Kashgar lies in the westernmost corner of China and was a major hub on the Silk Road. It has always, for me, held an element of edgy mystery so an exciting stop. Everything you read about it talks of the Chinese authorities efforts to eradicate its old city in the name of ‘economic progress’. They are physically paving over the more colourful traditional bits at a pace, causing local tensions.
We arrived after another long hot journey through the desert. The area through which we travelled was noticeably poorer with far fewer sections of irrigated and cultivated land or sightings of larger conurbations, although the fact that there are any is quite remarkable given the terrain! Another indicator of the lack of prosperity was the road along which we travelled. Although it is still ‘tolled’ the major part of the day was spent on a road with single line traffic in both directions. Although it had a reasonable surface, it was frequently blocked and Penelope quite literally became ‘Queen of the Desert’ for a bit to avoid invisible problems on the tarmac. This invariably involved major rocking as we lurched off the road, tremendous dust clouds and ponderously as we carefully remounted the carriageway further along. There was occasionally evidence of the skeletons of dead trucks who had not made it …..,
Inside the truck it was extremely hot and quiet as everyone hunkered down for the long haul. There was no energy for games. There were two major highlights of the day. One was our lunch stop. During our drives along the expressways, lunch stops have mainly be at service stations where there is usually a small supermarket and some food of some variety. Our route today does not sport such luxury. We stopped at a roadside shanty town of single story shops and dwellings with lots of abandoned large tyres, dogs and children playing in the dust and groups of elderly men sitting on ancient plastic chairs ‘putting the world to rights’. Dress now is more or less totally Muslim with men wearing hats that seem to defy gravity to stay on their head and the women are covered from head to toe, although not totally veiled.
The second was a toilet stop. This was at a garage where we were directed to the back of the building over waste ground at the back of the building and through a wall at the back. Et voila! The ladies toilet – a rubbish tip. It had two major benefits – one was the amazing view over the mountains and the other the absence of the evil odour of Chinese public toilets!
We eventually arrived at Kashgar at circa 8.00 pm. We were pretty worn out so opted for Johns cafe at the back of the hotel. The hotel itself used to be the Russian consulate and was very exotically decorated in an over embellished sort of way…….
Things weren’t quite straight forward though – John’s had a pre booked party arriving who had to be served first – so we had to wait about an hour for our meal. Sometimes you are the pigeon and sometimes the statue…….