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All winds blow to kashgar


chapter 6. kashgarian mondays

That morning everything went in other, not quite a usual way: Sanya woke up earlier than I did and I had not to wake him up as usual.

Early in the morning we arrived at the bus station, where after some time waiting we got on the bus Kashgar-Bishkek (a few words about punctuality at 7 oclock, the time indicated in the tickets, there was not a soul at the station, and the bus we waited for appeared only between 10 and 11). The boarding was preceded by our long negotiations with the driver through the Kyrgyzes going by the same bus, after which we were told that on Torugart admission point we could be taken off the bus, though no reasonable explanation had been given to it. When the cashier-woman who sold us the tickets a week before saw our passports she told us everything would be OK, so we hoped it would be. We also considered the fact that any way the visas would be over the next day and therefore decided to worry about that only when the problem would appear. We even paid our remaining yuans for luggage the weight of which certainly exceeded all limits possible.

We had much smaller luck than did Shokan Valikhanov, who had been able to cross Torugart Pass without problems. Recently the frontier pass, which has been used for many centuries, has due to some inexplicable reasons become an admission point of the second category, and only the citizens of adjoining Kyrgyzstan and China can cross it freely. For all the rest there are various funny innovations, such as, for example, that the citizens of the third countries can get to Kyrgyzstan from China only when accompanied by a licensed tourist guide who has a permission of Public Security Bureau (local National Security Committee and the police in one body) and the treaty with these tourists for service, and by motor transport only. The whole text of this tirade was told us by a few English speaking interpreters who happened to be at the admission point, and by Mr. Chen, our friend from Urumqi who helped us via telephone and whom we also involved in the talks with the ignoramus frontier-guards that could not speak any language but Chinese. Our negotiations with the stubborn representatives of the Chinese authorities had no result. We were left alone on the square in front of the admission point, with a heap of backpacks, bags and with the dismantled bicycles. Sanya also managed to forget his sweater in the bus (and, as it turned out later, this would be a very useful thing, considering our further route).

Actually, everything let us feel that the winds blowing to Kashgar were not going to change their direction, stubbornly blowing us in back there. But though going against the wind, as well as swimming against the current is usually difficult, it is gripping and rewarding with nice memories.

When we exchanged a small reserve of dollars by exorbitant rate and got to Kashgar not without problems (and this was more than 100 kilometers), we left our stuff at our hotel for some time and rushed to the bus station in search of truth and money which we had to get back, in our fair opinion. On the way to the bus station I was unlucky to puncture the front tyre. Troublesome events even became a habit with us. Surely, no one was going to return us the money for the tickets. To quarrel with people in no-one-knows-what language was very difficult. One after another the ideas how to get out of China quicker were coming to our minds. But all of them had a weak point we practically had only Kazakhstani money which no one needed there in Kashgar and we were extremely pressed for time because we would have to pay much to extend visas.

Minek, Agnieszka & Iwona

Polish 'colleagues'

At the station we met a company from Poland, a guy and two girls who traveled around the world hitchhiking and by buses. They also had a mischance in Torugart: they were not allowed to pass it from the Kyrgyz side. A short conversation with them, their having a guidebook of China and adhesive tape to repair my wheel were nearly the only pleasant time we had that day. The Poles were going to get to Bishkek via Osh, and then, after traveling around Kazakhstan and Russia, go home. Owing to their plans we even managed to exchange tenges for a few yuans from them. We sat together thinking of how we could go farther, probably with them. And suddenly an idea came to my mind to check attentively the visas in our passports

The group calculation and then exciting recalculation of those thirty days the visa was given for led to an unconsoling result the visa would expite not the next but that very day. We said goodbye to the Poles and joked sadly that they might look for us in one of Kashgar jails, and rushed to the central police station, where according to the Pole guidebook it was possible to extend visa for 160 yuans (by the way, this sum of money was absolutely unbearable for us at that moment). On our way to the police station Sanyas brake block got broken, thus adding to the list of the pleasant surprises of the day.

At the police station we calmed down: fortunately, the term of visa would be over in two days (they said that 30 days is a conventional term, but as a rule they use a monthly term which begins the next day after you arrived). This nice news certainly let us economize a lot of money, but we still faced a vital problem to leave so extremely hospitable China.

