Side note: This is a super lazy post, coz it’s THE FINALE!
The journey from Xian to Chengdu was uneventful, we’re reaching the end of the long journey and it’s definitely been tiring. From Chengdu, crossing Far West China to Urumqi and stretching to Kashgar and Karakul, it easily spanned 10000 km. OMG. We hardly could belive ourselves that we did go that far :)
Arriving Chengdu around late morning, and didnt really have plans for today. We took the Metro and randomly stopped at any place we thought can kill some time. There was this Science museum or something we almost entered but changed our mind as it required ticket.
Found a McDonalds outlet and it’s our lunch for today. Probably early dinner too. They have this McCafe outlet that we got so excited about (read: by the time we visited this, McDonalds around KL had not yet attached any McCafe – so the only time I had ever heard about it was from Az’s experience in Sydney. Hence the jakunness :P Which also reminds me, it has been sooooooo long since we did this trip, but I only managed to complete the travelogue today.)
To get to Chengdu airport, we simply asked one of the Metro station staff and you could get an airport bus from some particular bus stops, but in our case, we might have waited at the wrong bus stop that we could see airport buses passing us several times (and didn’t stop!!) but in the end there’s this bus going to airport as well, although I dont think it’s a direct one (it stopped many times along the way and it was full we had to stand for a while and it was such a long journey! Almost an hour I think..). And yeah, although the last day and Chengdu was pretty boring, the whole journey was so overwhelming, you can tell. Our flight that night was apparently delayed almost 2 hours and I couldn’t really remember anything except being sleepy when we boarded.
Our day in Xian, apparently, did not go as planned. The whole night after we arrived from Urumqi, Az was down with high fever – literally shivering under thick blanket, and his body was burning. He was vomitting several times since the flight. It was the worst I have ever seen him. One can imagine how panic I could be, for us in a foreign land far away from family, with our sim card not able to call or send sms to outside China, I was praying hard that things would just be better than worse. The medicines we brought from home came as a savior, although, it seemed only as a little, tiny impact. I was almost considering to ask hotel people to bring us to hospital, but it’s not gonna be easy. The least I could do was to cool him down with damp towels from time to time.
We did not leave the hotel room early in the morning – unlike usually during travel – and although the fever has gone less, thankfully. While I was still optimistic that things should be okay and we can make do with the remaining time sight seeing Xian, but for barely a day and we hadn’t started early, then the visit Terracotta Warriors has been removed from the list. Is there anyone else who actually visits Xian but NOT see the Terracotta Warriors? >.<
We stayed in Super 8 Hotel in the center of Xian, even I can say in the center inside the city wall, so the main landmarks were actually very near by walking distance. The weather was nice, but coming from Xinjiang, it seems the environment suddenly changed, totally! Xian is full of tourist coming to see touristy sights and shopping touristy souvenirs. Not our type of place, but hey, we’re here! Az was still not in the mood to walk at first, and we stopped a few times to let him rest.
The Drum tower. Well, Drum Tower and Bell Tower are located not far from each other and I still cannot tell which is which, but thats not important, and we only had a look from afar. Going inside there probably requires admission tickets.
Some sights. Full of hotels and shopping arcades. I know Xian has lots of historic attractions but when we’re really here, it’s hardly a place we can actually enjoy. Maybe we’re already used to charming, tourist-free, quiet little Kashgar. I dont know if it could have been different if I had put Xian in the beginning of our China trip (which I did in earlier itinerary drafts), we could have probably not care much but joined those tourists being impressed with this city!
And they have McDonalds! It might be boring but I liked it that we can replace drink in a meal set with a coffee. Just in the center as well we found a Tourist Information Center, where we walked in to ask a city map (and we got one for free).
The only highlight of Xian for us may be The Great Mosque of Xian. Within the touristy area, small paths between bustling shops and crowded souvenir stalls somehow can lead you to the hidden wall of the mosque.
