Why is India friendly to North Korea

North Korea: Mountain bike trip in Asia

What can you expect from this bike trip? Little freedom and trails, but contrasts: huge landscape, propaganda, uniformity and friendliness, omnipresent Kims and karaoke for BBQ.

"The entire US nuclear arsenal is aimed at you and you worry about snakes?" taunts Tom Bodkin. He's right, of course: We're biking through North Korea - the planet's biggest target - and snakes are not at the top of the list of challenges.

We don't see any either. Instead, Harald wakes me up the next morning with chattering teeth. "I have to turn on the stove," he whispers. Last night we were able to bend our strict travel plan a little and swapped the hotel for a bivouac on the mountain. In the damp cold we doubt our decision. Harald wants warm tea. Me too.

Yesterday was brutally exhausting. With our bikes we stumbled after guide Kim In Guk, through undergrowth and over rocks up an incredibly steep slope. Kim is 70, wears an old tracksuit, walks like a cowboy, and with his stick he is a little reminiscent of Yoda from the Star Wars movie. While he waits for us, the freshly rolled cigarette in his fingers, he smiles and holds his thumb up. We see smiling faces a lot here in North Korea. The people don't rush on us, they are reserved, but always friendly.

Dan Milner carrying passage at the concrete border fence.

Nobody said that biking would be an easy thing in North Korea. Many doubted we could even make it here. Some doubted we could get it out. Everyone has an opinion about North Korea, and nobody really knows what. It is called the People's Democratic Republic, is governed by dictatorship and is not really a tourist magnet. But this last communist bastion appeals to me. And the professional bikers Harald Philipp and Max Schumann as well. But even with all the logistics that Tom's Secret Compass agency took over for us, it's an unsafe undertaking. How do you calculate things when traveling to a country ruled by an unpredictable psychopath

"You can take photos of anything except military," says Pak Song Gun (35) when he picks us up in a minibus at Pyongyang airport. Pak and his 26-year-old colleague Om Jin Song are our two guardians for the trip. They speak good English and ask us a lot of curious questions about the time - but never question their guides. Their suits are likened to leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, grandfather and father of the current dictator. They propagate the successes of the Kim family in an exemplary manner.

Dan Milner Short rest in the wooden pavilion: Tom next to Pak, Kim and Om as well as Max and Harald (from left).

We steer through the streets. The city looks airy and calm - and "quite uniform", my Max. There is not much to see of colorful brand diversity and individual expression. A little later, while we are driving past endless rice fields in the country, on roads as wide as airplane runways, Max mumbles: "I feel like in an old movie. As if time stood still 70 years ago." We nod. The scenery on the drive to the northeast into the Myohyan Mountains is characterized by great simplicity. No advertising posters, hardly a car.

The hardwood forests of Myohyang, however, are spectacular. Whereby we are apparently the bigger show for the North Korean tourists. They walk past us in their slippers, smiling attentively. Whoever has, pulls out the smartphone and films us biking. The recordings will never end up on YouTube. There is no access to the Internet. We are also very aware of this. When we landed, we put ourselves completely in the hands of our guardians. They are by no means authoritarian and do not carry a weapon. But we know that we have to obey them and that we have no freedom.

Back to the bivouac: We pushed and cursed a lot on the way to the summit of Myohyang. And for what? The rain turned the 1,600 meters down into a single sled run. After all, we get to the bottom without injuries. A small group of North Koreans has gathered for a party under a concrete bridge: billows of smoke rise from the grill, beer is drunk and karaoke is sung. They wave to us, even though they are actually forbidden from contact with foreigners. A few seconds later we are holding a beer. All the barriers - language, culture, politics - they can also be overcome in North Korea. Until Pak and Om get a little nervous and urge us to continue.

The next stop on the program is the legendary Mount Paektu. The volcano is considered unpredictable, but for the North Koreans, above all, it is closely intertwined with national history and is revered like a sanctuary. Kim Jong-il is said to have been born in the dense forests at the foot of the mountain. The place is considered to be the origin of the 1948 revolution. At 2,744 meters, it is also the highest point on the Korean peninsula, and Kim Jong-un recently shook hands with South Korean President Moon Jae-here.

Asia: Bike trip to the People's Republic of North Korea


What can you expect from a bike trip to the People's Republic of North Korea? Little freedom and trails. But all the more contrasts: huge landscape and bizarre propaganda, uniformity and friendliness, omnipresent Kims and karaoke for BBQ.

But the myth is shrouded in fog. We stay in the bus for over six hours and stare into the rain in frustration. One truck after the other unloads local tourists. Wrapped in plastic cloaks, they follow a man who disappears into the haze with a red flag. The weather hits our minds. It was so exhausting to get to this remote corner of the country, and we only have two days. The flights to the nearest city Samjiyong are rare. A 49-year-old 4-propeller Soviet plane brought us here. Samjiyong is just beginning to emerge. Modern houses are being built around the few older buildings like our hotel and the huts. A new model city is planned. On the one hand, because tourism is increasing around the holy mountain - but also as a show of power: the Chinese border runs just a few kilometers further north.

The next morning we start at 4.30 a.m. Three soldiers get in at the army checkpoint and squeeze their machine guns between us and the bikes. They look extremely young, don't really care about us and play on smartphones. The bus puffs its way uphill, past workers who work the cobblestones at 6 a.m. They knock the stones with their hands and carry them in sacks. There are no machines to be seen.

Finally we stop at the edge of the volcanic crater. We jump on our bikes and the workers in their red hats watch us with a grin as we ride along the ridge. We step uphill to the top of the sacred mountain. The view makes us swallow: the volcano is huge, the view gigantic. The lake shines blue from the crater, the barren rocky desert spreads - deep into China. It's surreal. But even the vastness doesn't let us forget where we are. The propaganda - bright red letters on stone monuments - is omnipresent.

Then, finally, we are leaving Korea's summit. It's only a short descent before we land back at Pak and Om. Nevertheless, it is the emotional climax of our trip. Not because we were the first bikers to ride the mountain, but because we were allowed to experience a breath of this country - and hardly anyone would have thought that possible.


BIKE magazine

The country
The official name of North Korea is Democratic People's Republic of Korea. The name belies the actual conditions in the East Asian state. The country's ruler Kim Jong-un reacts with dictatorial severity. North Korea is considered the most restrictive country in the world - including the most serious human rights violations. The population is just under 25 million.

The Tour
Although North Korea has opened up noticeably to tourists in recent years, it is still not possible to travel to the country individually. State watchdogs check the route and compliance with the "rules". The agency Secret Compass, which specializes in unusual travel destinations, helped Dan Milner, Max Schumann and Harald Philipp with the organization. The tour led via Beijing to the North Korean capital Pyongyang and from there to biking to Myohyang. By plane we went to Samjiyon, from where the volcano Mount Paektu was climbed. A stay in Chilbo rounded off the almost two-week tour.

Since there is no hiking culture in North Korea like in the Alpine region, the infrastructure in the mountains is extremely thin. The trails are rough, which is why an Enduro or a robust All Mountain is recommended. You should always have enough spare material with you.

You can find this article in BIKE 12/2018. You can read the entire digital edition in the BIKE app (iTunes and Google Play) or the print edition in the DK shopreorder - while stocks last:

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