First sign of Spring in Northern Pakistan
May 1, 2008
According to the information in the “Lonely Planet” on China, the border with Pakistan opens on the 15th of April, sometimes later. This year the border opened on the 1st of May and I made sure to be one of the first to cross it.
A few days earlier I drove the camper up from Gilgit to Sust and witnessed the first sign of awakening spring and receding winter. It wasn’t cold and I parked the car at the PTDC hotel. Hakeem was there to help me further, but I had four days to do something useful: clean the interior of the van.
With the reservation in hand and my humble belongings packet, I presented myself at the bus stop at 9am. Customs, pass-control took well over an hour, even for the 20-odd passengers waiting to enter China. After that we waited for the transport to arrive
The luggage-check was quite thorough, but nothing in comparison with the checks in China, later.
We crossed the border at about one o’clock. No checks here, that came a few km later. Here the customs officials worked methodically and thoroughly, professionally and always polite. Nothing was overlooked, nothing was left
unopened, unsqueezed, undone or unchallenged. Someone had to get out of his shoes in order to feel if there was something hidden inside. One of my disperine tablets was crushed and tasted and I had to accompany an official, together with my computer, memory stick and external hard-drive to another room where the contents could be checked. In all the melee I think I must have lost that memory stick.
(I bought another memory stick in Kashgar for Y220, found the identical one in a department store for Y100 and bought that one as well. Then I went back to the shop I visited earlier because my sense of capitalistic fairness was offended by the communist interpretation of free enterprise, and made the salesman reverse the sale.)
The Toyota minibus took us to another checkpoint where the whole process on checking for unlawful substances was repeated. All in all, a check that no electronic wizardry could improve on.
Eventually, at about seven PM, we arrived at Tashkurgan, where we were left to fend for ourselves.
Lonely planet tells us you have to bargain in China. And here was my first opportunity. The hotel I found quoted Y120 for a room.
Mao in the dust
I offered Y60 and that was…….accepted! Double bed, en suite WC and hot shower, towels and slippers, TV and water kettle with teabags, the works!
Next day after a friendly shop owner changed some money for me, I was put into a Mitsubishi Prado with five others and drove to Kashgar. (6 hours and Y80) Mountainous landscape, no or very little vegetation, snow-capped mountains in the distance and only one checkpoint. All the way from the border the road had been first class, double lane with border lines and center line painted from beginning to end.
In Kashgar found hotel (hotel Seman, common room, two beds not en suite, TV and hot water kettle, Y50 p/d. Internet and English speaking attendants in the lobby, John’s café and information centre in the back ). Drew money from ATM (bank of China).
Chinese holiday. City shrouded in dust like a thick mist . Had a look at Mao’s statue, the people’s square and what’s left of the old town wall.
Sunday. Less dust. Bought ticket for train to Korla. (12 hours, 1000 km, Y130 plus tax and hotel-service). Made some observations:
Battery-powered scooters, few beggars, wide paved streets,
Showing the ropes to his pride and joy
all sidewalks paved with identical concrete tiles, no power stoppage, shops and supermarkets, department stores brimming with merchandise, from shoelaces to electronics, everything clean and organized, even the huge Sunday market, lots of taxis, Volkswagen and some Citroen, metered, reasonable prices. Not many English speaking people around.
The relationship between parents and toddlers is peculiar. The kids are well-behaved and treated like precious possessions, which they are, of course. But I can’t get over the fact that millions of kids in this country grow up without brother or sister. I never before realized how sad this must be.
Clear sky again, sunny and warm.
Tomorrow I’ll start to see more of this country.
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