The Xian mosque is one of the oldest mosques in China, founded in year 742. The architecture is Chinese (like the Hui mosques in Urumqi) and of course, Muslims in Xian are predominantly Hui ethnics. It was Zuhur prayer time when we’re there, so we decided to do jamaah prayer. As usual, the facilities inside mosque seem to be reserved for men only. We couldnt find rest room or ablution for women at first but asking a student there (he comes from Inner Mongolia) the women’s place should be in different building outside the mosque area. When I reached the place, it turns out most women just do the prayers in the that building, but after wudu’, I returned back to the mosque main hall with Az.
The main prayer hall. At first I decided to wait for Az outside (when I thought only men can enter the mosque during jamaah prayers), but as soon as Azan (the call for prayer) was announced, more and more people came filling the mosque. Some elder men gave a sign that I could actually enter, at the right corner which seems to be unofficial place for women praying. It’s only divided by curtain from the outside, but it’s better than no place at all.
And the moments come when a few Hui women (I guess around 4 of them) were with me preparing for the prayer. They seemed so surprised looking at me and I tried to introduce myself to them with whatever language and sign language I could think of. They were smiling from ear to ear with a super-impressed face all times as if OVERWHELMINGLY HAPPY of seeing me, making myself rather blushing and awkward and at the same time asking to myself “what happens with them?? Aren’t they used to meet other foreigners coming to pray here before?”. Anyways. And after prayers done, when I want to say goodbye, not only they hugged me (expected) but also kissed me in the cheek few times! I felt like an adorable small baby ^_^ And they kept smiling even when I was leaving the prayer area.
Inside the main prayer hall, we entered here after everyone has left. See the wall? They’re beautifully carved with THE WHOLE SCRIPTS in Quran! If you have time, maybe you can sit and trace all 30 juzu’ written in here. It’s amazing.
Seeing the crowds coming for jamaah prayer, I can’t help wondering if those Muslims really live near here, coz all we can see here shops and tourists and business area rather than a neighborhood. Nevertheless, there are significant number of Muslims being part of the tourist industry here, selling souvenirs for example. We found a restaurant at the Muslim quarter having lamb kebab!! They’re a little expensive compared to what we had in Xinjiang, but what the hey, it’s such a feeling like you have sadly accepted that you won’t be getting it again (after leaving Xinjiang), but before you knew it, it surprisingly came to you! ;)
As we have a few hours left until our train tonight, we took a bus going to train station just to see the city from bus (as Az was already tired walking). Nothing much to be impressed with the city view, except the fact that this whole area is surrounded by the huge wall. Then we’re back to have dinner, do our last shopping and collect luggage at hotel.
This should be our last train in China! :) Az was still feeling unwell when we were waiting at the departure lounge, and totally not in mood. I went to buy a few cup noodles for our food in train. And while we’re sitting at the bench this man was watching me giving a head massage to Az, and probably acknowledging that Az was sick, he came towards saying something in Chinese, then left, then came back again bringing something at his hands – 2 packets of something look like seeds. He asked Az to swallow them and giving a sign as if it’s some herbal medicine for head ache. It’s funny yet touching to know some stranger we dont even know in some foreign land would be so nice to us!
We woke up to our last day in Xinjiang, having Mischa cooked manta for us for breakfast. Had to pack thoroughly because we’re heading to a place 3 hours away by flight and apparently all instant noodles we had bought earlier from campus shop didnt have any space in our luggage no matter how much we wanted to keep them (they’re SUPER TASTY! And more importantly, Halal) and we decided to leave them for Mischa. That also includes our instant Tesco chicken curry (in picture) we brought all the way from home. The label “Kari Ayam Dengan Ubi Kentang” could have been the first Malay phrase ever attempted by Mischa, and it was not bad! (we were already impressed by his excellent English, and learning that he could read something in another foreign language perfectly didnt really surprise us). Anyhow.
