Friday, 25 June 2010

Turpan to Kashgar

21st-22nd June 2010
Leaving Turpan for Urumqi seemed like a logical option. The closest station to the depression is 45-mins away in Daheyan and my new English companion Alec, from Oxford had seemed confident we could get a train in Urumqi. But our presumption that we could find a sleeper train for the epic across the Taklamakan desert would soon prove very far of themark. On that same Monday it would transpire that most of China's students were traveling home for holidays and in the process booking up every sleeper berth for the nest 2-days. Indeed the only available option for Kashgar in the next 24-hours, was a hard-seat at 10am the following morning.

Our options seemed limited. Alec had a return flight to the UK on the 29th and I felt increasingly homesick and keen to cross the Chinese border to start my last month traveling in Pakistan. Having discussed out options with a friendly security guard at a local hotel, we found a train leaving that evening. It was going down the same line to a smallish city called Asku, 6-8hours from Kashgar. It wasn't perfect but it would leave us closer and with better options for traveling the following morning onto Kashgar.

Short on cash, we had no option but to find a bank before buying our tickets. An hour later, fate would deal us a second shitty hand as we stood in the queue watching the final 2-hard seats disappear on the screen before our very eyes. These were the facts- we would be on the reserve list, for a hard-seat on the worst standard of train in China and for 18-long hours across a desert. It was going to get worse, but I didn't know it yet!

Alec still nursing a terrible bottle of wine, he had bought in Turpan at some cheap restaurant we heading into a nearby restaurant to pass the 2-hours before our train. The food was terrible- the worst oily, indiscriminate slop I had encountered in China yet! Alec had taken a gamble on a BBQ from the street outside and the chef had laid out before him sheep testicles. It was amusing at the time, but we boarded our train hungry tired and dehydrated.

Alec's gamble didn't pay off!

Steeping onto the train it became clear we were in for an unpleasant time. It was the worst standard of train in China. Some throw back carriage from Russia, maybe 40-years or more old. The seats were hard, red-brown leather. Small fans in the roof provided the "air conditioning" and the toilets were the kind of filthy hole you wince at the prospect of using! Only the poorest section of China's North-West took this ride- forced to take the cheapest option available despite the clearly terrible conditions for an 18-hour journey. Mainly Uighers and other ethnic minorities.

The final card fate would deal arrived at 1am. The sneaking suspicions of this hand had arrived in the restaurant outside the station in Urumqi and finally 3-hours later I found myself hunched over "the worst train toilet in China" throwing my guts up. For the next 8-hours I would become well acquainted with this terrible 4-square feet of mess, vomiting and shitting every last bit of my insides out. I still cant be sure what the problem was. Stumbling back out of the toilets, to my seat I would usually find an Uigher or some other ethnic looking man perched on the terribly uncomfortable 2-feet of seat I had previously occupied. Usually they would give the seat up. But eventually the lines between one persons space and another became blurred, each person searching desperately for some comfortable way to pass the endless hours until Asku. As a group of young Chinese teenagers played aloud some terrible mix of cheesy European pop and even worse Asian equivalents, I curled up amongst the labyrinth of dirty feet on a dusty hard train floor and tried desperately to get a few hours of sleep relief from my sickness.

18-hours later, thrashed and devoid of anything at all human we arrived at Asku. I had actually felt close to death in the morning of that day, but it was now late afternoon and having emptied me of what felt like my soul, the sickness had finally subsided. We booked our tickets for Kashgar leaving the following morning at 5.30am and made our way to a hotel to recover over our short stay. The evening and morning following passed without incident and we finally arrived at the Old Town Youth Hostel in Kashgar at noon on the 22nd June.