Saturday, August 9, 2008

Aug 9 - Kashgar and to the Mountains

We got up at 7 am BT (5 am XT), harvested the part of the wash that was already dry, did a little more wash, went to breakfast at 8 am BT, and walked out to meet our driver at 9 am (7 am XT). The driver was a little late, coming at 9:30.

We traveled in a comfortable 4 wheel drive Honda. Our driver was a Han from Lhasa, Tibet, who had driven nearly every road in XinJiang, and probably a lot more. Mike and he conversed in Chinese, as best they could.

While still in town, we reached the first checkpoint, and had to show those precious Alien Travel Permits, without which we would have gone nowhere. So much for the taxi drivers and their promises.

Soon we were on a nice new road, going south. Very few cars. Mostly donkey carts, bicycles, motorcarts, and motorized farm vehicles, pulling carts. Occasionally trucks, a very few buses, some taxis, and almost no personal cars whatsoever. Through a few towns, each more rural. Then, except where it was irrigated, the country was dry and rocky. About 50 km out of town the road adjoined a river, which we followed uphill to Kara Kol (Black Lake), and farther. This river was fast running, and not clear. Mike stopped one time to run his hand in the water to try to feel if the water was muddy or silty, and decided on muddy.

The driver told us that he would pull over any time we asked him to "Stop." We did so many times, especially as we started climbing, and started seeing some of the snow covered mountains in the distance. We started off in the standard Kashgar, south Xinjiang haze, and as we went south, it started to clear slightly. Kongur was the first mountain we may have seen, and we stopped to take photos of whatever was there.

By the 125 km point or so, we had passed our third checkpoint, and shown our travel permits three times, our passports three times, and our filed driving itinerary once.

We came to a point (not Kara Kol) where the river opened into a lake, and we stopped for photos. Immediately 5 kids descended. We took their picture, and they showed us the beads they wanted to sell us. One of the kids was saying: "Pishti," which we still do not understand as a number in any of the local languages. Anyway, one of the girls said: "Tourmaline," of an attractive string of small purple beads. So Mike splurged and pulled out a 10 RMB bill, which she eagerly grabbed. 10 RMB is in fact a lot of money - after all, 11 RMB bought us a lunch for 2 in Hotan. 10 RMB equals $1.50. By this time, the mothers were coming out with pieces of "jade" and textiles, and we were attempting to get back into the car, when a tour bus rounded the corner to save us.

Onward to the first views of Mustaghata. We came upon Kara Kol. It was somewhat of a disappointment, not a pristine lake. There were yurts on the shore, and Kazakh people (identified by their white hats), but not enough reason to stop and pay for admission to enter.

We pushed on for the last 25 km, up the hill from 10000 feet to the mountain pass at Su Bash at approximately 13000 feet. From here we had good views of the bottom of Mustaghata. There was a dirt track leading southward toward the mountain. Since we were in a 4 WD, and since our driver was willing, we drove in another 5 km or so. We stopped for the view, for our lunch of hard-boiled eggs, carrots, and pickled beet root. Carol took a hike for maybe 40 minutes over the next hills, where she found prairie dog colonies and flowering lichen.

The temperature started out in the city morning at 23 C, but was only 14 - 16 C at the top in the height of day. It was 33 C back in the city when we returned at 6 pm BT.

The way back was much faster, with fewer stops and only one checkpoint. At one point the driver was doing 75-80 mph (120-130 km per hour), passing the donkey carts, etc.

Back at the hotel yet more wash, a trip by Carol to get 8 more liters of water, and then a long internet session.

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