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Published: March 3rd 2018
This rather odd system has retrieved missing Day 2 in Turpan, so I have now published it, a bit late. After and excellent night's sleep in the Sultan hotel, we had a very fine breakfast, intrigued to notice that the waitress had sat down at a neighbouring table, put her down down and fell fast asleep, dead to the world. Admittedly it was 9 am Beijing time, only 7 am locally, but one could only speculate about the vigour and possibilities of Kashgar's nightlife, to which he had been oblivious on our arrival. Moving on, we strolled through a neighbouring square, adorned by a life-sized three-dimensional brinze camel train, and past the rather sad nearby trio of an actual camel, yak and horse. Kashgar is evidently geared up for a tourist influx quite soon, but for now the animals and nearby roundabout had no takers. It was good to see butchers' stalls as we remembered them from years ago, with the carcasses proudly displayed and in some cases being actively butchered (not slaughtered!) in the street. We rambled round to Chini Bagh, the former British Consulate, now a gigantic hotel whose entrance is flanked by a pair of lions, wearing rosettes
for New Year, each one of which would have stood up well in size beside the Sphinx. Kashgar city was not too tempting in a misty rather chilly state so we called in to "Kashgar Guide" service in the Eden Hotel, which we can highly recommend. We asked to travel as far as convenient along the Karakoram Highway, with a view to being back within about 8 hrs. The car and driver were first class; the agency was shut for the low season, but the hotel contacted them by phone and the trip was agreed at 1200 yuan (about £150). The first part of the journey is limited to 60 kph, with speed and identity cameras every km, so was not fast; we stopped for lunch at Upal in a Uighir restaurant, splendid, about £3 a head, then onwards through Oytak. By now we were surrounded by mountains, that seemed to me to be sedimentary, divided by fissures, rolling, climbing and vertiginous above their scree skirts; mountain streams led to a much wider, grander waterway beside the road, far from full flow at present and still mostly frozen. By about the 2,000 metre height we ran into the sort of
hard, near black, shiny granite-like rock that one associates with the Himalayas, the road still climbing steadily. The engineering is outstanding - the classic, published accounts of this ancient route are memorable and one can only wonder what those pioneers would make of this splendid modern highway, with its careful gradient and monumental investment. A lengthy tunnel and two substantial viaducts are testament to the vision and skill of the engineers, and they have managed to maintain a serene dignity that does not clash with the outstanding natural beauty of the route. The harder rock is in cliffs, walls and sheets, a complete contrast to the more accessible lower regions. Noting the occasional group of sheep, Christa remarked that it would be "a hard gather", although we noticed that the very few flocks (up to about 150 sheep in the largest flock we noticed) were accompanied by a dedicated shepherd in every case. The road is perhaps not yet open to Pakistan this season, we certainly saw no signs of through traffic, although we noted a few wrecks, lorries that had evidently run out of control before being overturned with truly horrifying results. The climb continued and by about 3,000
metres we began to notice the occasional yak; at about that point we reached an enormous, beautiful lake, whose surrounding hills had all the feel of those typical Chinese landscape paintings. Here we could see that the effect is partly due to the clear light, and partly due to the way in which millennia of weathering have created landscape effects unlike any other - there is a delicacy and sweep which has to be seen. Our driver was keen to take us further, so we finally reached another, smaller lake, at an altitude of 3,615 metres (38 degrees 27'48.28" N, 75 degrees 35'32.68E), Karagul lake. Only Kevin was particularly affected by the altitude, a wee bit breathless and definitely not keen to run a marathon; a day or two of acclimatisation would have been in order, as was being enjoyed by two or three small groups of soldiers we had seen. Time to descend, and wewere back in Kashgar soon after 8pm for yet another magnificent repast, in a Uighir restaurant of great opulence and splendour, Altnorda or something like that.
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