Snowy Mountains, Yak shit and Chinese bureaucracy
Trip Start Feb 05, 2009
29Trip End Dec 16, 2010
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Throughout our trip we stayed in email contact with 2 Dutch guys, who also travel overland with a car from Holland to India (onto Nepal), taking the other way round (via Turkey, Iran and then into the Stan countries). It looked like we would miss out on each other as they had a slightly different itinerary. But here in Bishkek we can finally have our tea together! Unfortunately they ended up here to sell there car and stop their trip! Bad news about Pakistan and visa problems made them decide to stop here. As they still have a few days in Kyrgyzstan, we decide to do a little Dutch convoy to Isik lake, the second highest natural lake in the world and the Pearl of Kyrgyzstan! Of course we swap seats on the way, fun to be in another car for a bit, but prefer my own! It really is my (our) little house on wheels!
4 on our bed is a bit of crowd, so we have to find a place to sleep. End of tourist season, not many hotel around anyway, we just ask around. So out I jump and ask a family. They are very helpful and before we know it, our cars are parked at their (friend's?) house, and warm beds are made inside, free of charge. They even leave for the evening, so we have the place to ourselves, how hospitable is that!
The day after we make our way along the lake, where we find a great (camping) spot on the beach! The views are amazing; we decide to stay here for the night. This evening Maarten-Jan decides it is time to air his paper balloon; however the strong wind makes it crash and land! We talk, learning some new student turbo talk like HULDE! and play cards till late in the night, with the wood burner working....on Yak shit! Nice and warm with an interesting smell ;-)) Ron thanks for your welding work, the wood burner is working perfectly! You are keeping us freezing to death ;-)
The next morning it is time to depart, but not before we help Maarten-Jan and Vincent to take all the sponsor stickers from their car. Some of which transfers to our van... Thanks guys! Time to make our way to the Torugart pass...It is a shame we cannot travel together into Pakistan! But great we finally bumped into each other! HULDE!
We stop in Naryn for the night, briefly checking internet for what turns out to be the last time for a while. Then make our way up and up into the ShanTien Mountains to the border of China. The road is full of holes, so we are speeding up at 20km/hour with fear for Frits' health every time I hear a huge bang from the back axle getting another blow!
As it getting dark we have to find a place to park for the night, an abandoned house at a lake seems the only thing possible. At high speed we try to collect as much Yak shit as possible to get the wood burner going, making our way through snow and ice: Not an easy job! Turns out we were very tired, because the next morning Mira finds a huge stack of dry shit near the van! Ahhhh It is very cold that night, Frits also thinks so, as he does not want to start in the morning! Oh oh, here we are in the middle of nowhere. What to do? Luckily there is Magic Start! And with huge thanks to the person who tipped me on this: It works brilliantly! 10min. we are on our way again!
Border Procedure: After a few more km's and we are at the Kyrgyz customs, getting out of the country could not be simpler: We by-pass a huge queue of trucks and are allowed through the gate straightaway. Stopping at the customs office, I have to make my way inside to fill out declaration forms. Asking one thing is enough for the guy to say all is ok, let's leave it. Fine by me. Walking to the next desk for my exit stamp and all is done. Mira is even quicker and is already making tea and breakfast, which we enjoy on their grounds. No problem whatsoever. Total time: 15 min.
Slowly making our way to the Chinese customs...the road leading us through snowy mountains! What a beautiful sight! Again we by-pass a huge queue of trucks and are allowed to enter Chinese area. At first it seems we can drive through without stopping, but finally one smart Chinese guy makes us stop. Now the circus starts...passports are taken with no sign of further activity. Luckily for us, our guide-for-China-to-be turns up shortly after and starts arranging things. We have to park the car 20m down the road: Vehicle check. About a dozen official looking Chinese gather around the car. Please give your luggage for scanning! Sorry don't have (we are not backpacking), 3 min. later 2 sleeping bags and a daypack are outside on the ground, waiting to be checked. 2 puppets go in the car and start looking at things, half wondering what they are looking at I guess. My little suitcase with computer things and cd's is the mail subject of suspicion: several cd's are taking inside for 'investigation'! 15min. they are back, any photos on them? Of course I lie and tell them no, knowing their panic reaction to 'discriminating' material.
