Deborah: August 2008 Archives

On Top of the World

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Kashgar - a bustling Chinses city full of minivans and electric scooters and very busy - a bit of a shock after Kyrgistan pastoral scenes. But fun for a dya.
 
Our liaison officer, Abdul, a mild and pleasant Uygur (they make up 15% of the popultation in the Uygur region, Kyrgis - 80% and chinese only 5%) had the unenviable task of trying to keep track of 8 headstrong and differently minded people as he gave us a tour of the bazaars and old town of Kashgar. 'Herding cats' is I think the phrase. However, he accomplished it with real gentleness and politeness and I think even enjoyed the experience. During the course of the day, more carpets/rugs were purchased, along with other interesting items because, after all, we had just had 5 days of genuine deprivation in Kyrgistan where the most exciting purchase was some bottles of beer and a swiss roll.

We had our tastebuds re-awakened be authentic and excellent chinese food on several occasions - my stomach didn't know what to do with all the fresh vegetables - after weeks where the speciality was shashlik (kebabs) when they had any, that is, it was wonderful.
 
Our second night we ate in a restaurant in the former British embassy - now a hotel, but not as nice as the one we stayed in - in the old part, which is over the top Edwardian splendour and was where Shipton - mountaineers may know - lived and worked in between trips up mountains.
 
Then off to the border vis the start of the Karakorum highway.
 
On the chinese side, the highway runs through a flat plain bordered by high mountains. There is pastureland all around and all the way along, groups of yurts and families pasturing their animals, all Kyrkis. We stopped at Kara Kol Lake, about halfway to the border town, for lunch and had fresh baked nan, clotted cream and salt tea in the house of a local family, watching the mother sew one of the traditional felt rugs.
 
Our last night was in Tashgurgan, where we were to leave Abdul once he had seen us through the customs formalities. At dinner, he produced 2 bottles of Tibetan wine, which he had purchased for us, because he knew we were interested in trying anything local and he had asked a friend to recommend something - we were really touched. The wine, which Roger intends to introduce to the Wine Society, proclaimed itself to be 'Tibetan Barley Ice wine" and was very interesting and very drinkable.
 
Chinese customs wasn't too bad - Abdul smoothed it all through, though there were mutterings about us having to stay with a bus because of border troubles, which in the end came to nothing - though they again checked us all with a machine to see if we were harbouring any deadly diseases, or lice!
 
Then on with the road and wound our way gently up, through some check points and suddenly we were at the top of the pass and saying hello to some well spoken Pakistani border police. And no-one down with altitude sickness and no vehicle over heated or with brakes failure.
 
Then the descent and how amazingly different on the other side. On the chinese side, the mountains remained still at a polite and awesome distance right to the top. Once over the pass, they crowded in and we were in precipitous gorges, water roaring by, the very image of the Karakoram. The road surface deteriorated immediately and though I'm sure this is partly due to chinese efficiency and industry, it has to be said they have the easier job. This side rock falls affect the road all the way down and they have teams constantly working to clear them Apparently a 2 year project to upgrade the road is due to start soon, bringing in 10,000 chinese workers.
 
Through Pakistan corder control and customs with the help of Ali, a rep from Walji's, the company HK has links with here - including a medical from to complete confirming we don't have AIDS, bird flu, SARS etc and not suffering from a headache, cough, snivels (!) etc. The got to Karimabad, a town perched on the side of the valley, with green terraces reaching down to the thundering river below and views of snow capped peaks.
 
Today, one way and another we've all been to see the 13th century Hunza fort at the top of the town - some of you will no doubt be getting a postcard of it - it forms part of the entrance ticket. The guide who took me round with Sally, Dave and Ann-Clare was brilliant - an economics student in his summer vacation doing the job for love of it, a local guy, with an absolute passion for the area and its development. I learned more about Pakistan in an hour than I've ever known.
 
After that, strolling around town, into the surrounding fields and - yes, I'm afraid. yet more carpet buying - couldn't possibly say who or what, but there had better not be too many more buying opportunities, or I'll have to get a bank loan.
 
We continue on down tomorrow, passing by Gilgit - we haven't made a decision about stopping there yet - apparently there has been trouble at times and it's not recommended. I wouldn't mind a look just to say I've been there - it was a major name in 'The Great Game'. but we'll see.
 

Lat: 36.307 Long: 74.632

So long Uzbekistan and thanks for all the melon

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We left Uzbekistan last wednesday with many fond memories of the openess and generosity of the people. I've never been anywhere where I have been made to feel so welcome. Time after after time people came up to us or hooted or waved to greet us. As we went through the mountains towards the Kygistan border, we were passed time and again by cars full of beaming Uzbeks, almost shouting with joy to see us. Then, they started wanting to give us things - as we were driving down the mountain passes - and insisted - first a string of nuts and fruit - then an Uzbek hat a, for which we gave them a double decker bus rubber from London and then, to our amazement - a melon - all handed through the window between cars as we sped side by side down the road. They roared with laughter as we accepted the gifts - we passed back some cigarettes - and accompnaied us this way down into the valley.
 
