From Qinghai to Xinjiang: route notes for cyclists and backpackers

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steven
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From Qinghai to Xinjiang: route notes for cyclists and backpackers

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This is a short overview of the (infrastructure) changes that have come about on the little used (by foreign travellers) border crossing between Qinghai and Xinjiang. Big thanks to P.

As this route was followed during Covid times you'll get the extra bonus of the precautionary measures that were put in place. Since I cycled this route eight years ago, where appropriate I will mention the differences with today. This information has been gathered in June 2021.

Passenger train and new highway

The future looks bright for travellers crossing this border: in 2022 the passenger train connection between Gormud / Geer'mu and Korla / Kue'rle, stopping in Huatugou, Yetimbulak and Charklik / Ruoqiang will enter active service. Although the first passenger train was launched in December 2020, for one year only freight trains will be running on this route.

For hitchhikers and those travelling by road, major parts of the new highway starting on the Xinjiang side have been opened, while others are nearly ready.

Cycling

Apart from the changes in infrastructure over the years, the biggest change is the increase in traffic: I would say by a factor of 10, almost exclusively trailer trucks. This is a big bummer for cyclists - of which I have only seen one single individual, a Chinese leaving the Huatugou salt lake. However, on the famous Duku road there were more than a dozen.

The only positive development for cyclists is that, on the one hand, for the time being parts of the brand new highway on the Xinjiang side are ready, however, they have not yet been opened to traffic, leaving them wide open to be the largest cycle path towards Charklik / Ruoqiang.
This had also been the case eight years ago when I was cycling on my way out of Xinjiang on the as yet unopened but ready highway leading from outside Kashi / Kashgar towards the Kyrghyz border.

On the other hand, once the highway will be opened, cyclists would do well using the old road which most of the time runs parallel in close proximity to the new road. Apart from the lack of traffic, the advantage of the old road is that there are no guard rails which make it impossible to leave the highway, even for a short stop, not to mention for a night stop.

I did not see any construction of toll booths on the new high way, which, if true, bodes well for the future as this would entail that all traffic will opt for using it, leaving the old (hopefully empty) road to the cyclists and the occasional pedestrian.

The number of urine filled bottles on the roadside has increased tremendously compared to the last time. Until now there were no cameras anywhere along the whole stretch to / from Charklik / Ruoqiang, not on the old and not (yet?) on the new road.

Before I enter into details, one more thing: eight years ago I had already dubbed this route from Yitimbulak into Xinjiang as the longest downhill I ever cycled, fortunately nothing has changed about this, but the new highway in some places has been constructed quite high above the valley, hence, I hope that when the highway is opened, the old road underneath will remain available to cyclists. Meanwhile the heavy truck traffic spoils it for the cyclists...
The downhill experience of an accumulated distance of more than 100 clicks is due to the steep valley road following the river, but afterwards on the plateau I was so lucky as to be propelled forwards by strong tailwind.

Camping and hotels

Stealth places to sleep in this desolate landscape remain the same as before: underneath the road in the dry river beds, behind the small ^ -shaped heaps of earth which have to prevent sand from being blown across the road, and the small square compounds along the road which house aerials and solar panels.

Coming from Huatugou, in the first 100 km after crossing the Xinjiang border, the valley left and right of the road offers plenty of places for stealth camping. Later the valley flattens out which makes it more of a challenge to do stealth camping, but after nightfall and before sunrise, no one will notice your tent. I did see one evening an RV parked 10 m away from the roadside with a tent pitched next to it, but as they were Chinese, I presume that this did not attract (much) police attention.

All youth hostels in Golmud / Geer'mu are no longer allowed to host foreigners. Some hotels in Golmud / Geer'mu may require a PCR test.


Public transport

Perhaps it is also useful to mention the current timings and prices of public transportation connecting the places mentioned above until 2022 when the train will connect Golmud / Ger'mu to Charklik / Ruoqiang and further to Korla / Kuer'le.

