The Silk Road
The start of the TransAsia classic will take place in the renowned village of Bant. The starting stage will be on the town square ‘Het Midden’. From thereon all contestants will follow the border passing of Emmen to Germany. The route follows south through the Ruhr area and passes by Sauerland to Bamberg. We continue through the Bayerischer Wald to the border of Austria. At the beautiful city of Passau the river Inn transports the water of the Swiss alps into the river Danube.
The route follows east through the watershed of the Danube. A relative short stage in which we pass by the historical town of Melk. You can take the opportunity to visit Vienna or continue by the border passing of Hungary and follow the shores of lake Balaton to Budapest, the impressive twin city made up of Buda and Pest, 2 cities on opposite shores of the Danube.
This is a rather long stage straight through the Balkans, mostly Serbia. Again we pass by the Danube at the capital of Belgrade after which we follow the valley of the Morava. At days end we reach the border of Bulgaria and later in the evening the finish in Bulgaria’s capital Sofia will appear in our sights.
Today we follow the highway to the east in the direction of the Black Sea. The route follows the border of Greece and when we arrive in Edirne we are in the European part of Turkey. Istanbul appears on the horizon, here awaits our first acquaintance with the orient: the ancient city of Constantinople which for centuries has been the center of power between Islam and Christianity.
After 4 days of continues driving this is our first day of rest. Time for maintenance and tinkering on the cars and of course a visit to the fascinating sights in Istanbul. Make sure to see the Hagia Sofia and a boat trip on the Bosporus is a must. The Bosporus is the link between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea as well as the border between Europa and Asia. It is here in Istanbul, which covers both shores of the Bosporus, where the Silk Road starts.
The start of the Silk Road takes us over the enormous suspension bridge over the Bosporus. We leave Europe and enter Asia. We follow the freeway to the city of Ankara. From the city ring we take the route to Kirikkale through the breathtaking landscape of Anatolia to the historical city of Nevşehirr. The national park of Göreme is situated in the ancient Karts mountains and surely is worth a visit.
After Nevşehir the route takes us through the increasingly rugged terrain of central Turkey. After a long day that passes the cities Sivas and Erzincan we reach our destination at Erzurum. This large city in east Anatolia is situated at an altitude of 2000 metres.
The resting day in Erzurum offers the opportunity to visit the old city or to enjoy a beautiful drive through the surrounding mountains of Palendöken with peaks that exceed 3000 metres.
A remarkably beautiful stage through the mountainous landscape of eastern Turkey. We leave early in the morning for today the border passing with Iran awaits. We reach the border after 300 kilometres. After we pass Doğubeyazıt we catch sight of the Biblical mountain the Ararat which measures 5173 metres in height. We might even catch a glimpse of Noah’s ark, for in a time long ago it stranded right around here.
After the necessary border procedures we are not out of the woods yet, a hefty ride to Tabriz is yet to come.
Tabriz is the 3rd largest city of Iran and counts over 1,5 million inhabitants. It is the capital of the Azerbaijan region. This historical city of the Silk Road is crowded with churches and mosques. Famous is the Blue Mosque. The Bazar is one of the best parts of the city and is known for the famous Persian carpets.
After the resting day in Tabriz we continue our journey through the mountains and pass by the city of Ardabil close to the border of Azerbaijan, to the shores of the Caspian Sea.
We follow a challenging coastal road to our destination in Rasht, a city known for its many monasteries. If we’re lucky we might have some time left for a boat tour on the Caspian Sea.
We continue on the coastal road; a busy road that takes us through many cities and villages and is crowded with cargo traffic. At Chalus we head in the direction of Teheran. The road curls through the rugged mountainous area of the Elbrus north of Teheran. In the afternoon we expect to reach the capital of Iran. Our hotel is situated in the outskirts of the city.
Teheran is a true metropole with around 5 million inhabitants. It is a modern city with many touristic sights. We advise you strongly not to take your own car into the city, the traffic is notoriously hectic. As an alternative we offer you an excursion that will lead you past all the sights.
Today is a long stage following the freeway across arid desert landscape on one side, and the mountainous area of the Caspian Sea on the other side. This is a day that asks for covering some major ground and is challenged by high temperature. In the evening we reach Mashhad, a large city in the far east of Iran, near the border of Afghanistan. Over 2 million people live here. Much like the previous cities, Mashhad is also filed with historical buildings. In the passing of many centuries many rulers from different cultures left there mark on the cityscape.
