We Get Arrested In XinJiang – Interesting………

A few years ago while my wife and I were working in China, we went for a long holiday in Xinjiang Province, which is the most westerly and northern province in China, bordering onto Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and several other Stans.    By the way, “Stan” is a Farsi word which simply means “place of ……. People”   So Pakistan means “Place of the Paki People” and so on.

Anyhow, we had just completed a 36 hour ride in a sleeper bus from Urumji and arrived at a small town near the Kazakh boarder and were sort of standing beside the bus wondering what to do next, when a couple of young Chinese girls and their tiny kid brother who had also been on the same bus as us came over and and started to talk to us.

This resulted in an invitation from them to rejoin them on the bus and head on off to the end point of the bus’s journey where there was apparently a very beautiful area of alpine countryside.

So, having no other pressing appointments, we agreed, clambered back onto the bus and headed off for another 5 or 6 hours driving and duly arrived at the small provincial town near to this especially beautiful landscape.

With their help we booked into a reasonable small hotel and enjoyed an evening in the town with them and their tiny little brother.

The next morning we hired a taxi for the day and headed off with our friendly Chinese girls to explore the famous area of natural beauty.

As we approached it, we ran into a serious Chinese Police road block – machine guns and so on very much in evidence sadly, and here our passports were checked extremely carefully.   There seemed to be some sort of problem with our passports, but it wasn’t made clear what the problem was, so we were told to leave them with the cops, and carry on into the hills.

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Xin Jiang – Riding Camels In The Taklamakan Desert

After we had safely regained Kashgar after our wanderings up to and back from the glacier (see earlier post on this topic – link below).   We decided to go wandering on our own (my wife Lotty, and I) for the rest of our summer break from our work in Beijing.   So to this end, we thought it might be pleasant to start off by taking a camel trip into the Taklamakan Desert which was right next to Kashgar.

Like most people outside China, we had never heard of this desert, even though it is one of the largest sand deserts in the world, at some 130 000 square miles in size (337 000 square kilometers), so we were interested to have a look at it while we were there.

So we hunted up a company who organised camel trips into the desert, made all the necessary arrangements, and took off by car to the starting point of our epic journey into this huge desert.

By the way, they had only just built a road across it a couple of years earlier, and no one much had crossed it yet.   Also the Chinese used it for their atomic bomb testing apparently…  Ho hum.

And of course, the famous Silk Road went around it too, one arm going to the north of it, the other going around the western edge.   We, to be different, intended to go straight into it, and see what happened..

We arrived at the setting off point, which turned out to be a sort of bus station on the edge of the desert. A simple building with a glass roof, long rows of plastic chairs and a short length of road outside it.  And beyond that, a vista of enormous sand dunes, so we couldn’t see very far into the desert.   Just enough to whet our appetites.  Oh and of course a lot of disdainful looking Bactrian camels (the sort with two humps).

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Camels – Pamir Mountains – Joys of Xin Jiang

One holiday while we were working in Beijing it was decided that we would go and have a look at Xin Jiang Province – the most northern and westerly of China’s provinces.   In case you have never heard of Xin Jiang (nor had we!) it lies in the top corner of China, nestling against Pakistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and a load of other Stans.   And was the part of China where the Silk first entered China.  It is also an area inhabited by a race of people called Uigars, who are not Chinese, but of Turkish descent, and who speak a language that is nearer to Turkish than Chinese.

It is also an area that is Muslim, and at that time (2008) not in any real way involved with Islamic fundamentalism, but owing to the idiotic actions of the Chinese government, it was rapidly become so – sadly.

Anyhow, we were not bothered with such matters, simply wishing to have a look at the place and walk around in it.

To which end we went to Kashgar, a city that at that time was an enchanting mix of mud houses in winding little streets, amazing markets and generally appealing aspect.   Full of friendly Uigars selling tea and snacks in delightful street cafes and such like.  Amazing food too of course.  An intriguing mix of Arab and Chinese cuisine and to finish it off properly, the one remaining statue of Mao in China, an enormous one too, about 18 meters tall and for some inexplicable reason seems to be giving a Hitler salute.

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So, once we had arrived there, and spent a couple of days wandering around and enjoying this really  fine small city, it was time to head off to the Pamir mountains where we had arranged to go for a long walk up to a glacier at about 5500 meters above sea level.

This was my first sight of Central Asia, and I was at once knocked out by the sweeping shape of the landscape that had been formed by the advancing and retreating glaciers during the various Ice Ages.  That wondrous collection of gentle curves that are so typical of such landscapes, much the same as in the Scottish Highlands and similar places, pleased me no end.

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We drove for hours along the river valley in the bottom of one such smooth channel with the very shallow, but wide and winding river beside the road as we went along, slowly getting higher and higher, which given that the altitude of Kashgar is already pretty high at about 1300 meters,  I began to wonder if I might have perhaps been a bit silly in going directly from Beijing, which is about 50 meters above sea level to such a hight.    However all seemed well, and no signs of altitude sickness made themselves apparent.

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