The team meantime were in Samarqand and walked around this ancient city photographing their magnificent buildings. Yes they were bankamat there, but they had run out of money.
Friday 20 April
At nine o'clock the team caught a taxi to the Samarqand railway station to buy a ticket to Bukhara. To buy this ticket was no problem, but to go to the train they had to go through four lots of security, you weren't even allowed on the station if you did not have a ticket. They arrived at Bukhara at about 3 PM caught a car to a bed and breakfast, Visa or bankamat's were not available.
Saturday 21 April
They spent the day looking round this magnificent city with over 120 mosques and then in the evening caught sleeper train back to Tashkent.
Sunday 22 April
They arrived back at the hotel at 6:30 AM and then spent a relaxing day catching up with e-mails, downloading photographs and doing a little bit of maintenance work on the motorhome's.
What's my impression of Uzbekistan? Well with the border control, and the currency control it places the country back about 1950’s. They make it reasonably easy to change money from dollars to their currency, as long as you are in a hotel, but to change it back into dollars, they are not really interested.
We been told that Uzbekistan is possibly the most Muslim country of all the Russian Stans, however in Tashkent we saw no woman wearing any Muslim clothes, in fact most of the young women could be from any city in the world, particularly the ones that have decided to have a tattoo.
Whilst in Bukhara are all these mosques there is no call to prayer that was heard, like normally associated with Muslim countries five times a day. English was a popular language in the city with many people trying to practice their English with the three basic questions, how are you, where are you from, what is your name.
Truck drivers that we have spoken to and from other countries arrived in Uzbekistan with sufficient diesel in their tanks to do their work in Uzbekistan and get back across the border.
We are also told that petrol is sometimes rationed down to 20 to 30 L per sale.
Monday 23 April
We checked out of the hotel at 9:30 AM, then headed towards the border arriving there at 12:45 PM, for the next 4 to 5 hours were busy going through first Uzbekistan border control and then the Kazakhstan border control.
One over the border we met up with a money changer who changed some of our euros into a local money, we changed €100 and possibly lost eight euros on the deal however we had some money with which we could buy anything we wished.
We then drove on for a small distance and found a large dusty level spot just off the road beside a river we will spend the night. The location is N41.06749 E68.69466.
Tuesday 24 April
We filled up with diesel and the first large petrol station, and it was really interesting driving over the extremely bad roads that we did in the total darkness a few days earlier, we saw a wondered how we managed to do it because it was bad enough in daylight. We collected one bad hole which made the motor think we were in a smash so turned off the fuel pump for the second time in this country so as a matter of finding where to turn it on again and were on our way.
We stopped at a little cafe on the side of the road and had some mutton stew with potatoes and then it was onto the ring road to take us around the city of Shymkent, driving through the edge of the city we found some ordinary shops that we managed to do a little bit of shopping at, an Internet cafe across the road, extremely basic, so basic it was of no value to us at all, I presume its main use for the locals were games.
We have been seeing a lot of houses built out of adobe brick (dirt bricks), new modern houses the size and shape you'd see in any other country built out of wood or brick, I just wouldn't like to be in one of them with the next earthquake, and considering Tashkent was flattened by a earthquake in 1966 is quite on the cards they will get some sort of shake in this area.
We found a large piece of concrete couple hundred metres off the road where we will camp for the night. Its location is N 42.45929 E 69.76292
Wednesday 25 April
Last night around 7 PM the sky got absolutely black and we had an interesting electrical storm, we had hoped for a lot of rain to wash the motorhome but there was just a sprinkling.
This morning we got on the road again with Taraz as our destination with the thought we would find a bankamat and an Internet café, but of course with any large city of about 400,000 people to find either of those two locations along with parking is just dreaming.
On the outside of the city without a petrol station with the Visa sign, we went in and yes they took Visa, but no we could not have any diesel as it was too much trouble to do at Visa transaction and they prefer cash thank you.
So we just kept on driving on the normal roads for Kazakhstan, that is roads with lots of holes and limited speed because of all the potholes. It's interesting to see a road sign that suggests the speed of 40 and the potholes straight after that reduce you to a speed of 20.
We started looking for a spot to stop for the night and the first location we turned into was beside the railway line at the side road carried on underneath the railway line, but the large stones loosely packed looked a little bit dangerous for my front wheel drive motorhome. Sue however went under the railway line in her four-wheel-drive and after a few minutes came back in a cloud of dust proclaiming she found a beautiful spot just right for the three motorhomes, but I chickened out so Eion had the casting vote and he voted to drive on, Sue was a little disappointed and commented that she was happy to park in a one star location and she felt that I required a five-star.
We found a patch of grass just off a side road and just after we parked a Captain of police arrived, he wanted to make sure we stayed where we were because he was responsible for the whole area and did not want us going to the end of the road because he described the people that village has a lot of hooligans, we assured him we would not be shifting and would be gone in the morning and he went away, not exactly happy, but accepting the situation. Our location is N43.01267 E71.79472.
Sue was still enhanced by her location on the other side of the railway line so she took the two girls out there for a walk, unfortunate when she got back there she couldn't locate the camping spot and only could find a side road leading to a village or whatever which would not have been suitable for the night.
Round 8 PM a French couple arrived in there overland truck, a Renualt four-wheel-drive 42-year-old truck with a caravan sitting on the back held there by angle iron the whole way around. They were on their way to Mongolia to do some charity work, she was an English teacher and as I recall he was in landscape architecture. Their names were Mael and Pauline, they are with the project Sain by Noo, which translates into “hello” in Mongolian, their e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org, they did put a www in front of that but I'm sure that's not correct.
About 11:30 PM at night we woke on up by car pulling up behind us, putting its lights on full, blowing the horn, knocking on our window and door, evidently it was the army and they wanted us to move on, telling us if we didn't there would be four car loads of police coming, of course he was not aware of the captain of police giving us the okay for five hours earlier.
