Sept 19, 2012 – Kashgar The best thing, for me, about Kashgar are the street markets in Old Kashgar, the Uyghur part of town. The winding streets are alive with vendors, often in clusters by product. The women dress in a wide variety of clothing, most frequently with bright multilayer dresses and head wear and high heels often with sparkles on them. Most women are not face covered, but many have a half cover or just the eyes showing and a small number have the full covering usually of a dark brown that must be hard to see through. Children on the way to school or just playing add a playful flavour. The people do not seem to mind our intrusion and will let us take pictures. I took Rich on a walk of some of my favourite areas and was shocked by the amount of re-building that seems to be going on in the old mud and straw warrens since I was here two years ago. But business goes on as it has for thousands of years. The men congregate in great numbers in the streets closest to the mosque. They stand in groups talking and sometimes bargaining often on carpets. No doubt most will wander into the mosque frequently to pray. We arrived here last night around dinner time. From the balcony of our third floor hostel we look out on Id Khan mosque, the largest in Kashgar. Our flights all went fine, but five flights, six airports and 36 hours on the move really do take a toll. Our bikes and luggage seemed to have handled the trip better that us. But a few days here and we will be fine. In addition to the street visiting, we cycled around looking for a bike mirror for Rich and talked to people at the other hostel and to John’ at his restaurant in the Seman hotel looking for information on the road ahead. We did pretty well at both places.Our best meal was the night we arrived at the Eden hotel where I stayed two years ago. The restaurant is upscale Turkish and has a great variety at good prices. Our meal tonight, in the commercial part of town was no where near as good. Our last night we will likely go to the Eden. Sept 20 – Kashgar After another leisurely morning we cycled to the big market and spent an hour of so wandering the labyrinth of shops. It is good people watching, although we left before it got busy. I had to have my front chain ring replaced, as it got bent in transit. My Dahon has really been through the mill on each of the three major trips it has carried me. We bought some food for the way out tomorrow and will eat a bed-room breakfast and get away shortly after sun-up. Tomorrow the KKH. Sept 21 – Police Checkpoint at Ghez We got ready to leave, eating as we prepared. We even had coffee, thanks to the ubiquitous Chinese thermos of hot water, always available everywhere you go. We were on the way at 8:30 Beijing time, which means it was still dawn. We had to ride to the end of the block, catch a main drag to a traffic circle then choose the right road out of five which would take us out of town. You have to accelerate to get into the traffic and cut across the lanes to make the correct turn. Rich was behind me going into the circle and I stopped after making our turn. He didn’t turn up.After a couple of minutes I rode back against the flow and looked into the only other road he may have taken. He wasn’t there and so I headed up that road as fast as I could go. To make a long story short, we didn’t connect. I rode back and forth up all the roads, circled the round-about a number of times and after close to an hour and 20 km I headed back to the hostel. He wasn’t there and hadn’t been back. I headed off hoping that I would catch up to him in a few hours. He had to be ahead of me.
The road out of town went through busy suburbs and industrial areas for about 20 km and then I started to see the mountains rising above the fields and the road started to climb a bit. The road is excellent and so I was making good time. Some hours into the ride a vehicle stopped twice and took pictures of me. After the first time I thought that I should have asked them to tell Rich that I was behind, if they caught up to him. And then they stopped again and when I made my request they said he was only a few kms behind me. I waited on ahead at a good spot and he turned up after about 45 minutes. He had similar stories of riding around the traffic circle, and we figured out how we missed each other there, but could not figure out how I got ahead of him. He was well on his way at 9:30, when I was at the hostel. We had a good lunch after meeting, and it was good that we did. The ride was very nice, particularly the red rocks in The Ghez river canyon. But it was long. We were on the road 11 hrs, I rode 140 km, Rich 120 and we gained 1000 m en route.
At the police checkpoint we were lucky to get a spot to sleep in a rough yurt, where we were joined by smoking truckers during the night.
