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Published: March 4th 2018
Another good breakfast at the Sultan hotel, and then a ramble around town. Maghnus went to see the largest statue of Chairman Mao and to visit the various food stalls, Christa and I went to visit the largest mosque in Xinjian, rather old and rather special. Oddly enough, Kevin was forbidden to enter and it turned out that it was because he has a full beard and moustache; Christa, fortunately, has no such facial adornment and was given full reign (despite having no head scarf). We then visited the local street market area and at 1.30 pm Beijing time checked-out and headed for the railway station. Interesting chat with our taxi driver who spoke excellent English and has a travel business, having retired from 10 years of working in the civil service. The station (as we had already discovered) has not yet been torn down and rebuilt and in consequence is a little more chaotic -getting the tickets was a task for Maghnus (yet again). The train (2nd Hard Sleeper) was not packed totally beyond being pretty much full, and we had a more open sort of carriage, the bunks having no specific doorway and a proper ladder for those who
needed to reach the berths. We shared with a family, and away we went, to reach Hetian (Hotan) at 9pm. It was a bit hot, probably the high 30s in the carriage, and we were surprised that nobody had opened a window. Having done so ourselves, we discovered that the desert dust was much finer that one might have imagined - the carriage temperature fell to 27 degrees, and everyone seemed happy. The dust made little difference, as we had already noticed that there were three sacks of coal under each set of bunks; these were a bit of a mystery but eventually Maghnus spotted our tiny and very smart carriage attendant shovelling coal into a furnace... it transpired (literally, in our case) that the central heating is coal-fired! This luxury was unexpected during the 300 mile journey along the fringe of a desert, but doubtless is also needed for hot water in the wc department.
So, the train was great, the passengers (as ever) were very friendly and the staff were very efficient. The desert was a treat, just like a really good movie - there were camels wandering around in the distance, the surface was mostly sand,
it went into infinity, at one point we saw a herd of about 100 donkeys (there was a patch of limited vegetation thereabouts). What seemed at first to be bonfires hither and yon turned out to be discrete vortices, mini-whirlwinds (are these called williwars? or something like that). All in all an excellent journey - the catering was at first disappointing, a choice of leather-belts or small brightly-coloured childrens' wind-up toys, but on the third sweep there was a full trolley complete with water, beer (very hard to find in these parts) and peanuts in-the-shell (to say nothing of mysterious other items in plastic packaging). From time to time we passed small oases, mostly with small yellow houses built of concrete, sometimes a modern version with pitched roofs (why?) and dormers but very occasionally they were adobe, neatly built and looking very comfortable.
On reaching Hetian, the station was first class, the taxi service was normal and efficient (ignoring a slight attempt to treble the agreed fare by charging it for each person!) and we arrived at Hetian Wenzhou Hotel to find that it is clean, modern and ideally sited. The public areas are very grand, and the rooms
are fine but slightly Premier Inn. We checked-in about 10pm and were asked to use the hotel restaurant because our passports were being processed and the police wished to interview us; fair enough but the restaurant staff were very surprised to see us, having knocked off and sat down to their own meal. They were very good about it and produced a very fine meal in jig-time. In the event the police did not bother so we were able to be in bed by midnight. First impressions of Hetian / Hotan are excellent - great people, great atmosphere, a lively and genuine sort of place, we are full of anticipation for our day of exploration.
P.S. Please note that Kevin can no longer access any emails; until now quite a few were getting through but all nine different streams have slowly gone dry.
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