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Two Years & Twice Around the World...  
Kashgar Market
CLASSIC CHINA Beijing April 23 April 24 April 25 April 26 April 27 April 28 April 29-30 May 1-2 May 3-4 May 5 Pinyao, Shanxi May 6 May 7 Xian, Shaanxi May 8 May 9-10

TIBETAN PLATEAU Xining, Qinghai May 11 May 12 Tongren, Qinghai May 13 May 14 Xiahe, Gansu May 15 May 16-17

THE SILK ROAD Lanzhou, Gansu May 18 Dunhuang, Gansu May 19-20 May 21-22 May 23 May 24-25 Turpan, Xinjiang May 26 May 27 Kashgar, Xinjiang May 28-29 May 30 May 31 June 1-2 June 3-6 Hotan, Xinjiang June 7 June 8-9 June 10-11 June 12-13 June 14-16 June 17-19

A LAST LOOK Shanghai June 20-29 Beijing June 30
Kashgar Market, Xinjiang Province, May 26, 2003


May 28. KASHGAR (Xinjiang Province)  For all of our trains apparent comfort it actually wasn't that good of a night's sleep for either of us.  A nearby heater rattled all night and around 2am Beijing time a group of six Chinese people boarded at Kuche and made no effort to be quiet.   

Through the night we had passed over the Tian Shan Mountains and the landscape had returned to the barren gray dessert.  We occasionally saw homes in the middle of nowhere and several villages that looked like they had been long abandoned, but not the ancient variety.  The train rattled along with little change in scenery for most of the journey.  In the night we had stopped and lost some time, probably due to a sand storm, so we arrived in Kashgar around 3pm.  

As we approached Kashgar the number of homes began to increase and the little mud and brick structures kept themselves cool with grape trellises so the scenery became greener.  By the time we finally arrived at the Kashgar station, 10km from town we could see larger buildings and other signs of city life.  Some sort of foreign affairs official met us as we got off the train. He corralled us together and asked us to follow him which made us all a bit nervous.  Where we in for some ambulance or hospital treatment? But, in fact, he was just there to expedite our SARS check so we could exit the station trouble free.  Once we were safely out of the station we were free to get into town on our own.  

We grabbed a city bus into the center of town and got off at the huge Mao statue (just in case we forgot we were in China).  Our guidebook told us to catch another bus to the hotel but that bus didn't seem to exist so we eventually resorted to taxis.  Our hotel, the Chini Bagh Binguan, was in the location of the old British Embassy but all that supposedly remained was the entrance gate. A bell hop came and loaded our bags onto a cart which seemed like awfully good service for a backpacker hotel but the hotel actually had a split personality to suit both the upscale travelers and riffraff like us.  

It took more negotiating that usual but we finally agreed on a price for three three-bed rooms.  They were shared so Lee took one whole room for himself, Rob and I took another, and Jenny and James took the third.  But, Rob, Jenny, James and I hadn't bought our whole rooms so there was a chance that we'd get a roommate before the day was over.  The rooms were pretty nice though - 5th floor, nice hot showers, soft beds.  

While Lee got cleaned up the four of us when to the bus station to get tickets for our trip to Lake Karakul the following day.  Too tired to even think of walking we resorted to cabs.  The bus station was back near Chairman Mao and after fighting our way to the ticket widow a couple of times we eventually managed to get our tickets.  The bus wouldn't make an official stop at the lake so we had tickets for the town beyond and just had to tell the driver to let us off at the Lake.  Rob and I were thankful that we had Jenny and James with us to help sort out the situation in Chinese.  

Just outside the bus station a row of simple little restaurants were lined up and we were lured inside one for some Uyghur noodles, dumplings and bread.  We seemed to draw a fair amount of attention but just curious stares and smiles.  The people working in the restaurant became very interested in our guidebooks and we might have been there all evening looking through the pictures with them if we hadn't pulled ourselves away.  This was proving to be a popular pastime in Xinjiang Province.

Back at the Chini Bagh we spotted Lee out in front of the hotel Chinese restaurant with some food and beers.   We joined him for a couple of drinks while he ate but really didn't have enough energy left for a long evening and headed to our rooms by around 9pm.  We also had a pretty early bus ride in the morning to Lake Karakul to get ready for.  A hot shower always feels great when you've been in the same clothes for two days straight.  