From Mashhad the route follows east through the mountains that define the border area with Turkmenistan. Patience will be needed for the border formalities but after this a beautiful hotel in the luxurious city of Ashgabat awaits us!
A resting day in Ashgabat. The excursion programme takes you to sometimes extravagant sights in this new city at the very edge of the Karakum desert.
Turkmenistan is the first of the 4 ‘stan’ countries. Countries with many historical sights. The distances we travel these coming days are in accordance with these many luring sights and offer us enough time to visit these ancient monuments of long forgotten times.
The route follows the edge of the desert of Mary. Nearby the ancient and well-known historical city Merv is situaded which is an absolute must visit! The overnight stay takes place in Mary or at the border of Uzbekistan in Turkmenabad.
This is a short stage that takes us across the border of Uzbekistan. The route follows through an area rich in cotton plantations. Cotton is a crop that requires a lot of water which is provided by the Amur river, which we cross right before the border passing. This river transports water from the Himalaya to lake Aral since long before the dawn of men, but nowadays the cotton takes the bulk of the water. This has led to an alarming shrinkage of lake Aral, an ecological catastrophe on a regional scale.
After the border formalities it is only an hour’s drive to the beautiful city of Bukhara, which is UNESCO world heritage nowadays. Feel free to take your time to enjoy this.
If you haven’t succeeded yesterday, then there is plenty of opportunity today to visit the many historical sights of Bukhara. While this stage is a short one you have to take account that he road from Bukhara to the next historical city Samarkand is a busy one!
Resting day in Samarkand. Take part in the excursion through this fascinatingly restored historical city. Visit the gorgeous Registan square with its many impressive palaces and dive into culinary history in one of the authentic restaurants. Samarkand will be one of those cities you will never forget.
The land of Uzbekistan has wondrous shapes and forms. The short connection with Kokand passes through the neighbouring country of Tadzhikistan. Because two border passings on one day is simply too much we follow the route northbound to Tashkent, a typical Russian city with many dull and grey concrete living blocks. Luckily we continue to once again a beautiful historical Silk Road city Kokand.
A short stage through the fertile Fergana valley, situated between high mountains on both sides of the route, these are the outskirts of the Himalaya. Just before the city of Osh the boarder passing to Kirgizstan awaits.
In the evening we can visit the cosy centre of this gem of a city.
Today we rise early in the morning to start this long day that takes us past the boarder of China. We thunder straight through the impressive mountainous area of Pamir that has summits of over 7000 metres.
Directly from the start in Osh the road leads us into the mountains. Short before the mountain village Sary-Tash we reach the highest pass of the TransAsia at an altitude of 3625 metres. Make sure to take the right exit to the border to reach the Erkeshtam pass. Here we follow procedures that allow us our permit to drive in China. Be prepared for your Chinese driver’s licence!
After the Erkeshtam Pass it is only 240 rugged kilometres through barren landscape to the most remote city in China, Kashar or Kashi, whichever language you prefer!
Resting day in the capital of the Uyghurs, that marks the beginning of a long route through western China passing by the Taklamakan desert. Make sure to give your car the necessary TLC after the harsh stage through Kirgizstan yesterday and to prepare it for the coming long stages.
Maybe some more permits have to be arranged today. Otherwise you can take the opportunity to drive a part of the Karakorum highway, southbound up the mountains in the direction of Pakistan. A spectacular drive in the Himalayas in an area well-known by mountaineers, for it is here where the infamous K2 summit is situated.
A long stage that follows the edge of the Taklamatan desert. This newly built road follows the Silk Road, but one must surely take up the challenge of finding the old Silk Road and drive it. This road takes us to ancient oasis that often occur in the transition of mountainous to desert areas.
We continue our route westbound to the small city of Turpan, which harbours the largest fruit plantations of China. The underground water transport systems are truly ingenious in these lands where in the summer temperature rises well above 50 degrees C. The route also passes by the ‘Flaming Mountains’; a remarkable sight of nature!
Turpan is situated at a large highland. The lowest point is 150 metres below sealevel. Nearby yiu will find the old city of Gaocheng.
Following the outskirts of the Gobi desert we cover the distance over the freeway to Dunhuang, a regional cultural centre. The gateway to the west for the ancient Chinese lays at a unique geographical location of the provinces Gansu, Qinghai and Xinjiang.
