ve to point out our luggage. The bicycles and our other luggage have arrived without a scratch and with new stickers they are ready to go to Shanghai. In Kathmandu we’ve paid for extra weight to Delhi. There they told us we should pay again for the part Delhi to Shanghai. But in Delhi they never mention paying so we decide it’s fine with us to get all our luggage in Shanghai for only 24 us dollar.
A couple of days before our flights security forces in London have stopped terrorist attacks on 10 planes. Since then security checks have been sharpened and it’s not allowed to carry any kind of liquid in our hand baggage. It takes a long time to get everything through the checkpoints and we are also being checked thoroughly. We have some strange items in our hand baggage which they don’t understand. The pedals of the bicycles and our padlocks are special and the padlocks are not allowed in the plane. They take away my boarding pass and tell me I can only board after they’ve given the padlocks to the crew of the plane. After this is done I can get on the plane, in Shanghai we get our padlocks back.
The Himalayas are saying their goodbyes to us while we fly somewhere above Varanassi. They look really magnificent in the light of dawn.
Shanghai welcomes us with a great airport and very relaxed customs. The bicycles are waiting for us at the side of the conveyer belt and the rest of the luggage is also there. When we walk outside everything and everybody gets Chinese. One of the Chinese people is waving a paper with Marlous her name written on it. George is a Chinese with an English name and he works at the hostel where we have booked a room. In a luxurious van we get driven on 4-lane roads with smooth tarmac. We see a beautiful skyline and understand that we’re in a new and modern world.
After a lot of scary stories about damaged bicycles from flying we’re very happy to notice that our bikes have survived this ordeal. When the bikes are made ready we stay a couple of days in Shanghai. We really enjoy the modern transport, shopping centers and Shanghais street life. Shanghai is a pleasant city with a lot to see and to do. One day we have a look in the old parts of town but we prefer the beautiful clothing stores and lovely restaurants. We buy some new clothes and start with our first part of cycling in China.
For 95 kilometers we cycle on a cycling lane which borders a big 4-lane road. On our map it shows as a small road that lies next to an expressway. Everywhere we look they are building new wide roads and a lot of brand new European cars are passing us by. China is more modern than we thought.
The first part of China
We stay in Suzhou for a day to get a feel for a smaller Chinese city. Suzhou is also called the Venice of the East. Something we have difficulty to see because of all the new buildings which consume the old parts of town. There are many canals but from the old city only a few streets are remaining. Too bad, for us this is the best part of Suzhou city.
After 310 kilometers cycling in China we hit our first “normal” 2-lane roads instead of the big 4-lane straight ones. It gets quiet on the road and we start to zigzag our way through the green and lush country side. Sometimes we pass through an area where they are really busy to push everything aside for a new big road. It’s unbelievable how much the Chinese are building.
We’ve read that the Huangshan Mountains have been drawing tourists for centuries due to their beautiful vistas. Because we want to see this we take one of three cable cars to the top. Here are many walking paths and stairs which we take from one top to another. The views are really amazing and now we understand where they made all the Chinese paintings in the Dutch Chinese restaurants. These paintings consist of steep mountain tops standing above the clouds covered with small trees.
Marlous and I walk all day through the mountains while enjoying the scenery. Besides this we have the opportunity to get to learn the Chinese tourist. This is a new phenomenon for us. The Chinese tourist comes in a big group, carries a cap, walks with a stick, wears outdoor clothes and has a guide with flagpole and speakers. When one of many groups arrives the scenic quiet will shatter by the sound of the guide’s speakers who shouts to his tourist group. A special experience for us and after a while we’ve had more than enough of it. We take the decision to go down by foot instead of taking the cable car. A long descend on a staircase of 8 kilometers is what follows including sour muscles and very stiff legs.
When we plan a route for cycling we always look for the smaller roads which can take us from city to city. That’s how we’ve decided to cycle the road of today as well. We cycle through beautiful country side and enjoy the things we see around us. There are many people in the fields because its harvest time in the rice paddies. After a though ride uphill we get greeted on the top by two military guys. They watch us and the bicycles and they want to question us. Unfortunately they don’t speak any English and we leave after saying our goodbyes. A police car stops at the bottom of the hill and two officers jump out. They make sure we stop besides them by pointing and waving their arms.
Again there is no English spoken which makes it difficult to understand what’s happening. What we do understand is that we have to stay put and cannot leave at the moment. They sign to us to wait in the house of a family. Backup arrives and the 4 policemen try to explain us that we’ve to get into the police car. One of the officers says he’ll cycle my bicycle. I will tell him that “WE” will cycle our bikes and that we’ll follow them. With one police car in front and one in the back we cycle a few kilometers before we arrive at the police station.
At the station we’ve to show the police our passports. The head officer tells us in his best English: “No English!” what we answer with a polite: “No Chinese!” We ask them if there are problems but get the understandable answer in Chinese. When we ask if we can go they tell us to wait. Everybody is friendly and there’s no use of force or any other kind of violence. But we feel we cannot leave and need to listen to what they try to tell us.
The police men get us some food and water and when we’ve finished eating a Chinese family enters the station. Two of them speak English and they can tell us that we’re “not welcome” and need to wait for two hours before the chief arrives. After exactly two hours two men enter the building. All the other police men greet them enthusiastically and after a short talk one of them comes to us. This man speaks English and tells us he will interrogate the both of us.
In the interrogation room Marlous and I are sitting with six agents opposite and only one English speaker in the room. They ask us if we know in what kind of area we are. When we tell them we don’t know they let us know we need to tell the truth at all times. It seems we’ve entered a military area which is forbidden for foreigners by Chinese law.
At the moment we’ve crossed the law and we need to be punished by Chinese law. They interrogate us about who we are, what we do and why we’ve entered a forbidden zone. Everything goes in a relaxed pace and they give us plenty of opportunity to explain and point on our maps. During the interrogation the tone of the question changes and they ask us things as: “How many bicycles have you used since your start in Holland?” We have to relax and keep drinking water.
The officers want to see our cameras and other gear before they make a decision about what they’re going to do with us. After they let us now where the forbidden area started we can assure them that we didn’t take any pictures in the zone. We show them our bicycles and the police men enjoy a slideshow on our laptop.
At the end the English speaking officer tells us they’re not going to follow the law to punish us. He says that they’re our friends and we’re special people because we’re cycling around the world. But we do need to leave the forbidden area as soon as possible with a rented car. Before we leave the people from the village come and watch the two foreigners who get kicked out of their area. The police officers shake our hands, wish us a good trip and wave us goodbye.
With the pickup we get dropped of in a city 70 kilometers from the police station. From here we’re free to cycle in the direction to Chengdu.
* Shanghai – Suzhou: 95km
* Suzhou – Huzhou: 103km
* Huzhou – Anji: 70km
* Anji – Ninguo: 105km
* Ninguo – Jingde: 85km
* Jingde – Huangshan Qu: 87km
* Huangshan Qu – Qingyang: 61km