Golmud / Ger'mu to Huatugou
bus: 9:30 arrival: 16:30 94 Yuan daily

starting in July 2021 (and perhaps only during summer holidays?) there is also a weekly bus to Korla/Kue'rle which stops in Huatugou and Charklik / Ruoqiang
departure: 10:00, arrival: 17:00. Arrival Charklik / Ruoqiang: 00:00

train: 8:10 arrival: 13:30 62.5 Yuan on Monday, Wednesday, Friday

bus station number:
0979 8412001
0979 8453688

Huatugou to Golmud / Ger'mu
bus: 9:30 arrival 16:30 94 Yuan daily
train: Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Friday dep. 15:30 arr. 20:38

Huatugou bus station number:
0977 8251567

All these timings are subject to change,
check the timings - don't give up to try again when the phone is not answered.

Or go there: right behind the Kunlung Mountain Park Museum

Huatugou to Charklik / Ruoqiang

taxi from train station
- to the centre/bus station: 10 Yuan pp
- to salt lake and back to the centre: 150 + 10 (parking) Yuan (to be shared by 4 pax) this may take up to 3 hours

bus: only when the Golmud / Ger'mu to Korla / Kue'rle bus runs, it will stop in Huatugou
train: from 2022
taxi: 180 Yuan (depending on traffic, the road conditions and checkpoint queues, it may take up to 8 hours until the highway is fully opened)
A combination taxi ride from the train station to the salt lake and then to Charklik / Ruoqiang: 200 Yuan (4 pax)

train from Korla to Charklik / Ruoqiang: Wednesday dep. 09:06 arr. 14:10 - Friday dep. 17:12 arr 21:34
the days of the trains may change every month, check beforehand

Due to the province border crossing not all (green) taxis from Huatugou are allowed to drive to Charklik / Ruoqiang and not all (red/yellow) cabs from Charklik / Ruoqiang may drive to Huatugou. That's why they both share the ride and you have to change cabs half way (after approx. 180 km).

Number of a cab in Charklik / Ruoqiang which does the shared ride to/from Huatugou: Wang 166 9966 1966 or 133 1996 9796

The new train to / from Korla / Kue'rla is in operation from / to Charklik / Ruoqiang: dep.: 11:31 arrival 16: 62.5 Yuan (it continues to / from Urumqi) on Saturdays, Tuesdays

Other than a cab, I am not aware of any transport options between Huatugou and Yetimbulak / Shimiankuang (on the road to Charklik / Ruoqiang) the latter also being a for foreigners forbidden town. The train will stop there in 2022.

Notes

The salt lake and Charklik / Ruoqiang are in opposite directions from Huatugou centre/ train/bus station, which means that a combination may last up to 3 hours + up to 8 hours in the taxi. The Huatugou salt lake is not the big one near the town, but the small one further away on the road towards Golmud / Geer'mu. To visit the Chaerhan salt lake north of Golmud / Geer'mu there are buses and a train station (on the route to (W)Ulan and Xining - Delingha remains forbidden to stay, but not to pass, for foreigners). The Kunlung Mt Park Museum is temporarily closed.

Huatugou is a forbidden city for foreigners, they are not allowed to stay overnight, only cross the city and visit the salt lake.

Foreigners who travel by road will have to leave the vehicle at every checkpoint and enter the police booth to show their passport to be photographed. Make a picture of your bus or taxi so as to be able to mention the licence plate to the police.

You will also be asked about your past and future itinerary including, but not limited, to the names of your accommodation places. In the hours after leaving the checkpoint I was called several times to provide more details. English is in short supply, try to take someone who speaks Mandarin to speed up the process, especially when your fellow bus or cab pax are waiting for you.

There are very few places on this 400 km stretch where you can find drinks or food or a toilet, so stock up, unless in a cab which stops on request.

The CNG cabs/buses will ask you to get down outside the filling station.

Nature is overwhelming (and some infrastructure constructions too), so when in a vehicle, get a (front) seat next to the window.

Caution: do not point cameras/phones to checkpoints (even when no one is there), at military or even at construction sites when police are around.

