Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Word Vomit part 3 China and Kygyzstan

So it was back into China. I was now removed from the nomadic Mongolian ways, away from their boiled mutton and hard cheese ball snacks and back into MSG territory, or so I thought.

Even though we were re-entering China, the West is so different from the East. It definitely had the central Asian influence.

After we arrived in China Mike and I managed to hitch hike a ride from two German scientists who were doing some research on the water reserves shared between China and Mongolia and what to do to help the Mongols as the Chinese were building lots of infrastructure to get as much of that reserve as they could. Very interesting indeed.

We also met their assistant who was a a local and he wanted to invite us to come and stay him but was scared of the Chinese officials, and when we arrived into town we realised just what he meant. They watch you like hawks. There are not many foreigners in town so as soon as one (or two) arrive, news travels fast.

As soon as Mike and I arrived we found the only hotel in town that would accept tourists and booked in. So after three weeks of sleeping in tents, in local’s gers, carparks and overcrowded minibuses not having access to internet, a hot shower, or even drinking water entering a hotel room was certainly a foreign thing for me.

Within one hour of arriving at the hotel room we were met by the police who wanted to know where we were from, why we were there, how long for etc etc etc. They seemed almost as confused as us, as to why we were visiting such a small town!

The town was bizarre. There are cities built in Xinjiang in the western province of China to attract the Han Chinese to move across and populate these areas. These areas were once rich with different cultures of more central Asian background, but these ethnic groups are now quickly becoming minorities and are becoming more and more oppressed.

So some towns in the Western Province of China are just abandoned. Huge cities with large infrastructures made to “appeal” to Chinese to move there, yet no one wanted to.

We soon moved on from Chinghe to Urumqi, a much larger town in comparison. This city literally pops out from the desert and is a sprawling, bustling, dirty, dusty metropolis that added slight hints that central Asia was nearby. I personally never warmed to this city, maybe it was because my first night there was spent sleeping on the door step of a hostel as the city still keeps up with Beijing time, even though they are hundreds of kilometres apart. Another wonder of the Chinese government.

Next stop, and separated by a very very long, hot bus ride through the huge desert and we arrived in Kashgar. This town is rich in history, culture and of course is mainly famous for the bazaar. Being part of the silk route it is a fusion of the different central Asian and middle eastern countries coming together to trade different things. It resembles nothing of China. Swap the fried rice for amazing nann bread and delicious exotic curries.

I still don’t feel I had given enough time to Western China, rushing it a little too quickly. I didn’t have time to visit the Wakan Cooridor or any of the other amazing sights to be seen in that area of the world. Oh well next time.

I had originally wanted to cross via the Thorong Pass as it boasted beautiful scenery and mountain passes, but this was too difficult to organise and much too costly as well as you needed to hire a car and a driver. So instead I settled for the other alternative; the Irekeshtam pass.

And so it was time to say farewell to China again and head into Kyrgyzstan. There were two ways of crossing the border. Either you paid a lot and took a tourist bus across, or you could hitch hike across, and as I am very stingy with my money, I of course opted for the cheaper option.

Arriving at the border I reached the passport control and was ready to cross over. But in between me and Kyrgyzstan stood the senseless Chinese government. They thought I ought to get a tourist bus to cross the border, even though I had checked out all the laws before hand and noted that I was legally allowed to cross the border without a tourist bus of sorts. Still the officials kept me at the border over night, booking me into a dingy hotel closet turned hotel room.

I woke early the next day to try again, still stuck with the same problems with the border officials. So being stubborn I sat down refusing to leave until they let me cross the border. Luckily there was a very important Chinese official that was coming through the border that day to check it out, and according to the border guards “it would look better if a dirty backpacker was not here.”

So they let me through, after making me sign a document stating how anything that happens beyond the border was nothing of their control and they were nothing but polite, respectful mamma’s boys who were setting an incredible example of China.

Finger printed and signed and I was out of the country into no man’s land.

I managed to get a lift with a truck driver across the border. This truck ride went from bad to worse. The truck never went above 10kms an hour as it was carrying a load far too heavy, so the driver had to keep putting the truck into reverse to stop the momentum. The truck broke down about 10 times along the way, meaning that we arrived at the border well after dark and after the border had closed until the next day.

Upon arriving at the closed border the officials came and took my passport just in case I wanted to “run away.”

Where to, I thought to myself.

So with no passport and no where to run I was forced to stay in the truck overnight, with my sleeping bag done up the whole way to stop a certain driver with wandering hands to get any bad ideas. I sure was thankful when the sun came up and the border gates opened the next day and made sure I was the first one in line to get out of that horrible no-man’s land.

After arriving into Krgyzstan I almost kissed the ground beneath my feet. After being turned down at the border in China, 2 days of hitch hiking in 3 different trucks for over 19 hours over the amazing Irekeshtam pass, breaking down several times along the way, sleeping in no man’s land and listening to an Uzbek girl band CD on repeat I finally made it across the border and into Osh. And let’s just say that after that little ride I will never hitch hike alone again that’s for sure.