And we had to tidy up the room! Thanks Mischa for the cozy beds! When all was ready and we had some more time to spend, it’s time to *force* Mischa to really show us the TV program (he had talked about earlier during dinner with Hasnat, I guess I didnt quite mention in previous post but nevermind) which he was in! And it was a MATCH-MAKING show, for goodness’ sake!! :D Soooooo.. this video is rather long but I promise it’s the most thrilling 7 minutes we found out about Mischa! If you have time please watch this so that you know that we have stayed at a house belongs to a TV star! :P WATCH THIS!
Cool, huh? And yes, that very program had been aired in Malaysia as well, although I couldnt remember what it’s called. Despite Mischa not making it until end of stage where he could have dated one of these girls, we gasped in surprise that this man was doing this show! And I bet it’s the girls’ loss for voting him out! No wonder he said he’s been receiving thousands of emails since then!
Then.. time for a proper farewell! Mischa played Kazakh ukulele-like instrument called DOMBRA. And after writing some postcards to mail, we carried our huge luggage walking down to catch taxi.
I had earlier contacted with a CSer from Singapore, namely Luna, who’s supposed to arrive in Urumqi today from Singapore, and we’re planning to have lunch with her before we depart for Xian. Although at this point of time we still havent heard anything or sms from her, and even Mischa made a call to a hostel where she could probably stay, just to know she has arrived and let her know our plan for having lunch at Kazakh restaurant by Mischa’s recommendation.
Staying a few days inside the campus brought me back to the university days I had, campus area is always a peaceful place to actually live in, no traffics, quiet, and most of time having groceries (and kebab stalls!) within walking distance. I’m gonna miss this place!
We went to post office by the street to mail my postcards!! I think I have spent almost 100 yuan on stamps! China stamps are expensive! (or, we’re used to cheap postage of Malaysia)
Since this is actually the only time we get to have a walk with Mischa, we were pretty much talking about everything we come across the streets. We were so lucky to stay with Mischa as he’s a truly Xinjiang man who’s so passionate to share every single thing about his homeland of culture mixpot.
After a while we realized we have walked quite far and Mischa offered to carry BOTH of our luggage. He’s a big man! We entered the Uyghur alley where we had been with Nazar before searching for shoes. And from afar there’s also Hui Mosque.
Again, passing by the cinema, with Titanic 3D poster showing, why not posing for a shot too? The Uyghur way perhaps? :)
Finally, we arrived at the Kazakh restaurant, located in a building actually. Mischa made an order for us as we had no idea what to expect. This is horse meat in slice. The restaurant, according to Mischa, is the place where Kazakh people come to meet friends and enjoy their ethnic food. And we noticed that some female folk in another table were looking at us, or precisely, at Mischa, coz he was a newly-talked TV star, remember?? :D I love that soup with noodle! And Az joined Mischa to try this camel’s milk. But I did not. And we are still waiting for a call from Luna, although by this time it seems hopeless to have her join our lunch here.
After lunch we took taxi heading to airport, and only when we were in taxi, we received sms from Luna! =,= it turned out because of difference network and roaming the sms was delivered hours late, and to our disappointment, had to forget the idea of meeting with her and wish her the best in exlporing Xinjiang!
It was when we were waiting to board, Az started feeling dizzy, and quickly gained to fever, and the 3 hours flight seemed like hell to him. We suspect it’s because of camel’s milk he drank earlier (which the only thing I did not try, thankfully!). Rest assured, arriving Xian by night didnt help much with his condition that we could not go around searching for cheap hostel, rather followed one of the hotel staff (that waited at the bus stop in center of Xian) to a hotel in back street (after I told her our budget), and brought us to this Super 8 hotel, with a room at 260 yuan per night. It was the most expensive room we had throughout our China journey, but I simply didnt have time to search for another when Az was having a high fever! Now I started worrying our stay in Xian would not be as smooth as we had planned…
Side Note: finally publishing a long – very long – pending post. Has it been a year? Or more? Well, a lazy post as it seems, apart from having this on hiatus for ages, I havent really got much exciting to tell about China especially episodes after we left Kashgar. Urumqi and afterwards were pretty ordinary, I tell ya.
