The bus ride from hell

Hotan Travel Blog

 › entry 12 of 24 › view all entries
Doesn't look too bad, does it?

I arrived at the bus station at 12:30, for my 1:00 bus. I was heading from Hotan, across the vast  Taklamakan desert, to Turpan. A sleeper bus journey of 24 hours.

I got on, was pointed to my berth, and the bus pulled out on the dot. A minute later it drove into a compound and stopped. The other passengers got off and wandered away, and the driver indicated that we'd leave at 2:00. Odd - and a bit frustrating, but hey. At 2:10, I tried to ask why we weren't going. They laughed and indicated 'No, 2:00 Xinjiang time'. In other words, 4:00. When I protested, they just laughed at me. I wanted to go back to the bus station to get an Urumqi bus instead - but I hadn't a clue where I was.

Still smiling...little did I know.
It was maddening. At 3:00 they put me and the original passengers on another bus, with a different driver and a different number on the front, and drove back to the bus station. Basically they were putting two services together, and never had any intention of running the one I'd booked and paid for. At four, we pulled out, and they spent the next hour touring town picking  up random people so they could overcrowd the bus and have people sleeping in the aisles.

At five we finally set off to cross the desert in what must be the only non-air conditioned bus to do so. Even the little ventilation outlets that all buses have, didn't work.A slow, bolted on fan above the driver's head, was all that there was. All my fellow passengers were Uighur, and hadn't changed their socks  for a week.

The beginning of the cross desert highway.
(You're given a little plastic bag to put your shoes in as you get on the bus). The two drivers chain smoked (my berth was directly behind them). A kid down the bus had sickness and diarrhoea, and the man in the next berth to me, really needs to see a doctor about his flatulence.

The one upside of dripping sweat for 24 hours, is that I didn't need to wee much. Toilet stops in the desert are simply a case of 'men to one side of the bus, women to the other'.

I got to sleep at about 00:30. At quarter to one, I was woken by being shaken and having a torch shone into my eyes. The police. They got me (only me) off the bus, and went through a great palaver with my passport. The same happened again at 2am and 3am.

At 9 ish, we stopped at a truck stop place, and for the first time, a Chinese toilet totally defeated me.

Where we broke down.
It was an outdoor open trench affair, with boards either side. So far so normal. But the temperature was already in the 30s, and people had had diarrhoea in there. I tried three times, but ended up retching each time. I ended up just squatting in the open. I'm past caring. Though I do wish I had blokes' plumbing on these occasions.

Mid afternoon, we pulled into a lay by. At this point we were in the Turpan Basin. The hottest place in China - average summer temperature, 45 degrees C. We stayed there for an hour and a half. No-one spoke a word of English and I hadn't a clue what was going on. My Uighur phrasebook was of no use whatsoever, though it provided huge entertainment for the drivers and other passengers. I gathered, towards the end, that the bus had broken down, and they were waiting for someone to come out and help. I was beyond frustrated with this disaster of a journey. The other passengers plied me with grapes, sensing my mood, but it didn't help that much. I didn't believe it was possible to be that hot.

I phoned Jon, just to hear a familiar English voice, and whinge on a bit.Then, fortunately, whatever it was, was fixed, and I was in Turpan 29 hours after I'd set off. I checked into a hotel, wrung the sweat out of my clothes, and showered in cold water for ever.

If you want to know what Turpan's like, put your oven on for ten minutes, then open the door and stick your head in front of it.

Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
Doesnt look too bad, does it?
Doesn't look too bad, does it?
Still smiling...little did I know.
Still smiling...little did I know.
The beginning of the cross desert …
The beginning of the cross desert…
Where we broke down.
Where we broke down.
photo by: orcio81