It's very fortunate we did not stay near the railway line as I heard very many long trains rumbling through the night, and as we were considerably closer to the road in that location the road noise would have been horrendous, we're a 500 m from the road at least and we could still hear the noise.
Thursday 26 April
This morning, after saying farewell to the French couple we set out on our way to the border, we were soon travelling along a half completed motorway, four lanes, two of which were being used, made from the latest technology in road construction, a continuous pour concrete strip. It was a beautiful smooth easy driving road, which for some reason only known to some boffin in an office, it had a 50 K speed limit. Now just in case you are comfortable with this beautiful road every so often they made you turn off onto the normal Kazakhstan holy road where you'd would be reduced down to 20 K and then back onto the concrete road again.
About 20 K down the road, we saw our new French friends, pulled over on the side of the road, working on their Renualt. We had a discussion this morning that if you have a older vehicle, you pay much less for it, but must expect to have more breakdowns, and this with their young enthusiasm was the way they had decided to operate.
We eventually got to the grubby little border town, I let Sue and Eion go first, and Sue got right through both sides of the border without any help from Luda, that scores her 100 points out of 100, Eion did need some help getting out of Kazakhstan, but sailed right through the Kyrgyzstan side.
They filled out all of Eion’s custom form, where as I with Russian speaking Luda, had to fill it out myself, so there is a certain amount of logic in not having a Russian speaker as it possibly makes it easier for your progress, but that's only a theory.
We all got safely through the border, much simpler than the other two Stans, and once on the other side we cashed some euros, they examined every edge of the euro and Liz had her note rejected because it had a very small tear, I was fortunate and managed to get the 3600 local currency.
We drove along with further stopping on the side of the road to have our late lunch, and when it was time to set off again, to find a location for the night, I asked Sue whether she wanted to carry on leading, she says no, her locations did not suit me, so I led, found a nice little shady spot, perhaps a fraction too close to the road, but did meet with Sue's approval so that was good.
The location is N42.79781 E73.62021. After we had been here a few minutes a local farmer drove in, in his shiny new car, bought a bottle of vodka with him to share, and with the aid of Luda interpreting had a good chat to us for a couple of hours. He is one of several from the old Soviet system that commented on how much better off they were under the Soviet system, they all had work, there was no crime, the infrastructure was good, and they all had enough money.
He said his father had enough money to bring up 10 children and they are all alive today and healthy and doing well in their occupations. He made the comment that to him, we in our motorhomes, were like somebody from outer space!
He himself is doing well, he has a farm that he works with his brother, can have good holidays, has a good car, but only has enough money for four children.
I know this is an opposition to all the information we have been fed through the media and I for one would never opt for socialism in any form, but I do have to admit that people appeared to have as good a life as we had in the West.
Friday 27 April
We drove on in towards Bishkek, and as soon as one village finished another one started, in fact it was wall-to-wall villages for 100 km to Bishkek.
Going through one of these villages, we found an old standpipe that still had running water so we stopped to fill up with water and whilst there and a long conversation with one of the local businessmen, he had served time in the Soviet Army in Poland, had his own truck and drove it throughout most of the old Soviet republics, and currently has a shop in the village, showed us lots of photographs of his family and his friends up in the snow country and finally took us to his mosque couple hundred metres down a side road, this was built by a rich local businessman.
Once in the city we headed towards the Silk Road Lodge, a favourite spot of Clive and Ann's, it was suggested that I go in and see what the situation was, so I went to reception, introduced myself, I asked if we could have parking and received the affirmative, went back out and Eion and Sue had walked in from the road they said they did not want to pay for parking, so we parked on the road outside the hotel. I went back in to apologise to the receptionist for the trouble.
We needed to clear our e-mails and send copies of our Visa to a Chinese guide company, so was suggested that we go into the hotel and pay for the use Internet. So I collected my computer, went back into the hotel and found Eion and Liz sitting there with their computers and they made the comment that the Internet was free.
I was unable to connect to the Internet, Eion was, and whilst we'll waiting the manager approached Eion and asked them what he wanting a room and Eion led him to believe there was a good possibility, and asked the price of the rooms, at that point I left. Later I went in to apologise for the deceit, I wonder what reception members of the UK Silk Road Group will receive next time from this hotel.
When I got back to the motorhome outside Luda had found a WiFi link, was not associated with the hotel, and were able to download our e-mails for the first time in weeks, we made contact with the tour company that was arranging the permits for our travel to the border, paid them the US$150 for their fee, we found where having possible problems with the border perhaps been closed on Victory Day, 9th of May, so I indicated to Ilona our contact that it would be wise for me to buy a local Sim card, she thought for a bit and let me her old Sim card, it just needed some money on it, so I put 200 Som ($NZ5.20) on the card and was able to send text messages both to Tracy and Ilona trying to sort out this victory Day problem, in the end, many e-mail and text messages were exchanged with Tracy, who is just starting a national holiday in China but I think everything is under control, more later.
About 4:30 PM we headed out of the city towards a large lake and when we reached the countryside took a left-hand turn down a dusty side road to a shady spot by some trees opposite an old petrol station. The location is N 42.88938 E 47.81793.
I'm beginning to realise it was a major mistake not adding a contingency fee onto the price we paid for the Chinese guide, I thought at the time I was doing the right thing by not doing this but now I realise some people on this tour question every cent.
Saturday 28 April
We set off this morning towards the settlement of Karokol some 350km away at the Southeast corner of Lake Issyk-kul where every Sunday they have a weekly animal market place, that Sue did not want to miss.
The lake is the second largest alpine lake in the world at 1670 m elevation and because of its salinity seldom freezes. There is a gateway to the road that runs around the lake in each car is charged 500 Som entrance fee which goes to the maintenance of the whole all area.
