West again: A few final stories from my last trip in China. With two weeks to kill between the end of classes and graduation, I bought a plane ticket to Xining, the jumping-off point of so many previous adventures (like in July 2011, July 2012, and November 2012). I had two choices: I could head south, back up into the Tibetan area of Amdo and perhaps onward into Kham. Or I could shoot west, through the semi-forbidden areas of western Qinghai and then down into Chinese Central Asia. I chose…
“Huatugou,” I said to the ticket lady. I looked up one more time at the crudely-depicted map of bus routes on the wall above me. The characters 花土沟 were there, sitting on the far left extreme of the map. “Flower Dirt Ditch,” was the literal translation, although I suspected they might mean “Potting Soil Ditch,” or even “Dirt Erosion Ditch.” In any case, the town was named for some kind of ditch, and I was trying to go there. Continue reading
A long, long time ago, the great public intellectual Bob Seger once issued a powerful manifesto. He was fed up, he said, with “paying dues,” and also tired of “the TV news.” And it just so happened that those societal ills rhymed with Mr. Seger’s rousing call to action: “K-K-K-K-KATMANDU! That’s really, really where I’m going to.” The resulting hit single helped Detroit’s greatest visionary achieve his first of ten platinum albums.
Now, thirty years later, it appears those of Mr. Seger’s generation are now following his advice, and in droves. Judging by the decidedly senior appearance of most of the Western tourists stepping (slowly) out of the souvenir shops here, anyway. I didn’t know what to expect when I walked across the little road bridge from Tibet into Nepal. But I never would have imagined that eight hours later (more on that to come), I’d be standing in line at an ATM with an almost-retired couple from upstate New York who’d just taken two weeks to walk the Annapurna Circuit. Continue reading
Just like it was for those silk traders of yore, our route through Central Asia hasn’t always been easy. They had to suffer pretty serious inconveniences, like bandits, Sogdians, and months of long days on stinky camels. And recently, we suffered one long day on a hot, stinky bus. If this comparison isn’t apt, well, tell that to Asiman.
750 kilometers across barren, windswept sands. We’re putting the Tian Shan at our backs and heading across the Taklamakan. Destination: Khotan, former capital of another ancient Indo-European civilization in these parts, now part of the Uigher heartland. Mode of travel:
camel worse: sleeper bus. At least the Uigher and Central Asian music videos will have better tunes than the endless-repeat Chinese radio fare!
Well, we’re off. Yesterday was one of those excruciatingly unnecessarily-painful (those words are in the right order) bus rides, where the the on-board ticket seller waits until everyone’s asleep and then puts bootleg Hong Kong karaoke tracks on the TV at max volume. In America, something like that on a long-distance Greyhound would absolutely warrant the inevitably resulting gun violence. But in China,
Some pictures here from the bus window on the high, bumpy road between Yushu and Xining.