Kashgar

Kashgar or Kashi as the Chinese would like it to be called, is a very Islamic-looking city. The Uighurs are the the majority ethnic group in Xinjiang Autonomous Region with several other Turkic ethics. They are all Muslims except for the Han Chinese and Tibetans. Islam came to Kashgar in the 8th Century and entrenched itself in the 10th. The Idkah mosque in the picture below was built in AD 1442 and is one of the oldest mosques in China.

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Kashgar is the gateway to other Central Asian countries like Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and some other …stan countries. It is not the capital of Xinjiang; Urumqi is. There is plenty to see in Kashgar and we had the opportunity to visit some of these sights, since we had 2N3D in the city. So while all the cars went for servicing and repairs, the non-owners went shopping. There was a big Grand Bazaar but I preferred to visit their restaurants and eating places for a good meal of halal food.

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Fragrant Concubine's Tomb

Fragrant Concubine’s Tomb

Fragrant maidens?

Fragrant maidens?

Finally we had to leave Kashgar, and China, on 8 Sep 2005. The night before we had our farewell dinner to say goodbye to several people who were leaving us for home or elsewhere. Oh yes, we also welcomed three wives plus another lady who rejoined us here. And from Kunming, Convoy leader Linus and wife rejoined us also. So we had dinner of barbecued lamb and excellent Uighur cuisine, song and dance entertainment depicting Uighur arts and cultures. It was also quite an emotional time when we exchanged momentos with our Chinese handlers who accompanied us all the way from Mengla, Yunnan. They were excellent – the three of them two men and a girl. See below:

I didn't like lamb

I didn’t like lamb

Lovely Uighur singer

Lovely Uighur singer

Excellent handlers

Excellent handlers

Commemorative plaque

Commemorative plaque

We’ve been away from home for almost a month. Homesickness was setting in. But fortunately for me there were new friendships made and we were on the move and waking up everyday at different places on earth, to new surroundings and experiences. Hence we were not bored and contact with home readily available. So with that positive outlook I was looking forward to go into Kyrgyzstan, a country I’ve not even heard of before much less spell it right first time.

Destination Kashgar

After breakfast at Tingri on 29 Aug, we departed for Gar, one of the few decent towns in Western Tibet. But we didn’t get there until 1 Sep, having spent two nights at two different truckers’ halt on the way. The going was getting tougher and tempers were beginning to fray. Fortunately there were no fist fights or anything like that; our experienced Convoy Sweeper (callsign Grandpa) made sure of that. Gar or Ngari is about 1,100 km away from Tingri and about half way to Kashgar. Vegetation is semi arid and road junctions hardly marked. Fortunately our Chinese guide that we picked up in Lhasa took us along the right road well marked by heavy truck tyres. In fact when we got to Gar in late afternoon, we were pleased  to see Yakuza (and his car on a truck) welcoming us.

Western Tibet landscape

Western Tibet landscape

Yakuza's Landcruiser

Yakuza’s Landcruiser

From Gar we continued NW through very sparsely populated region. We hardly met anyone, not even shepherds except for the occasional trucks. From the map we were to drive along the shores of Bagong Co or Pangong Tso lake. [Pangong Tso, Tibetan for “long, narrow, enchanted lake”, is an endorheic lake in the Himalayas situated at a height of about 4,350 m. It is 134 km long and extends from India to Tibet. Endorheic lakes are bodies of water that do not flow into the sea. 60% of the lake lies in Tibet. Wikipedia.] And apparently the water on the Indian side is salty while the Tibetan side is fresh.

Bangong Co or Pangong Tso lake

Bangong Co or Pangong Tso lake

After enjoying the view of the lake and having had lots of photo shoots we proceeded onward to find a camp site. We were to camp because the distance to the next town/village/truckers’ halt was just too far. But we couldn’t find any; and the guides were quite hopeless. Fortunately Convoy Leader Y2K had his wits about him and decided that we couldn’t continue wandering. So he decided to turn back because he sort of saw a possible camp site some way back. Well, it was a farm house (apparently abandoned) with a fairly big walled compound. It was getting dark and nobody argued about not wanting to camp there. We pitched our tents and boiled some dinner of maggi mee; what else! No camp fire or anything; everybody was just too tired to chit-chat. I was soon asleep in spite of the howling wind and freezing temperatures; we were at over 4,200 m (>14,000 ft.)