First we stopped at the Burana Tower in a town of the same name, the tower was built at the end of the ninth century and was originally 45 m high that an earthquake in the 15th century not the top 20 m off so it's currently set at 25 m after the Restoration work in the 1970s by the Soviets.
Then it was a matter of driving through the beautiful gorge towards the lake stopping for lunch at one of the many towns set up for the summer trade, the restaurant we had chosen was getting ready for a wedding at 5 PM but like the Chinese the Kyrgyz's don't miss an opportunity for making money.
We still had about 100 km to go and Eion Liz and Sue, decided to stop for a cup of tea, Eion, who is leading for today told us to go on ahead and find a location round about 5 PM. This we did, stopping a fraction early, as we have learned, if you see a spot, and it's almost time to stop, don't pass it otherwise you'll drive for hours.
Sunday 29th of April
It rained most of the night but we still got up at 6:30 AM to drive towards the marketplace, I must admit my imagination was working in overdrive, two days of rain plus animals on dirt equals ankle-deep mud, however we drove on gamely arriving at Karokol very close to 8 AM, right on target.
Sue was leading and was working with her guidebook which had told what a wonderful place this was, however did not tell her how to get there and after driving round in circles for a while including down a no entry road into army barracks I decided it was time for Luda to ask for directions, which she did, asking for the animal market place, wrong words, nobody knew what she was talking about, eventually somebody clicked on and used a Russian word to describe the location, Skotskii bazar, so once we had the word was easy to get directions so we turned around and went back several blocks along the road we came in and did a right-hand turn and reached the mud soaked event.
We parked off to one side and walked towards the centre where the action was, yes I was correct the mud was ankle deep in places, but we manage to skirt around those until we came to the main entrance to an area that had Soviet style concrete fence all the way round it, we could peer through the fancy lattice work at the top of the fence and see lots of large trucks and a large group of men in the distance. Yes it was the only entrance and a wise ones had gumboots I saw a young lady walk through it almost losing her shoes.
It was a very overcast day and with the dark faces there was not sufficient light on the faces to make them interesting so I did not bother switching on my camera and wandered back to the motorhome to wait for those more daring to return.
Wandering round the back of the motorhome to collect some more Coke for the fridge, I discovered the back plastic bumper bar with the number plate had fallen off! We think it happened about 10 minutes into our journey this morning so we decided that Luda and I would go back to last nights camping spot looking for our lost piece of plastic, last year we named the motorhome the Plastic Fantastic and is beginning to look like it was a good name.
In retrospect the trip back to last night's location was extremely optimistic, something like that lying on the road would be perceived as something from a flying saucer and would quickly be taken home and place in a special spot in their garden and treated somewhat akin to the World Cup!
So we drove back 120 km wandered round the villages where we thought it had been lost, and then drove back to the marketplace where we met up with the rest of the team.
Monday 30 April
As we have plenty of time to get to the border we decided to go down to Przevalsk a small village by the lake with lots of dachas owned by people in the area. As an interesting drive driving towards magnificent snow-covered mountains, only about 10 km, and we are camped just off the small road and a nice green area. The location is N 42.59645 E 78.32683
Tuesday May 1
On the way out of the village we visited a museum dedicated to the man founded the village and goe by his name. He lived in the 1880s was one of the first to explore Mongolia, Turkestan and Tibet thereby vastly increasing the European knowledge of central and eastern Asia. He discovered the wild camel and the only surviving species of the wild horse which now also bears his name. It was quite interesting looking through the museum that the lady opened especially for us, May 1 is a holiday throughout the Soviet bloc. There was a large collection of photographs and information about him and his travels in the interesting thing was most of the descriptions of what was on show was written in Russian but it also had an English translation.
The museum was built in the 1970s and is currently looking slightly the worse for wear mainly because the funding that was available pre-perestroika no longer exists. We paid 70 Som entrance fee and Luda was charged 30 Som as a local person.
We then drove about 20 km up a side road towards the red sandstone cliffs, there is a health spa at the end of the road and we made do with a park on the side of the road for location is N42.33815 E78.23533 elevation 2006m.
Wednesday, May 2
We carried on road around the south side of the lake heading towards Naryn, at Barskoon we turned towards the mountains and drove up the road towards Barskoon pass and when we reached 3200 m in elevation we saw a memorial to Gagarin, the first astronaut to conquer space, and in behind his memorial was the sight that we had travelled to see, a waterfall probably about 500 m up and to add interest the water was frozen, the river that it was falling into was frozen, so it's an interesting site that we don't see back at home.
We drove through quite a few villages today and I would say that in excess of 90% of the villages were made from adobe brick which possibly may explain the high death toll in countries like this when there is a major earthquake.
Most of the villages still carry water to their homes from a water standpipe placed strategically throughout the village. We stopped at one of these to replenish our water supplies and a woman that was there getting her water in a large milk can in a plastic bottle, she said they were allowed to pipe water into their homes in 2013. I'm not sure who makes these decisions but it certainly will make life easier for the water carriers of the villages.
Back on the main road we saw a large, what would have to be called a milk tanker, and the people were gathered round it with their buckets of milk and this has been poured into the tanker through the large opening in the top. I'm not sure how each person was credited for their milk, nor how they measure the buttermilk content from each supplier, and I would certainly hope that the milk when it reach the factory was pasteurised or given some other treatment to remove any of the bacteria collected in such a process. This is the third time we've seen this system working around the country so certainly looks like the norm.
We found a large parking area on the other side of the road from the lake location is N 42.17848 E 77.31562. We are at an elevation of 1634 m
Thursday, 3 May
We carried on round the edge of the lake until we got near Bokonbaev when we stopped and asked an old gentleman were we could see somebody with a hunting eagle. He said yes he knew where and as he lived nearby came with us in the motorhome and lead us towards his house, the last little bit of the road looked extremely rough so we left the motorhome's in a large area and walked onto his house.
