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

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


The Turpan Grand Hotel, Turpan, Xianjiang Uigur Autonomous Province, North West China

Free Image Hosting at ImageShack.us

The Main Temple Courtyard at Jiaohe, Turpan

Its 42 degress outside and after a morning of exploring in the scorching heat Jo and I have retreated indoors to blog and sort out Kazakhstan issues. We arrive at the border in six days and still have a few things to do to ensure the crossing goes smoothly and we have the correct documents and insurance. Kazakhstan has the potential to be our most difficult country; corruption is endemic and even if we have everything in order there is nothing to say that we won't be held up at the border by guards wanting to make a quick dollar. So we are going to be armed with letters from our embassy, our press release in Russian, newspaper clippings and a big smile...and pray that we won't run into a problems. Olov, a Swedish guy we have been in touch with who did the crossing recently on a 1938 bike and sidecar he bought in Beijing, had his bike confiscated and got a hefty $500 fine at the border. He's now hired a lawyer to sort out his problems and has advised us to go back to Beijing and cross into Mongolia - and avoid Kazakhstan at all costs. Too late. So all we can do is cover everything and hope the guards are feeling charitable when we arrive.

Last night we arrived in Turpan, one of the old Silk Road cities, a manmade oasis inhabiting the second lowest point on the planet. At 80 metres below sea level only the Dead Sea lies at a lower depression. Such unusual topography means that the Turpan basin has baking hot summers and viciously cold winters. In July the average temperature is 39 degrees whilst in winter this plummets to -20. Add to this that there is NO rainfall here and you wonder why people ever settled here. Water is provided by an ingenious irrigation system, conceived over 2000 years ago, whereby water from the mountains and glaciers is chanelled to the area via 5000km's of underground pathways. The system provides 2 billion m3 of water per year and means Turpan has flourished as one of Xinjiang's key cities for over 2000 years. Incredible.

Jack was so worried about driving here in the blistering heat yesterday that for the second time in a week we were up at 6, with TT loaded and rearing to go by 6.30. Unfortunately, there was no sign of Jack. Half an hour later he appeared, rubbing the sleep from his eyes and aplogising profusely for the fact that he had slept in. After getting lost leaving Hami for another half an hour we eventually got onto the road for Turpan and started our 410 km tuk through the Gobi. Except for a freak rainstorm at 9.30 a.m which had us scrambling for the rain covers and getting soaked, our desert drive was uneventful. Jo and I just thanked our guardian angels that the roads here are a million miles better than in the south - straight and pothole free. Amazingly, we arrived in Turpan by 3 pm. Never could we have dreamed of covering such mileage in so little time a few weeks ago.

As I mentioned a few blogs ago, Xinjiang is an extraordinary place, bordered by eight countries and home to the Uigur (pronounced wee-ger) people. 13 million people live in Xinjiang, 8 million of whom are Uigurs. In the 1950's 90 % of the population here was Uigur, but thanks to the regions huge reserves of oil and gas underneath the Taklamakan and Gobi deserts the Chinese are slowly but surely tightening their cultural and economic grip on the area. As we drove across the Gobi yersterday this presence was immediately apparent with nodding oil derricks spotting the desert as far as the eye could see.

The Uigurs are so different from the Chinese it seems strange that they should even come under the Dragon's flag. They are a Turkic people, whose language and song was lauded by ancient Arabic historians. All edicts from the court of the mighty Genghis Khan were in Uigur and one Arabic historian even commented that 'He who knows the Uigur language will never experience poverty'. Buddhists until the 14th century, today they worship Islam, and of the 24, 000 places of worship in Xinjiang over 23,000 are Muslim. Moreover, they look completely different to the Chinese - more Turkish or European than Asian. Unfortunately, the Arab historian's aphorism hasn't held for today's Uigurs. Few speak Chinese or receive a proper education and hence are left with little hope for advancement in Chinese society. Furthermore, since 9/11 the Chinese have been busy arresting any Uigur's they suspect of Islamic Fundamentalism, despite their constantly harping on about religious and cultural equality for China's minority peoples.

Anyway, I feel that I am banging on a bit...so a brief bit about where we went this morning and that's me for the day.

Jo, Jack and I have had another day off today so with hats, suncream and buckets of water we headed off to 'the ancient city of Jiaohe' this morning. We didn't even wake up till 10.30 so by the time we made it there it was boiling hot. We did have a plan to cycle, but after seeing the state of the ancient bikes decided a taxi was a far better option. Any movement in this heat is unadvisable, I went for a run the other evening and felt in danger of melting entirely.

Jiahe was far and away our favourite Chinese 'scenic spot'. In short, its the ruins of a 3000 year old city, built of clay, destroyed in Buddhist vs Islamic wars in the 14th century. It was the first 'scenic spot' we've visited which hasn't been ruined, plasticised and plagued with tacky vendors and recalcitrant camels. Yet another point scored for North West China. For two hours we wandered around, took pics, groaned about the heat and tried to imagine what it would have been like 1000 years ago, with 7,000 inhabitants and a river 30 metres deep. Then it was time for wine tasting , lunch and air-conditioning. Later this evening we've requisitioned a donkey cart to take us on a wee trip into the countryside, in the company of a few cool Pineapple beers (bit sweet but good for the thirst). Then tomorrow its 187 km's west to Urumqui, capital of Xinjiang, for another day off and an enroute swim in a salt lake. That's it from me, Jo is tapping away next to me too so its a double wammy today. xx Ants

PS More pics added


Blogger Colin said...

Hi Ants & Jo !

You two are amazing ! In addition to surviving all the traumas and stumbling-blocks, you're actually finding time to detail all these experiences. As if that's not enough, you're providing detailed background information about each place you visit, which to someone such as myself, who has never strayed beyond Europe, is a wealth of information. Like watching a tv documentary !

I repeat...you two are amazing !

Interesting to hear of your concerns relating to your next port of call. I just feel that it's not a good idea to add negative comments about future destinations in case someone there speaks English and reads said comments prior to your arrival !

Tis a comfortable 28 deg here in the Matra Mountains of Hungary today - a little less than where you are. Glad to hear that you've managed to fit in a few relaxation days prior to the next "big push".

Been trying to write this for several minutes as ye olde Blogger didn't like my account name or password, so God knows wot this will register as. Not big on teck-noller-gey, me !!!

So, for now, keep hanging in there. Can't wait for more "good reads".

xxx Colin (usually "matra man")

4:32 AM  
Blogger heid_honcho said...

Muay Thai is popular in Kazakhstan, so maybe a Siamese tuk tuk will elicit good feelings and smiles.

Alternatively, they'll strip the 3 wheeled wonder like pirhanas.

6:13 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home