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Published: August 15th 2015
Since we left Turpan everything has been different. The people, the culture, the food, the language, and even - unofficially - the time.
We had plenty of time to get to Kashgar so made a couple of stops along the way, one turned out to be a good idea, the other not. First up was Kuqa, the good one.
We'd managed to book two soft sleepers on the train and amazingly had the whole four berth compartment to ourselves for the whole journey, but before we could discover that we had to make the 50km journey from the city of Turpan to the closest station which is in a hellhole called Daheyan. In my wildest dreams I can find no reason why anybody would live in such a place, not for the first nor the last time we counted our blessings. It was also here we had our first, but by no means last, experience of the blatant racism, hostility, aggression and lack of respect some of the Chinese show the Uyghurs. After one of the best overnight journeys we've had we arrived in Kuqa a bit after 5 in the morning. Not knowing anything about Kuqa station we
were expecting to be able to sit for an hour or two inside the station, maybe get something to eat and drink, while we waited for it to get light and find our way into town, nope, the exit spat us straight out into an unlit car park, and at that time in the morning it's dark - very dark. Around the edge of the car park toward the road we noticed a few people hanging around, they turned out to be taxi drivers who are banned from going beyond a particular point, we found one who knew our hotel and once he'd mysteriously managed to find another couple of passengers we were on our way. One day would have been enough in Kuqa, there isn't much to see, but we stayed two and to be honest got a bit bored of the place. We were ready to leave and head across the Taklamakan Desert to Hotan.
Our joint least favourite method of transport in China are the sleeper buses, even the good ones are horrible, but that's all there is for this journey even though it's in the day. Tickets are only sold on the day so we
got to the bus station earlyish to buy ours. Despite the obvious fact that we were travelling as a couple and asked for one upper and one lower clearly, at least to us, in the expectation they'd be together when we got on we found they were actually far apart, wtf !!! Not a good start. The compensation for the crap transport is that the desert is beautiful, exactly as we'd imagined it to be - kilometre after kilometre of rolling sand dunes, which come in very handy as there are few facilities along the 700km length of the road. A gaggle of middle aged Uyghur ladies took Atsuko under their wings when comfort breaks were taken, making sure she had the best spot behind the dunes and that any men had been shooed away !!! In Hotan we had another reminder that although we were in China it was a different China - our taxi driver, and the policeman he stopped to ask, couldn't read the name and address of the hotel in simplified Chinese, they only read Uyghur. Hotan itself is a nice city but we hated our time there - we stayed in the worst hotel we've
ever been in anywhere in the world and I was ill, so no more to say about it. Although it was another sleeper bus to Kashgar awaited us we were glad to be getting out.
The journey was our lowest point, not only was it another bloody sleeper bus but we had to stop five times for security checks, or at least the Uyghur men had to be security checked (it had also happened three times on the journey across the desert). Then to top it all the bus "terminal" in Kashgar turned out to be the side of the road 8km out of town !!! By now we were at the point of thinking "can't these 'kin people do anything right" and were ready to kill !!! As ever there was somebody ready to help, in this case a taxi driver and his Chinese passenger who didn't mind us sharing with her and could read the hotel address to the driver. The fantastic old town of Kashgar restored our spirits and renewed our enthusiasm, but we were ready to leave China and head to Kyrgyzstan.
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