Xinjiang; the home coming.
14.08.2011 - 22.08.2011
Sitting on a bus from Chengdu to Pingle and I look down to see the tan of my arms and the utter albino contrast of my legs makes me think I haven't told you guys about my Xinjiang adventure yet have I?
Well the train from Dunhuang to Urumqi was uneventful (but had a sleeper bunk, WIN!!) got to Urumqi the capital of Xinjiang Provence and it dawned in me; right now at this second I'm the furthest away from any ocean it is humanly possible to be. Pretty cool eh? Well got on the bus for the hostel and managed to miss my stop. An elderley man and his wife took it upon themselves to ensure that I got to my hostel safely. Such loves, whilst talking and waiting for a taxi he told me about how he is a Professor of Astronomy and about when he used to lecture in Harvard University in the late 1980s and that his eldest son and daughter are at uni in Boston. Interesting family that one. We got to the hostel and he utterly refused to let me pay before writing down his email address and phone number saying if I needed any help to just give him a call.
Now I don't know if you know anything about the civil unrest in this part of china (and it's probably something I shouldn't mention whilst here so I'll just brush over it briefly) in 2009 there were riots in this city, the biggest And deadliest China has seen since Tian'an'men actually. Anyway long story short the minority group here (Uighers, of Turkic origin and appearance) want Xinjiang to be an independent state and thus the struggle still simmers below the surface. Regional history done.
However, despite the slight inkling that something was off coming to Xinjiang felt like coming home for me. No one stared and muttered "waiguo" under their breath when I walked past. If anything passing me off as another member of Xinjiang society. I can't tell you how good it felt to finally blend in after months of sticking out like a sore thumb. Went and got my train ticket to Kashgar then spent the afternoon in the (supposedly) famous international Bazaar in the heart of the city. Now the next bit makes me chuckle every time, when walking through the bazaar the Uigher stall owners would smile pleasantly and go about their buisness. When I stepped into their stalls they would start talking to me in Uigher (a Turkic/Persion sub-dialect). To which I'd respond in Chinese with "sorry I dont understand". The look on their face was utterly priceless, they would switch to Chinese and say, but aren't you Uigher?? In the most confused voice manageable. LOL!! makes me smile just at the thought. So despite my blending in and non-comprehendo of Uigher the local people were really friendly and found it funny, many saying that I must have Uigher blood in me somewhere. Cool right?
Anyway, 25hr train in a hard seat to Kashgar the following morning and a Uigher woman (making the same mistake as the others) took it upon herself to teach me some Uigher basic phrases and in turn I taught her some English. I can count to ten and say goodbye, that's about all I can remember hehehe. But she was like "you've got the accent!" she seemed rather excited by that.
If getting to Urumqi felt like a home coming then Kashgar must have been like metaphorically walking past St. Paul or something. Was a freaking great feeling. Got off the train and there is Uighers everywhere, clear blue sky, 36degrees of dry desert heat and the smell of BBQ floating by. I think I could live there to be honest, felt quite similar to Melbourne but with a middle eastern/ central Asian feel to it.
Got to the hostel and a bunch of people from Jerusalem said "hey we have a spare seat to Kakuruli Lake tomorrow, want to come?" (I think that's how it's spelt). So not passing up the chance (as you need permits to get into that area) I was like sure. Following morning got up for the lake and there was 4 Israelites, 2 French guys, a Chinese girl and me heading out, only to find that the drivers screwed up and only sent one 4x4 instead of two. Idiots. So we sent the Israelites on their way (as they were the ones that organised it) and the rest of us got a taxi the 300km to the lake (which actually worked out 50yuan cheaper each). We got to the lake at about 7pm Beijing time (Xinjiang runs 2 time zones; Beijing time which is 2hrs behind Melbourne and Xinjiang time which is 4hrs behind Melbourne). To our left was massive sand dunes and to our right was a massive, sky blue lake surrounded by lush green grass and soaring black, snow capped peaks. Was pretty cool.
We spent the night in a Yurt (think round house tent) with a Kazak family with nothing but a bucket sized brazier for warmth. And it was about 2degrees outside. Brrrrr!!!! There was no loo, just a rocky out crop and a massive moon and billions of stars uninterrupted by light pollution. We were quite literally in the ass end of nowhere.
The morning and the sunrise from behind the mountains was absolutely amazing. Mist rising off the lake and not a cloud for the mountains to hide behind. Complete and pure silence crept all around casting a sort of mysterious magical feel. Alex, Lanzi and I went horse riding around the lake before attempting to hitch to Tashkurgan (as there is no public transport this far west).
We walked along the highway for a little while before a private bus drove past heading for Tashkurgan which gave us a lift there. Now there was no seats left so we were sitting on upturned buckets in the asile of the bus, no biggie, it's normal here. Anyway Han Chinese are rare out here, everyone looks European of some sort, usually with really dark olive skin and eery blue eyes. This one guys eyes were such a awesome colour I turned around to comment on them, before I could open my mouth he commented on mine saying that their so black, and then something about the night sky. Hahaha lol. About an hour into the bus I started to doze, that's when some of the women on the bus thought it would be cool to put their hats on my head and take pictures. Lol. So awake and modelling these local womens hats (think the bottom half of a round hat box) the whole bus was laughing and all the women chattering, thrusting their hats at me insisting that theirs be next. Was pretty funny. I don't know why it happened, it just did.
Now Tashkurgan is the most western city in China and essentially that's the only reason I went there. I was 100km from the Pakistan border too. Initially we were going to go out to the border but then decided it was too expensive for the amount of time we were allowed to spend there. Instead we walked around the village playing with the local kids and exploring the narrow dirt alleys. The kids are pretty awesome, some of them had semi decent English and some could speak Chinese so it was all good. they took us to the top of a hill to watch the sun set behind one of the massive snow peaks and see the colour if the Mosque's roof change with the light. Was pretty cool.
Headed back to Kashgar the next day, and decided that it would be smart to take a short cut through the old town to get to the hostel. Not wise especially when desperate for the loo!! It's little mudbrick houses and narrow winding lanes reminded me somewhat of the pictures I've seen of The Sion sisters quarter in Jerusalem. Narrow and maze like. I could hear the sounds of the midday prayers echoing through the alleys and pulled my headscarf a little further forward to cover my hair incase I walked past the mosque. Lucky I did cause the next corner gave me an uninterrupted view straight into the courtyard and hundreds of men praying. Was almost chilling to see that many people devoted to one religion that they would get down on their hands and knees, and move as one in worship.
Following day went to the Idkah Mosque of Kashgar, the geographical and spiritual centre of the city. Built in the early 1700s it was pretty cool.
I decided it was time to leave Xinjiang asap the following night, every day I could see more and more armed army personnel patrolling the street with kick ass sized shot guns and a tank in the main square. There is definately something coming to a boil out there.
Train to Turpan overnight, hard seat, 22hrs. Didn't sleep much, spent most of the night talking to a Uigher English student and a Chinese guy who ran one of the oil wells out there. Was pretty cool. Funny guys.
Spent the afternoon in Turpan (literally) and then another train to Lanzhou and out of Xinjiang. Spent the night talking to English students about everything from how to learn English to marriage, house prices, culutral difference, the one child policy and history. Interesting.
Next post is on the Amdo reigon. Should happen sometime in the next 3days. Be good.