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 ┬áto 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