Yes he would show us his hunting eagle and first was thinking of taking us up into the hills with seven horses and show as the eagle actually hunting, we said no we just want to see the bird on your hand and see him fly. The first option with the seven horses was $500, our real option was $50, three went away to change into his national costume, and collect his eagle. As far as I can ascertain it is a female golden eagle, the female of the birds of prey are always considerably larger than the male, and his eagle was two years old and weighed 6 kg. Quite a weight to carry around on your hand.
He told us the life of the eagle was 50 years and that for 30 years they were good hunters. He got his eagle by climbing down a cliff face and taking the bird when it has just started to fly and training start about six months later. It takes 25 days to train the bird to fly from his hand to catch prey and to return.
He keeps his birds for 10 years and then takes them up into the mountains and sets them free, he has had four other eagles and currently has the female, male and will be getting a chick shortly.
We then drove on towards Balykchy at the top of the lake and decided to take a shortcut to the Naryn highway thereby saving about 40 km.
Partly along the road we saw a cow that had just given birth to a calf, possibly just a few minutes ago, she was busy licking the calf that seemed a little bit overwhelmed by the world had found itself in, was just lying there peacefully. Luda loves animals so the moment she saw this we stopped the car and she ran back to get some photographs. Our travelling companions who are 1. a farmer and 2. A vet naturally weren't interested, but Luda was pleased with her photos.
The road to Naryn was being reconstructed in many places so it made the driving more interesting. We passed a small lake and then a fast flowing river which we are currently parked beside at a location of N 42.09035 E 75.64186 at an altitude of 1997.
Friday 4th May
This morning before we left the camp site Eion gave me their share of the eagle “ Fee”. Before leaving home Eion was told, by a friend, to take 100 US$1 bills, why he was told about this we do not know but we have been getting these dollar bills for repayment of fees that we have paid. Currently I have 37 single dollar bills. Why he doesn't change these at a money changer I don't know!
This morning we carried on to wards Naryn, over a reasonable road, reasonable for this country!
We found ourselves climbing through picturesque scenery was magnificent snow-covered mountains filling the horizon in almost every direction. The lot of activity on the road with animals being moved, but very little vehicle traffic, so it made reasonable progress governed by the condition of the road.
We kept climbing until we passed over the Dolon pass at 3038 m elevation and then it was the gradual downhill drive until we reached Naryn at 2064 m elevation. We drove on to the guesthouse that Clive and Ann recommended, we elected to stay in our motorhome in the car park for which we paid 50 Som a night and the others booked a hotel room to catch up on their washing and things.
They have Internet but as far as I can ascertain it is dial-up which is not much use in today's world so we will go into town and see if we can find an Internet cafe with modern facilities. The location of the guesthouse is N 41.42915 E 76.02138.
Round 6 PM our guide that was going to take us to the border arrived to talk to us and to find out where he was going to collect us and at what time. It was decided that we'd spend the evening of the eighth at Tas Rabat, an ancient Silk Road caravan resting spot, and would meet him on the main road at 8 AM on the ninth. The area we will be passing through is a military area and naturally travel is forbidden to foreigners without special permission. Likewise on the Chinese side of the border there is about 100 km that you need a special guide to take you through the area.
Eion was puzzled by these government requirements and pressed the guide for reasons why it was necessary, Luda was embarrassed by once again having to ask one of Eion’s questions, the answer of which should have been obvious to a five-year-old.
Saturday 5th May
We set off from the hotel about 9 a.m. to go into town and try to find an Internet cafe, Eion also wanted a haircut and he had received an address for a good hairdresser from one of the staff at the hotel. Our first stop was at the information office and we found out where the Internet cafes were in the town. She also told Eion was a very good hairdresser next-door, but he felt perhaps the name he was given was better, I assume, because he decided to go to that one.
We parked next to a bank, Eion went off in search of his hairdresser, we went off to look for Internet cafes, and whilst you could access the Internet from the two that we visited, you could not plug your laptop into either, nor did they have WiFi ! So I wandered around town while Luda was working on her e-mails, online, and Sue was doing similar with her e-mail account.
I then decided to take a motorhome up to one of the standpipes where the locals obtained their water, and it seems to be a continual process, carrying water, every little bit of water used in the household has to be carried in often what is an old cream can, so I guess you learn to conserve water. I filled up our water tank of 135 L a little bit self-consciously observing the local people carrying water in 5 to 20 L containers.
The plan for the afternoon was to drive up into the mountains to a gorge, a health resort, and to look at a forest that had been planted in the shape of a swastika. Sue finds all of these “interesting” things in her guidebook and seems to want to photograph everything mentioned. It is an interesting drive to start with and then we reached a village that had probably the worst road that I've ever driven on, I think the average speed was 5 km so we got through that and then a reasonably smooth part where we could probably travel at 20 km and then another village where is down to 5 km or less, and this was not a road leading anywhere to get us to our final destination, and to photograph a group of trees in the form of a swastika wasn't high on my list of must do items, so at that point I decided to around and leave it to the other two vehicles to visit the swastika forest and whatever.
We drove back and decided to drive up through a rainbow arch which we later discovered was the entrance to what could be loosely called a health resort, the single lane road leading up into the hills and halfway up the lady was washing a carpet on the road, which she folded back to let us pass, the road has some interesting holes that we had to ease the motorhome over but was not too bad. We reached the end of the road there was quite a lot of cars there, and there was a barrier leading on up the valley to what I believe was a picnic area, but the local police that were there told us that camping was forbidden because it could be dangerous.
