Day 102: Plan B
Kashgar Travel Blog› entry 141 of 260 › view all entries
OK, so here I was, comfortable room, Internet, drinks, guidebooks... time to figure out what I was going to do. When planning my Silk Road trip I got the idea to try and visit Kashgar as a weekend-trip from Kyrgyzstan. I am planning to visit part of China later on this trip, so I figured I'd request a 6-month, multi-entry visa. Well, Chinese authorities thought differently and they gave me a 30-day, single entry visa instead. A visa which expires... 20 July. So it would be a waste of a perfectly good visa not to come to China, now was it? Hey, I'm Dutch, I don't like wasting money on something I don't use.
So the original plan had been to visit Kashgar for a few days and then go back the same way to Sary-Tash and then on to Osh and the rest of Kyrgyzstan.
Besides, there used to be a direct sleeper bus from Kashgar to Osh, but that is not running at the moment, so if I'd go back the way I came I would have to hitch-hike and take taxis all the way.
So I had two options: travel to Kyrgyzstan via the other, less used, more expensive, Torugart pass, or bypass Kyrgyzstan completely and travel around the country to the Chinese city of Urumqi and take a train to Kazakhstan from there. The latter sounded pretty cool as well, though it would mean a minimum of 65 hours in the train (in about a week's time, if I wanted to have enough time for Kazakhstan) and from what I heard and read Urumqi itself is not all that interesting.
No, I wanted to try the Torugart option first, but this is not without difficulty either. The Torugart is a bit of a cash-cow for the Chinese. It is seen as a secondary border crossing, which can only be used by Chinese or Kyrgyz nationals. Tourists require a special permit to travel across the pass, a permit, which needs to be obtained from... Urumqi!
Then to make matters worse, the Chinese do not allow tourists to travel across the pass by themselves, but they need to transport via a travel agency. So no hitch-hiking this time. Or the bus that does this trip twice-weekly, for that matter. Then on the Kyrgyz side it is the same, transportation on the Kyrgyz side has to be pre-arranged as well as a special border permit to travel through the south-western province is needed.
Sounds expensive? Well, it is. Was I going to go through with it? Hell, yeah! As I said, my trip in Tajikistan had turned out much cheaper than budgeted, thanks to travelling with Tim and Wim, so I was happy enough to splurge some of that spare budget on this trip. As I have said before, I don't like backtracking, and this route gave me the option to see a whole new part of the country.
Arranging the trip turned out to be surprisingly easy. Several travel agents in Kashgar can arrange for the permits, as well as the transportation on the Kyrgyz side of the border, and after shopping around for a few hours I had found a fairly reasonable deal.
With that out of the way, I could now go venture into Kashgar for some sightseeing.
Kashgar used to be a major stop on the Silk Road and has been a major trading post for over 1500 years.
This mix is immediately evident when you walk the streets: street stalls are selling roasted kebab as well as dumplings, carpet shops are located next to stores selling traditional Chinese medicine. Men wear Muslim skull caps or Kyrgyz felt hats, while many women are hidden behind a brown veil, yet others walk around in short skirts (well, not above the knee) and faces uncovered.
There isn't a whole lot left of the 'old' city and what is left isn't overly scenic either. The government is demolishing the old mud brick buildings, to make way for modern, earthquake proof housing. China has been hit by two major devastating earthquakes in the past two years, so the government is taking measures.
But as I said, the old centre isn't all that interesting anyway. Just a few streets of decrepit buildings.
But historic centre or no, I loved being in a Chinese city again. Food in Central Asia isn't overly varied, so it was great being in a country renowned for its cuisine again. The street food was terrific and all day long I was buying all kinds of interesting fried and steamed snacks. Also, the breakfast in my hotel had been terrific. Chinese breakfast - what a change from the bread with marmalade and the occasional porridge I'd been having over the past weeks/months.
For dinner I wanted to go to the night market. Having fond memories of the Dong Cheng night market in Beijing, I was hoping for all kinds of Chinese delicacies (as well as some deep fried creepy crawlies), but this was a disappointment.