> On The Silk Road - Kashgar


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In Kashgar - desert oasis beneath the Tian Shan mountains and a really nice place.

This is the most western (in geographic terms) place in China - it is west of practically all of India and a large part of Pakistan. This also means that the unofficially local time is 2 hours behind the official Beijing time - the officials in Beijing refuse to consider time zones as anything other than a western attempt to disrupt the nation (One China - one Time Zone ... who does that remind me of ?). Anyway - if the central committee say it is 9 o'clock it must be 9 o'clock - because if you cannot trust the central committee who can you trust.

It also the departure point of the Turogart highway to Kyrgystan (more about that when I have done it) and the Karakorum highway to Pakistan. You would not beleive the amount of time that I have spent trying to work out a way that I could do both - including doubleing back through Afghanistan and the Khyber pass. One day I will be back for the Karakorum.

The trip here from Turpan ws wonderfull :)

After the last missive from the desert - I headed off from dinner (more wonderful kebabs) and then came across the most blatant case of cultural insensitivity - a chinese beer company (Tsing Tao for their sins) running an entertainment in the main square of the traditional cultural capital of a muslim nation that was mainly made up of girls in (admitedly not very revealing) black leatherette underwear and negligees! The assembled crowd was stoically quite - not sure if that was appreciation, despair or the patience you learn if you have survived the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.

The next day - I headed for a bit of a tour of the local sites - Bezaklik 1000 buddha caves and Gaochung ancient uighur capital. It ws all blinding red desert mountains (the flame mountains) with startling green valleys cutting through them and red mud buildings and ruins. I felt constantly like I was in a film set - it was so beautiful and surreal. I spent extra time at Gaochung getting away from the Japanese tourist (buses A1,A2,A3,B1,B2 each with their own guide - it never ceases to amaze me the places the japanese and koreans get to - they are much more adventurous than Europeans) and it was definately worth exploring the corners and walls of the site.

Having "done" Turpan in a whorl wind - it was back across the basin to the station - this time there was a public bus (it not being 0300 local time!) which coped wth the road a lot better than a minibus.

The train journey from Turpan to Kashgar is a marvel. First it crosses the baking Turpan basin (I saw a mirage from the train :), then it climbs in a serious of stunning switchbacks and spirals upto the snowclad Tian Shan mountains - which have to be crossed. The amazing thing - that Gwyneth's father in particular would have liked - is that because there are no trees and few valleys you can see the whole construction of the railway in front of you - like a diagram from a textbook on railway construction. Up into the mountains and night descended. In the morning - we had come down on the other side and were at the edge of the Tarim basin and the Taklaman desert. This was actually quite green for something that claims to be the "the hungry desert" with low shrub most of the way - but this was the edge of the sandy desert and I guess the water runs out pretty fast. Stories of crossing the Taklaman are all pretty gruesome. The train follow the Tian Shan south and west - sandy desert and river oases all of the way for about 1000 miles.

Kashgar was a bit of a disappointment at first - the first thing that you meet is a typical Chinese town (and I am afraid that you have to have visited China to understand just how bad that can be). The good news is that the Chinese town is rapped around the Uighur old town - which still exists. Lots of brick and mud buildings, lots of little, twisty alleys, views of the snowy mountains arouns Kashgar, smoky teahouses selling kebabs, breads and lamian (spicy lamb on noodles) more alleys, more smoke. I love it. There are signs that the old town residents are rebuilding in the style as well - good news. I just have to steer clear of the dreadfull white tile architecture of Renmin Dong Lu.

I am staying in the Chini Bagh hotel - a typical party constructed 5 story monster but it is built in the grounds (and named after) the British console - which is still there behind the hotel. This was a centre of the Great Game stuff and appears in many tales and books of the time. It has been preserved by the party as a cultural relic (!).

I have been eating since I got hereand still have not found anything that I do not like on the Uighur side (but then there are not that mainy things on the Chinese side that I do not like - I had deep fried Rose Buds the other day in Beijing!).

On Monday I head across the Tian Shan again (their are a lot higher here) to Kyrgyzstan - across the 5000 metre Torugart pass by 4WD. The next missive you will get will probably be from Biskek or Dushanbe.

The bad news is that everyone has just shut their borders ot Uzbekhistan! This is going to cut my holiday very short unless they open again (No Samarkand or Bukhara - no Turkmenistan or Iran!).