Lanzhou, and Hui Muslim community

We took rather long time to decide to leave our luggage at the railway luggage center. As we only have less than 2 hours to do some walks nearby and paying 20yuan for each bag sounds so expensive. Az wants to carry his bag while I dont find it a good idea to keep these huge luggage on our backs for 2 hours. Anyhow, when thinking, we find ourselves crossing the street already. So yes, we’ll carry the luggage for one hour.

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The Most Isolated Place We Have Stayed

Many years ago, I used to whine over USM Engineering Campus being so remote from things and places I can call a habitat. I would always refer Nibong Tebal as a deserted place. I know that was only me being so emotionally unadventurous. Until I really came to stay for an isolated place you can’t even see people around. Like, VERY isolated. And I’ve know got a new picture to define that.

Karakul Lake, located 5 hours south of Kashgar by bus. In reality, it can hardly be recognized as a place mentioned in Lonely Planet for its inhabitant, empty look. Not even any signboard saying the name. When we got down from the bus (only Az and I!) in the middle of the mountains, the first in my mind was, “OMG, this. Place. Is. So. EMPTY!” Although, I had never expected a busy supermarket here either. But, we had never imagined that only two of us would come to this place at this time.

Maybe it was not yet the season. Middle of April. And yes, it’s cold. But the amazing thing was, you have all the lake and mountains for yourself. This is the view we had in our left.

Nobody, really. I had thought that Kyrgyz locals would set up their yurts around the lake, but that’s in summer. They actually live in a village 10 minutes by bike from here (so does our yurt owner). The Muztagh Ata mountain, sitting peacefully at our right.

And at the back, the one and only yurt at this point of time. Where we spent a freezing night with a traditional burner that failed around 3am >.< and far at the corner.. yes, you spot it right.. is the outdoor toilet. A literally open toilet, the only toilet I have used where you can see the most beautiful views (the first 2 pictures) while doing the business.

 

Train journey: Chengdu to Lanzhou

Train K1058
Depart Chengdu 12:05, Arrive Lanzhou 09:15. Duration: 21 hr 10min. Distance: 1172km
Hard sleeper upper 256 RMB
Hard sleeper bottom 274 RMB

Our very first China train. 1 of 4. First impression of the hard sleeper class: not as hard as they’re called. We got one upper berth and one lower berth, and in different compartment. The arrangement is done automatically by the online system and as Derek says, we can find possibility to ask for changing berth with anyone who dont mind. Communication is hard being the only foreigners on board and nobody can speak English, but sign and body language makes everything possible here. Within a few hours, we managed to negotiate with a man to switch berth so Az and I could at least be in the same compartment and row. One of us gets the upper ticket and another gets the lower berth ticket. It’s okay since we can both sit together in lower berth during the day, and for sleep at night, Az would climb up to sleep at upper berth.

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Chengdu with Derek

Rewind to 24 hour earlier: Az just arrived in KL from KB at midnight and I have been mad at him since 2 days for cancelling flight ticket I had booked for him to come back 2 days earlier (for packing!). Now we barely have half day to pack for our China trip. I mean, I havent started yet! (My policy is I never do the packing alone while he’s away. No way!). But we end up too tired and sleepy to start packing at 1am (after work somemore) and decided to get up early morning to get started. It’s already insane to do last minute packing when you’re heading for 18 days trip overseas and you have to leave the house before 2pm to catch airport bus, still, we managed to wake up late that morning and hence a rush packing (ugh!). With a quick stop at McDonalds for brunch, 1 hour+ bus to airport, we almost had to kiss our trip goodbye when the luggage check-in counter was nearly closing! We were the last! I was gonna have a heart attack! End of rant.

Now. We arrived around 11pm in Chengdu Airport, and the moment we got worried that we couldnt get through Derek’s phone when using mobile phone belongs to a girl in the same flight, Derek was right at the arrival hall, smiling and waving at us. (Read here how we get to know Derek from CS). We immediately followed him to his car, both surprisingly and unsurprisingly a BMW 3-series, and had a ride directly to his house. And the first thing we noticed when we landed in China other than Chengdu being so cold (brr!!), all the signboards and building signage are in Chinese and we hardly see anything English!

