During the final weeks in China we cycled through Xinjiang, the country’s western most province. One of the main things we were able to discover in this big and beautifully wild part of China was sand.
For both of us it was the first time to spend a good amount of time in such a large desert. While at first we were thrilled to cycle through a landscape where you could not see anything but sand from one horizon to the next, this fascination soon made way for a sense of dullness. We caught ourselves dreaming about cold water as the desert days grew hotter and hotter. Ideas about ice cream made their way into our daydreams.
About once per day the sandy desert was interrupted by an green oasis! The joys of seeing green trees, gras, and little rivers was worth all the hardships of a long day in the desert.
One of the especially wonderful things about the oases in Xinjiang province were the big and delicious breads, which the local Uyghurs bake in big round stoves. In the middle of the stove is a burning fire while the breads are spread around it in a circle on the wall. On our best day we ate eight of those round breads – each of us!
Overall we noticed a change in the culture as we rode towards the western border of China. Food, behaviour, clothes and buildings were different from what we had experienced further east. The more and more muslim culture sometimes made us feel like we were in the middle east already.
These cultural differences seem to cause tensions between the Uyghur and the Chinese government, leading to a very high police presence in this province. Several check points per day were not unusual. A young Uyghur explained us that the Uyghurs have difficulties to get a passport and therefore can’t leave the country. That reminded us of our privileged situation. Nevertheless we ran into some trouble with the law enforcement as well when a villager called the police on us as we set up our camp one night.
Leaving Kashgar, the capital of Xinjiang, we got to enjoy a few more days in the spectacular mountains at the very western end of the country. Heading into Kyrgyzstan we both still can’t quiet wrap our head around everything we got to experience in China!
Now we are looking forward to all the adventures that await us in Central Asia!