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Welcome to Kashgar

Nevada-like desert flew by outside the window of our hard sleeper on the N886 to Kahsgar. In the distance savage mountain ranges slowly drifted in the same direction. It was 1.5 hours to Kashgar and since there were no more stops (and as far as we could tell, no more human settlements) until that place, our conductor, a very official woman, collected out plastic re-boarding passes and returned our flimsy little paper tickets. In no time (well 1.5 hours) we were in Kashgar.

We exited the train, happy to move our legs again. The sun glared and Uighur language babbled slavically from the mouths around us. Kashgar station was large, but not too crowded. We found our man, Memet, nephew of our capable and affordable travel agent, Abdul, whom Scott had stumbled upon using wikitravel. His very unlike the stereotypical Chinese face grinned widely and he spoke in very good English. As we drove to the Seman hotel (or Bingwan as they say in China), he made small-talk and pointed out sites of interest, not the least of which was a ridiculously decorated Uyghur restaurant, with redundant inlay, czarist lighting, and an absurd amount of men chopping up lambs and roasting kabobs on smokey charcoal grill. “This is the best restaurant in Kashgar,” he said. We made mental note: Altun Orda.

Another important discovery upon our arrival was that, though the whole of China has been, by command from on high, set in the same time zone, Kashgar does not run on Beijing time. Local time runs two hours behind official time, used by the trains and official offices. And still, even with this change the sun sets at 9:30 pm. So time in Kashgar looses some of its meaning and rigidity. Unless you are catching a bus or a train, time is smeared into a kind of thin paste, and spread on a number of pieces of lamb, to be roasted over a smokey trough of charcoal.

The Scale

In the hotel, we met Abdul. He was a thin man, with a sly eye and an easy way about him. He lead us around the back of the reception area (we noticed a bike rental sign there –dope) to the old Russian consulate building, where our room was. Our room proved to be every bit as gaudy, as covered with molded wall-pieces, and as ruthlessly accented with chipped gold paint as any Russian diplomat could had hoped for. We payed Abdul for our three nights and threw down our bags in the room. It came complete with toilet paper and complementary tea bags, marked “Tea for Business.” Good one, Seman Binguan.

Speaking of business. First thing’s first: that bicycle renting joint in the hotel lobby. The proprietor was friendly and young. He reminded me very much of Russian computer heads I had met in Petersburg. He showed us the bikes, and we swelled with joy. Before us they sat, gleaming, with bells, front baskets and rear baggage clips. Ideal for wheeling. Indeed, we were so taken, we forgot to bargain and ended up paying almost 5 dollars per day per bike. Good one, Seman Binguan.


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