Many Chinese emperors have left their fortifications here. Nearby Dunhuang the mystic ‘Singing Sands’ mountains await that also house the Magao Caves, also known as the ‘Thousand Buddha Grottoes’. A unique historical sight.
We follow our rally eastbound. At Jiayuguan the ‘Hexi Corridor’ commences. A narrow 1000km long corridor with the bone-dry Gobi desert on one side and the Tibetan highlands on the other. Here we pass by the ancient oases that mapped the existence of the Silk Road. At Jiayuguan at an altitude of 1460 metres we drive the Jiayu Pass and reach the corridor. This is also the western ‘start’ of the great wall, once erected by the Ming Dynasty. After the Jiayuguan fortress we arrive in Zhangye.
On this resting day there is the opportunity to visit the unique Danxia national geopark. This very special park features mountain slopes in all colours of the rainbow and are therefore known as the ‘Coloured mountains’. A sight that must look very familiar to Instagram users!
From Zhangye a freeway leads to the large city of Lanzhou. Here more then 5 million people reside by the banks of the Huang He, also known as the Yellow River, which is the cradle of the Chinese civilization.
As an alternative to the freeway we consider to take the route through the mountains of Tibet to the largest and highest situated lake of China and Tibet, the Ginghai Hu lake, at an altitude of 3200 metres. This is a true paradise for wintering birds. On opposing sides of this beautiful route we can see the snowy peaks of the Tibetan massif. Overnight stay will be at Xining.
A beautiful stage that largely follows the freeways through picturesque landscape of central China. A rural (agrarian) area. At Pingliang you could take the opportunity to meet with the Chinese culture and their way of living in the countryside. In the past decades many of the younger generations have moved to the big city but now they begin to realize that these surroundings have their benefits and slowly people start to migrate back from where they originated. Near the end of this day we will reach the former finish of the Silk Road, the ancient capital of the Chinese empire: Xian.
Xian is a city of extremities. It is highly recommended to tour through the ancient city by bike, but of course also to follow the old city wall which measures 12 kilometres in length.
The excursion programme provides a visit to the world famous terracotta army. In 1987 Chinese farmers while digging for water came across the remains of an ancient gravesite by accident. This turned out to be the final resting place of emperor Qin Shi Huanghdi.
We finish our day with a visit to the old town square which houses the well-known “Belltower and Drumtower”.
Well on our way to the finish in Beijing we follow the freeway that takes us by the town of Pingyao in the province of Shanxi. Pingyao is one of the most original towns of China, dating back to the Tang dynasty. This may be a little bit touristic but it will leave you with an unforgettable impression of ancient China.
This is already our final stage to Beijing, the halfway mark of our challenge! Today we pass by one the largest Buddhist religious centres in China. Here one of the ‘secret mountains’ of the Buddhists is located, the Wutai Shan mountain is a true pilgrimage site.
Resting day after our finish in Beijing. One of the biggest cities in the world with over 20 million inhabitants! Contestants that only take part in part 1 of the TransAsia classic will take their cars to the port of Tianjin today. A 200 kilometre drive. They will be taken back to Beijing by bus and can join the excursion programme which pays a visit to the Great Wall at Badaling.
Today a day that everybody can spend according to its own discretion. Visit the tourist attractions like the forbidden city, temple of heaven or the famous Tiananmen square which houses the mausoleum of Mao.
At the end of this day the flight back to Holland awaits for those that don’t start tomorrow on the journey through Mongolia and Siberia, the route that was first pioneered in 1907…
When in Beijing one must experience the great wall. The most beautiful part is situated at Badaling, north of Beijing. A small stretch of this immense defensive line against the Mongols can be done by foot. Only then you can notice how high and irregular the steps are. One must wonder who designed this some 2000 years ago, when the Chinese people were much smaller than they are now?
Of course we will visit the summer palace where the Chinese emperors of days past enjoyed their summer.
Opportunity to explore the immense city of Beijing that boasts over 20 million inhabitants on your own account. You could also join the excursion programme to the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven and the famous Tiananmen square, where the mausoleum of Mao is located.
In the evening a visit to the well-known restaurant ‘Beijing duck’, guess what’s on the menu?
A must on the eve of the start of the second part of the TransAsia classic; the route that leads through Mongolia and Siberia and takes us to the finish in Berlin.
After the start the route takes us eastbound through mountainous areas. The road is a many curved two way track. After a spectacular stage the ‘hanging monastery’ appears. A monastery built against steep cliffs, devoted to Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism. Datong is a large industrial city with over 2 million inhabitants. Famous are the ‘Yungang Grottoes’ that contain over 5000 Buddha statues.