Finally we are allowed to continue, making our way to the second Customs office, which is down the road....so we think. We follow the car with guide and driver for what seems ages, until he stops and tells to speed it up a bit, because we have to make it to the office before 16.00 o'clock, closing time...100km down the road!!! This leaves us less then 2 hours to make it there, with road full of holes! This where the communication fails for the first time... After a 'I-hope-Frits-survives-this' journey we make it just-NOT-in-time at the office! As we drive through the gate, a water sprinkling system activates, barely showering the van. Money please, for disinfecting the car! You have to be kidding me, take it from the huge sum of money we have to pay! And so he does. 16.02, office is closed, what to do? Luckily the driver seems to know some of the guys, so after a 20-min wait we are allowed to enter Customs area 2. Are you carrying any fruit or vegetables? We try to convince him we only have the 1 apple and 2 potatoes we show him, but unfortunately he does not buy it. Vehicle inspection...the fridge is emptied, some cans are opened and only after a lot of pleating we can keep all the other stuff! Phuff. Once inside the building a thermometer is stuffed under our armpit...checking if we have a fever! I have a huge cold, but pretend to be fine, trying very hard not to cough or blow my nose...because before you know it they might think I have the swing flu and will be put in quarantine! Luckily for us we are declared healthy and at the next desk an entry stamp is put in our passports. There suppose to be one more thing to do, but we ignore it wave to a guy and go back to our van. Finally we can leave, but not until a police guy wakes up 20min later to lower a barrier... Total procedure time: 2,5 hours (without 100km drive). Welcome to China!
Already getting dark, but we go to Kashgar. Along the way we already notice a big change in daily life. The Kyrgyz horse is exchanged for the Chinese motorbike!
Kashgar; at first glance an uninteresting city full of cars, neon light and hotels! But I completely change my opinion when the next day we get to see the 'real' Kashgar, where the local people (Uyghur) have shops and do trading in the streets: The Old City. It is very difficult to put in words what the vibe is like, but it is amazing, alive, colourful and divers! Very characteristic old men, tradesmen and fully covered women and vehicles in every shape and size! With in the middle the famous mosque, situated at a huge square.
We park at Semai hotel. Taking a shower is high on our list, but is impossible without staying in a room. As a room is only $5 / night, we take it for 2 nights, multi-tasking: shower, toilet, using the hot water for hand cloth wash and doing the dishes ;-))
Our first Kashgar day we spend chasing money (again)...and going into discussion about the Big Bill, paying only part of the bill at first. I find it ridiculous that we have to pay $250 for customs for starters. Still think $1450 for 6 days is too much. Even though other organizations we found were double or triple this price!
The next 2 days are spent office-hopping! I will not go into details too much, but it really pushed my nerves to the limit. Having a huge cold lowered my energy and this did not improve the situation! First day we drove to another city in vain, as the electricity, and therefore office people, was not working. Spend the afternoon at the hospital for a health check. Next day again to Artush, were we spend the WHOLE day (waiting) for a permit and 2 temporary drivers' licenses, which we did not need in the end! First the only guy that needs to sign is in a meeting (for how long?), then papers are missing, 2 hour lunch break, the fax room is locked with the key nowhere to be found, the permit is with a woman who already went home and more of these funny things! (NOT funny at the time I tell you).
Due to all this bureaucracy we do not have much time to enjoy Kashgar or other interesting things. We have 2 more days to make it to the border, so have to leave early the next day. End of the afternoon we make it to Karakul lake where we finally see the yaks and the 2nd and 3rd highest mountain of Asia! We stay the night with a Kyrgyz family, friends of Tudajim (our guide). Nice and warm inside a house. Being at 3700m it is cold again! Our last day in china we spend most of the time on the phone with the travel agency discussing the rest of the money we have to pay! We want a discount because of we had to spend 2 days desk-hopping, something we pay them to do. In the end threats of not-leaving-the-country are used and we end up paying the whole amount, under protest (mostly mine!).
Leaving China, also not easy. In the morning we have to go to customs (130km before the border at Tashkakent), as we are overslept we wanna do this formal stuff first and have breakfast after, taking a last tea with Tudajim. So we spend about an hour at 2 offices, vehicle check (this time we have hidden all food stuff), passport checks etc. All ok. So now breakfast.....Not possible! We are not allowed to turn back to the village AND have to rush to the border before the Chinese have their lunch break again! This is unbelievable...so the first 30min of the famous Karakorum Highway I spend in the back of the van, making breakfast with the old bread Tudajim gave us, enjoying the beautiful views through the little window! Bye Bye China! I leave you with mixed feelings.
Luckily we make it just in time at the Chinese exit gate. To find ourselves 2km later at the top of the Kunjerab pass, entering Pakistan! A bit unexpected with no special notice board, so we hardly realize we just made it to 4700m, on the highest paved road in the world!!! Good on you Frits!
Now we are in beautiful and hospitable Pakistan. A country I want to spend a new entry on. But just want to tell all of you that it is NOT only like the media inform you. Until now we have met lovely people and enjoyed amazing mountain views! A country I would love to spend more time in one day. This time we are sticking to the KKH making our way to India as quick as the road allows us...