So we turned around and went back on down the hill, past the carpet washing ceremony, and we had a beautiful view of the snow-covered mountains with a village nestled just under the hills, and then back on the road to the village and eventually the guesthouse, the car park was fairly full but we were told that all be gone by 9 PM so we parked in empty space in the centre, then later we heard a motorhome arrive in as the other two vehicles, they had found the swastika forest and had photographed it, the gorge was a disappointment, and they couldn't find anywhere to stop for the night so they decided to join us back at the guesthouse.
Sunday 6th May
Today's travel was heading towards the border with the intention of visiting a Sunday bazaar held at the village of At-Bashy, the road to the bazaar area was challenging as expected, large range of animals, sheep, cows and calves, horses and Foal’s, and even a high country yak. There were of course was all of the other household commodities available for sale in the whole experience was a dusty and grimy, which to a Westerner may have some novelty value.
We drove on the road which is undergoing major repairs and done, and found a spot on the left-hand side of the road for the night, location of N 41.10482 E 75.61262.
Monday, May 7
We carried on the road towards the border and towards Tas Rabat, there was a beautiful tar sealed road for the first part of the drive and then it moved on to road under construction and the normal bridge being built, please drive around, not very exciting. We kept on climbing and eventually came to the turn off to Tas Rabat, and drove the 15 km to this thousand-year-old relic of the silk Road, five cars had passed us on the road and it looked like a group of friends had come up here for a picnic because currently sitting on mats that they have bought with them on a nice bit of sloping ground having a feast.
On the slopes ahead of us we can see a large herd of yaks their grazing at about 3200 m and we are located 100 meters below them. The drive into this historical spot is very beautiful with magnificent cliffs and beautiful mountain scenes large herds of animals about and solitary houses by the roadside, most of which have a large satellite dish for television inside their mud adobe houses.
Tuesday, May 8
We woke up this morning and found we were surrounded by 10 cm of snow, and the temperature outside was -2.5 c. However the sun was shining and was soon very warm in the motorhome and by three o'clock almost all of the snow had disappeared. It was now time to go down to the road ready for the driver, who tomorrow morning, will lead us to the border.
Sue decided to walk the 15 km to the road and Liza drove her truck down for her, we passed her as there was a light snow -- sleet falling and she was quite happy to keep on walking.
We parked on open ground and easy view of the road, I had some trepidations about how solid the ground was, but decided to stay in the location.
Wednesday, May 9
Today's the day we head to China, the juncture this morning was -1.5°C, and the trepidations I had about the ground proved true as the wheels had sunk a little bit into the ground and, perhaps it was the elevation, but the motor did not seem to have enough omph to get the plastic fantastic moving, so a little tow from Sue's truck soon had us on the road with the driver leading towards the Chinese border.
The road was, such that had the weather been raining, say for two days, we would have needed a four-wheel-drive to complete the drive, but as it was there was no rain, in the critical parts, just a lot of finger biting when one came to a part that the trucks had churned up and there was ankle deep mud in the grooves that the trucks had created.
The first stop was passport control on the Kyrgyzstan side, then it was on to the border control and customs control, I believe our passage through these was helped by the driver that was guiding us, we were told by one of the border control officers that this pass is never closed, and it can get as cold as -55°C in the winter, of course it's elevation is almost at 4 km which is higher than Mount Cook in New Zealand, so I guess one has to expect a little bit of cold when it snows.
Our driver guided us on to the Chinese border and this road defies description.
We had been at the border just a few minutes when Andy our Chinese guide waved at us from the others side of the gate and after about 30 minutes the was opened and we started our procedure to enter China.
Our first stop was at a border control where the drivers had to show their passports, then we are asked to bring our computers, cameras and a book into a room where they were glanced at, then we're told to return to our vehicles and then we were driving on to the next control. The road signs were of course in Chinese, and I assume the Arabic writing was the local indigenous population of Uighurs, however there were also signs later in Russian and English.
The last border control was the control for health and food control where they questioned you on your health and inspected the kitchen and refrigerator for meat, milk, dairy produce and eggs. We lost some cheese and three eggs.
This, then on the last 60 km to Kashgar over a ghastly road which eventually led to a modern motorway and on into the modern city of Kashgar.
There is a song that has the words “ what a difference a day makes” well if that applies, the last time I was here was 25 years ago and believe me a quarter of a century has made an incredible difference to what was once a border town that I was able to wander all the way around and not get lost into a modern city with high rise buildings and apartments everywhere. It has often been said is a mistake to go back, and I must admit I am disappointed with what progress has done to the first city at Marco Polo visited on his arrival to China.
Again Vodafone will not work in this country, and the last time we had it working was in Russia, Telecom on the other hand has been working all the way through!
We have parked in a large car park in behind Navo’s office, this costs 50yaun a night, it is full of buses and cars, and it was here that our GPS’s and CB radios were inspected. They had a sophisticated monitoring device to check out CB's and it was soon discovered that the frequency was not one they could be used in China, exactly what I was expecting, so I suspect we will be told tomorrow that we are unable to use them in this country.
We are told that the Chinese Sim cards can receive telephone calls here from anywhere, at no charge
Thursday, May 10
Navo are busy finishing our paperwork today so it is a free day and we went looking for a dongle that we can use for China for Internet and e-mails, we also decided to see if we could get a GPS for China and these two tasks will occupy the full day.
Clive’s team that preceded us driving through China at this point had to have a physical examination and a cardiograph, because of their age and their cars had to have a warrant of fitness check, and I was waiting for us to have to go through this and nothing happened, I presume our tour company had given somebody several boxes of cigarettes and all this physical examination et cetera was forgotten about, once you reach the age of 60 in China you have to have a medical examination to be able to drive, and of course once you reach my age, you might as well forget about it.
We also got the news that our CB radios would be returned to us as we left China as they would not permit us to use their frequency in China, well it was worth a try!
We managed to find many GPSs that would work right throughout China and would have good maps right throughout China, yes we could program them for English, but the voice giving instructions remained in Chinese! We decided that this would be probably unworkable.
