Today we started east towards the Taklamakan Desert. The traffic was as insane as ever until we left Kashgar and found ourselves speeding through a patchwork of well-tended fields. It’s arable farming here with few cows, goats or sheep in sight, but the earth is dusty and dry, so it must be backbreaking, hardscrabble work. And the locals live in a strange, sun-bleached world.
As Nick commented at the end of the day, “We saw just two colors – green and brown”. He was right, but the brown colour is so diluted it can only really be described as ‘dust’.
After a few hours we stopped in a small town called Yengisar, famous for making knives. The streets were lined with small shops selling every type of knife and cleaver you can imagine – and many that you can’t because they are so ornate or weird. It is mystifying that there could be so many traders cheek-by-jowl selling exactly the same products – and, as far as we could tell, we were the only potential customers in town today.
We pushed on down roads lined with poplars, past rice fields and orchards. Donkey carts became as common as cars.
Then, gradually, the desert pushed in from our left and the trees and fields and their greenery disappeared and the world became truly monotonal – just the dusty brown of the desert.
Somewhere to the right, not far away, were the vast mountains of Tibet but we couldn’t see them through the grit-laden air. Simon is like Mr. Toad – he has already forgotten his altitude-induced lunacy and his vow to steer clear of mountains for life and is planning a detour to K2 base camp. It is indeed tantalizingly close, but the logistics of getting into Tibet (and our concerns for Simon’s health) deter us.
We stopped for the night at a modest hotel in the town of Yecheng, which only seems to exist because of the huge Chinese Army bases in the area. I was worried for Richard because the odds of us finding a decent restaurant in this bleak community looked slim; however, as always, he rose to the occasion and we were soon loaded into taxis and off in search of a recently-opened Szechuan eatery he’d learned of from the hotel receptionist.
Astonishingly, this humble new restaurant – run by a lovely lady from Szechuan who, until two months ago, had a restaurant in Tibet – served us the best meal we have eaten since leaving Europe – indeed it was much better than most of the meals we ate there.
So – a relatively quiet day on the road here in China.
The best to you all and love to my family (especially Karen, as today is our 38th wedding anniversary).