Breathtaking because of the altitude, but also the view.
11.08.2012 - 02.09.2012
Tashkorgan, August 21st 2012
"Tashkurgan" means "Stone Fortress" or "Stone Tower". The official spelling is "Taxkorgan", while "Tashkorgan" appears occasionally in literature. Since when I was first told about this place, it was written "Tashkorgan", I like to keep on using "Tashkorgan".
So here I am at the furthest point of my Silk Road journey on China's part, Tashkorgan. I've come all along Karakoram Highway from Kashgar, and I'm now standing at the brim of China, the border with Tajikistan.
This is the tablet sign of "Stone City". Unfortunately, the paint on the words had washed out. Even in the actual condition, the words were almost unreadable. But I thought, in case some might find something interesting, I just post the picture.
There was no English translation.
At this point I was only with my driver. My guide had dropped off at the border to do some arrangement for a guest who had problem entering from Pakistan. My driver couldn't speak English. After parking the car, he led me climb stairs to this stone tablet. I surprised myself by starting be out of breath. What? Am I sick? Had too much mutton? It's odd, because I had been merely sitting in the car and I had just gone a few steps which was not yet even as far as one story's staircase. I saw my driver climbing with big steps in front of me. Wonderful! I thought to myself. My driver looks older than me, but he can climb so fast!
He turned his head to me a few stairs below him. "Jiāyóu!" he said.
Ah, he must have heard my panting breath. What a shame!
He stopped. I could see his chest going up. "Nǐ...! Kàààn!"
Oh... so he is actually also out of breath? I sighed deeply. But this time, one of relief.
In Mandarin, between his in and out breath, my driver said to me, "You see that road down there? Just follow that road. I'll bring the car over there and wait for you there."
Oh okay, now that doesn't look difficult, I thought. No more ascending, it seems.
"It is 3200 meters high here," said my driver again.
"What?" I understood he was mentioning numbers. But three thousand what? Does he want me to pay??
He repeated his sentence and made gestures with his hands.
"Three thousand two hundred??" I confirmed.
"Yes, yes, three thousand two hundred." He picked up a stick, trying to write on the ground. But after one stroke he paused. He seemed to be thinking very hard. Maybe he only can write in Arabic. "Sānqiān... liǎng... bǎi..." he murmured again.
After he left, it was my turn to think hard. "Sānqiān liǎngbǎi" means "three thousand two hundred" doesn't it? Is that right? Sānqiān, three thousand... Liǎngbǎi...? According to Wikipedia in this link, the average altitude is above 4.000 meters. Wow! That's even more breathtaking -- at the fact, I mean. It's clear now, I'm not sick. It's the altitude that made me out of breath. I have read in several places that normally one would experience such short of breath when being above 3000 meter.
The prickly hot air was another thing that made me couldn't believe that I was standing on an altitude of 3200 meter. With the ruins around me, Turpan was brought back to me. The ruins of this stone fortress or castle, are the remnants of once a much bigger stone fortress a.k.a. tashkorgan, which had had a long history as a major stop on the Silk Road.
The ground on the top was more interesting than any of Jiaohe or Gaochang. Nevertheless, the pathway was very basic. Getting down toward the end of the road where my driver had pointed at, turned not to be as simple as it had seemed from top.
While admiring the scene beneath, I had one hand sticking on the stone wall and another holding my camera. There were no stairs. The path was filled with small stones and pebbles, and pretty steep on some areas. I dreaded slipping on the pebbles and thus slide all the way down the path. It was my camera that I was most worried of.
By the way, the part I marked with a red arrow is the wall stone that enclosed the outer part of the pathway. The view from below is like this:
If it's 3200 m here, how tall is that snowy mountain peak? It looks like outer space there.
This is another view of the Stone Castle ruins, taken from the grassland below, which was a superb breathtaking landscape. I'm saving that for next post.