Silk Road Tour day one: Part one

Day one of our tour was such a full, amazing day. Looking back it feels like so much longer than the time between a single sunrise and sunset. It saw us waking early in our gaudy hotel in Kashgar (more on that later!) to a cool, moist, overcast morning. We sorted out breakfast at the hotel and loaded our selves and our things into our taxi. The itinerary was as follows:

– Stop at a small town about an hour out of Kashgar to take in some first local sights and pick up breakfast.
– Begin the ascent into the mountains along the Karakorum Highway. Stops for photos along the way to be expected. 🙂
– Arrive at our destination, a home stay with a Kyrgyz family at their yurts, in time for a home-made lunch.
– The afternoon was for exploring the landscape around Karakul Lake.
– Dinner and settling in for the evening in the yurt.

A first taste of Uighur food

The first place we stopped was a small scrap of a town but it was exciting for Roman and I to our first look at China, our first look at Xinjiang.

This was a whole world away, not only from Southeast Asia which we’d become so familiar and comfortable with, but from anything else we’ve ever experienced. A whole different aesthetic, language, culture greeted us on the street. I found myself loving the gypsy like dress of the women, the dual language signs (featuring Arabic and Chinese writing).

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The street was lined with shops and food stands. We picked up some fruit for the next few days (pomegranate, which I was thrilled to see, is a local specialty), a small supply of pencils and notebooks we could gift our home stay kids, and local bread.

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There are two types of bread that we saw everywhere in Xinjiang. One is called something like “ach nan” (no idea what the correct spelling is) or just “nan” and is large and flat and sometimes cooked with extra ingredients (the ones I tried were subtly flavored with onion) and doubles as a plate.

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Another type of bread Yusef told us was called “gyr da” (again, don’t hold me to that spelling!). Similar to a real NYC delhi bagel, it is a round, dense bread, pinched but not open in the middle and coated with sesame seeds. We bought a huge, freshly baked bag-full for the road and their divine smell filled up the car – heaven! They are best when fresh and then they’re most different from a bagel in that they have a thick, delightfully crunchy, slightly salty crust. I’m getting hungry just thinking about them. 🙂

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Karakorum magic

After our stop for provisions, we got into the serious driving. The incline increased, signs of civilization decreased, and mountains began to rise on either side of the road. We were getting our first taste of Karakorum Highway.

My words and pictures can’t begin to capture the stunning, stark beauty of this place. Take a look at my panoramic photos for a feel, and I’ll try to capture a couple of impressions here, but really the best thing would be to go see it for your self! 😉

I loved the ruggedness and emptiness of it all. I loved how when we’d pull over to take pictures, we’d often be the only car in sight (although we did see a good number of cargo trucks). I loved how the few houses we did see blended in with the rocky landscape, since they were after all made directly from that very landscape – but for the brightly painted doors.

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Spot the house. 🙂

Most of all, I loved the mountains. I couldn’t get over the colors in them. Plum, purple, ochre, yellow, orange. Maroon, rust, cream, black, even some green, streaked through the rugged ranges.

I was thrilled at the first sighting of snow in a year (I won’t for a second complain about getting to travel in the tropics, but I do love me some snow!) as distant high peaks revealed themselves through the thick clouds.

Once we got high enough, the clouds suddenly disappeared, and we found ourselves in dazzling sunshine.

We stopped at an incredible “wet plateau” (this is what Lonely Planet calls it; I’m not sure what the deal is with this thing but it’s surrounded by ever shifting sand dunes and is massive and gorgeous), which is a bit of a tourist stop (we shared the view with a handful of Chinese tourists and this was the only place someone tried to get us to buy something in all of Xinjiang) and for all that sun was the coldest place we’ve experienced on our entire trip, with wind like a frozen knife! It was worth dealing with the environment though; the views were just gorgeous.

In case you missed them, more photos from the drive up are here.

Next up – yurt-life and Karakul Lake!

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