The highway is the shortest connection to the border of Mongolia. However, we take the route through a beautiful region with many sights to Hohhot, an old city situated on the banks of the yellow river. From there we continue north over the rural route. As we progress vegetation diminishes and we slowly enter the Gobi desert. On our way to the border town Erenhot or Zamyn-Üüd in Mongolia, we pass many remnants of dinosaurs that are displayed alongside the road. We will try to arrange the border formalities at forehand as much as we can, so that on the next day we are fresh at the start of a challenging stage through the Gobi desert.
400 kilometres through the Gobi desert. A road is being built for years, but prepare yourselves for unpaved paths and interchanging tracks through this immense sandbox. Try to follow the course of the trucks, not the telephone line! Be sharp on which route to follow after passing the desert town of Sainshand. After this we can follow a paved road to the capital of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar Tonight we will camp in traditional Ger tents.
On this resting day you can join an excursion in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of the bygone days of the great Mongolian empire of Genghis Khan. Ulaanbaatar is the coldest capital of the world with an average temperature of 1,5C below zero.
Nearby is the national park of Khustain, where wild Prezwalski Horses still graze.
Along the way the barren environment changes to beautiful green plains. We leave the Gobi desert and enter the landscape of south Siberia. Everywhere in this impressive landscape you can spot the ger tents of the hospitable Mongol inhabitants. One is always welcome for a cup of Yak milk, an experience that we heartily recommend.
The border of Russia is at the town of Soechebator. Although barely 16000 people live here, this is the third largest city in Mongolia. After this we follow our route through unhospitable landscape to Ulan Ude, the capital of the autonomous region Buryatia.
There is only one road from Ulan Ude to Irkutsk and this takes us through the rugged terrain underneath the south of lake Baikal, the largest fresh water reservoir on the planet. Make a stop here, have of swim or try to catch some fish. That is one of those typical ‘once in a lifetime’ experiences that you will be telling stories about for the rest of your life.
Irkutsk is known by the Russians as the ‘Paris of Siberia’. A truly beautiful city at the banks of the Angara river that flows into lake Baikal.
Famous sights in Irkutsk are the Vladimir monastery and the Kazan cathedral.
Today we face the longest stage of the TransAsia Classic. This will be a true challenge. We leave at first daylight, fingers crossed that no one suffers a mechanical breakdown today. The route takes us through desolate hillside areas and forests. For the largest part the road is paved and easy to drive, but the Siberian winter can destroy the road.
Attention for maintenance on the road is low for transport is mainly done by train of by airplane. There is little traffic in this remote and desolate area. We encounter some smaller cities like Kansk, that lend themselves for an overnight stay in case of emergency. North of Nizhneudinsk is an area that suffered an enormous explosion that levelled all trees in 2000 km radius, a UFO crash or a comet? Nobody knows…
Late in the evening we arrive at Krasnoyarsk, which literally translates to ‘red abyss’ so make sure to hit the brakes on time!
Krasnoyarsk is situated at the Jenisej, the largest river in Siberia, and it is the third largest city in Siberia, with more than 1 million inhabitants. Mainly because of its isolated position deep into Russia it has become the centre of nuclear science. Krasnoyarsk-26 and Krasnoyarsk-45 are two well-known villages in the surrounding area.
It will require some searching for the right bridge over the river and the correct road that takes us to the west into the unmeasurable tundra. The landscape flattens and the birch forest appears that forms such a typical sight for Siberia. Passing by Mariinsk we reach the route to Tomsk.
Tomsk is an old trade outpost along the river Tom. Another affluent of the river Ob that flows into the Polar sea and is frozen shut for the best part of the year. Tomsk is situated away from the main routes in Siberia because it is not connected to the Trans-Siberian railroad. Mainly because of this it has kept its traditional character.
From Toms it is not far to Novosibirsk. A relaxing drive today through the valley of the river Ob and plenty of opportunity to enjoy the Siberian nature that flourishes in the short but warm summer.
Novosibirsk, or ‘new Siberia’ is the capital of Siberia and houses over 1,4 million people. It is the third largest city of Russia and is an important industrial centre.
A must see is the railroad museum near the city centre, and the Akademgorodok. This is the silicon valley of Russia. Founded in 1958 with many research centres and beautiful buildings in the Siberian forests south of the city.