There are two main mobile telephone companies in China, China Mobile and China Unicom the former having 80% of the market leaving 20% for its rival. We found there was a better price with number two however it took about three hours for us to get our dongles with the majority of that time taken up by a technician trying to get my Sony Laptop into a situation that it would work with the dongle.
Eventually I took a taxi back to the motorhome and collected our other two computers in one of those worked first time such appears that my Sony needs a good clean out of software on the inside.
Different parts of China have different Internet rules and I have discovered in this part of my website is banned so I'll be able to place headlines on my website that is banned in China!
Friday, May 11
Today we did a 240 km drive to a town called Tashkorgan which is famous for an abandoned stone fort and we found ourselves heading towards Pakistan very close to the Tajikistan border, but our program did not permit us to go to either of these interesting countries. On the way we passed a large lake called Karakul Lake acquired a high elevation and we passed over a high mountain pass at 4075 m, our highest so far.
The road in many places left a lot to be desired, there was more dust on the road and blowing in the air than with experienced so far on this trip, and add to that a convoy of about 50 slow moving Chinese Army trucks and it made for an interesting drive. About halfway along the route we came to a police checkpoint and everybody's travel documents were examined. And after driving out of Kashgar city with the problems, we decided that perhaps a Chinese GPS is not so bad after all.
We finally arrived at our destination and found a new highway that had just been built and parked at the end of it, the highway was beside the green lush area with many animals and many board walks as I assume the ground was a little bit soggy. We are at an elevation of 3066 m in the location is N37.78835 E 75.23449.
The local people were originally known as Sarikolis, but today are called Tajiks and are regarded as pure homo-alpinus stock the occupiers of high Asia since earliest times. The women's national dress is very clean and attractive and as followers of Islam have their faces covered with a decorated white cloth.
The name of the town is Tajiks for “Stone City” referring to a stone fort just north of the town that was first built in the sixth century.
Saturday, May 12
Whilst we're operating on Beijing time which is two hours ahead of local time, and most attractions operated on local time when most surprised to find that the fort was open for visitors on Beijing time. We all paid 30 Yuan to enter, I climbed up to the entrance, took two photographs before my battery was exhausted, thereby having an excuse to return to the motorhome, whilst others pressed on to look at the remains of the fort, sometimes gasping for breath because of the altitude.
We then started heading back towards Kashgar experiencing quite fine weather for the trip, driving back over the pass was a fresh fall of snow which made it all look very attractive, and once we got down a little bit lower we started seeing large herds of Yaks, from what we've observed once you get over 3000 m this is the main domestic animal.
The road snakes around high cliffs, which are extremely unstable, with large rockfalls being very common. We are at the moment parked about 10 km from an extremely large rock fall which has blocked the road, and we are told that they are working on it from both sides, an extremely large mechanical digger has just driven past so at least they are not working with just picks and shovels.
Coming from the South Island of New Zealand we are quite used to seeing rivers containing lots of rocks and shingle, but the rivers here are beyond description, at least 200 m wide and chock-a-block with stones, some as large as houses, and an incredible amount of shingle with a small stream winding its way through all of this material, however I guess in early spring when the snow is melting then you would see the real force of the river has moved all of these rocks down from the mountains.
Sunday 13 May
Today is the day of the famous Kasgar Sunday bazaar, having seen how Kashgar has changed from a village to a city the size of, or larger in Christchurch, there is a tremendous amount of new building going on in the city in fact I believe there is more being built than the rebuilding of Christchurch.
I loved the old village and its people, I will not set myself up for another disappointment so I've decided not to go to the bazaar and keep my memory of the incredible scene that I witnessed 25 years ago. They always say “you should never go back” and as far as Kashgar is concerned, with me, that is correct.
Thank goodness we at last have internet ……. Of a fashion!
It appears that the average wage for a taxi driver is about 50,000 yuan a year and a lawyer or accountant can make 3 to 4 times as much as that.
In the Xinjiang Uygur province of China … which is equal to in size to the combined land mass of France, Germany, Spain and the UK combined…..
Facebook is banned
Google is limited
My website is banned
Xtra e-mail comes through
I am unable to update my website
Vodafone will not work in China
Telecom NZ will work in China
Skype does work in China
One Yuan = NZ$0.20c US$0.16c
Sunday, May 13
Luda went to the two Sunday markets, the first one the animal market was a 20 minute taxi ride out of the city, they left at 9 AM and got there just as the animals were arriving which made for some interesting photographs, there were no horses and no camels which I remember from the old marketplace, and that was always interesting to me, with serious looking men trying out the horses riding at full gallop along the area for testing.
It was so far out they paid for the taxi to wait and then it took them to the other market area which was for clothing and food etc.
Monday 14 May
We left the city at 9 AM, right when all the children were being delivered to the school and the road was chock-a-block with traffic, however we did manage to get out of the city and on the way to our first destination of Aksu on a road that took us around Takalamakhan Desert, however at one point our guide did say we were crossing through the Gobi desert, so let us say the land we were crossing was not very fertile and would not grow very much.
Our target for the day was about 470 K and we drove on through the city of Aksu onto a new motorway, the toll booths were still under construction, and we got off at a petrol station parking area that also was still under construction and here we are for the night. The location is in 41.37494 E 80.6191 at an altitude of 1221 m
The roads today were as good as what we would find in New Zealand was not that much traffic, and we paid a total of 65 yuan for tolls. It's been warm day with temperatures almost hitting 30°C, a lot of dust in the air so for photography you need to be travelling the day after a shower to get good crisp scenery.
Tuesday, May 15
There was back on the superhighway, top speed 120 K so we could almost be back in Germany. Eventually we left the motorway after about 40 km and got onto a regional road that went through villages etc so we drove for about 160 km to reach Kizil Buddha Caves, Grand Kuqa Mosque, Ruins of old Kuqa, I decided to remember all the caves and ruins that I've seen and stay with a motorhome in stead of traipsing through the dust to see the same thing again.
