We left Kashgar early in the morning. It stays dark here really late into the morning because all of China is in the same time zone.
Before leaving town, our driver had to gas up the car. Gas stations in Western China are heavily secured. No passengers are allowed, so we had to walk around the outside of the the station while our driver showed her ID, let security search the car, then fill up.
Good thing security didn’t have any problem with her bringing her cute little dog.
You’d think exiting a country would be pretty easy but about 150km before the border we reached our first of many checkpoints. At each there seemed to be a random security process… verifying our Chinese visa, writing down our phone’s unique IMEI, facial recognition scans, body scans, searching baggage. At one point they took our phones into a private room and did who knows what with them.
After half a dozen security checks (I lost track), we finally made it to the Kyrgyzstan entry point. We were expecting much of the same but a quick glance at our passports and a stamp was all it took to get admitted to a new country. Except for the Chinese citizen traveling with us. At every point where we encountered someone looking even remotely official, he had to pay a bribe. You could see he was pretty irritated by this after the 10th time.
It’s a whole different world across the border. Where China was hot and arid, now we were in a world of freshly fallen snow and big jagged peaks. 7,134m Lenin Peak towered over us as we sped through a world of white and wound our way through crowds of sheep hogging the roads.
After a few days in surprisingly pleasant Urumqi, we figured it was time to start heading west. West to the “Stans”.
Distances are big in China.Don’t let the crowded nature of this country fool you, it’s vast. We lucked out and managed to get sleeper seats for the 12-hour ride to Kuche, a town rarely visited by western tourists.
The train was surprisingly nice and we arrived relaxed. Good thing. We hadn’t booked a hotel and when we arrived we made the mistake of asking for a single room. Two guys in one room? Suddenly, the hotel was full! We hoofed our packs walked half an hour to the next hotel that we knew accepted foreigners (most don’t!). This time we requested two rooms and they were happy to have us.
Another 12-hour train journey brought us to Kashgar. We were very happy to make it to this once-famous hub on the Silk Road.
Kashgar’s old city is a treat to explore. Narrow streets bend and twist, making you feel like you’re on a treasure hunt. Stumbling on some Stalinist propaganda is a thrill.
At other times, this city feels like a bit of a theme park for bus loads of tourists from Eastern China.
Security is very evident in Kashgar. Even walking down certain streets requires going through a metal detector and showing ID. For the locals, that is. We got waived through.
We’ve really enjoyed Kashgar, authentic or careful recreated theme park. Now we must continue our journey west!