Sept 22 -Lake Karakul
we were slow getting away, as we needed light to organize ourselves and to find a few things in the kiosk to eat. We went through the police check a second time and began the steep climb up the tumbling canyon. For the next four hours, averaging 7 kph we ground our way up, dodging the multitude of trucks and road crews, and fighting the wind whistling down the canyon. I stopped frequently, for only a minute or two, to drink, catch my breath and to let my thighs recover. But Rich struggled even more and had to get a ride for 20 km as he felt that he would not be able to get up the canyon with enough energy left to get to Karakul. At the top of the canyon, the trucks were gone for a while and there was a smooth 5 km ride along a lovely lake. I met up with Rich where his ride dropped him and we climbed up a river with wonderful views of Mustagh Alta and Kongur rising above the fields and grazing animals. One more steep climb revealed Karakul and the scattered yurts along the shore. I stopped at the entry arch to wait for Rich and a woman came walking across the field and gave me sleeping and eating signs and said “wu shi” and pointed at her yurt over on the point. 50 yuan to sleep and eat at her yurt. Then I noticed the familiar little moon faced boy with her. Sure enough, it was the same woman that I stayed with two years ago. I tried to indicate two people “er ren” I tried and pointed down the road, where Rich was now in sight. But she started to walk away, I guess she could handle one guest. We went into building which seemed to be the centre of things, which has a full featured dining room and yurts out back. After an enormous bowl of soup we arranged ourselves in our lovely yurt which could hold 10 people, and then went back at about 8:00 for a full meal. Today we rode 65 km in 8 hours and gained 1400 m. Sept 23 – Tashkurgan We had a great breakfast watching the sun rise on Mustagh Ata and got away at about 8:00 (10 Beijing time). It was very cold and we had about 80% of our cold weather gear on. The ride for much of the day would be in the company of Mustagh Ata off of our left shoulders. We continued our gradual height gain and then a series of big sweeping switchbacks took us a bit over 4000m. I felt so much stronger today, possibly because the big climb happened early. I had thought the climb would happen later and so now I was confused. I told Rich that I thought there would be ride across a plateau. In fact we started plunging down without the cold gear that the climb had shed for us. We stopped after a drop of a few hundred meters and put a bit more on, while expecting the drop to stop or the lower altitude to warm us up. It didn’t happen. When we had lunch at about 3200 m we were still cold. High up the terrain was barren rock, turning to hay and the odd grove of trees, and then finally to full on agricultural activity as harvest seems to be happening. Lots of animals and people out, and always Mustagh Ata forming a back-drop. Finally we were funnelled into a winding canyon which blotted our mountain companion and 10 km after the canyon we were in Tashkurgan. Another gorgeous day, scenery wise, but much easier than the first two. We rode 100 km, gaining 505 m, and dropping 995 m, in seven hours. We are in a room with real beds, a hot shower down the hall and beer down the street. Tashkurgan is the Chinese border town and 300 km south over Khunjerab Pass, the actual border, is Sost the Pakistan border town. We are not allowed to cycle this and so in the morning we hope to catch a bus to Sost. The Chinese portion of the KKH was exception for cycling. Great road and scenery, physically demanding, and we managed to get places to sleep and eat. We know the roads in Pakistan will be more problematic, but hopefully the experiences will be just as rewarding. Sept 24 – Sost Lots of mis-information. We thought the bus was leaving from the bus station by the hotel and that it would leave at 9:30 beijing time. When we got out at 9:00 we were told the bus was a km down the road at the Immigrations building. Off we went. I could ride but Rich had all his panniers in a big duffel and so he started walking. I rode to the end of town and found nothing, and so came back to a building that said China Customs as Rich walked up. It was still closed. We stood there for a bit, now it was getting close to 9:30, and a uniformed guy pointed down the road and said one km. Rich bungied his sack on his bike and we rode on. About 5 km later we turned back, now thinking we would be here another day. On the way back we saw another likely looking building and waited there for a while and then people started arriving. We had found the place and it was now obvious that departure was 9:30 local time, two hours later than we were told. As the time came closer the Chinese officials arrived and we were processed efficiently, and then began the wait for the bus to arrive. At 9:30 local time a Pakistani bus arrived and stuff was loaded on the roof and we found seats among the carpets and bags that had already found their way on board. We headed out at 10:00 local time, 3 hours after we had started looking for the bus and border station. Our bus is mostly Pakistani, most of whom seem to have boxes of things they have picked up in China, and a few Chinese, none of whom seem to be able to speak English. The Pakistani are better and speak good English. The 120 km in China got progressively more spectacular as we gained altitude again into the high mountains, culminating at the 4730 m Khunjerab Pass and the last Chinese border check. The road in Pakistan began immediately with a rough bypass of a road seriously under repair. We got onto the main road and then hit some tarmac which ended immediately at a stoppage. It was then 1:00, we sat there for seven hours, without ever knowing why we were stopped or when we would move on. We read, ate, walked up and down, got cold, ingested litres of second hand smoke when we had to sit in the bus to get warm. The road is being rebuilt by the Chinese and I guess they are not too worried about holding up the flow of transportation in Pakistan. We pulled into Sost and went through customs and got into a pretty nice hotel and was greeted cheerfully by an older fellow who continually proclaimed “no problem” to every request, from hot water to food. But after sitting in a cold smoky bus for seven hours we were happy to be through our first border crossing and into a nice place. Our adventure now moves into Pakistan. ,