We changed our mind with the plan to visit Nanshan pasture, as I dont know why, after the overrated Tianchi, we can assume that tourist places in Urumqi are expected to be, well, very touristy. Plus we have had a look photos by Mischa and Hasnat at Nanshan and it looks more like a forest park with some ladder rivers than a greeny grassfield like I had seen on internet. Probably the grassfield will appear after summer, and certainly not now. Therefore, today we decided to visit the museum and sightseeing Urumqi, and collect our Xian – Chengdu train ticket which has been booked by Derek online. We can collect it in Xian, but thinking that we only have one full day in Xian and its train station is probably larger and busier than Urumqi, plus we have a few hours to kill here, so we’d go to Urumqi train station.
Mischa cooked us very nice fried cabbage for breakfast. Last night we went to walk to buy some food in a shop inside the campus and got ourselves some bowls of Xinjiang instant noodles and 3-in-1 Nescafe (China version!), that we love alot! And yes, by almost 2 weeks being in China, we seem to have mastered the skill of using chopstick ;)
Later Mischa walked us to the bus station again in front of the university campus gate. He taught us which bus to take also important words Bowuguan (Museum) and Houce zan (train station) to tell the bus driver as alert.
This place is Russian area, where you can see rows of shoplots with Russian script signboards. Soon the bus arrived and we waved Mischa goodbye and started our day exploring Urumqi!
First we went to Urumqi museum. Entrance is free, which is good. Forgot to take picture of the building though. The museum is all about Xinjiang and Silk Road, I can say a really comprehensive one.
Scripts and sculptures. Pictures of Idkah mosque – which made us want to point out loud “I was here!” :) Oh and we didnt visit the Apakh Khoja tomb though. Too busy eating kebab lamb in Kashgar. Also there’s a model of Jiaohe ruins in Turpan, Kilgiz Buddha caves in Turpan, and China map.
I love this! Sculptures of people wearing Xinjiang ethnic costumes. A real bunch of colorful mix!
Ethnic caps (We recognize the common Uyghur green cap. And Mischa gave Az one Kazakh cap. How about the lot rest?), Kazakh ethnic, Hui ethnic, Kyrgyz ethnic, Russian ethnic. We aren’t really fans of musuems but this Urumqi museum is well worth a visit. It’s like a quick way to learn about Xinjiang and its people and culture in one place.
After museum we went to the train station. It was not good – long queues although for foreign counter (it seems they’re mixed) and we spent rather long there and Az missed Friday prayer – which is pity. We had lunch at KFC (which is lame, but many days eating lamb makes you sometimes want to try the “rare” chicken ;p) and later walked around main bazaar area to find mosque.
This mosque is the nearest to Bazaar. It’s currently under renovation so people proceed to basement area for prayers. As usual female area is not provided so I just made do with using a space near the hallway. While we’re in the bus going back to Xinjiang uni, Az spot his name at some signboard! :)
We called up Hasnat to meet us at Xinjiang uni and he brought us to the BRT station where this park is located. This lake is man made!
And here we saw the Great wall! In Urumqi! :D
You can actually go up walking on the “Great wall” but the entrance to it was already closed by the time we arrived.
On the way back to Mischa’s house, we passed by the Grand Bazaar again but this time we spot some crowds nearby. Night market is happening!
Got excited seeing these weird sheep heads again – after Kashgar – although we decided NOT to try this time :P Typical dumplings and sausage, but we still go for lamb kebabs, this could be the last Kebab after we leave Xinjiang! *sob!*
Claypot noodles on variety. I had mine, tasting somewhat different than usual soup noodle I had tasted. Theres some features in it probably seaweed or something but when you much it it feels like munching rubbers!
We came home to find out Mischa was having a guest. The friend is also Kazakh Chinese, and works in Kazakhstan. We had a quick chat that night, which is our final night in Urumqi before leaving the next day for Xian. Video below captures our food hunting at night market, among others ;)
Rewind to last night (as I forgot to include in last post): After dinner, Mischa and us went to pick our luggage in Hasnat’s aunty’s house, and we felt so bad for bringing the inconvenience to him (for not telling earlier that we had arrived early because plans changed, Kuqa disaster etc, and now we’re dragging him to some strangers’ house to pick our luggage at dark night). We then took bus to Xinjiang University – where Mischa’s house is located. Yes, he’s a Masters student in English and lives in a nice cozy apartment inside campus, and we’re given his lovely guest room to stay. Details about Mischa and his house will be in separate post.
