07.09.2012 - 02.10.2012 21 °C
As promised, the good side of China, at least our experience there.
We were pleased to find that the people were markedly friendlier than on our previous trip. We got smiles and unsolicited help aplenty. One lady even drove me around a busy city to find a post office that dealt in sending international mail before taking me back to where we started and giving me a present of a (rather ugly) Chinese mask.
The desert and mountain landscapes in the far West were amazing. We did a 3-day bike ride along the Karakoram Highway, a place that had been somewhat mystical to me before, somewhere far away, I wasn't sure where, and never thought I would see. We started up near the Pakistani border, skirted alongside the Tajik border for a while before dropping down into Kashgar. It was 320km, which was crazy hard work, in endless headwinds, at high altitudes, made even more difficult by the fact neither of us had been on a bike for 5 months! The landscape was barren, massive and sand coloured. We spent the days cycling around the two biggest mountians I have ever seen - 7,719m and 7,546m. Dotting the scene were two-humped camels and yaks.
The food was tasty, a welcome change from the endless tomato and cucumber salad of Central Asia.
Despite Hanification, Kashgar still retains a uniquenss about it, another worldliness. So old, surrounded by desert, in the middle of nowhere. Women dress colourfully, including an array of headscarves. The mens' faces are weathered, the old with long white or grey beards, always wearing a light oversized shirt and their boxy little hat. It has always been a city of crafts and in among the rubble of what is left of the old town, blacksmiths, carpenters, seamstresses all work away in the front of their small workshops.
It was wonderful to see the world slowly move from desert to the tropics. The landscapes were beautiful (when not interferred with by man) and changed considerably, especially when compared to how far we would travel in the 'Stans before seeing a difference. It tooks us 78 hours by bus and train to cross the desert, moving away from the borders of Central Asia. Up into cold and green Tibetan plateaus before going down into the rice paddies and banana trees of the tropics.
It was cool to see the different cultures within China, in particular for us the Tibetans and the Uighurs. Strikingly different cultures, beliefs and ways of life to Han Chinese, and each other. Interesting trying to get our heads around how they can all be living together in just one country.
Last, but of course not least, the pandas, you've gotta love the pandas. They are adorable slobs that don't wipe the food from their chin and don't do much other than eat and sleep. Their babies are only c.150 grams at birth, which is smaller than their poos!