The following day, setting off for the border, we experienced more of this behaviour - this time it was bunches of grapes. Then, stopping for a late breakfast at a roadside chai stall, the locals gathered round us, insisting on us taking photos of them with us, as excited as anything that we were English. Then one of them insisted that we go to his house across the way, meet his family and be treated to more melon as well as grapes plucked from their own vine before our very eyes. The mother then insisted on baking us bread before we could go - the local bread is flat and delicious like nan bread. They brought all the family in to have photos with us and even the babushka made an appearacne, which I think is the ultimate honour. She had her photo taken too. Then, they packed up all the leftover fruit and bread for us to take with us. What amazing people - the impression only slightly spoilt by a set of very officious border guards who lost it with us because the border guards where we entered Uzbekistan hadn't stamped our customs forms or done any for the vehicles.
 
Still, they let us out and we got to Osh and stayed at one of the  nicest places we've yet been to - the Tes Guesthouse. The previous night in Uzbekistan (can't remember the name of the town - began with K) we'd had the worst hotel of the trip or possibly ever - even the most experienced travellers amongst us were horrified, so the Tes Guest house felt like we'd reached heaven.
 
Then off over the mountains towards Sarey Tash the following day.
 
Kyrgistan is so different to Uzbekistan - more varied countryside - mountainous, cooler and much poorer. We passed all the things you think you'll never see - Yurts, Kyrgis horsemen in tall felt hatts and boots, herds of Zows - all much more wry and less smiling than in Uzbekistan.
 
At Sarey Tash, instead of camping we stayed at the sarey Tash geust house - a traditional building with mattresses on the floors and where they took a goat off for slaughter to make our supper - goat soup followed by goat stew and then (you've guessed it -) melon.
 
I should mention that both vehicles have continued to have hiccups - the green had a brake failure on the way to Sarey Tash - we think it was due to not using the gearing properly and is OK; the silver continues to overheat on the ups. this may prove interesting on the Karakorum highway - if we ever get there.

So, last Friday, we got to the border to enter China to be told that all border into China were closed till Monday due to the local problems and the Olympics. Whatever the logic, we found ourselves having to stop in the nearest village for three days - considering quite justifiably that the border 'hotel' was going to be worse than the one in Uzbekistan. We ended up 'renting' a local house for the duration, which was a carbon copy of the guest house at Sarey Tash, though this time with the owners popping back to look at us every few minutes, along with most of the village.
 
Three days of doing almost nothing except wash our clothes in the stream and we set off to tackle the border. Well, they've let us in and we have our very nice liaison officer, Abdul, and we're staying in the best hotel in town, we've had some delicious chinese food - which makes a great change - and now we are told that due to the restrictions they are bringing in daily, sue to the difficulties we (a) can't camp tomorrow night as planned but must be in a town and in a hotel an d(b) we can't travel on the Karakorum Highwway without a special traveller's permit - announced as necessary today - which we must now try to obtain. So, who knows when we'll move on and to where. The International Hotel is feeling something of a guilded cage!


Lat: 39.466 Long: 75.974

Stairway to heaven.... (partially carpeted)

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Carpets took up a substantial part of the rest of our stay in Bukhara - 3 bought so far and a few others mused over. Then set off across more desert followed by a green plain between rocky hills as we neared Samarkand. The plain was hazy with sand being blown across - the hills barely distinguishable. And then reached the dizzy heights of Samarkand - all of 800 feet but already cooler (tho still extremely hot). The Green didn't like the dust again and when we arrived, Steve was anxious to find a mechanic who could do a service and change the oil filters. Looks like that's been achieved today. The car seat covers have even been washed ready for the next leg.

 

Samarkand is where the famous Stairway to Heaven is to be found - linking a number of beautiful mauseleums dating from 13th century onwards and dedicated to members of the Timur dynasty. Timur the Lame, or Tamberlane as we know him, was responsible for much of what was started here  and his successors kept on adding to it. There is too much to see in even 2 days but you get a good feel for the wealth and power that he must have commanded. The monuments are to be found right across the city, which has wide leafy avenues joined by twisty narrow lanes. The monuments themselves ahve been heavily restored and some restoration is still going on. Roger came in the Nineties and says the difference is enormous. Hard to say if it's a good or bd thing, although the museum at the Registan, a centre of 3 madrassahs in the centre, has photos of the buildings from the 19th an early 20th century, when they were being left to rot. The reconstruction has been done at an incredible pace and the buildings are magnificent. In one or two places a little of the decoration has been left as it was to compare. Whilst authenticity is great, there is little doubt that the cit wouldn't aattract the level of tourism it does if they hadn't reconstructed. And it must give a pretty good idea of what the place was like when the Timur empire was in full swing.

It's been really good to have these last 7 days staying in only 3 places. We have all needed to rest - I think everyone has had a tummy bug now and some are still recovering. I wouldn't fancy the next part of the journey without the rest beforehand.

We have seen more tourists here than anywhere and also lots of Mongolian Rally vehicles. One group, with Explore, we encountered at the roadside cafe in the desert and they are stayng in our hotel.But even with so many tourists, the money changing doesn't get quicker tho there are more places to change cash for suma, the local currency. If you want to change travellers cheques, it's the National Bank of Uzbekistan and their many forms (which differ from branch to branch). You can also change dollar cheques for Suma at the President Hotel. The presidnet hotel (which we are NOT staying at) is apparently owned by the president's 2 daughters. along with the biggests hotels in Khiva and Bukhara (which funnily enough we didn't stay in,either) and Maro Polo Travel Company. Hmm, wonder why there is less and less tourist hassle by the police, these days?.....

Off for a swim in our hotel's pool (a roomy oval of 5m x 4m - but lovely and cool!)

 

See you in Kashgar I hope)


Lat: 39.655 Long: 66.976

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This page is a archive of recent entries written by Deborah in August 2008.

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