We were very eager to get going today, we were going to get up into the mountains! Sure, they were sandy, relatively understated mountains compared to those we had just been through in the Karakorum but still, anything would be more stimulating than the desert.
We got on the road early and started climbing. Soon the foothills closed in around us and camels trotted up and down the peaks. We crossed a wide river basin, completely dry, and on the other side sat a small hut with a barrier over the road. We ducked under the barrier and cycled swiftly on. With that obstacle out of the way we were feeling good, and that was only compounded by the realisation that we were now in a river valley at the start of the Kunlun mountains, there were things to look at, the road changed direction and gradient frequently – it was so much better than the dull, dreary desert riding we had been putting up with so far.
Water was scarce though, a small trickle of a steam ran along the base of the riverbed but that water was salty. We had enough for the rest of the day, but it was necessary we kept a lookout. The next stream we passed was similarly salty, so no good, but eventually (and conveniently) around lunchtime we found a larger, faster flowing stream where the water didn’t taste salty. There was still a definitive minerally taste but it was potable.
This little stream had cut an overhang that provided shelter from the hot sun and, next to the cold flowing water and in the shadow of the rock we had lunch and waited out the heat of the day. We filled up all our water (we were carrying about 10 litres each just to be safe) after lunch and started up again.
After lunch the road didn’t follow the banks of the dried up riverbed, it was ran along the dried up river bed. It twisted and turned around meanders cut by the river over so many centuries until finally we came to the start of the pass.
This pass would have been tough enough on good road with a normal load, but the road had long since deteriorated into gravel and sand and we were carrying an extra 10 kilograms at least. After a couple of attempts at cycling we all arrived at the same conclusion: there was no choice but to push the bikes over the pass. Pushing loaded bikes uphill is in no way easier than riding them, in fact it’s probably more difficult. It took over an hour to get to the top, hauling the bikes through thick sand and around steep turns.
A short descent after the pass and then another steep climb after that. Once over that peak though the view opened up and we found ourself in a wide open valley with a big, fast flowing river cutting through it. In my me memory this vista was a lush meadow filled with plant life. Looking back on the photos it still looks like a desert though, so I suppose the sight of a big, fast flowing river must have tinted my view.