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"Biking from Aksu to Kashgar" blog

Page history last edited by PBworks 15 years, 2 months ago

From "crazy guy on a bike" blog:                                                                           -Aksu-        -Kashgar-




    After a breakfast of dumplings, green melon, and red grapes in Aksu, I headed out into the desert. As on most days on my ride from Korla to Kashgar, arid foothills of the Tian Shan rose to the north and distant oases lay to the south. The wind couldn't make up its mind which way to blow today, except that it had no intention of becoming a tailwind! A dust storm and dark clouds threatened in the afternoon, but they faded away. I felt sympathy for Xinjiang meteorologists who try to track this crazy weather.

    I pulled into the village of Aqal after the 120km from Aksu and quickly found a little inn with a shower, but the owner pointed to a photo of a policeman on the wall. This wasn't going to be easy. At the police station, a Uighur officer insisted that I stay at the station, but I refused as the place was smelly and noisy. He then led me to a police compound where a Chinese officer offered use of a guestroom next to his room, and I happily accepted. Noodles and bread for dinner. It's said that Marco Polo brought noodles from Asia home to Italy, where they became known as "spaghetti."

    The 99km ride to Sanchakou turned out to be all headwind and all desert. That night a massive thunderstorm came crashing over the mountains with strong gusts, rain, and lightning--I was sure glad not to be camping!

    The next morning the air was fresh from the rain, and, more importantly, had changed direction 180 degrees. All tailwinds, all day! I hit the road and sped west on the longest cycling day of my life--210km (130 miles). I stopped at a melon stand--far from the nearest settlement--and picked out a small dark green melon, sweet and orange inside and the perfect snack in the desert. Later I met a Chinese cyclist doing perhaps the ultimate China ride. From his home in northeastern China, he had ridden south along the east coast, turned westward across Yunnan and Tibet to Kashgar, and was now headed to Kanas Lake in the northwest corner of Xinjiang before the last and eastward leg back home.

    A little settlement that I passed in the early afternoon turned out to be the last place with accommodations for another 100km, so I kept pedaling and the wind kept blowing as I rode on into the night and arrived at the small city of Artux, the capital of a Kyrgyz Autonomous Prefecture. My hotel featured a cold shower and a peeling ceiling, but I was happy to have ridden so far.

    With only a bit more than 40km to ride the next day to Kashgar, I was soon into the dusty, chaotic city. Traffic seemed to followed no rules, and was the worst of any place that I had visited in China. I first stopped at the recommended Chini Bagh Hotel, built on the site of the former British consulate, but it was full. Today was Saturday and tourists from far and near had congregated in anticipation of Kashgar's famous Sunday Market. I next tried the Seman Hotel, built on the site of the former Russian consulate, but its rooms were overpriced. Cheaper rooms without bath were an option, but I had read the horror story of a cyclist who lost his passports and money to a thief while in a communal shower; you can read John McHale's tale "Uighurs and Other Friends: A Xinjiang Travel Experience" at www.bikechina.com/ct-johnmchale1.php

    I wound up across the street at the Seman Road Hotel, full of Central Asian traders; here a room with private shower cost half the price that the Seman asked. The next morning I headed straight for the Sunday Livestock Market. Farmers were still pulling in, arriving by donkey cart or small trucks with cargoes of bellowing cattle and bleating sheep. Men gathered in small groups, greeting each other, inspecting the animals, and haggling. Informal sheep markets sprang up on the road in, but the main action took place in a fenced field with designated spaces for each type of livestock. Buyers had a wide choice of sheep, cattle, and donkeys plus a small selection of horses. Bakery and food stalls lined one side, and diners seemed oblivious to the dust settling on their meals. Near the entrance, men took a seat in an outdoor barbershop to get their beards trimmed or heads shaved. Huge piles of melons awaited buyers, as did heaps of bright colored tomatoes, chili peppers, and eggplants. If your donkey or horse needed new shoes, blacksmiths stood ready. You could also pick up a shiny new donkey cart, handmade from wood, to take everything home.



                                                                                                                                        -Aksu-        -Kashgar-

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