A journey along the river that separates Russia from China

Thubron’s latest, “The Amur River: Between Russia and China,” is therefore not entirely new territory for him. Although Amur, called Hei...


Thubron’s latest, “The Amur River: Between Russia and China,” is therefore not entirely new territory for him. Although Amur, called Heilongjiang in Chinese, is longer than the Indus and as politically important as the Rio Grande, it remains largely unrecognized in the West. Starting about 500 miles east of Lake Baikal in Russia and almost as far away from any significant human settlement, it empties into the Pacific just past the spooky Russian port town of Nikolaevsk, Thubron’s final stop. Because it forms the border between Russia and China for more than 1,000 miles, much of its length is off-limits even to determined travelers like Thubron. Perhaps to make up for it, it begins its journey at the source of the spring: the marshes of northern Mongolia where another river, the Onon, is born in a net which, when it crosses Russia, becomes the Shilka. and finally Love. .

Even where it is not a highly militarized border area, it is a forbidden country. In Mongolia, Thubron passes through the Strictly Protected Area of ​​Khenti, a vast reserve of mountains, swamps and steppes that includes the birthplace and legendary burial place of Genghis Khan. There are no roads, so he travels on horseback with local guides and breaks an ankle and two ribs for his effort. In Russia, the climate is gloomy, the isolation deep. Already sparse populations are declining rapidly. It is only on the Chinese side, where Thubron spends relatively little time, that there is a lot of infrastructure or social vitality. There, cities sprouted almost overnight, forests giving way to factories and farms.

Thubron hires guides, hitchhikes, hops on a train when needed, and chats with whoever he can. It turns out that the Russians fear and resent the Chinese. The Chinese feel much the same for the Russians, but with perhaps less fear than contempt. Their common history is not a beautiful one. In 1689, after the Manchu armies uprooted the Cossacks from the forts they had established throughout the region, the Tsar ceded the Amur Basin and much of Siberia to Beijing. By the mid-19th century, China had been hampered by rapacious European powers, including and in particular by Britain. In 1858, Russia took over all the lands north of Amur. It was hardly worth it. The Love, difficult to navigate even when it was not frozen, formed a bad highway to the Pacific. The towns that Thubron visits on the Russian side are austere, alcoholic, almost abandoned. On the Chinese side, the new towns “shine with a future”. There, the pace of change is so furious that the past is almost lost.

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Newsrust - US Top News: A journey along the river that separates Russia from China
A journey along the river that separates Russia from China
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