After an interesting ride into the country I was happy as anything to be in Kyrgyzstan. This little ex soviet country is as high scoring in my list of countries as it would be on a scrabble board. Tucked away neighbouring the world's largest countries Kyrgyzstan is the perfect place to get a little lost and explore. 
It’s an amazing country. The people are so hospitable and will invite you into their homes for tea and will try hard to communicate with you the best they can whether it be in my terrible and limited Russian or their limited English. This was especially the case in the smaller and more remote towns where the locals were so interested in where you were from and what goes on over the other side of the world.
After leaving Osh behind and making my way to Bishkek, the capital, I was looking forward to meeting some fellow travellers after being away from the “tourist hub” for so long. I arrived in the early hours and went straight to Sakura Guest House, a highly recommended hostel, so I had pretty big expectations.
I hadn’t organised any accommodation and just figured I would arrive and get a bed when I get there. Boy I was wrong, the lady answered the intercom and threw mountains of abuse at me for waking her up (well to be fair it was 2am) and then only out of pity allowed me sleep in her garage, where I then pitched up my tent. Nice welcome to one of the hotels with the best atmosphere I have ever stayed in.
Kyrgyzstan seemed to assemble an interesting aray of travellers. Kind of like a funnel effect travellers would all congregate at “Sakura Guest House” after teir long travels overland. Here it was an oasis where we all arrived unshowered, unfed, and tired after our long overland journeys only to reappear (after elbowing the bodies bodies out of your way to the shower) refreshed and looking like completely different people.

Here the conversations were lively, talking of possible routes to take, swapping near death experience tales and what areas were open and closed due to the ever occurring conflicts in surrounding countries, which was especially important at this point in time.

The most recent problem were the conflicts in the Pamir mountains, where people didn’t seem to be so much concerned with the murders on the border or the reasons for the conflict, but more on how this totally changes their travel route and plans.

For some, like me, they decided that Sakura was not such a bad place to the “stuck.” But other more daring souls, of which you meet a lot of in Kyrgyzstan (its not such a usual destination!) decided to wade right into the conflict bribing their way through the border troubles, allowing themselves to enjoy the mountain on their own, and with other trigger happy people (of which I didn’t mention this to them out loud.) We never did hear back from these travellers.

Kyrgyzstan was probably the country where I realised how extreme you could push travelling. I met at least 20 people who were all cycling their way across West to East, some from England to China. Meeting these incredible people re-energised my travelling and helped me to dream up bigger and more adventurous travels for the future.

I felt almost like I was cheating by crossing overland through hitch hiking, buses, bikes, horses, boats, trains etc. These people were dedicating 4 years of their lives to cycle overland.

I joined some other ambitious travellers and decided to trek up to Ala Kol Lake, near the town of Karakol, climbing up to the Alakol Pass at 3860 metres in elevation in the eastern part of Kyrgyzstan. It was on the way to the little town where you start the trek from that I came across Issyk-kol Lake. After travelling overland for so long it had been a while since I saw any body of water where I couldn’t see the other side. Some people love mountains, some love big cities, some love farms, but for me I will always feel at home with water. Seeing the beautiful lake with the resort towns on the water’s edge, sail boats drifting on the water and little beaches was like a breath of fresh air and instilled and new energy in me that was well needed after all the land travel since Hong Kong.

And so with 8 other travellers from all different areas of the world (Korea, Japan, America, Australia, the Netherlands, Russia) we set off on our trek up the beautiful mountain. Upon climbing up one of the more steep sections of the mountain we reached a path that seemed to either come to a dead end or climb a really steep rock wall. I climbed up to inspect if the path was alright on the other side, joined by Roman our Russian friend.

It was way too hard to scale up the vertical wall with our packs. It was about 20 metres tall with a very rapid incline, so you would pretty much be rock climbing up the wall. Every step I took would leave a huge pile of rocks tumbling down behind me, making it not only dangerous for myself but also for those climbing below me. Surely there was another way. So we decided to turn around and look for another path.

Our Russian friend who ate next to nothing and who slept outside without a sleeping bag and tent, pretty much like the modern day Action Man, had other aspirations.  

“Too hard for us, ha!” he had replied and with that he clambered up the rock wall and out of sight. Out of sight in fact for the next couple of days. We expected to meet him at the bottom of the mountain as we climbed down, but hadn’t seen him and presumed that he had probably passed us.

It wasn’t until asking around with some other travellers that we found out he got stuck up the top of the Rock face for a while and only when some other trekkers heard the faint call of “Help! Help!” did they then help him to get back down all in one piece. You can infer whatever morals from this story that you like, but all I can say is that he missed out on some awesome hot springs at the end of the trek the next night. There’s nothing like rewarding your muscles from a few hard days trekking with amazing, natural hot springs.

And so after an awesome few weeks in Kyrgyzstan it was time to get a move on, with my Russian visa end date beginning to creep ever closer. Next stop Kazakhstan.

1 comment:

  1. Nice, indeed, but about such places i can only read and enjoy..But who knows. Worth checking as i confused, for Kirgystan and Kazakhstan need russian visas?.