May 29. KARAKUL LAKE (Xinjiang Province)  We planned to meet Jenny and James around 9am to head for the bus station.  We all tried to get Lee up as well but he had turned in much later the night before and after many more beers.  He said he would meet us up at the lake so we headed off without him. 

The bus was scheduled to leave at 10:00 Beijing time which gave us enough time to get some bread and drinks, go through the SARS check and get our packs loaded on the top of the bus.  It wasn't a full bus when we left the station but we still had our ticket man on board - a round man with a shaved head and big glasses that reminded us of the Chinese version of Drew Carey.  He was full of energy and kept yelling for everyone to get the on board.  There was another bus stop at the edge of town where he screamed for more passengers and the bus became pretty full.  After seeing that everyone had paid and done their SARS forms he let the bus go on its way.  He had the whole bus chuckling from his excessive excitement.  

It didn't seem like we had been on the road very long when the bus pulled over for a rest stop at the little village of Upal.  The bus stopped in front of a busy restaurant that was churning out kebabs, noodles, and pilaf for all of the people in transit.  We noticed two other foreigners get out of a land cruiser.  Rob and I had them pegged for Americans and sure enough they were - Valerie and David - but both were currently working in China.  They were also on their way to Karakul.

Our lunch stop was brief so we took some of our food to go and got back on the bus.  Again, we hadn't been on the road very long when the bus pulled over to wait for some road construction to be completed.  They were paving over a bridge.  The wait ended up taking three hours!  Valerie and David pulled up in their land cruiser not long after we arrived.  Their driver and guide looked for a route over the river but the water was too high.  We were all stuck there watching a steam roller go back and forth, back and forth, and back and forth for three hours.  When the road finally opened our bus passed over the bridge and pulled over again to wait for all of the stragglers to catch up.  The town where we had been standing for three hours was only a small cluster of houses so it was a mystery where the other people had gone.  We had to keep moving to let traffic pass but pulled over a total of three times for the stragglers.  The second time we pulled over a few men got off the bus to go to the bathroom. We'd been sitting in front of a public restroom for three hours and these guys had to go after we'd been on the road for two minutes.  After about another half hour of waiting for one last person to make it to the bus while others went back to look for the person everyone finally shrugged and the bus moved on. 

The rest of the road to the lake was in a state of constant construction causing the bus to detour off onto bumpy dirt roads but we didn't get held up again. We stopped to go through the check point and a few people got off in the middle of nowhere to hike to their villages but otherwise the bus kept moving for another four hours.  It was beginning to feel like a long trip.  Every time we spotted a bit of water we hoped that it was Karakul lake but were wrong several times.  The weather got worse and finally began to drizzle and then to hail.  Just as we were starting to get worried about the state of our bags on the roof the bus pulled over just past a cheesy Chinese-style gate.  We had finally arrived at the Karakul Lake Resort.

Resort was sort of a generous term.  It was a small building with dormitories, about seven tourist yurts, a small cafe and too many donkeys.  The scenery was pretty though, even in the poor weather.  We'd spotted white covered peaks here and there on the road up with green valleys caught in between.  It was a drastic change from the dry desert terrain we had left that morning.  We were in the Pamir mountains, another five hours of driving and we would have reached the Pakistan border and the famous Karakoram Highway, currently closed due to SARS. 

The yurts weren't very glamorous, just a big round tent with a pile of bedding in the middle.  The hotel was only utilizing three of their yurts.  Valerie and David had yurt number one, we had yurt number two and another party was in yurt number three.  The "cafe" was a small restaurant that was maintained by some Kyrgyz people but the hotel complex was owned by some Chinese.  The hotel's windmill was not generating any electricity since there wasn't any wind so the complex was without lights and heat.  They cooked on a gas stove and gave us some candles to eat by but as the sun went down it got very cold.  

As we were eating our cold dinner (served hot but quickly turned cold) a group of French and French Canadians turned up.  They had come by in the morning to look into lodging but weren't pleased with the resort management.  After not finding any lodging elsewhere they had come back.  The hotel management couldn't be bothered to take some bedding to another yurt for them to use so they ended up with Valerie and David.  Each yurt was supposed to sleep eight or nine but I can tell you that wouldn't have been much fun.  It didn't take Valerie and David long to take us up on our offer to join the English speaking tent so we had six in our yurt.  The bedding looked ample but the skimpy floor mats and cotton comforters left us really cold during the night.  We all had even doubled up on covers!  The constant chorus of donkeys through the night added to an already bad night's sleep.