Bangong Co lake

Bangong Co lake

Breaking camp

Breaking camp

The next morning, to our horror we realised that were sleeping in a sheep pen. There were lots of evidence to show; but fortunately they were all hardened stuff and our clothing and equipment didn’t get soiled. But it was enough to put me off to skip breakfast.

It was 2 Sep 2005. Two more stops before Kashgar, we were told. Only about 1,000 km. How exciting. We have been roughing it out since Lhasa for 10 days now. We need decent food, hot bath and proper toilet. But it was not to be, for at the next truckers’ halt we were held back two days. There were some Army exercises going on and the mountain pass was blocked. You could get through if you were a cyclist, as this crazy solo cyclist Dutch fellow told us about it. He was on his way to Pakistan via the Karakorum highway. He looked half-starved so we shared our food with him. With this embargo, this little town became quite crowded with truckers in particular. They looked quite a rough lot. In fact we were looking like them too.

He's one of us

He’s one of us

Uighur Muslim lodging house

Uighur Muslim lodging house

Mountain pass to Kashgar

Mountain pass to Kashgar

We got down from the mountains around lunch time. What a relief (literally, since I was holding back going to the you-know-what since two days ago.) We were supposed to rest at the next town, Yecheng, but since we had lost one day, it was decided to press on to Kashgar arriving there after 8:00 pm (Beijing time.) It was 6:00 pm Kashgar time.

Distance about 2,400 km

Distance about 2,400 km

Everest, North Face

From Lhasa, the drive to the Everest North Face base camp took us 2 days.  It was tough getting there since there were lots of road works.  The Chinese government seem to be doing a lot of these civil works in Tibet including a high altitude railway from Golmud to Lhasa, obviously with the view of opening up the country; for tourism in particular.  

The Everest North Face was hardly popular with climbers then simply because it was difficult to get to it from Tibet.  But now (2013) Everest North has become as popular as Everest South probably because it’s cheaper and more challenging.  However, the South (from Kathmandu, Nepal) is much more developed commercially-speaking than the North with better sherpa, rescue services etc. Apparently there were also more deaths on the North Face than the South in the ratio of more than 2:1 (according to http://www.alanarnette.com/)

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We didn’t actually get to the Base camp because of our convoy’s late arrival at the final check point beyond which motorised vehicles were not permitted. From here it was by donkey cart taking about two hours to the camp. Since we arrived at 2:00 pm there wasn’t much time to get there by donkey cart. If we risked it, by the time we get back to the check point it’d be getting dark and insufficient time to drive all the way to Tingri some 60 km away. Nevertheless, I was very grateful that the weather was fine and the Everest peak was picture perfect. Unlike one of the convoy members (callsign Yakuza) whose Landcruiser broke down and he had to miss the ride to Everest. Apparently this was his second time not being able to see Everest; the first time when the weather was bad and Everest was hidden behind thick clouds.

I have no passion for climbing because my knees are not that good now. But Zaki has picked up rock climbing together with his wife and cousins. But I might do Mount Kinabalu just to keep up with some spastics that my Rotary colleagues proved that even they could do it. They had the spirit even though the flesh was weak.

Lhasa

Lhasa is a beautiful city.  It’s the capital of Tibet and the centre of government for the Tibet Autonomous Region. It is also the centre for Tibetan Buddhism whose head, the Dalai Lama used to reside in the Potala Palace until 1959 when the 14th Dalai Lama fled to India during the Tibetan uprising.

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We went up to the palace that is now a tourist attraction by walking up the hill for 210 m. That was some walk in rarefied atmosphere on the roof of the world. But I had to do it; that was one of the highlights of the trip and something to give me bragging rights.

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It has been about two weeks since we had a taste of Malaysian type food of rice, curry, roti or biryani. So when told by the hotel that there was a good Indian restaurant in the city, we made a beeline there. Oh it was great.

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We had two nights in Lhasa enough time to have the cars serviced and repaired. We also had some people departing for home and work, and some joining us here. Our Convoy Leader and wife decided to fly out to Kunming for some medical attention after his nasty experience doing a roll downhill a few days ago. So leadership was handed down to his Deputy, a nice guy with callsign Y2K.

