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Published: March 6th 2018
The bus Hotan to Minfeng
Hand shift, about 30 seats, water faucet on board (not used by anyone), no wc but two buckets in the aisle, purpose unknown
After a good breakfast at Hetian (Hotan) we were at the bus station by 10.30 for the 11.00 bus to Minfeng, E.T.A. 4pm, Beijing time. The bus was fairly modern, and in good condition; the road is good, 176 miles along a flat, level surface with light traffic. Unfortunately, for the second day running, visibility was poor - about half a km and briefly about 400 metres, at which stretch a rudimentary convoy system was in operation. Probably just as well, because the road is a single carriageway with no central reservation and quite a high proportion of the drivers can point and steer well enough but lack conventional road sense; various grisly wrecks displayed on plinths beside the road bear witness to the difficulty of assessing closing speed on a straight road in poor visibility.
There were very few villages along the road, but it was fringed with some sort of vegetation along about half of the distance - sometimes agricultural activity, and if that was not possible then the roadside was bordered by a mammoth and ongoing plan to plant a belt of (Lombardy?) poplars for about 30 yards on both side, carefully irrigated and tended. Elsewhere some
Visibility here is about 400 metres
Overtaking in these conditions on a single carriageway is not for the faint-hearted
sort of basic scrub existed, presumably indicating areas that could have poplars at a later date. BTW, we now wonder if tiny twisters are perhaps known as "dust devils", we have still to discover an example of the famous Diversifid-leaved Poplar, and we still cannot imagine what those sheep and yaks survived upon along the high Karakoram, we did not see a blade of grass or anything.
We passed the dried up bed of the White Jade river soon after leaving town, and others along the way (including one that watered a National Wetlife Sanctuary, in an area of low ground north of the road); another such river bed lay just outside of Minfeng. In passing, it is odd how we all notice different things - Christa noticed that the ladies in Kuqa and Kashgar all wear some sort of simple headscarf, although this is not always the case in Hotan or Minfeng. Maghnus notices the truly enormous new developments near every town (or indeed elsewhere) which are either abandoned, unfinished or unoccupied; sometimes they include shopfronts for up to 100 or more small traditional shops, and elsewhere one sees huge manufacturing facilities in limited production and with fleets
Scrubland to the south of the Minfeng road
Difficult to identify, everything is shrouded in sand; but clearly there is potential to introduce poplar (no sign of eucalyptus or acacia, which used to be suggested for such environments)
of specialised delivery or operational vehicles parked up. Kevin notes that in some villages and districts the national flag is displayed on every building, yet, unaccountably, very similar area display none; or that he has yet to see anybody reading or even carrying a book or newspaper; is yet to see a newspaper stand, or a launderette.
Reaching Minfeng, our large hotel has, perhaps, seen better days and (judging by the condom rack) some seriously enthusiastic residents; we noted that Karaoke sessions are advertised for the 3rd floor, but seem to have arrived on the wrong night. However, the receptionist was helpful and we eventually completed the check-in procedure and beetled off to a (thankfully) very good meal in a local Uighir restaurant. By this point in our travels, our very limited Chinese is of no help at all and GoogleTranslate has not provided a Uighir facility.... we were reduced to walking around the tables pointing to meals that other patrons had ordered and selecting ones we fancied. Everyone very helpful indeed, and the cost was tiny (45 yuan, about £5 for three meals including lashings of tea).
Despite all the above, this was NOT a good day.
Dinner in an Uighir restaurant
Excellent; note that the photographer has scraped his plate (no eating-sticks for him, but only by coincidence); and the Moslem management were happy for us to have beer.
In a nutshell, technical delays arose all along the way; I will not go into detail but we quite clearly were the first non-Chinese persons to pass this way in a very long time and the bus was delayed on our account. Owing to the total lack of communication, the driver assumed that our papers were in some way deficient and that we were "chancers" who should be thrown off; naturally enough he informed all the other passengers of his ill-founded opinion, so an air of latent hostility prevailed until the commonsense of our fellow travellers overcame his prejudice. All the same, it was 6.30 pm before the bus rolled into Minfeng and disgorged its disgruntled, hungry, tired, dusty and toilet-deprived contingent. At this point our little party was held back for additional technical reasons and disaffection broke out amongst us. It was pointed out that a hired car would be cheaper, quicker and not much more dangerous, whereas there was the countering point that the trip was partly to experience life at a local level; the passengers on the bus had experienced the inconvenience arising from three tourists actually visiting their community (which is heavily promoted as a tourist
destination) and we had shared their inconvenience. Anyway we finally reached our hotel and it was agreed to try to stick to the plan, to spend a day exploring Minfeng and then attempt to travel on by bus to Qiemo.
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