Our time in Xinjiang has been spent nearly entirely in the Taklimakan (‘The Point of no Return’) desert. This was a part of the trip that we had looked upon with fear following our previous desert experiences and knowing the vastness of this one. Countary to these fears we have thoroughly enjoyed our time here, camping on sand dunes, enjoying healthier food and being pushed along for the most part by a great tailwind. We were also lucky enough to spend the last week of this stretch with Charles and Siugi, a lovely French couple we met in Kashgar on their way to Australia.
Arriving in Kashgar (our first Chinese city) as night fell was something we shall never forget, there were wide open highways, tall tower blocks all lit up with neon flashing lights, electric mopeds weaving in and out of the traffic where ever we looked and a thick pollution smog that blocked out the sunset, and as night fell, the stars. Coming from Central Asia where a cluster of eight mud brick houses was something of a mega city, Kashgar was quite overwhelming.
Crossing the desert we followed the southern silk road across Xinjiang. We were amazed at the quality of the road surfance – the same that you would expect in western Europe. We would also come across cities that had sprung up from nowhere, often labaelled on the maps as small villages. These helped us along our way as we were able to stock up on supplies, often rest in a cheap hotel and enjoy some cooked food. We were also blessed with relatively cool desert temperatures as there was a great amount of cloud cover.
Xinjiang Autonomos Region is one of the least ‘Chinese’ provinces in China, populated with a large proportion of Uyghur people. The Uyghurs are of Turkish origin and associate themselves far more with Central Asia than with China. Most of the Uighurs’ practise Islam and their language is similar to the Central Asian languages. These differences in cultures (Uyghurs and Han Chinese) have been the source of recent violent conflict but we experienced nothing of this as a tourist. The Uyghurs keep themselves to themselves and the Han do likewise, they seldom interact with one another and with many Uyghurs not able to speak Mandarin this is not possible even if they desired so.
The last days in Xinjiang were tough as the towns had become few and far between, meaning we had to take 18litres of water with us, enough to cover two whole days without supplies. We had been following an oil pipeline for many days and here saw a large number of nodding donkeys, as well as some large asbestos mines. After a big push for the 3000metre plateux which we will now stay on for the coming weeks, we arrived in Qinghai.