On the way up to this tourists destination there was a digger, digging a hole across the road, the road around, suffice to say that a large truck managed to get through on the sixth attempt so we decided that was not for us and waited for them to fill in the hole whilst we had lunch.
It's all very well to have a Garmin, but you need to know precisely where you want to go, and you need to know every detail otherwise what you enter is not necessarily what you expect. If you using a GPS that probably means you're driving through China, which means you will have to have a guide, so I would suggest you use his GPS or get him to place your destination into your Garmin for you. There is no doubt that the Chinese GPS seems to be more comprehensive if it wasn't for the language.
The team enjoyed the caves and then we wound our way back down the road round the little bypass they had rebuilt after the truck got stuck and then back to the main road and onto Kuqa and we found a car park beside a small city park with a small police station in the centre, the location is N41.72277 E82.94791 elevation 1042m. mileage today 400 K
We had all of our vans washed for a maximum of 20 yuan and once that was done we caught a taxi back into the town and wander through the small shops taking photographs and then had a Uighur meal a Uighur restaurant (no grog).
Wednesday 16 May
Our destination today was 330 K away Korla - Iron Gate Pass, and we were on an extremely good motorway all the way to Korla and about 200 K out we collected a police escort had stayed with us and made sure we did not stop anywhere, we tried to pull over into a parking area and he came up on the inside with the sirens blaring signalling us to go on. We lost him at a toll booth, we were kept on one side of the toll booth for about five minutes whilst the government official talked to the booth attendant, various other people came up and talked, eventually one was given a piece of paper and he went into the administration building beside the booth, and then we were allowed through at no charge, then the police car stayed in that location and the government official that was with him, got into another car and when we tried to stop again later he pulled in and asked us to keep driving.
When we reached Korla a city of over 500,000 he decided it was safe to leave us, just as we needed to be guided through the city because the Chinese GPS did not have all the latest new roads, which in itself would be quite a feat with the speed that the roads are being built.
Our destination was about 20 km the other side of the city and finding a way through was a good challenge, once at Iron Gate Pass we were allowed to drive inside and we found a shady spot beside a building.
It has become very obvious early on in this trip, you need to take a great deal of care in choosing your travelling companions. I think this would necessitate a camping trip somewhere for 2 to 3 weeks because from simple social meetings one does not necessarily know how the person will perform in the middle of Kazakhstan. I should have had a little bit of a warning when Eion’s travelling companion to Iceland last year decided to go his own way one ot two days into their trip, and with Sue's desire to see everything mentioned in the guidebook should have been another red alarm!
We camped at N41.81199 E 86.19555 elevation of 968 m
Thursday 17 May
We left the iron Gate and headed towards Turpan, I tried programming this into my Garmin with the Chinese maps, but it does not speak English, nor does it speak Mandarin, that uses the English alphabet to give a name to a town which bears no resemblance to the English name and has our Chinese guide baffled, for example Turpan needs to be keyed in like “Tu Lu Fan Di Qu”, I guess once you know you may the able to see some resemblance, but it is not easy.
The trip today was about 400 km and we spent 85 yuan on the toll roads, however the roads were first-class and in most cases had a upper speed limit of 120 K.
The area we went over was basically desert, desert from the aspect that nothing would grow, and most of the land was just a shingle and rocks. About 150 K out of Turpan we went through an area of Moon like landscape rising up to 1740 m elevation with a modern two-lane one-way highway cutting right through the centre of it, most of the way was a 60 K speed limit and we were going downhill over a approximately 80 km distance to sea level.
We did pass through little areas of intense cultivation and obviously these are the areas that had a good supply of water. Our first destination was the Turpan Karez paradise, a tourists location to see the ancient Karez underground channels that brought the water from the mountains to the farmland. These were developed 2000 years ago and had been called one of the three great projects in ancient China.
This was a very clean hygienic view of the system set up specially for the tourist and very different to what I saw 25 years ago looking at one in the centre of Turpan and viewing a vertical shaft out in the desert. I also see in the guidebook that Turpan is now boasting a population of 500,000, a little bit different to the little frontier town I wandered round 25 years ago. Progress happens everywhere it seems.
Next destination was to visit the Jiaohe city ruins, an ancient silk Road city from around the seventh century A.D. and was abandoned in the 14th century, and evidently had a population of about 7000 mainly Buddhist Uighurs, but today the adobe buildings have almost returned to nature and the dust as you walk through the ancient city made me ask myself do I really want to look at piles of dirt over a large area? The answer was no!
We camping for the night in the car park of the ancient city at the location of N42.94732 E89.07262 elevation 17 m.
Friday 18 May
Today we went into the city, Turpan city which wasn't there 25 years ago, the first we visited an area called Emin mosque and minuet, this is now a tourist attraction and as I recall last time I visited this was the centre of Turpan as I knew it, there was a market place close which was extremely interesting, my guides CITS struggled to find things to take me to see, now it appears things that were there for everyone to view, are now fenced off and labelled a tourist attraction, with a ticket office and dozens of souvenir sales people all selling a similar product. Yes progress!
We then went into the city to find an ATM machine, then into a supermarket where I bought the only 10 small bottles of zero Coke, we were all back into our vehicles and that was on to stay the night at a Tuyuk Village this is a Uighur village and you go through very picturesque scenery to get to it but you don't want to come in the middle of summer unless you like the extreme highs C!
A classic Eion’ism today was when asked where he would be ready to move off on the next leg of the journey replied “Liza has just returned from the supermarket and we will be ready when we are ready”!
After we arrived, our guide Andy was talking to one of the village officials told us that tomorrow is going to be a special celebration of the Mulberry fruit and the silkworms, this can start at about 10 o'clock and most of the proceedings will be finished by 12 noon.