Covid 19: at every checkpoint the green health travel card has to be produced, indicating your presence for more than 4 hours in locations during the last 14 days. Upon arrival at the Xinjiang border post an on-the-spot PCR test will be performed and a small green sticker is your receipt. BTW, in every city in Xinjiang you will be tested for free upon arrival (the last time there was an infected person in the province dates back to November 2020).

A Covid test is done in 1 day (if tested before 11:30 at the back in a container shack outside - the result is a slip from the machine on the groundfloor in the first building on the left) for 30 yuan in Hospital No.1 across the park entrance on Kunlung street, north of Bayi street.
As mentioned, Xinjiang province requires a test upon entry, however, no need to get it in advance as they perform their own tests for free at the border and upon arrival in each city.

Due to the virus, ancient Miran (aka 36th Regiment) has been closed, even for Chinese, you will have to pass it on the way to Charklik / Ruoqiang.

Of interest, perhaps, is the fact that permits by the Golmud / Ger'mu police have been abolished. Earlier one was needed in all directions: N to Dunhuang (now bus from / to Golmud / Ger'mu at 9:00, arr. 16: ), S to Kunlung Mountains, Queen Mother Jade Lake, Tuotuo River, and, of course, Xizang, and W to Huatugou. The bus and train stations in Golmud / Ger'mu will issue tickets to N and W without permit (they still check with the police tho). There is no bus to the S. To the S there is a Tibet authorities checkpoint 23 km from Golmud / Ger'mu, where the Golmud / Ger'mu police has no jurisdiction (i.e. no use in asking them for a permit).

To finish the notes, just a word about visa extensions. Golmud / Ger'mu was and remains one of the best PSB in all of China to get an extension. Thanks to the hard work of 3 officers and their superior of 23 years' service (who speaks excellent English), it is done in a record time - 4 to 7 times faster than elsewhere. The PSB in Golmud / Geer'mu is on the corner with Taishan street on the north side of Qaidam street, 15 minutes cycling from the train station.

If you are not already in the possession of an electronic (passport) picture of Qinghai or any other province (validity: 1 year), you will have to get this made for free in a booth on the groundfloor of the big police building on the corner of Chaerhan and Bayi street, 12 minutes cycling northeast from the PSB and then return to the PSB. The PSB visa extension office is located on the Qaidam roadside (outside the compound gate). If closed, call the number on the door.


Description of the route

the trip from Huatugou to the Xinjiang border is uneventful: a good road, desert and mountains, a Qinghai checkpoint (see above), but trucks galore.

On the dot of the Xinjiang border is the first checkpoint for PCR testing (later you will only hear from them if you test positive) after showing your green health card and passport.

You enter Xinjiang in the asbestos mining town Yetimbulak/Shimiankuang where you pass under the train bridge. Shortly thereafter follows a second checkpoint -which is geographically located in Qinghai - for a thorough verification of your antecedents, past and future travel itinerary.

We now enter Xinjiang territory again and at km 1317 the new highway (H) starts.
At km 1339 the H and old road (O) run parallel.
At km 1353 it's the end of this part of the H. Meanwhile you have passed 2 signboards announcing a downhill of respectively 9 and 19 clicks.
At km 1380 a sign says that another downhill of 34 km starts.
At km 1383 checkpoint.
At km 1385 H stops.
At km 1386 the Lop Nur Nature Park is on your right.
At km 1423 the last checkpoint, the H starts and O runs parralel.
At km 1452 the resurfacing of O starts, making it no longer suitable for cycling.
At km 1459 the turn off to (and signboard): notorious Lop Nur.
At km 1506 cross over again to O with H running parallel. This is just before the turn off to the Production and Construction Corps No. 36 (as mentioned, due to Covid-19, the Miran site is closed to everyone).

Charklik / Ruoqiang welcomes you with a broad avenue.
The number of cheap places where laowei are allowed to sleep here (as in minor cities in Xinjiang) are extremely limited...but that's another story.

Happy travels!
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