May 31 - Trip to Kashgar
Jun 4, 2011
|Back in the land of internet (in China now), and have we had some fun and games over the last few days!
We left Bishkek on Tuesday heading towards China via Kochkor and the 3,552m Torugart pass. The trip to Kochkor was uneventful, as was our homestay with the same family we stayed with a few days earlier.
Early on Wednesday 1 June we set off on the 625km trip to the Chinese border, intending to bush camp on the way to break the journey. The scenery was again magnificent with snow capped mountains all around (part of the Tien Shan mountain range). We stopped at a 15th century caravanserai at Tash Rabat on the way, then set up camp nearby. So far so good!
After a cold night camping we prepared to set forth on Thursday morning,crossing into China sometime during the day. Asima, however, had other ideas.
After a shaky start when Juan had to coax her into moving, we passed the first checkpoint out of Kyrgystan and got as far as a 3,500m pass on the road to the Torugart Pass when she dug her heals in and refused to go any further! While Al and Juan worked on her we huddled on the side of the road trying to keep out of the freezing wind. To warm ourselves up most of us decided to hike up a nearby hill where we were told there was a good view of a lake. Also on the top of the hill were trenches and bunkers - a relic from the early 1970's when Kyrgystan and China were having problems. Apparently they were never used, but nearby ones were so it was only a matter of time. We looked inside the bunkers and they were filled with ice - it wouldn't have been much fun for the soldiers.
Marat our guide disappeared for a while, and then returned in a tow truck to get us out of trouble, or so we thought. Asima was hitched behind the truck and we set off again. We hadn't gone too far when the tow truck stopped and refused to tow us any further - reasons were varied: they were too busy / too drunk / brake lights weren't working - but the end result was that we were stranded on the side of the road with no hope of getting to the border before it closed for the day. Getting a bus or taxi to take us to our hotel in China was complicated as there was lots of paper work involved in transporting foreigners through borders. In the end we had to bush camp by the side of the road for another night.
We reluctantly set up camp in the freezing cold - and just as we started pitching the tents the snow started falling! It was fairly short lived though, and it just stayed freezing cold. Tea was from our emergency rations - tins of chilli con carne - and we sat round the campfire in the cold wind until we couldn't stand it any longer - it was
-2C when we crawled into our tent, falling to -8.5C overnight. But I was surprisingly warm in my sleeping bag, with only my feet a bit cold. I got us once and the ground outside was very crunchy with a heavy frost.
In the morning our cook group had the job of getting breakfast - we hadn't shopped so breakfast was tins of baked beans and cereal, with cups of hot chocolate very popular.
At 8.30 am a bus arrived to take us to the border where we would wait for our Chinese guide, Miss Coco, to meet us with a Chinese bus to take us to our hotel. We were all wondering what Miss Coco would be like - I think some of the guys were fantasising - but we had to wait a while to meet her.
After an hour or so crammed into the small bus we reached the next checkpoint where all our luggage was X-rayed, then onto the final checkpoint so we could exit Kyrgystan and start the same process to get into China.
At the first checkpoint on the way into China our luggage was X-rayed again though the generator powering the X-ray machine died in the middle. There was lots of discussion among the border guards, with them finally deciding they were feeding the luggage in from the wrong side. They tested the machine with their hats, feeding them in one side and racing round the other to catch them as they came out! We had to remove all printed matter from our bags and pile it on a table for them to check through. Most was OK but they did remove some maps of Taiwan that one of our passengers had.
Then we were off to the next checkpoint where we were to meet Miss Coco at 11.30am. She was late! At around 1pm she showed up, then we had to wait for the bus to arrive, which it did fairly soon. We whiled away the time taking photos of the border guards - usually this is a no-no but they didn't seem too concerned as long as they were behind our bus and shielded from the surveillance cameras!
Once on our Chinese bus Miss Coco informed us there was a three hour trip before we got to the final checkpoint and could get something to eat! She did go and buy us packets of biscuits and bottles of water to keep us going.
Finally at 6.30pm (8.30pm Beijing time) we arrived at our hotel in Kashgar - a total of 160km from where we broke down the previous day but 10 hours travelling time!
Now we're in Kashgar - more news tomorrow.