After breakfast (Mischa cooked pilaf rice for us, how wonderful is that?) he walked us to the bus stop outside university gate and and helped us to get a taxi to get to the tour agent office near Red Hill, and arriving there, the tour office lady said we’re late (!) and we got into the van quickly. The van then went to pick a couple of other passenger, and later stopped by the highway, where we had to change for a bigger bus. Now we understand that this agent’s van only sends us to the tour bus that actually goes to Tianchi Lake, combining with passengers from other tour agents as well.
In the bus, we paid 100 yuan each to the bus representative, and when the bus representative asked for a few extra yuan for more extras, we freaked out and said our travel agent (who dont actually come along in this bus!! =.=) said it was 100 yuan only all in. Now the bus rep said it was only for bus going to lake and entrance ticket and lunch, but not including transfers until top (wth??) and tour guide. We said fine, we could walk by our own and we dont need guide in the first place. By the way, the conversation was translated by Jacky, a businessman from Shanghai having a quick getaway to Tianchi and is the only person who can speak English the bus. The bus rep gave a uneasy expression and asked us to sign some agreement (handwritten) that two of us (Az and I) will go around the lake without their guidance and they will not be responsible should anything happens to us. OMG!!!!! We started feeling regret for coming with tour agent but we have no choice now. We quickly signed the agreement, and to our surprise, Jacky, and a student (who got into the bus later), and 2 other Chinese woman behind us deciced to join us and sign the agreement as well!! :D We’ve now suddenly got friends – yes, friends who think just like us – detest guided tour!
The ride to Tianchi Lake took less than 1 hour, and there’s a very huge building complex which is the entrance! Hundreds of tour buses and cars are seen at the car park, and we’re now ready to bear some sappy touristy experience. After ticket checking, our group get into a smaller bus, which the designated tour bus inside the lake.
Now the nightmare begins. From the entrance gate to the top of hill (where the actual lake can be seen) I suppose shouldnt take too long. But can you belive that our bus first went to this herbal medicine show room and we have to waste 30 minutes listening to promoter about herbal medicine?? =.= Being the only foreigner around, it’s even worse to us not understand a word what she’s talking about. And they gave another 30 minutes for the tourists to browse the goods (and probably buy them) before we got into the bus again and continued the ride.
And it’s not ending here. The bus stopped at a large area where other tour buses stopped here as well. And this is the Kazakh yurt village (which I guess are fake and only tourist traps), one of visits that we didnt subscribe as “Add-ons” earlier, so we are not supposed to join them, yet still have to waste 1.5 hour waiting!!! (grr!!) We started hating the tour altogether, and Jacky screamed out loud “We’re not coming for these craps, we’re coming for the lake!!” Unfortunately only 6 of us who think the same way, while the rest of “pure” tourists from the bus were having fun watching Kazakh performance and trying out traditional costume to take photos. Therefor after more than 2 hours, we still couldnt see a sight of the lake.
The picture is me with the ladies who joined us excluding ourselves from the tourist traps! They’re so excited seeing me and asking to take alot of pictures together although they speak only Chinese. And Az with Hill, the student, who express his regret joining the tour as well. Later, we again (!) stopped at a restaurant and having the sappiest lunch ever. Yes, lunch is provided (plain pilaf rice) and again they gave time for the tourists to check souvenir shops nearby selling jade and stuff. Haih.
Alright, so I guess around noon, bus reached the parking space for tour buses. And we’re supposed to arrive soon. But not before everyone get a ride on a train buggy to transfer them to the lake. Again, we didnt subscribe for this service so we had to walk =.= We dont mind walking, and in fact, it’s so weird that these Chinese tourists are so lazy to walk for 5 minutes and need a buggy ride! When walking, you could hear love songs are played out loud from hidden speakers along the road. OMG, they do think tourists would enjoy the scenery more with music played in the air rather than nature sound?? I just can’t believe how commercialized this lake has been!
