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Published: November 21st 2011
flew directly to the west before cold weather set in
SILK ROAD TRIP 2010
URUMQI, KASHGAR AND WESTERN BORDER AREA
Arrived at Urumqi in middle of night in terminal that was like enclosed bus shelter without seats, so sleeping there not option. only paid about 20% more than expected in hotel with clean sterile white walls ,so next morning with help of the same taxi driver, moved to a youth hostel style hotel with writing all over walls. There were no other westerners here, very westernised young Chinese traveller-backpackers from all over China. This is the first time I had seen so many Chinese travellers outside the tour group setup. It was very encouraging to see.
This is the most inland city in the world, (It’s a long way to the beach)
URUMQI, the capital of Xinjiang, is a typical ethnic Han Chines city, not that interesting but now 45% Chinese and 45% Uigars (the Islamic people-pronounced ‘We-gars’) who don't seem to mix much with each other. The change from all Chinese area to all Uigar area occurs in one city block. It was quite a shock, like suddenly being transported to the Middle East, without the tension.
Did a day trip
to Heavenly Mountain up in the hills with Dutch and German couple. We travelled thru desert to these snow covered mountains with crystal-clear blue lake. This area is typical of where the water comes from to feed via underground rivers, the dessert oasis towns cities and villages of the wild west area of China.
Even though we are along way from Beijing we are expeected to work on Beijing time. It is like expecting Perth to work on Sydney time; the sun rise after 9AM and sets after 9PM; very frustrating; eating and sleeping times all over the place. Sometimes 'local time' is used (2 hours behind) so you always have to check.
I did not stay long in the big city of Urumqi, because I wanted to get to the more interesting town of Kaskgar before the weather got too cold, which can easily happen here.
Old saying…. "Kashgar lies where the maps in people's minds dissolve".
Kashgar was to be one of my main destinations. It did not let me down. It is still one of the main melting pots of Asia and the main entry point on the Silk
central asian region
In late 1800s, the Russian, British and Chinese Empires all manouvoured to gain control of this region,especially Xinjiang
Road from Europe and the Middle East into China. I am now officially closer to Moscow than Beijing and Pakistan and the other "stans" not far away, real rocky gravelly dusty dessert. The weather was really good at that time of yearalthough October is Autumn, it may only last for one month.
HISTORY ON THE FACES ON THE STREET.
The faces here are many and varied; from Chinese, Mongolian, Tibetan, Pakistani, Middle Eastern, Arabic, Mediterranean, European (Russian?) Face colours range from dark brown to light brown and even white faces,with rosy cheeks and some with hazel coloured eyes ( I have not seen any blue or green eyes, although, they are supposed to be around). Eye shapes also vary quite a lot to the usual Chinese; from almond, round to 'diamond' shaped. I often do a double-take when I see very western faces dressed and speaking as Uighars. This is of course due to the globalization of cultures long ago of the Silk Road when the traders from Arabian countries and the Mediterranean settled here.
CONSULATES AS HOTELS
During the "Great Game" of the 1800s when Russia, England and China were in
a power struggle for control of this area from the various Islamic tribes here. (a bit like the the French, Spanish and American power struggle with the Native American tribes) both Britain and Russia set up consulates here which are now hotels. It is hard to tell which is old and new since they all seem a bit run down. i stayed at the British one for a night, but the smell of mould caused me to defect over to the Russians, which is was my base for a few days.
The consulate 'parties' they had back in the 1800s, must have been amazing. Nobody trusted anyone, but all the nationalities would get together to drink and play cards. Everybody was armed with knives and pistols. The sound of waiters clinking their pistols on the backs of the chairs filled the room as they served you food and drink! It must have been quite a wild time...
Kashgar is a great place with friendly easy going non pushy people, not what i expected from Islamic ethnic majority Uigars here. (Another ethnic stereotype image shattered).You hardly see any Chinese people here, but no tension notice anywhere, even if the people
the main Silk Road trails
west cChina borders many of the 'Stans', including Afganistan
area bit aloof.
A local tour guide here told me that this city was voted by international travellers as one of the most charming cities in the world. The old city made of mud brick and rammed earth is pleasant to walk around; unfortunately it is starting to fall down especially after some rain just before I arrived.
KARAKORUM HIGHWAY AND BORDER AREA
I also did trip towards Pakistan border via shared hire car along the Karakoram Highway; the highest sealed road in the world, even though it is broken by flash floods in many places. A bit of trouble with border police and altitude sickness (about 3600 metres) other wise quite desolate place with red gravel hills (iron ore), dessert and snow mountains.. The closest I got to the border was about one hour away by horse-back to Tajikastan.
We stayed for lunch at a local village. It was so isolated and barren, with no trees or even bushes visible. The air was a bit thin; the sky very dark blue and clear and the air so cold, crisp and quiet. Very weird….. Power was supplied by solar panels and wind generators. The Chinese
government want all their citizens (especially Islamic ethnic minorities) to have maximum government information access via radio and TV. Lunch consisted of a bowl of rice with grated carrot and a couple of slabs of yak meat (mostly fat). That night I was the only time I was sick on the whole trip, but it was worth it. I think this was the most isolated and ‘alien’ place I have ever been to ; quite spectacular.
Then it was back to Kashgar and very long train trip to Tulufan in the east of Xinjiang.
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