Why fly when paradise is on land?
11.08.2012 - 02.09.2012
From Aksu to Kashgar,
August 20th 2012
Because my train to Kashgar was scheduled at 6:18 AM, I aimed to leave hotel at 4:30. The night before I had already asked the front desk staffs (not the one in dark blue jacket who told me my booking wasn't available) whether I could possibly catch a taxi in front of the hotel very early in the morning. I also showed them my train ticket, in case they couldn't get what I was talking about. Very kindly they answered that I should not worry. They'll give me a wake up call at 4:00 AM, one of them said.
"But how about taxi? Can I get it from there?"
Although Pudong Holiday Hotel was only a 5 minutes-drive to the railway station, although I was told I could get a taxi, I didn't dare to take the risk leaving hotel later than 4:30 AM. Previous experience in Jiuzhaigou made me traumatized. When I asked about taxis, the hotel's front desk staff answered (in English), "Many, many." Nevertheless, I had to wade through the thick dark morning (it was still dark even at 7:00 AM) searching for a taxi.
At 4:25 AM I already stepped out from Pudong Holiday Hotel's lobby. It was quiet. No one could be seen. A strong smell of urine followed my steps. I wonder when did people urinated this street. In the middle of the night? Yesterday morning when I just came, it didn't smell like this. In the late evening when I returned from venturing the city, it also didn't smell like this. Too bad I have to leave the luxury of my room and be dragging my suitcase on an urinated street. Ah, how would have breakfast been like in Pudong Holiday Hotel?
It turned out that Pudong Holiday Hotel's front desk staff was right. Approximately 3 minutes later, a taxi passed by. The next 5 minutes, I was already at the railway station. Taxi fare: 7 yuan. Number of passengers: Me. See? The taxi driver yesterday morning had overcharged me.
The ticket-checking officer was asleep when I arrived at the gate. Sleepily she took a glance at my ticket and went back to sleep.
"Is this train's waiting room on the first floor?" I asked an officer in blue uniform inside the station. As usual, I held my passport in one hand although it wasn't needed. It's just a method to let the officers realize that I'm actually a foreigner. However, this time my method worked the other way round.
Instead of taking a look at my ticket, the officer pulled the passport from my hand. She opened it with a confused look.
"No, no. I just want to know on which floor is my waiting room." I tried hard to convey that in Mandarin.
This officer had a distinctive Uyghur feature. Uyghur, or whatsoever from the Middle East. Her co-worker next to her wore a scarf but looked more Chinese.
Regardless to what I had said, she kept on turning the pages of my passport. "Is it here on this first floor?" I asked. She turned another page. And then she brought my passport to an officer-guy inside the office. He was unmistakably Chinese and rather fierce looking.
Now, I'm getting into trouble, I told myself. Just because I had let my passport to be seen.
Beyond my expectation, that Chinese-fierce-looking officer came out of the office laughing. "Hahaha.... this is a passport!" The Uyghur officer's face redden under her white skin. She handed the passport back to me.
"Hahaha... " I heard the Chinese officer laughing again. He clearly was talking to the Uyghur officer, not me. Ah, luckily.
"Excuse me," I said to the Chinese officer. "I want to ask you. Is this ticket for the first floor?"
"Oh so you want to ask. Hahaha... Yes, it's here. Hahaha..."
Phew. I sighed as I sat back in the super quite waiting room. A few minutes later, a lady passenger came in. She took the row next to my row, laid one bag on the chair, and lied down on the chairs. Zzzz. Ah, I imagined my super comfortable room in Pudong Holiday Hotel.
At last the waiting room started to fill up. But soon, silence again -- for the next one hour. It's still 5:00 AM.
I'm rolling to Kashgar now! Yay! I'm on a double-decker train again! Yay!
When I got in the cart, it was still dark. And then I got confused when I found my cabin. I had purchased a hard-sleeper ticket. But there were only 2 rows of bed inside the cabin. Usually there are 3 rows for hard sleeper and 2 rows for soft sleeper. However, I must be in the right cart already, because with China trains, you have to get directly on the cart where you are supposed to be. At every cart entrance there is an officer who will check each passenger's ticket. I had been told to get on this cart, so it must be here.
I sat on the lower berth and waited for an officer to come and collect my ticket. Usually you'll get a plastic card in exchange for your ticket. And then when you are nearing your destination, the officer will get back that plastic card and return your ticket. Although I sometimes think China is somewhat backwards, I am grateful for this train ticket checking system. Firstly, the obligation of a passenger to get directly on the destined cart, ensures the passenger to get on the right cart. So even though you cannot read what's written on your ticket, if the officer at the cart entrance says nothing wrong, you are sure to be at least already on the right cart. You don't need to walk along the corridor from cart to cart finding your seat.
Secondly, because your ticket will be exchanged with a plastic card, you would know if you are sitting on the wrong seat or berth. If the officer who collects your ticket says nothing wrong, you are sure to be sitting on the right place.
Thirdly, by the time the officer returns to get back the plastic card, you can get yourself ready to get off. Most often the next station where the train is going to stop, is the station of your destination. Therefore, you don't need to worry you will override your destined station.
Okay, so an officer came to my cabin. I gave her my ticket. She examined it with a flashlight, and then slipped it into her folder. She handed me the plastic card, and walk away. Tara! I'm on the right place.
This kind of a surprise. I paid for a hard-sleeper, but the cabin was like a soft-sleeper's. The bedding itself also wasn't as hard as the one I had from Xi'An to Jiayuguan. It was actually just like the soft sleeper's bed.
As soon as the train moved, I caught up with my sleep. Zzzz.
A warm bright light through my window woke me up. Hora! Do you that line slices on the ground? That must be man-made, because it's so precised. I remember Peng Li's story of when she was at school. The students were required to go to the desert and plant the desert. Maybe these plants are man-planted also.
Hora! You can see the line slices clearer here.
I wonder what these little heaps of sands are. I suspect those are the result of small wind whirls. There was one also in previous photo.
At some part, the desert was barren and daunting.
I went upstairs to search for a better view and hopefully a cleaner window.
Whoo... Do I thrill you?
This, is the Silk Road. This, is where the merchants, traders, holy men, have traveled centuries, centuries ago, from China to Europe, back and forth. No train, no bus. Let alone a hard-sleeper. How had it been?
Sediment rocks also took its stand in history. To a geologic, the layers of a rock are like pages of a book. Every layer has a story.
This is my favorite.
My train is not traveling this desert alone. There are trucks running alongside, far over there.
Let me give you a close up.
My train was heading straight to the West. Thus, the sun rose just at the end of my train. Otherwise I could have made a glorious picture of it, although just with a pocket camera. I could get a glimpse of the sunrise when I pressed my head to the window. Ughhh... how I wish to break the glass.
And then, the sand began to turn reddish. But the blue sky began to be filled with black clouds. Ughhh... please go away...
There are man-planted greens again on this side.
Here's a close up. Do you see that square partitions?
Let me tell you something. These photos I show you here aren't all what I have.
Do you see that oasis on corner right? Unfortunately I couldn't get a shot with the reflection of the mountain desert on the water surface. It was absolutely gorgeous!
Kashgar, here I am!! This is Kashgar Railway Station. On top left it's written 喀什 (Kashi), the Chinese name for Kashgar. I like Kashgar better. It sounds more adventurous.