Welcome to the inaugural edition of Revolution, Bike Asia's quarterly email newsletter. The team of Scott, Naomi and Jamie are all back in China after spreading the word about Bike Asia to the far flung corners of England, Australia, Canada and the United States. We are gearing up for a busy summer season in Mongolia in 2006, so that's the flavour for this issue, all things Mongolian...
The Mongolian Empire from 1170s till 1290s was the greatest empire the world has ever known. In 1280 it ran from the Yellow River in China to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. To the populace in the west they came without warning and left the same way.
"Unknown tribes came, whom no one knows exactly... nor whence they came out, nor what their language is, nor of what race they are"
...wrote a monk in the principality of Novgorod. (Russia)
Their time in the west was short-lived, for in 1227 news had come from China (where Ghengis Khan was in battle) via Mongolia that the great Khan himself had died. He was around the age of 60 and to this day it is not really known how he died... falling from a horse or from typhus are two of the theories.
Travelling through Mongolia today, whether walking the streets of the capital, Ulaanbaatar, or cycling through the valleys and mountains of the Arkhangai, what still strikes me is the people - tall, with strong postures, thick black hair, glowing shiny skin, and a proud stance... there is nothing meek about them. Dressed in the long, flowing, traditional dress, the dell, you can't help but be impressed and reminded of their illustrious history.
Starting in China's capital Beijing, we have several days to explore the city's hutongs (an intricate web of Ming and Qing dynasty alleyways and courtyard homes), the immense Forbidden City, and we spend a whole day on a remote section of the Great Wall, hiking along its old ramparts and crumbling towers. From Beijing we board the Trans-Mongolian train north to Mongolia's capital, Ulaanbaatar, staying in the city for the country's most important festival, then head west to start our cycling adventure through the Arkhangai Ranges. From the edge of the Gobi Desert at Bayanhongor, we cycle to Kharkhorin (Karakorum), the Mongolian capital under Chinggis Khan. This is an off-roader's dream, riding through a diversity of landscapes, including the mountains of the Arkhanghai, lush green grasslands, pine forests, river valleys and the spectacular Orkhon Falls.
We are offering a Revolution discount of 10% which is US$285 off the standard trip price. Quote the discount code NDBMN06 in the booking form.
Read about one of our passenger's experiences on this trip last year:
Centred around Ulaan Baatar, the Naadam Festival is Mongolia's annual national games. The majority of the spectators at the games are the thousands of Mongolians from all over the country who descend on the capital to witness, or participate in, "the three manly sports". Contests of strength (wrestling), of skill (archery) and endurance (horse racing) are conducted on the first two days of the festival, the 11th and 12th July, whilst the third day is reserved for the unofficial fourth "manly sport": drinking and revelry. This event is a huge spectacle and a trip to Mongolia timed to take in Naadam is a must!
With Naadam to look forward to we set out into the Mongolian wilds to do some cycling in nomad country. Our trip took us cycling over nine days from Bayanhongor, on the edge of the Gobi Desert, to Kharkhorin (Karakorum), Chinggis Khan's ancient capital, through the Arkhangai Mountains in central Mongolia. With lots of river crossings, big hill climbs and gnarly downhills, over 450 kms on some of the most unforgiving terrain imaginable, the cycling was both a challenge and superb fun! But even more rewarding was the incredible experience of travelling through country accessible only to horses and (sometimes) four wheeled drive jeeps at a pace that allowed us to ride with nomad herders and wild horses, visit families in their traditional homes, the ger, with plenty of time to absorb the changing landscapes.
The day which stood out for me started with a ride along the crystal clear Tuy River where we were literally dragged off our bikes and into a ger to visit a family. We were proudly shown around their home and introduced to the methods of making cheese and koumiss, fermented mare's milk, and offered food and drink. It was a great visit and I won't forget the hospitality that we were shown by these people. After two seriously big climbs and speedy descents as we crossed two river valleys under darkening skies, we were greeted with a lunch of borscht, salad and goulash with an entree of boiled egg topped with Russian caviar by our local crew!
Despite the torrential rain and occasional hailstone, we mounted our bikes again but only managed to get as far as the next ridge where we came across a crowd of Mongolians of about 150 conducting their own local Naadam! Many were circled around wrestlers who were competing just off the jeep track we were cycling along. Most were on horseback and circled us slack-jawed foreigners! Somehow in the confusion we noticed that all those on horseback had lined the road and in the distance were the leaders of a horse race charging towards us! We quickly got off the road and watched, cheering and yelling with the locals, as they ran their final sprint to the finish line. The winning horse was touched by all for luck, and the young rider, about ten years old, presented the horse to be touched by us as well. Luck for us was to come across this local Naadam.
