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All winds blow to kashgar


chapter 2. via tiger jaws

So, having passed three days in Urumqi and bought all the stuff we needed (more precisely, all the stuff we managed to find), on August 24, 2006 in the morning we set off southwards from the city to cross the East Tien Shan Mountains along highways G216 and G218 and get in the next point of our journey, the town of Korla.

Charming sunset
Charming sunset.
Having gathered about 50 km during the first day, we moved away only for 13 km straightforward from Urumqi. This occurred because we got confused in Chinese highways and half a day strayed in search of the necessary road. However, at the end of that long day we were rewarded by a fascinating sunset which we observed when settled ourselves for overnight stop on the edge of the maize field. The next day we were planning to get to the monument that symbolized the center of the Asian part of the world. We knew about it from a map we bought in Urumqi, and according to the photo it represented a high construction of several columns enclosed in a circle, which met each other overhead.

All the next day we ascended actively, getting higher and higher. The steppe landscape, accordingly, changed to a hilly one; then we rode along really mountain roads. The climate conformed to the relief and therefore became fresher and more humid.

Raging mountainous rivers, black and cold rocks, huge thunderclouds would all be a wonderful decoration for Travelers club. I felt this best when sitting on the brink of the road, my legs let down in the precipice which ended by a river, and listening to Hans Zimmer. This was an inexpressible sensation.

Wheels of Merida
Orientation on Chinese roads is complicated due to absolute absence of Latin inscriptions, so we had to find our way only by the numbers of highways (fortunately, Chinese numerals are the same as ours). We had an interesting encounter with the Chinese cyclists. Our conversation was held only with the gestures, but we could understand that they were going from that very pass we were moving to. We also understood their urgent recommendations to leave our bikes down there and climb without them, or else we were going to die. This piece of advice was illustrated by one of the Chinese by his raising my heavy bike and his light one. Finally, the supposed leader of the group wrote a long half-leaf petition in my notebook, the contents of which are still unknown to us.

Unfortunately, we could not see the center of Asia (by the middle of the second day we understood finally that we passed by this remarkable place). But what consoled us was that we would have made a long way round to get acquainted with that peculiar hub of the universe, and this would be an unpleasant thing when ascending.

Chinese thermoelectric power station
Thermoelectric power station in the gorge.
Kazakh nomads
China actively utilizes natural resources of the East Tien Shan, which certainly affects the environment not in a good way. Thus, it was an unpleasant surprise for us when approaching to the Khoushcha Village among the picturesque mountains we saw smoke-emitting stalks of the thermoelectric power station, the buildings of the concentrating factory and other dirty and dangerous for nature industrial enterprises. Progress is progress, and though there is no way out of this, it is so grievous that we observe its demonstration in such beautiful nooks of the globe.

We could say that the ethnographic part of our expedition began on the northern slopes of the East Tien Shan. The horsemen we often met on our way who herded over sheep, goats and cows, turned out to be Kazakhs. Greetings and welcomes, their amazement after knowing we were from Kazakhstan, posing in front of the lens, farewellsIt was interesting to meet Kazakhs here, in the East Tien Shan Mountains, in the place where according to some historians the Turkic ethnos engendered.

Business women
Two greedy exceptions.

One of the families we passed by had just finished to pack their stuff to move to another place. But when they saw the travelers, these people invited us to have dinner with them. Contemporary epoch obviously corrects unquestionable traditions and notions, which led in our situation to commercializing of hospitality, the hospitality of the Kazakhs who have been famous for their old traditions concerning that since olden times. When the dinner was over, we were proposed to pay for what we had eaten and drunk. This surely marred our pleasure, though had not shaken our trust in people. Soon we understood that those people were just an exception to the general rule, and not all the Chinese Kazakhs had gone worse in the course of time. In view of further events which we later called extreme ethnography we had a chance to see that.

Snow is yet to come
Beginning of snowstorm

Foul weather in the mountains is such a widespread phenomenon that trying to foresee or forecast it would be quite an ungrateful task. You should just be ready for it morally and physically. We did not know the exact location of the pass (nor did we know its height, complexity and even the exact name). The Chinese map available struck us by its laconicness and it was pretty complicated to compare it with the General Staff maps created at the time when the roads as well as the pass itself did not probably exist there. That is why we just rode upwards, orientating by the kilometer stones. In the afternoon the rain suddenly began, accompanied by the chilling wind. The rain gradually turned to hail and then to snow which grew to a real snowstorm that made our way more difficult. Visibility grew lower and lower. The wind was freezing, the clothes got wet through, the night was approaching, that is why we had to look for asylum (to set the tent in such conditions would be the last and somewhat certainly lost variant for we had nothing to make a fire of). So we came across a small Kazakh aul situated (as it turned out later) near the pass.

The horse is freezing
August snowstorm.
Kadylbeks family was very hospitable to us. His son, who by the way invited us to the yurta, took over all the troubles concerning our comfort. Independence and maturity of this 7-8-year-old boy amazed us greatly. The dinner was made for us, and in an hour we had a big dish with mutton and vegetables in front of us, which we had not cope with. After everything we suffered we wanted to sleep more than to eat. But it would be extremely impolite to fall asleep at once, so all the evening we were occupied by answering a big deal of questions concerning us, our journey, Kazakhstan and so on.

When sitting in the warm yurta I recalled the words that one of my friends told me at New Delhi Railway Station. You were looking for advencha? So you got it! Actually, we had more than enough advencha that day, too much.

with the son of Kadylbek
With the son of Kadylbek
Morning milking
Morning milking.