A long connection road that follows the Trans-Siberian railroad. Along the route we encounter many big ‘kolkhozes’; enormous agricultural community centres that are remnants of the Soviet era. It is a unique experience to drive up to one and see it in detail, maybe grab some lunch. A view of communist Russia the way it was 50 years ago.
At the end of the day we reach Omsk. It will be a challenge to find our way to the hotel in the city centre without the help of modern GPS navigation. There is little help in directions and don’t forget that the road signs are in Cyrillic script.
As hard as it can be to enter a city, finding your way out is just as challenging. We will follow the M51, but from the hotel there are no directions to this road. Luckily locals and police are very helpful.
We face a long stage through vast territory. The shorter route would have taken us through Kazakhstan, but this would have burdened us with two border passings. Therefore we will instead drive the northern route that passes by the city of Tyumen to the Ural.
Yekaterinburg is situated on the eastern flank of the Ural mountains, 50 kilometres from the border of Europe and Asia. This historical city was known by the name of Sverdlovsk from 1926 to 1991. It is a city with many large cathedrals, the most well-known is undoubtedly the Ipatie cathedral, where the Russian tsar family of Nicolas II was murdered which ended the Romanov dynasty. Yekaterinburg is also the city of Boris Jeltsin and Rasputin.
Perm is situated in the utmost east of European Russia. The route to it follows through vast forests and is a relaxing drive. We will pass several villages or encampments that are known from the book ‘The Gulag Archipelago’ by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Perm is built on the banks of the river Kama and houses the largest collection of icons from the Stroganov collection.
We follow the E20 and later the M7 roads through beautiful hillsides.
We pass several larger cities like Bozhninks and Izhevsk and, after a rather fierce drive, enter the city of Kazan. This is a large city with over 1 million inhabitants and is situated near the river Volga. This is the capital of the Tartar people, and well-known for its impressive Kremlin (fortress) build on a mountain peak.
From Kazan we head northbound through rich forest lands following the E20 road to Nizhny Novgorod. Another large city with 1,2 million inhabitants. In the Soviet era the city was known by the name of Gorki, and is located where the river Oka flows into the Volga. High on a mountain peak you can find the impressive “Strelka’ that offers a panoramic view of the two mighty rivers.
We are nearing the capital of Russia. Traffic noticeably picks up on our route. It will be a puzzle to find the right entry into the city from the more than 100 kilometres ring road surrounding Moscow. Maybe modern means like GPS will be working here, otherwise the route book will be your friend.
In Moscow, one of the most influential cities in the world, we will visit the enormous red square and of course the Kremlin. Visiting the GUM department and the Basilius cathedral are surely obligatory when one is in the capital of Russia. We will end our day with an authentic meal in an original Russian restaurant and of course wash it down with Vodka.
Don’t overdo the vodka though, for tomorrow we leave for Sint Petersburg, which will be quite a drive!
The road from Moskou to Saint Petersburg, the M10, is the busiest in all of Russia. Plagued by cargo traffic and speed control checks! Watch your speed closely for the fine needs to be paid in cash on the spot.
Saint Petersburg is founded by Peter the Great in the year 1703 and is situated at the estuary of the river Neva in the gulf of Finland. This city counts over 5 million inhabitants. Along the shores of the Neva, which intersects the city, numerous impressive buildings and palaces are built. The most famous of them is without a doubt the Hermitage. The Nevski Prospect is the famous shopping street of Saint Petersburg, much like 5th Avenue in New York. The excursion programme offers a tour through the city and stops at the Church of the Epiphany of Our Lord and the Marinski theatre.
On our way to Riga, we pass the border of Latvia, one of the Baltic states, near Pskov. Here we will need to export our cars from Russia and import back into Europe again. Riga is situated at the east sea and offers a cosy historical city centre.
The route to Warsaw leads trough Lithuania and into the dark forests of Poland. Passing through a region rich in lakes we arrive at the capital of Poland.
From Warsaw we will follow the modern freeway to Berlin.
In Berlin the finish line of the TransAsia Classic is drawn on the Potsdammerplatz. A suiting location will mark the end of this unparalleled event.
After the finish festivities in Berlin and a good long rest in a soft hotel bed the final stage to Holland commences. It has been a unique experience to travel 25.000 kilometres straight through Asia. A trunk load of experiences richer that offers stories that will be told the rest of our lives…
Once in a lifetime, The Transasia 2018!