Finally, at last, we have arrived in Kashgar! We were stopped at the border for three days because of politcal troubles and the Beijing Olympics. There had been a bomb in Kashgar, but in any case the Chinese authorities in their wisdom, we were told, had closed all the borders into China on 8th August. So we rented a house in a village near the border for $150 for three days for the 8 of us. We cooked our own food and hung out. It was simple and basic but actually fine and we read books, worked on the vehicles, and played with the local kids. There were some very nice people in the village - old men with Asiatic beards and the round hats so common here. On Monday we got up early to get a good place in the queue at the border, but by the time we got there the line of lorries was already quite long. However with our vehicles we managed to get near the front and then the officials thankfully gave us a fast track on the Kyrgys side. The Chinese border was all smart uniforms and efficient officialdom. They searched pretty thoroughly the lead vehicle going through all the bags and looking into the engine compartment and interior. Even then they did not spot the safes built into the floors or the other hidden storage areas, not that we had anything to hide anyway. Three hours which was great. At the Chinese side we met our Liason Officer, Abdul, a nice young man who came on the train from Urumqui, 22 hours to Kashgar, then by bus to the border. He had all the permits and having been photographed and scanned for SARS, we then drove 255kms to Kashgar. What a journey! It was like being on the moon - vast rocky mountains, desert, erroded landscapes, puntuated by mud built villages surrounded by slender poplar trees. We stopped at a roadside cafe for noodles - delicious. We were all in great spirits having succeeded in crossing the most difficult border. Arriving in Kashgar the impression was of another large Chinese town - brash, modern, busy and crowded with a mixture of ethnic minorities and Han Chinese. We saw for the first time hordes of green taxis, electric scooters, amongst the usual donkey carts, bicycles and even people on horses. We headed for the centre and looked at two hotels before deciding to go for a bit of luxury at the International Hotel. Only a year old and four star. 700 Yuan for a room per night (about 30 pounds per person including breakfast).
In the evening we went out for a meal in a local Chinese resteraunt - wonderful real Chinese food sat around a round table. Local red wine and rice beer. Outside there was a huge square full of people enjoying themselves, dominated by a massive statue of Chairman Mao, and everywhere flashy neon. People are amused by us - a group of young elderly one time hippies still sporting long silver hair (Roger even wears his as a pony tail sometimes!).
Today we had a great day visiting the old British Consulate where Eric Shipton lived and worked. In fact we went back in the evening and had a great meal in one of the old rooms. The best bit of the day was in fact wandering around the old town. Fascinating remnant of the real central Asia - narrow streets with people selling everything under the sun. So many impressions and sights crowding in upon each other. We watched a man shoeing a horse, bought freshly baked circular breads, haggled for carpets, and took photos non stop.
We were told in the late morning that there may be a further problem with travel through to Pakistan, and that extra permits might be needed. A British group though, having been stopped at a police check post, did in fact get through, so we are hopeful for tomorrow. We also have connections that we may be able to use in Urumqui - we will see.
Off the bed now - already places like Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand seem a long time in the past. We are all well, getting along fine, and loving the trip. Bye from now from the Aged Hippie!!