The conversation with the policemen defined the most preferable variant of our further actions to leave China as soon as possible via Chinese-Kyrgyz international admission point Irkeshtam, from which we could get to Osh. We just had to know how we could do that. We stayed short at a snack-bar in the Old City to have manty and informed our people in Karaganda that the way back would pass along an emergency scheme which was yet unknown to us. But what was extremely clear was that we would not be able to get in Kazakhstan as quickly as we planned to.

I want to note that by its speed and dynamics our way home even eclipsed somehow the impressions of the bike journey itself. Foreshadowing, I can say that everything ended well, though it cost us much money and time. But then we did not know our exact way and tried to get out of Kashgar as close to CIS borders as possible.

We spent some time near the bus station, trying to find transport. But the situation grew worse due to two things: first, we had few yuans; and second, not every driver had a right to enter the frontier zone which was the village of Irkeshtam. Then someone advised us to go to the market area, showing the direction by his hand (otherwise we would not have understood where it was, as Kashgar itself is a big bazaar, which was said before). Not far from this market we found an Uighur on a small truck who agreed to get us to the frontier for the money we had.

So, at about eight in the evening we were obstinately moving out of Kashgar after the sun setting. We were awaited (at least we wanted to believe in that) by the admission point Irkeshtam. On the way our driver decided to call on his home, thanks to which we got an opportunity to eat lagman, and watch the insight of a common Uighur dwelling, represented in hundreds there in the village. This dwelling looked outside like a real fortress with high loam walls, but was very cozy inside, though had few windows and was not well-lit.

Having spent the night in the truck rented for the last yuans, we met the early morning of the next day in front of the admission point. Despite the inscription telling it worked 24 hours a day it began functioning only at 10.00. At Irkeshtam we finally crossed the border with no problems (frontier guards even spoke English there) and bicycled via the frontier zone to Kyrgyz side where we felt a kind of relief. Firstly, we really got out of China and would not break the visa regime; secondly, we were able to speak Russian freely. You should have seen my face at the moment when I discerned from far away a Russian inscription telling the name of a frontier post called after an Andrei whose surname my memory did not retain.

For some reason the most beautiful places to take photos of seem to be situated where one cannot photograph. The frontier zone in the surroundings of Irkeshtam was not an exception to this. The picturesque valley with a large river surrounded by whimsical rocks surely required to be photographed, but we did not want to get problems we had even without that and therefore stifled this noble desire. It was all the same not a situation to make a sacrifice for the sake of the art.

the Nura village steering wheel of Kamaz, hands of Uncle Zhenya, foothils of Pamirs

Alay valley - view from the cab

To descend to Osh from Irkeshtam we had to find a trucker who would follow the same route. A nice heart had a trucker Uncle Zhenya who lived near Bishkek. For all his life he had traveled over almost entire Soviet Union. During the last several months he could nowise get home, that is why it was his last trip between Osh and Irkeshtam, after which he was going to return home to Vasilyevka, to his wife.

In a few hours after our having passed the border we were sitting in the Kamaz crawling along the mountain road of awful quality towards the Fergana valley. The road connecting Irkeshtam and Osh goes first between the Alay and Trans-Alay ( Zaalay) mountain ranges, and then crosses the former range via several high passes, the most considerable among which is Taldyk (3615 meters). The surrounding grand mountain landscapes had been gradually hidden from us with the rain, and then snow.

the worst is still to come

Beginning of snowstorm

There really have been very few moments in my life when I imagined quite seriously and logically the sad consequences of my own death. One of these moments was ascending the Taldyk pass in the snow-storm, in the pitch-darkness diluted by the dim light of the headlights, on the full-loaded Kamaz with the pinking self-locking and dying accumulator. Fortunately, everything went well and we did not have to jump out of the lorry as Uncle Zhenya warned us to in case emergency.