And finally, we saw the so-called Heavenly lake. After hours of journey!! Probably our mood isn’t as good by now, but the view is pretty stunning to enjoy anyhow. Finally, despite getting out from Mischa’s house early in the morning, we only, actually, arrived at the lake at 1pm!!! And we were told to gather at bus by 4pm to go back!
The lake was frozen, although the air was not that cold (probably coz it’s noon). During summer, the tourist would have a cruise by boat in the lake (with extra fees, of course). Now we escaped from the tourists bunch to walk around, although don’t know the route. This is so opposite to what I have read on internet, that you could hike around the lake and find Kazakh yurts settlement by the lakeside. At this point of time, they even put a No Entry sign to avoid people reaching the lakebank, with reason it’s dangerous at this time.
Some views. At the lookout point with our tripod.
A Kazakh boy who claimed from Rashit Yurt (featured in LP book) greeted us and asking if we’d like to stay in yurt. Yes, we were planning to overnight in yurt, but after all the “surprises” of how Tianchi Lake really is, I still don’t know if it’s still worth to stay. Chinese tourists will not overnight here, so the boy was targetting us. And he quoted 120 yuan per person (!) when I read it should be only 50 yuan! He said it was old rate, but still, we asked to have a look at the yurt first. So he walked us up to the village (which I forgot to take any pics, but it was in the video clip at the end of this post), and it seems the Kazakh nomads were shifted from lakeside to this hill top area, to build their yurts. There are around 30 yurts in the “village”, and some are located outside facing the lake. Other than this boy, other yurts seem like residential yurts, and the Kazakh people live here starting this season. We told him it’s too expensive, and he started lowering the price (until 80 yuan). We asked if he knows any public transport /or his father could send us to the bus station tomorrow to go back to Urumqi, since our return journey with the tour agent would void if we overnight here. There’s no sight of public taxi around the lake (only the designated tour buses!) except few local Kazakh’s cars so we can’t be sure how to go back to Urumqi if we decide to stay. And to our surprise and disappointment, he couldnt even answer our simple question!! =.= if he really stays here, how would usually he help travelers to get a ride back to Urumqi? Therefore, sorry dude, we have had so much disappointment today already. And apparently, there are no other yurt owners offering us to stay. Which is weird, but probably it’s not the right season for travelers to overnight here anyways (which explains why we dont see any foreigners around).
We’re back to the lookout point. And yes, these are part of hundreds other tourists enjoying the view with you. While Tianchi Lake is undoubtedly pretty, it’s TOTALLY the opposite of Karakul Lake in Kashgar we had been earlier, when there were only 3 visitors including us! Having said that, we felt so lucky that we made a visit to Karakul, if we only chose to come to Tianchi, I bet we’ll be regretting our Xinjiang trip for the rest of our life.
To cheer up ourselves, we started making all-time favorite jumping photos!
Az take one.
Ilyani take one.
Az take two. Flying, actually!
Ilyani take two. My best!
Our friend Jacky (yes, the businessman from Shanghai). He’s a skillful jumper, no doubt.
We left Tianchi Lake around 4pm, and still had to wait 30minutes in the bus for everyone to come back =.= And on our way back to Urumqi, there’s this emcee speaking non-stop in the bus throughout the journey about jade. Tired with another sappy trap already, but we had no choice when the bus stopped again (!) at a jade shop near the city for a good 30minutes to let everyone shopping. Jacky and some other people who got fed-up immediately took a cab by their own to continue the journey, but we, on the other hand, couldnt do the same as we dont even know what to say to taxi driver. Finally the sappy tourist bus managed to continue journey and dropped us nearby bazaar, where we then took BRT bus heading back to Mischa’s place in Xinjiang university.
Here’s the video. Our verdict on Tianchi? You can happily skip it, thank you.