Tuk to the Road

The trials and tukulations of Jo, Ants and Ting Tong the tuk tuk and our three-wheeled odyssey from Bangkok to Brighton...in aid of the mental health charity Mind. For more information please see www.tuktotheroad.com

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

A perfect goodbye to China

* Written July 9th - again posted late due to no internet

Saryam Lake, Xinjiang Province. July 9th 2006

Our last day in China. How strange. At last after 30 days of driving across this massive country the Kazakh border is within spitting distance, a mere 60 km or so west from here. The last month has been an intense experience; exhausting, exhilarating, stressful, hilariously funny, mindblowingly beautiful, frustrating and immensely rewarding. After all the trials and tukulations that China has put us through I never felt I would be feeling sad to leave it behind. But I am. We couldn’t be spending our last day here in a more idyllic setting, yet today is tinged with a sadness that has really surprised me. More than anything I can’t believe that we have been on the road for six weeks, and that we are half way home. It’s as if the gears of time have gone into fast-forward and are catapulting us towards our final destination in turbo mode. And although we are both appreciating every moment there’s nothing we can do to slow it down. It’s like trying to grasp a handful of sand, the more you clutch at it the faster it disappears. Before we know it Jo, Ting Tong and I will be back in England, and all the weird and wonderful experiences we are having will be locked in the catacombs of our mind. But that’s life, just chapters of memories to be cherished and learnt from.

Yesterday was a tuk to the road personal best. We left Urumqui at 9 a.m, the streets still deserted due to the city living on Xinjiang time (although the clocks here are officially set to Beijing time the people live 2 hours behind, the same as Kazkahstan and the rest of Central Asia), and arrived at this magic lake at 8.30 pm last night. Eleven and a half hours on the road, and 650 km’s covered. The day seemed so long that I couldn’t get my head round the fact that it had all happened in a single day. From Urumqui to here we had crossed desert, steppe, fields of sunflowers, empty scrub land and wheat fields, guided all the way by the aptly named Tien Shan - Heavenly – mountains. We set off in the morning unsure of our destination, our fate to be decided by whether we were allowed on the expressway. Our fist attempt failed and the irate lady at the toll told us to tuk off in no uncertain fashion. Undeterred, we tried the toll gate about 20 km further west. Again the guards shook their heads and told us to be off to the old road, where other three-wheeled beasts dwelt. But he also added that a few km’s further on there was a slip road where we could surreptitiously tuk onto the expressway. Which of course we did. The next 450 km’s were spent speeding along on glorious tarmac, slipping through tolls before they could change their mind and waving merrily at policeman who we were convinced would stop us. Although Jo and I feel that not being allowed on the expressways has in fact turned out for the best, there are times when it’s a joy to be on them. Without yesterday’s luck we would never have made it to Saryam Lake last night and been able to spend our last day in China riding, walking and enjoying the unspoilt wilderness of China’s final frontier.

A bit about the lake. Pronounced ‘Salim’ Lake, it’s the largest mountain lake in China, covering a vast 500 km 2 and up to 92m deep in parts. For me, this is how Heaven would look if it existed – cobalt blue water, brilliant green pastures, perfect velveteen mountains, eagles drifting lazily on the wind, an effusion of wild flowers of every colour, yurts dotting the grassland and Kazakh and Wi nomads herding their animals on horses. I’d like to set up a yurt and spend a long time here, with a large pile of books and lots of tea. Jo has been taking the piss out of me as she says my new obsession is yurts, which I think it is. First it was the Hmong, then the Hexi Corridor, then the Uigurs, now Yurts. But yurts really are awesome and I might have to live in one when I get back to England. Mine might have to have central heating though as it was pretty chilly last night, even with most of the contents of my rucksack and 3 duvets on.

Apart from feeling sad about leaving China today has been perfect. Jo, Jack and I went riding this morning, up into the mountains and across some very gallopable grassland. Last time I rode with Jo was when we used to get bolted with on our horses at home, aged about 14, laughing too much to do anything about stopping. Today was a bit more genteel, and apart from the odd canter we mostly just lazed along at a walk or trot and enjoyed the view. Everyone here has horses, they’re their livelihood. They spend their whole lives on their four-legged friends, herding their flocks, then eat them when they get too old to work. Being a vegetarian, I was delighted to read in our Central Asian Lonely Planet this morning that horsemeat is also a national specialty in Kazakhstan. Horse sausage, horse intestine, horse liver…horse everything. I’ll just stick to the veggies thanks.

So tomorrow morning, early, we pack up TT for the last time in China and head west to the border at Khorgos. We should reach the border by 9 a.m, then with a bit of luck be on the way to Almaty a few hours later. Its 300 km’s to Almaty and the roads are allegedly good, so we should be there by early evening, to meet up with my mother who is flying in from the UK tonight. Fingers crossed we will be having a celebratory first Kazkakh dinner tomorrow night, and all our worries about the border will have been for nothing. Lets hope our guardian angels are with us.

Finally, apropos to absolutely nothing, half of one of my teeth feel out yesterday morning whilst eating a dried mulberry. What with the 15 grey hairs I found before we started the trip, you might as well put me in an old people’s home now and be done with it. I advise everyone to avoid dried mulberries, they are extremely dangerous.

Till Kazakhstan xx Ants


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