Now having been associated with the Chinese functions as a photographer I know there are two times, local time and the Chinese time. Not wishing to be a spoilsport I said nothing about this and the team decided to stay to see this interesting once a year event.
Saturday 19th May
Today was the big event, 10 AM came and went, 11 AM arrived and they decided they may have some cock fighting, 12 noon we departed for Hami some 350 km away. Yes Chinese time is alive and well.
We were driving through the desert just about all day on an incredibly good road, the Deserts name is Kumutage, now don't be disturbed if you haven't heard of it because either had I before today. We saw a lot of oil wells busy pumping money up out of the ground! There's an incredible amount of trucks on the road if I had to guess I would say about 10 trucks to one car.
Now the trucks are something else, there appeared to be no weight restrictions, no height restrictions, no width restrictions. So was quite common to see a vehicle transporters with one row of cars as normal inside the transporter and on the top two rows of cars side-by-side, or trucks side-by-side. Not only that there are large commercial machinery and objects being transported without any warning of an over with vehicle, or the trucks do have their loads will tied down with a tarpaulin over the top and many ropes securing the load, but this is not unusual to see a car sitting tied to the back of the truck bed on top of whatever load they have, so the load is wider than the truck bed, no problems!
Quite often today four lanes of the motorway were diverted into two so he had opposing traffic coming towards you, and often to these over width trucks would be passing each other and you had to move over to the right, or be wiped out!
We paid about 50 yuan in toll today, the highest was 40 yuan and the lowest was 4!
Last time I was here I noticed that all the high-rise buildings were being built with bamboo scaffolding, this has now changed and I note that all the scaffolding is now conventional steel pipes, and they also have a crane on the corner of the high-rise buildings lifting heavy items up.
This evening we had camped in the car park of the museum and the location is an 42.81410 E 93.48955 and we are at an elevation of 730 m. Later we were told we could not camp there overnight so we moved across to the car park to the President's Palace car park.
Sunday, May 20
We got on to another wonderful highway, wonderful to travel on, but of course like highways anywhere in the world, basically devoid of scenery. We notice everywhere we drive you highways being built, or having just been built, because they are not shown on the Garmin. Again today there was a predominance of trucks on the road, of course they were all overloaded as far as we were concerned from the West.
Were due to stop at Xingxingxia tollgate which evidently it is the high part of the pass of the same name, but the wind was extremely strong, rocking the motorhome, and the only place that we could find to park, was on the old Toll Plaza, but that of course was extremely noisy even if it wasn't for the wind so we drove on another 200 km to Dunghuang making a total of about 400 km for the day.
Once in Dunghuang we drove out to the fantastic sand dunes and evidently there is a lake that was not here last time I visited so we will be to see those things tomorrow, in the meantime we are parked in their car park at 60 Yuan a night.
Today we have been on the road less than two months and we have done over 12,000 km with another 28,000 km to go. I hope we make it.
Monday 21 May
Today I went shopping looking for some sort of diet drink, none of those things have made it to this city, in fact it was a problem finding butter in the supermarket along with other similar products.
Eion and Liz took this opportunity of booking to a guesthouse, evidently their bathroom in the motorhome must be extremely difficult as once a week they take the opportunity of going somewhere there is a shower, Sue usually tags a long as she has no bathroom at all in her camper, I'm afraid we're not used to roughing it quite as much as they.
In the evening we went on to an open air market, which on the face that sounded interesting, but it's more accurate name was an artists market as there was all sorts of handwork on display for sale and massive seating arrangements for cafes all the way along the street.
Tuesday 22nd May
We went through a drive 28K out to the Mogao Caves, there are at least 500 caves dating to the third century, cut into the cliff face connected by a series of ramps and stairs and are probably China's and the world's most extensive collection of Buddhist statuary paintings and manuscripts although many original materials are now in foreign museums in Europe.
We came back to the car park at the dunes we will stay for another night, but will forego tomorrow's trip to Yangguan Pass as I believe the road is under construction and is very rough going.
Had a talk with Eion about not holding up the group on the road, he was slightly resentful about being told, but has agreed to improve. Sue is being difficult and I hope her husband arrives soon.
Wednesday, May 23
We set off this morning with Eion leading to the city of Jiayuguan some 360 km away and made good time to the city, in all we paid a total of four tolls making a total of 93 Yuan with the greatest being 75 yuan. Afterward paid the 75 we got onto another small road which we had to pay another toll of three Yuan to exit, certainly user pays.
For the second time on this trip with noticed a brand-new railway being laid almost right beside an existing one and the doing extensive bridgework for this new track and I wonder if it can be for something in a high-speed version considering the large distances there are in China.
We passed a very large wind generation “farm” we counted about 20 windmills deep and we drove about 30 km before we reached the end of the “farm” and they were still installing new windmills at this outer edge.
All day to day we been driving through a desert landscape and every so often we come to a very green oasis which tells us there is water there.
We been noticing as we been driving video cameras on the highways and we have found that there is a camera at least every 3 km, normally when you see a camera you know somewhere there is a screen so my mind boggles at the large room with all of these video monitors.
We're in a new province in China and there is no improvement on Internet access as listed at the beginning of this newsletter, however there is a wonderful cellphone service right throughout China I think we have only been out of cellphone contact once when we are up in the mountains miles away from anyone. You certainly see a lot of cellphone towers as you drive through the countryside, I don't think there is any worry about them being placed close to a school or whatever, things like that don't seem to matter in China.
We just found out that it's we need to leave China for an emergency it will take 30 to 50 days for our vehicles to be given permission to leave early, the red tape must be horrendous. We have seen very many people working on the road with a shovel just shovelling sand, China has so many people this is evidently an attempt to try to make work for more people.