So what’s next on the agenda? Well a drive out to the base camp of Everest North face. On the way we’d stop at a few temples and monasteries, enjoy the fantastic scenery of the Tibetan plains with sheep and yaks grazing, turquoise lakes all over the place, and snow-capped Himalayas in the distance.

Curious eyes, nifty fingers

Curious eyes, nifty fingers

Off road to Everest

Off road to Everest

On the roof of the world

We limped into Lhasa evening 24 August after a few mishaps.  My son, Zaki had diarrhea because he was curious to try Yak milk. Under such circumstances going to a “yukky” Chinese toilet was no problem.  But for me it was; and even today (2013) I found that Chinese toilets — the public ones especially though quite decent looking — would “stink to high heaven.”

First camp site at Ranwu

First camp site at Ranwu


Prior to arriving in Lhasa we had to camp; our first camping of the trip. Otherwise we stayed in no-star hotels until Lhasa where it was 3-star, I think. The camping was miserable because of the weather — cold and raining. So next morning nobody was in the mood to cook breakfast; we were just keen to break camp and move out to find a restaurant or something. Regretfully no restaurant. So it was agreed that we find a nice picnic spot and cook brunch (after all we had plenty of provisions.) That was a good decision because our Singaporean Aussie guy and his mainland Chinese wife whipped up excellent “nasi goreng.”

Richard Lang did a good job with the "nasi goreng"

Richard Lang did a good job with the “nasi goreng”

21 days in China

China is a big country.  Our estimated time to journey from the Laos/China border town of Mengla to Kashgar, the China/Kyrgyzstan border town was 21 days.  So to do China east to west would take more than one and a half month, I think.  Really China should have three time zones but for some reason best known to the authorities they have only one time zone ie GMT+8 just like Malaysia.  So for our journey over the 21 days we didn’t have to reset our watches at all.  China Mobile, the mobile phone service were very good and we were able to remain in contact with Malaysia all the way, even in the remotest of Tibetan towns.  Their maps were also good and GPS worked fine.  And that was in 2005.

It was on 16 August 2005 that we entered China from Laos.  Border crossing was quite smooth but since we were a big convoy of 16 cars, the formalities took some time especially for the cars; all were fully checked out before being given Chinese number plates.

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I’ve never been to this part of China before. It’s Yunnan province and very mountainous; beautiful and scenic though. I was looking forward to be in Lijiang where I read that there’s a tribal minority Chinese of Roman descent. Apparently during the days of the Roman Empire around 368 BC, some of the soldiers that were on a war mission to China didn’t go back to Rome, deserted their regiment and intermarried with the local women. Unfortunately, I didn’t see any of these “Roman Chinese” in Lijiang.

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But Lijiang being known as the Venice of the East for their canals and waterways probably had something to do with the Romans.

Water-wheel in Lijiang canal

Water-wheel in Lijiang canal

Onward to Lhasa
From Lijiang we drove on heading north-west towards Lhasa, the capital of Tibet Autonomous Region. We were ascending and in some places on rather primitive roads cut along the side of mountains with raging rivers below. Road works, however, were evident everywhere. [It’s now 2013, so I think one could drive a sedan car quite comfortably all the way to Lhasa.] But for 2005 it was all 4×4 offroad stuff. Very exciting and adrenalin pumping driving indeed. However, the scenery was just stunning and picture perfect. And Shangri-la gave us some real beauty of nature to be admired and cherished forever.

Bonding

Bonding

Bridge work

Bridge work

Raging river

Raging river

To Shangri-la

To Shangri-la

Twisting and winding all the way

Twisting and winding all the way

Stunning sight

Stunning sight

Our convoy doctor had prepared us for AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) so no one really got sick except for our experienced Convoy Leader, who had sinus problems.  He was driving; misjudged a turn and brought his Landcruiser into a roll down a slope causing extensive damage to the car. Luckily he, his wife and passenger weren’t seriously hurt. The mechanics got to work on the car so that it could be driven all the way to Lhasa, where it’d be properly serviced and repaired.

Damaged car

Damaged car

Dr Hew giving First Aid

Dr Hew giving First Aid

Mechanics at work

Mechanics at work