There are three problems on Kyrgyz roads: donkeys, goats and fools. The former are quite peaceful but not sagacious animals roaming stubbornly along and across the road, even at night. As these animals do not possess any light-reflecting surface, they often become the reason of their own death, foolish and absurd, which is accompanied by considerable damage of cars acting like involuntary killers. The second are the animals in the figurative meaning of this word. Such creatures live on what they managed to take from drivers passing the road. A usual tariff for clear passage by the police inspector is 20 soms, a small sum of money if compared with the consequences of disobeying this almost traditional rule. The latter constitute the most dangerous and unpredictable category. Fools usually do not think, as they are supposed to. The most habitual way to get easy money on the Kyrgyzstani road is to block it, which has been practiced for many years. Moreover, this activity usually acquires really national scale, when several villages stirred up with the brought fire-water organize actions of civilian protest for a small (usually 300 soms per capita a day) consideration (very often the protesters even do not know what and who they are declaiming against). People just take bricks in their hands and sit across the road. And the roads in mountains are usually single, that is why such actions become considerably effective on whole country scale. Fortunately, we ran across less ideological fools who perfected in blocking technology and simply decided to gain money on it. Four teenagers armed with bricks suddenly appeared in the light of the headlights. Their threatening movements towards the frontal glass, as well as loud bawdy shouts obviously convinced Uncle Zhenya of the truth of the folk saying ' its quite reasonable to stay away from schmucks. So he paid a small recompense taken, by the words of the drunken bastards for such a noble undertake as a wedding, and our Kamaz drove farther.

In connection with what was mentioned above I cannot help mentioning the lines written by Valikhanov almost 150 years ago: There formed systematical rules among Kyrgyz clan-leaders, which had been sanctified by the time and according to which they rob caravans, but they rob legally in a way, grounding it on ancient traditions and rights the caravan passing the uluses of Kyrgyz clan-leadersmust pay zyaket must give a ransom for free passage. Or these ones: a few minutes would not pass as a crowd of drunken Kyrgyzes rushed out of an aul, darted into the quarry to our caravan and made us turn back to aul threatening and swearing. Is not it surprising that over one and a half a century nothing has changed, including open robbery which has almost been officially raised to rank of hospitality?

some point of interest
in Osh
After late supper in a Kyrgyz roadside cafe we were treated to by Uncle Zhenya, we had a three-hour sleep in the cab of the Kamaz and at 11 the next day we arrived in the city of Osh.

I visited other cities in Kyrgyzstan and therefore can imagine the local populations level of life. That is why the first thing that attracted my attention in Osh was abundance of expensive cars on the roads. Osh is the second in size city of the country, but due to welfare of its inhabitants it creates an impression of nearly the first one. Osh is not Kyrgyzstan proper, both geographically and ethnically. The Osh region is separated from the country by the mountains of the Fergana Range and is a state in the state. Besides, the Kyrgyzes do not form the main part of the local population. On the whole, these are the Uzbeks and Uighurs who live there.


hydroelectric power station
hydroelectric power station on Naryn
In Osh our Kazakhstani tenges became valuable again, so we could eat and take a taxi to Bishkek. It was very unusual to apply Chinese prices for food with the Kyrgyz ones, because it always led to exclamation Why is it so expensive?

The road between Osh and Bishkek lies in the most beautiful places: endless mountain serpentines, the full-flowing Naryn which followed us almost half of our way, and snow-covered tops of Tien Shan on the horizon. We spent another night in the car, with a few stops at roadside cafes, and the next morning we were already in Bishkek.

The further way did not represent any extreme for it followed the habitual route Bishkek-Almaty-Karaganda, and on September 22, 2006 the kiths and kins were meeting us at the railway station in Karaganda. The journey which lasted for over a month was over.


To the new stories!
To the new stories!
When Sanya and I were sitting in Scheherazade cafe next to Seman Road Hotel celebrating the ending of our expedition with beer and shashlyk, I recalled how the idea to go to Kashgar appeared. For me myself this idea appeared in a cafe in Kathmandu, where together with my Latvian friends we celebrated the ending of the travel around Nepal and were discussing mutual possible plans. It was then that we decided to bicycle to Kathmandu from Urumqi via Kashgar and Lhasa. Surely, this idea was realized not on a whole scale. My Latvian friends were not able to set off for this journey, besides, we were not lucky to see Tibet this time. But maybe, this goes for the better. There would be too many impressions thrown all together, and it is possible that some of them would eclipse others. And now we have something to be longing for. Everything is yet to happen. And its great when the travel ends with such a note that you may finish your narration with but this is quite another story

Text Vitaliy Shuptar, 2006
Translation from Russian Olesya Nikolayeva, 2007
Photos Alexander Yermolyonok, Vitaliy Shuptar, 2006

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