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Two Years & Twice Around the World...  



May 31. KASHGAR (Xinjiang Province) At 5am everybody got up to go.  We got ready to steal their covers to keep warm for the rest of the night, but they came back into the yurt to get us.  They had squished and squeezed into the land cruiser to make room for us and all eight of us ended up fitting.

The land cruiser was a much quicker ride down the mountain and we reached the slide area in about an hour and a half.  I remembered the area from our drive up.  The rock had overhung the road by a precarious degree and our driver honked the horn as we passed under the overhang to make a nice echo.  Apparently one too many bus horns had finally rattled the big chunk of rock loose and there is sat in the middle of the highway surrounded by a ton more smaller rocks.  We climbed up and over the slide and had to walk about 4km to the checkpoint where the car was waiting for us. 

The night before we had been told the second car would cost about Y150 but this jerk knew he had us so he was charging an outrageous Y80 per person.  With the hefty tips for Ali and driver it was a very expensive trip home but we were all too glad to be out of the freezing yurts in Karakul to complain too much.  The car made a stop at the same food place we hit on the way up.  None of us were hungry but our driver wanted breakfast.  It wasn't enough that he was ripping us off but he also had to delay our return to Kashgar when we were all totally beat. 

The only small bonus was a quick side trip to Mahmud al-Kashgari tomb.  He was famous for writing the first dictionary of the Turkic language and his tomb is a popular pilgrimage site.  Rob and I were initially too tired to care much but I ended up going to see the tomb since I had read about Mahmud al-Kashgari in the "A History of Inner Asia" book that I had been reading.  The tomb was laid out like a small mosque amongst a larger graveyard of Uyghur tombstones.  It didn't take long to see and had a scenic backdrop of the Pamir mountains.  As we were leaving they were setting up the grounds for the day and had daybeds and traditional instruments available for people to relax and enjoy their afternoon.

The car dropped Jenny, James, Rob and I back at the Chini Bagh hotel but with the market only a day away they didn't have any of the nice rooms left.  They directed us to a backpacker building in the back of the complex but the rooms were a big let down for nearly the same price.  With what little energy we had left we caught a cab over to the Seman Binguan and got ourselves a couple of well worn but large and cheerful rooms on the 4th floor.     

After a shower we both collapsed on the beds and slept for hours.  I woke up first and did some laundry while Rob came around.  It was the first bit of solid sleep we had had in days and it sure felt good, not to mention the shower.  In late afternoon we crossed the street to John's Information Cafe, a typical backpacker place serving a hodge podge of Chinese and Western foods and, during better times, a place where travelers could arrange side trips from Kashgar.  During the dull days of SARS business was very slow and the enthusiasm of the staff to serve anybody was equally as low.  However, it was convenient and if there were tourists in town they eventually passed through John's so it was a good place to meet people and gather updated news.  

We ran into Lee at the cafe which was lucky because we weren't sure where he had gone after we had left for Lake Karakul.  He had also relocated to the Seman Binguan to save money.  He had tried to follow us up to the lake but the bus ticket we had bought for him had the name of Taxkorgan on it so he inadvertently ended up dealing with their SARS hassle and underwent both a blood test and x-ray.  There wasn't a scheduled Karakul stop for the bus so the tickets said Taxkorgan.  When we left Lee in Kashgar he wasn't feeling well and we didn't really expect that he'd come up after us and felt badly that we hadn't more clearly explained the transportation.  However, he had also just returned from Taxkorgan that day so the public buses had been working and we had spent a lot of money on land cruisers that turned out to have been unnecessary.  Oh well....

There was no new news about Hotan other than the stories of people undergoing blood tests and x-rays or being turned away entirely.  It was discouraging. After the stories from Taxkorgan we didn't want to deal with more of that business.  One French fellow the persisted in denying the tests we eventually put for the night in the Taxkorgan hospital.  Avoiding the tests was a good thing but I not sure that I'd like to sleep in a rural hospital either.

In the evening we met up with Jenny, James, Valerie and David to go with Ali to a well know Uyghur restaurant in Kashgar.  We walked from our hotel to the old Uyghur part of town, past the large Id Kah mosque and the lively adjacent market, turning right onto another large Chinese street where we found the Red Flower (Kizil Ghul) Cake Shop & Bakery.  It was very unassuming from the outside with a cake shop and bakery on the first floor displaying a colorful array of beautifully decorated cakes.  The restaurant was upstairs and in spite of the fairly ornate Uyghur decoration  it was a casual place stuffed with people.   

We squeezed into a table in the middle of the restaurant and let Ali do the ordering.  A large press for extracting juice from pomegranates was right behind us and Ali succeeded in getting us their last glass of the day to share - very yummy. The initial dishes was came out were cold, a shredded cucumber salad with spicy red pepper and vinegar dressing and an often seen dish made of gelatinous cubes covered with the spicy dressing.  Both were very good, especially the cucumber salad since we had eaten very little in the way of fresh vegetable dishes since arriving in Xinjiang.  The main dishes were even better and included two different sorts of mutton dishes and a healthy serving of dipanji (a cut up chicken served in a sauce of Central Asian spices with a side dish of large flat noodles for dipping).  Ali was a regular at the restaurant with his clients and received a healthy serving of one of their cakes as a gift but for us he had them fire up their ice cream machine again to make us some fresh ice cream.  Delicious.  It was a great meal and finally a really good example of what Uyghur food was beyond the world of street stalls serving shish kebab and unleavened bread.   

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