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Two Years & Twice Around the World...  



May 30. KARAKUL LAKE (Xinjiang Province) The hotel had horses available to ride but they were charging too much money.  In general they were just ripping the tourists off.  We were paying Y80 to freeze our butts off in their yurt when we had paid Y100 for a nice hotel room with a bathroom.  The food was also about 200% more than the local food in Kashgar.  It was all starting to leave a bad taste in our mouths. 

Valerie and David headed on to Taxkorgan for their second night while the rest of us went off in different directions for some hiking around the lake.  The weather was beautiful and from talking to the Canadian couple in yurt three who had been there for several days we were very lucky.  They'd even had some snow.  The snow capped mountains were stunning and the lake was a rich deep blue.  Our elevation was around 3000 meters and two of the nearby peaks were over 7000 meters; 7719m Kongur Mountain and 7546m Muztagh-Ata Mountain. 

We headed off around the lake in a counter clockwise direction, straying away from the edge of the lake to visit a  nearby Kyrgyz village.  It was a fairly well off village from the looks of it.  All of the homes were well maintained in their traditional mud and brick architecture and they had two large windmills and solar panels for electricity.  A small group of women and girls had a loom stretched out in front of the village little mosque.  It must have extended about 20 feet.  They waived us over to look at some of their handiwork but we didn't see anything that we wanted to buy.

Further into the village a little girl motioned for us to come in for some tea.  They sat us in a room that was colorfully decorated with tapestries, a dramatic contrast to the brown exterior of the homes.  The women's clothing in the village was very colorful as well with lots of red.  We sat on the edge of a raised area that would be used for sleeping or sitting.  In front of us was a small wood burning stove.  They served us some bread and hot tea while they went about their daily business.  A sheep's head and hooves were outside the door and inside they had a huge metal bucket of sheep's innards that they were sorting through.  One woman tasted a bit of the raw fat as she separated the intestines from the rest of the organs.  They were blowing into the intestine and pouring in water to flush out the remaining fecal pellets.  It was an interesting if not very appetizing thing to watch.  This was just the way things were done.

While we ate our bread and sipped our tea we took out our fold out picture card to communicate with the young boy and girl that were sitting with us.  The card is meant for tourist conversation but the pictures in the food section proved useful and the map allowed us to show them where we were from.  We distributed the last of our Jolly Ranchers to them, pointing to the fruit on the food chart that corresponded to the flavor they were eating.  I don't think they get many oranges in the Pamir mountains.  When we were finished with our tea we weren't sure if we should pay for it or not.  I might have been just a nice gesture on their part so Rob just gave some money to the little girl before we left.  She seemed happy.   

We left the village to continue our walk around the lake.  The pastures surrounding the lake were full of yaks, sheep, goats, donkeys, and the occasional camel.  The camels looked very out of place with a back drop of snow capped peaks.  The lake didn't look so large but as we made our way along the shore new inlets seemed to keep materializing.  We took periodic rests but were starting to get awfully hungry.  Jenny and James had walked in the opposite direction along the lake the night before and encountered some local people that would cook meals for a more reasonable price than the "resort" and we kept hoping that we were getting closer to one such place. There was an large sloped rock that made for a nice resting spot for about a half hour while we enjoyed the little irises that were blooming out of the dirt landscape and stared up at the glacial peaks ahead of us.  

As we reached the opposite side of the lake from the village the moist ground and animals caused a frenzy of flies.  We were plagued with swarms of the nasty insects until we got ourselves to a drier spot.  At this point we were very hungry and just when we were starting to feel very discouraged about food prospects we stumbled upon some stone buildings and could see smoke coming from behind a small hill of dirt.  Thinking that we had found the place Jenny and James had discovered the night before we quickly asked if they had food.  They proceeded to put together a great meal of fresh made noodles, fresh baked bread, and Kyrgyz yak milk tea (a slightly salty but good drink) for the very reasonable price of Y10.  Apparently this was the spot the French group disappeared to every evening to avoid eating at the resort.  The food was much better and it felt good to give business to the locals instead of the Chinese establishment.  They were also willing to take some lodgers but only in small numbers since they could get in trouble with the PSB and the resort.  The thick stone and mud walls and warm wood burning stove had us seriously considering a change if we thought it wouldn't cause the family any trouble but in the end it seemed too problematic.

While we were sitting and enjoying our savory milk tea and watching them prepare the food when we mentioned Jenny and James.  They looked puzzled but when we gave a better description one man disappeared and within minutes returned with Jenny and James. They just happened to be passing by and fit our description but this house wasn't the place they had found the night before.   

We all had a good long rest at the little house.  The noodles were tasty and the bread, cooked in a metal container right on the fire, was delicious.  They had various handicrafts as well and Jenny went away with a nice camel hair bag.  (It really seemed unfair that with all of the wooly yaks around that they should pick on the poor camels for weaving materials!) Rob was handing out cigarettes and making friends with the men to negotiate better prices.  I was tempted by a piece of tapestry but ultimately didn't give in.  We were all planning to come back in the morning for breakfast and I planned to reconsider then.   

Back at the hotel we sat in the Chinese restaurant, adjacent to the dormitory, and had beer while the sun went down.  At dusk we had a random population of small birds fly into the front door and stun themselves against the windows so we carefully gathered each one up and let it loose.  As we were dealing with the birds we saw Ali, David's and Valerie's guide, pop his head in the door.  They had gone up to Taxkorgan and turned around because they were requiring blood tests and x-rays to stay the night.  And, to make matters even more complicated they had heard there had been a huge rock slide across the highway back to Kashgar.  Ali was trying to make arrangements to have another car come up from Kashgar to meet Valerie and David after they walked around the slide.  His concern was that as soon as construction workers arrived the next morning they wouldn't let people across the slide and we would all be stuck for however long it took them to clear the mess.  So, his driver was taking some people down to the slide from Taxkorgan and they would make another trip in early morning for Valerie and David.  They offered to let two people go down with the land cruiser that evening and another two the next morning so all of us could get back to Kashgar. 

We were all caught off guard by this new turn of events but after our first night in the yurts none of us wanted to be stuck in definitely at Lake Karakul.  Rob and I offered to got down that night but when we got our things together the driver started to kick up a fuss.  He said that they car they had arranged to meet the Taxkorgan people on the other side of the slide was only expecting two people.  The whole conversation seemed too heated and the idea of climbing over a rock slide at 3am seemed pretty stupid anyway so we backed out.

In the middle of night Ali was still trying to arrange for two cars to come up from Kashgar and he was going to have his driver make two more trips to the slide so we could all go but after all of his effort he could only get one car arranged.  We decided that Jenny and James should go since they had more limited time to travel than we did.  

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