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Published: March 1st 2018
We went out to explore the centre of the "new" town, which was vibrant, and very colourful with New Year decorations everywhere, and a proliferation of China national flags; very clean, most vehicles operating by electricity so the entire environment pollution free and not noisy. Have noticed that litter is not a great feature, in the cities all roads are kept clean although elsewhere there is a fringe of empty bottles and cans; the creeping menace of excess packaging begins to appear, apples and pears are sometimes in little swaddle-coats, and we have noticed oranges packed in individual plastic bags. Hired car and about noon headed off to see ancient ruined city of Subashi. We were the only visitors, luckily enough our driver was able to rattle the gates loudly enough to arrange entry - a very early and substantial mud city of the Buddhist community some 1500 years ago; we were only able to see one half - there were further and substantial remains to be seen, tantalisingly, across the valley or flood-zone. The ruins were very interesting indeed, one could scarcely credit the millions of buckets of must have been needed, these structures had walls almost two metres thick and ten metres high and the main temples were of huge proportions.
Our next objective was the cave complex at Kizil, quite some distance away (maybe 40 kms?), and our driver took us through a pass in the mountains; for administrative reasons this excellent road is not open to general traffic so was very quiet. The terrain was extraordinary - wild, ungoverned shapes of hillocks, knobs, defiles and glaciation leading on to a plunging descent through brown and pink jagged, sawlike sheets and cliffs of rock, interlaced with half-flowing melt water. All this in brilliant sunshine, cloudless skies, temperature in the mid 20s. We then sped across a vast, tundra-like plain, miles and miles of almost nothing in all directions. We stopped to examine the sparse vegetation - here and there one found a thorny plant, sometimes a vaguely Erica-like plant, sometimes one which was slightly woolly, none of them more than a foot high; it would be nice to have seen them when less withered, we will see as time goes by. Otherwise, the ground is entirely free of any cover at all, perhaps 95% stone and bare earth.
Kizil caves are amongst the most important sites for early Buddhist art and fully described online. The site itself is very carefully protected (not least by seven guard dogs at the gates) and huge sums have been invested in the access road, the site itself and safe access to the caves. Our "guide" opened a suitable selection for us and we were suitably impressed by the way in which colour and detail have survived, by the sympathetic conservation work, and by some features of which we had been unaware, such as nice cornices and one particular dwelling-cave, complete with bed, fireplace and window opening. The entire site is immense, and jealously protected, so we felt privileged to have seen so much, in such conditions, and having everything almost to ourselves (a tiny sprinkling of perhaps a dozen in the vast complex that supports the centrepiece).
Home then, and out to visit the fascinating old town, a Uighir enclave. We enjoyed the colourful and vaguely classical features of the shops and, since it was school-out time, found ourselves at the head of a Pied-Piper troupe of children, bands of about a dozen following us in relays along the 3km walk. We had dinner in a Uighir roadside restaurant, with kebabs cooked on an open BBQ affair of traditional and splendid design, (laghman), and nan bread (samsa), pickled beetroot, a bread filled with lamb and onions, also little Cornish-pastie style pastry filled with lamb, cumin etc. Dinner for three, unlimited tea (no alcohol), total cost 40 Yuan (about £3.50); nobody here will accept a tip, despite wonderful hospitality. Getting ready now for Day 6, 460 miles by 2nd Hard Sleeper to Kashgar.
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