99 days in China

Korgas Travel Blog

 › entry 70 of 86 › view all entries
The lake...

As monumental stalinist archiecture rises around me and we are no longer a curiosity, because we look like most people, China and the far east is gliding into the past. All I have left of it is a nervous tick when trying too cross a busy road and a massive blue torch (Head torches break for me like Darens back wheels break). The blue torch has three functions: 2 exactly the same bright lights and one disco karaokee function with spinning colours. And the whole thing is 30 cm long. But soon these things will be gone too. The twich because the kazakhs are just about capable of stopping a car at a traffic light and the torch because it is rechargable, but only from a Chinese plug...

But we have excellent memories: China's furthest west becomes incredibly remote.

The Tian shan range, which has been on our left for over 1000 km, finally joins up with a huge range to our right and  creates a vast emty valley, we eventualy would climb out of. It is a "Mongol prefecture and Chinese presence is not felt. The Tian shan here is enormous but with even higher snow peaks in the back ground and the vastness of the steppe stretching first into the Altai region and then russia and Mongolia, they looked small. It is like your eyes shrink everything because the Horizon is so huge and they are afraid they might miss something. It was only when I spotted a lonesome little house the size of a bottle top in the distance their true size came back to me. The villages consist of a couple of dusty streets, broken down houses and a few yurts.
And they are far from each other. Mostly 50 - 100 km. We camped 8 out of 10 nights and the landscapes lived up to all expectations of this area and more! 

Every night, for a while, the mountains will sheed their grassy, alpine -but treeless- looks and let the sunset transform them: First the thin grass on the foothills takes on a shiny appearance and the valleys turn black; They remind of a silk dress thrown carelessly onto the steppe.  As the sky grows reder they disappear entirely in a bluish haze. Only the last thrid of the mountains reach out; First only as soft brown pink colours, then, higher up, rocky peaks stand out clearly in a sollem, dark purple. The snow on them is pink, matching the colour of the clouds in the background. When the light fades the peaks are left in the blue and black colours of sheer rock faces and glittering with white snow.

A few little speks of pink still dance here and there but as even they fade the picture of warmth gives away to absolute coldness and after a last hot choclate, whilst watching the stars come out we'd creep to the tent.

And then came the climb over the Tian shan. I got up at 6 am with a beautiful sunrise to cook the porridge and then in the coolness we rode upwards. The only road here is the motorway and it is almost empty bar some very slow trucks crawling up. We could grab onto them and after 10-15 tows between us and barely any riding we were almost up. Now there were a few trees further up the mountains, and the grass around us got lusher. On the back of our trucks we cruised passt horse riding sheepherds with huge flocks. Daren got a truck that was to fast for me but soon enough a small slow blue pick came along.

As I looked at the load I relized it was a nomads truck, carrying a yurt; Heavy felted blankets and walls and the long wodden structures. The family waved out of their window. We soon reached Daren who had stopped to talk to a horse herder. His herd counted nearly 20 horses and a few tiny foals. I let my ride go a little further up.

As we stopped to heat up some pot noodles the horse hearder came over to us. He reached into his felted coats and dug out a mobile phone. The battery was flat and he needed to call the sheepherd! For the first time on this half of the trip I was sorry, we don't carry a phone but at least we could tell him the sheepherd was on his way. We'd past him and tried to help him catch a frightened sheep that had gotten on the wrong side of the fence to the road.

waiting at the border.

We carried on on holdning onto the trucks and eventually our ride beeped to let us know we'd reached the pass. 60 km with only about 20 of actual riding! And it was breathtakingly beautiful. I won't be able to describe it as I won't be able to give it the life it deserves. It may end up sounding disney-esque or like a bollywood movie so I'll stick to the facts:

The lake is roughly 20 km across and bright, clear blue. It is at 2000 meters altitude and the air is fresh. The western shore is more barren but on it's eastern shore the grassy foothills are covered in yellow, pink and purple and blue little flowers that eventualy lead up to old pine forrest that encircles the peaks. The peaks themselves are grey and snow covered. The whole lake is surrounded by them and further back lies a monumental range of 6000 meter mountains that borders kazakhstan.

It is a summer pasture, most likely where the herders and nomads we meet were headed and yurts are dotted around the lake. Cows strayed straight through our camp, sheep rustled passt and a couple of herds of horses wandered about. Further up towards the pine forrest camel herds were grasing. A man came to greet us with his horse. He was our neighbor and lived in a yurt about 500 meters further up. We offered food and coffee but as always, he would only take a cigarette, as it has been the only thing people will accept from us all the way through China. 

We spent two nights on the shores of this lake. Daren climbed the nearest pass and I wandered the forrests but mostly we just led in the grass watching various herds pass and the water change from being like a mirror to being rough and then to return to its mirror like state.

After an excepotionally bumpy ride down (no more motorway!) we came to the last orderly irrigated popular trees of China, the last town full of cheap rubbish and viagra (Border town afterall...) and we had the last chinese man who was so overfriendly he took my chopsticks and showed me how to stir my noodles. I suppose you could say we never really learnt to eat them in a convincingly correct way... And then we left. 

At the Chinese crossing i felt tears well up in my eyes and i wanted to tell the Chinese how much we'd enjoyed their country. They looked mildly surprised. It's easier to see how important it is to them that people feel welcome when you moan about something and they desperately try to help you. Like when they fed me sweets throughout our visa ordeal or when they phone anybody who speaks english at any time of the day for us. However i didn't have long to dwell on it as we were meet by the kazakh taxi mafia: You HAVE to take a taxi between the two borders although its only about 1 km they charge 4 puond pr person. No stubbornness, no scene, no amount of curses helped. But then we crossed into Kazakhstan: The popular trees stopped and it got sand duney. The Chinese border stood out like a long garden and we had we had passed from the most populated country in the world to one of the least populated ones. From Chinese communism into autocratic Kazakhstan with all its sovjet era culture still going strong.

Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
The lake...
The lake...
waiting at the border.
waiting at the border.
photo by: roadtrampz