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Riding (73 hours) trains in China

Luckily it was not 73 hours in one go (otherwise I cannot imagine how horrible the long-trains syndrome would affect us). 73 hours in 4 trains, and still, they’re considered long-journey trains (21 + 22 + 16 + 14 hours). It was rather a good decision to switch trains in Lanzhou, although it’s not our place to even stay for a day, otherwise the only available direct Chengdu – Urumqi is 47 hours train.

Unlike Indian trains, we cannot book China train online. At least not by ourselves. Had to seek help from our CouchSurfing friend Derek (who earlier visited us in KL, and also hosted us in Chengdu) to book for us since the online booking is only available in Chinese. Still, we had to collect the actual ticket (in picture hold by Az) in the train station, therefore it’s still so much hassle, especially in the stations full of long queues, there’s no sign in English and if we’re lucky, there will be (only) one person who can speak English among the train officers.

We choose hard-sleeper class for our trains, and when after boarding, an officer would come to collect the tickets, give us cards with our berth number (and random pictures) to keep all the way during the journey. Right before we get off, the officer would turn up again to collect back the cards in exchange of our train tickets. We still dont know why this system is practiced.

Hard-sleeper coach has 3 bunk beds like this so 6 persons share a common area. Most of time we got one top bed and one bottom bed. It’s good as we can still sit together at the bottom bed during the day, and either of us would climb up to top bed for sleeping at night.

People who has middle bed usually sits at the bench in the aisle, or sometimes people in bottom bunk invite them to sit at their place for a while. Within a few hours, everyone seems to be comfortable to each other and talk and eat together. Although they can’t speak English, it’s so cool that they’re still speaking to us in Chinese and most of time we’ll reply with sign languages.

They usually bring several instant noodles (in big paper bowl!) as their breakfast, lunch and dinner throughout the journey. As for us, we did pack some Tesco ready-to-eat food and sardines, Maggi mee, 3-in-1 Nescafe and Milo for our only means of food in the train.

There’s a restaurant if you like, but we werent sure if food is Halal and we could only buy plain rice from there to eat with our food. By the 3rd day of train, we managed to finish most of the food and turn our heavy luggage much lighter :)

The views from Chengdu to Lanzhou. Traveling by train spanning thousands kilometers does amaze us of how huge is the land of China!

Sometimes train would stop at a station where there will be 5-10 minutes break, so we had a chance to quickly jump out and get some fresh air while stretching our muscles.

And maybe, buy some breads and biscuits from the platform stalls before continuing the journey for another ten hours. Although, the breads aren’t really good.

Left picture: The full view of 3 bunk beds in hard-sleeper coach. Right: View from top bunk, showing the aisle in the train. There’s a space up there to put your luggage.

Now, this is our only soft-sleeper train! We had to buy the tickets during last minute when our expected Kuqa-Turpan train was cancelled due to sand storm, and the next Kuqa-Urumqi train only had soft-sleeper tickets available. I will put long and complete story later in the travelogue. Although very expensive, we had to admit that it was really neat, clean and comfortable, in a private lockable cabin. Well, it depends with whom you’re sharing the cabin with :) We were lucky  to have the whole cabin for ourselves for a few hours before old couple who sit in the bottom beds boarded in.

And this train (Kuqa-Urumqi) is double decker! :D I guess we wouldnt have taken this train if it was not because of the earlier train canceled (that we got really cranky about!). I cannot say the soft-sleeper and double decker train can pay off the time wasted in dusty Kuqa and missing the chance to visit Turpan, but at least, I guess by this time we’re already cooled-off :)

And this is our last train Xian to Chengdu, in the end of the whole trip before flying home. Note that were left off with our Crocs for the whole second week of trip when I made a biggest mistake for leaving our shoes in sleeper bus in Kuqa =.= And Az started blaming me all the way until we return home. Okaylah I know it’s my mistake, but now I already replaced your shoes, and let’s not talk about the forgotten shoes ever again, okay?