To all those who have sent emails asking after us (in the absence of recent updates), thanks ! Yes, we are still alive and well.
We are in Karimabad, northern Pakistan. The internet is very slow and we do not know if we can load any photo's this time but will try. We left Kashgar a week ago, travelled over the daunting Khunjerab Pass (4700m) on the Karakaram Highway and down to Sost in Pakistan. From there, after immigration and customs we moved to Misgar, the base of our trek to Kilik Pass (4850m). Karimabad is a further 130k down the KKH towards Gilgit.
Kasgar, in China's western most province of Xinjiang, has always been an important trading point on the Silk Road owing to its position at the crossroads of the northern and southern routes around the Taklamakan Desert as well as the trade coming north from India, northeast from Afghanistan, east from Central Asia and south from Bishkek. It was more recently a key city in The Great Game as Tsarist Russia advanced southwards and Britain northwards from India. China's acquisition of this territory has not been easy with many revolts and this continues today. Locals set their watches to Xinjiang time (two hours behind Beijing) despite Beijing's official policy that all China is in the same time zone. It is both an acknowledgement of nature over doctrine as well as a statement of independence but now that gas and oil has been discovered it is unlikely that China will give up this territory any time soon.
We arrived with our heads full of Rudyard Kippling/spies/Victorian explorers and Silk Road traders but the city was in reality a bit of a let down. It is heavily Islamic and seems to fit culturally and geographically more naturally with Central Asia rather than China but the new China is predominant today... huge red hoardings with Chinese writing, a sense of order (perhaps control) neon signs, wide roads full of cars, Chairman Moa statues, hawking, plastic everything especially in the famous bazaar which in our view does not compare with Tabriz. Thankfully there are saviours. The old town is brilliant. Colourful, busy, vibrant, real, active. We sat in the dry heat on the balcony of an old restaurant drinking hot spicy soups and green tea. Of course everything is filthy by our standards (the food often arrives on plates with remnants of the previous meal and its hard for the small dirty boys to clean things properly in the cold water running in the street outside) but if you can overlook hygiene issues and focus on the content it's great. We had a great ride on a donkey cart from the bazaar up through the old town to the mosque. With its rickety mud brick houses, street side wood turners, farriery, carpet shops, food vendors and endless dust and noise, we doubt that this area has changed much in the last 300 years. And the vast sprawling animal market was simply amazing - again for its vibrancy, authenticity and the validity of its existence, unchanged for centuries. So we came away with mixed feelings again. Like many of the places we have visited, we have the sense of everything changing to the new at the expense of traditional cultures. For example, although it is helpful to us, it is with a certain amount of regret that so much English is being spoken especially amongst the young in these countries. Plus Oultra, G&M.