Reluctantly, we had to leave but spent the rest of the afternoon inspired: racing with wind, rain and mud in our faces across a vast soggy plain to our campsite. All that and we still managed to cycle over 70kms on some very challenging terrain and in some very challenging conditions! It was difficult to leave the countryside, our local crew and our experiences behind and head back to the "big city" and the national Naadam. The experience of our little Naadam left us feeling we could relate to the nomads who had journeyed so far from their grassland home to compete with or admire their national heroes.
James, Wild Mongolia passenger July 2005
In 2006, Bike Asia is excited to be running adventure cycling trips in three new regions. We love nothing more than jumping on a bike, researching and designing a trip in a new area and then running it for the first time. On these trips expect spontaneity, new ideas, a change of plan, and unforeseen adventures. The areas we choose have a lot to offer in the way of cycling, adventure, culture, scenery and experience... and if we love it then we reason that there are plenty of others who will too. In the process we can open up areas for cycling that previously have not been easily accessible for cyclists. Adventure cycling is what we do and what we love, so if this sounds like your style of travel, go to the following links...
Japan - Islands, Mountains and Monasteries
Southern Honshu and Shikoku Island: Cycling Kyoto to Hiroshima
Tibet and Nepal - Cycle Across the Roof of the World
Tibet and Nepal: Cycling from Lhasa to Kathmandu
Mongolia - Destination: Khovsgol
Khovsgol Lake, Northern Mongolia: Cycling Moron to Hatgal
Watch this space for a mountain biking trip in South West China with lots of single track cycling in the mountainous region of Yunnan near the border with Tibet. We are also in the process of planning our most adventurous trip to date - the feint-hearted need not read further! In the far western region of Mongolia, in the Altai mountains, near the border with Russia, we are designing a trip that will include mountain biking, horse riding, hiking up a glacier (where we can look over into Russia) and rafting...!
So what does someone who leads cycling tours in Asia do for fun in their time off? Go cycling seems to be the answer. As winter descends on the northern hemisphere the lure of sunshine from the south often drags us at Bike Asia homeward. It was fortunate timing that the inaugural Great Western Australian Bike Ride was on when I was home visiting family in Perth. I was left with no choice but to sign on myself and my extremely excited brother (first bike trip!). The tour took us from Albany to Perth through the fabulous wine and forest country that the region is famous for. Ample opportunities for detours and explorations along the beautiful rugged coastline kept the 2800 or so participants busy over the two week trip. Cheers! to all those we met on the trip and thanks to Bicycle Victoria for a great job done well.
The Great Western Australian Bike Ride is held Bi-annually. For information on this event go to: Bicycle Victoria
Scott, Bike Asia
The annual New South Wales Big Ride this year took place at the end of February and was a perfect opportunity to see some rural Australia from the saddle of a bike. From the Murray River bordering Victoria, the road to Gundagai took the cyclists through some beautiful parts of the New South Wales countryside, through the apple growing region of Batlow, forests of eucalyptus, and some classic country towns. Nine days' cycling in the company of a crowd of Australians on their own turf was a great holiday for a resident of Asia, and thanks must go to Bicycle New South Wales as organisers, as well as the people I met along the way, for a fun few days.
You can read more about the NSW Big Ride at Bicycle NSW
Jamie, Bike Asia
Travelling through the north-western United States and parts of Canada during February and March, I had the opportunity to talk to many people about cycling in Asia. I was overwhelmed by the positive feedback and interest in what we are doing here in Asia and would like pass on my thanks to several bike clubs and cycling enthusiasts in North America for inviting me to talk and give slideshow presentations to their club members about our trips:
Bike Asia booked a booth at the Seattle Bike Expo which is held every February in Seattle, Washington. Some of the reactions from visitors upon seeing the Bike Asia booth were bordering on incredulous, but most were intrigued and wanted to ask more. Thanks to the Seattle-based Cascade Bicycle Club for organising this fantastic event!
Naomi, Bike Asia
Should you, your bike club, or organisation be interested in having us give a slideshow and talk on cycling in Asia, you can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would be delighted to share our stories, travel tales and experiences of living, working and cycling in Asia next time we are in your area.
To talk to us at Bike Asia, either call us conventionally, or call us free using Skype, the free internet-based telephony service. Simply log into Skype and add contact "bikeasia".
Also, we will soon be setting up phone numbers in the UK and US where residents of those countries can phone us for the price of a national rate call. Watch this space for details.
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