Xinjiang Kazakh is much different from the modern Kazakh language and is rich in numerous Russian words which have already acquired their Kazakh equivalents in Kazakhstan (for example, chai shai (tea)). Chinese influence is also felt in the language, though only youngest son can write Chinese (however, they all speak good Chinese). When writing, local Kazakhs use Arabic character. The hosts name is a Chinese variant of common Kazakh name Kadyrbek (Chinese can not pronounce the sound [r]). The framework of the yurta is not made nowadays of wood but of metal plates (this concerns kerege, uyks and shanyrak). Yurtas are supplied with electricity by means of solar batteries accumulating energy to light up the dwelling. They are heated by coal which is abundant in the East Tien Shan. Theres an interesting detail proving evidently the influence of Chinese culture: when the host gave us choice how to eat mutton (using hands or chopsticks) he himself, contrary to us, chose the latter variant.

Solar battery on yurta
Alternative energy afoot

The next morning observed subjugation of the pass Tiger Jaws (Barn-Amr or Shanli) belonging to the Uken Range. As it turned out, our aul lied exactly in the beginning of the serpentine going upwards. The higher we ascended along this serpentine, the more exalted were the greetings of the people from the cars we met. When people knew who we were, where we were from and where we were going to, they mostly wanted to take photo with us. Many of them stopped and gave us food and water. Sanya even worked out a rule, the greater the height, the lavisher the Chinese.

For about 10 km we literally had to push our bikes with heavy bags on them (we could not cycle upwards with such a slope and in such a condition undermined by yesterdays adventures). These were not the happiest hours in my life, I should say. But, despite all that, at about half to five we were standing on the pass whose height is 4280 meters according to Chinese data and 4036 meters according to the data of our satellite navigation system. There began the perfect photo session: several Chinese families who came to the pass from either side were so glad to find us there that did not want to let the two Kazakhstani travelers go for a long time.

Tiger Jaws Pass
Tiger Jaws Pass
Meeting at Elba River
Fraternization with Chinese tourists
At last we parted from Chinese tourists, having exchanged all possible contacts between each other. Then began a very rapid and impetuous descent that we waited for so much. About 15 km we literally flew in dust and rattle along the earth road. The brakes were released rarely during the descent, nevertheless, the speed picked up made us think how long and painful the flight would be. Nothing surprising is that we had lost the maps which were rolled up in the tube and put in the sleeping pad on my carrier.

On descending over a kilometer we settled down for overnight stop. Absence of snow and cold was honey to our souls. It was also honey because of the thoughts that a few days later it would be pretty warm, and we would be able to dry our damp and wet stuff.

The next day we continued coming down and finally saw asphalt pavement, which made us rather glad because earth road with its rocks and washing-board relief is not the best road for bikes which got tired of perpetual jolting and kept on surprising us at small troubles.

We are the Champions!
We are the Champions!
Buddhist temple Baluntay
Buddhist temple.
We also managed to visit Lamaist temple Baluntay that day. This is a very calm and picturesque place situated at a distance from transportation mains. We got there in the evening when the setting sun still looking out of the mountains colored the landscape warm and peaceful. After the visit to Baluntay we returned to the highway, fetched beer in a village and made a camp on a small hill under the shadow of the trees, to celebrate our coming back to asphalt. Though, it began drizzling and we had to cover food and bottles from importunate drops.

The next morning made us happy by the overcast sky and rainy dampness. The departure was postponed for an indefinite time. Fortunately, the weather became better in the afternoon. We left at about five in the evening and could cycle over sixty kilometers before dark, and these kilometers have become those of the most remembered and pleasant during all our traveling.

Inhabitant of Baluntay
We just rushed down the perfect road and did not take any trouble to turn the treadles, jamming the brakes only at steep turns. Southern slopes of the East Tien Shan spurs differ much from those in the North; breathing of the great desert Taklamakan can be felt there. Such were the mountains I, thanks to the films, always imagined to be in Afghanistan.

From the mountains we rushed out a huge desert plain with a slight slope, and kept on cycling along this plain till the dark, having short stops on our way. The far-reaching asphalt ribbon, boundless space and the burning sun suggested the idea of Texas expanses and bikers, and the scenes from Harley Davidson and Marlboro Man and Bon Jovis Wanted Dead or Alive emerged in my mind

I cannot but admire the fact that by efforts of humans a part of this waterless desert in which soil is but stones, saltmarshes and loess has been turned to green flourishing fields, stretching dozens of kilometers due to a large and complicated irrigation system. Once Valikhanov wrote in his travel notes, You look and wonder at this sandy saltmarsh steppe which has no black earth in it and which can produce only bitter wormwood, thorny tumble-weed, poor bushes of blackthornChinese endurance could subdue this extremely ungrateful land by unremitting toil and made it produce what the human wanted. One should be a Chinese just to think about cultivating such a desert.

we came from there
Texas motives
These places are mainly inhabited by a Chinese nationality Hui which is better known to us as the Dungans and which produce the most auspicious impression on us. Some people helped us repair my punctured tyre (it seemed to be a trifling problem we could solve unaided, but at least five people were helping us). Then they sold us two watermelons at a dumping price (as for their people, which was uncommon to tell the truth). Other inhabitants presented us some grapes when they saw the travelers. The evening was celebrated with a literally dinner party, with tomato salad, and then watermelon and grapes for dessert. The meal was organized in a dry aryk, where we could sit like in an armchair watching the starry sky above the head. Falling asleep that day with the thoughts that the whole world helps those who travel was especially pleasant.

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