Lanzhou – China
I’ve spent the last few days in the lovely town of Chengdu, Sichuan province, where I had hoped to get my Pakistan visa. With butterflies in my stomach, I walked into the small consulate in the glitzy 30 story Western Tower and was greeted by the Assistant to the Consul General to Pakistan who told me flatly that they no longer do visas for foreigners; or Aliens, as the Chinese call us! My heart sank. With a lump in my throat, I managed to explain that I had come very far to get my Pakistan visa and that I was cycling around the World and he needed to make an exception for me. After a lot of charming on my part, he told me to come the next day to meet the Consul General for an interview.
Upon returning the following day, I was told that the Consul was at an important meeting, and would not be back until Monday. That would have been too long for me to wait around, as even if they granted it (which I don’t thin they would have, for reasons below), I wouldn’t get it until Tuesday. I would still need to get my second Chinese visa extension and do the 4000km to the Pakistan border before my visa runs out at the beginning of October, quite a tall order.
I asked the Assistant Consul about my chances of getting the visa granted and we discussed my plans and onward route through Southern Iran. He talked rather plainly, not as a politician, in his words “I am talking to you as a brother”. He said that as the Pakistan/ Iran border is currently very dangerous, and while he would love me to visit his country, he did not think it was wise. I met some Austrian cyclists in Chengdu, who had passed through Northern Iran to Central Asia and they told me that even the locals wouldn’t go to Southern Iran.
My last revelation came from the same Austrians who also told me that the 200km of the Karakoram Highway (KKH) between the Chinese town of Tashkurgan and the Pakistan town of Sost, is closed to cyclists, which would mean I’d need to get a bus. This was the final nail in the coffin for my KKH plans, as to do the circumnavigation we need a continuous trail across the lands. So far we have a lovely unbroken line from Greystones to China, and to do this we have blagged our way across closed off dams, risked arrest on city motorways, and retraced our steps when we’ve had bike trouble.
I will now revert to cycling to Urumchi in North Western China, then Kazakhstan, Kyrgzstan and Tajikistan where I’ll hopefully get to do the Pamir Highway before it becomes impassible in winter. Following that I’ll head to Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan and into Northern Iran. Having explored the Karakoram option, I am happy doing the Central Asia route knowing that I tried my best to do the KKH, but with timing and circumstance, it didn’t work out.
In fact, after meeting these Dutch and Austrian cyclists who just came through Central Asia from Europe, hearing their stories and seeing their photos, made me very excided about my onward route. I’m looking forward to getting back on the bike tomorrow morning, turning my pedals, and pointing West, towards home.