Chengdu Half Day, and Bye-Bye China!

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.

Until next time, China! :)

Train from (dusty) Kuqa to Urumqi

The next morning, we woke up in the sappy hotel room seeing this view! *not amused*.. although, good news is the weather seems to have improved a little and we’re so in hope that our train will NOT be cancelled again today!

After long sleep and intense shower, we checked-out Traffic Hotel at 1pm Beijing time (11am local time), and headed straight away to Ihsan Rstaurant (again!), and it’s only now we realized that the restaurant was actually located just across the road from Traffic Hotel/ Bus station. The waitress lady yesterday was surprised to see us again (as it had been understood to here that we were leaving yesterday) and it was rather difficult to explain with sign language – all the hassle we had yesterday – and I didnt know how we managed it, probably showing her our new train ticket – for Urumqi this evening – would work. It was lunch time at Ihsan restaurant (unlike yesterday) so they started having lamb kebab!

The waitress lady seems to know us well at having trouble ordering food =.= so she instantly showed us some food she was bringing from kitchen – that people in other table had ordered – as if asking “would you like to try something like these too?” , which is, yes, perfect! The noodle with veggie+meat gravy is “Yirlik Alahida Laghman”,  12 yuan, and the fried pasta is “Ding Ding Souman”, 10 yuan. Should I say these are the most marvelous food we have ever had in Xinjiang other than lamb kebab? Probably we didnt get to eat in proper restaurant like this in Kashgar because street food were already more than enough to feed us, but here in Ihsan Restaurant, they’re surprisingly affordable yet delicious!

And that’s the picture of Az with the chef! :) We got to spend hours in the restaurant killing time until our train time, as we didnt plan to walk anywhere anymore today. The waitress lady came to us many times giving the best service (I asked some sugar to put in the chinese tea – which of course was weird to their sugarless-tea culture, and of all words I could think of, finally ‘sakar’ – sugar in Arabic, happens to give her the best hint!).

She was trying to ask if we had a baby, and then telling that she has one of 2-months and showed us a photo of her with husband and baby. And when we showed us our Marriage card (issued in Kelantan) we were amused that she could read Jawi (old Malay script using Arabic alphabet) on the card saying “Majlis Agama Islam Kelantan” fluently. Their marriage cert in China on the other hand, is in a form of booklet like passport, and she showed us hers too.

The waitress lady giving her welcome greetings, all the way in Kuqa!

It was around 2pm local time when we left Ihsan restaurant, but before that, we asked to do jama prayer there, so the waitress lady gave us to use their common room. Not the most convenient because it’s next to kitchen and their prayer place is also like a storage room. But we got prepared in case it would be crowded in Train station today and would be awkward to do prayer in waiting lounge like yesterday.

Anyhow. Our Kuqa stop might have been pointless in a way that we didnt really go to visit anything, not even the market or mosque, but mostly wasting time in railway station, Ihsan Restaurant and Traffic Hotel, but that’s our version of Kuqa story!

Arriving at railway station, it was crowded as expected, because I guess many people were also stranded like us yesterday after train cancelled, PLUS many groups who were supposed to be flying (yes, Kuqa has an airport) couldnt proceed because flights might still not be running thanks to bad weather, and had to change to riding trains last minute.

At the platform we met a group of German travelers with a Chinese tour guide, they have just done desert trip in Korla and heading to Turpan.

Watch the video to see our double-decker train to Urumqi! I have read before that Xinjiang has double decker trains but least we expected that we got to ride one!

This is our third train, and the only soft sleeper (323 yuan, upper berth). Earlier, we had hard sleeper for route Chengdu- Lanzhou and Lanzhou-Urumqi, which was perfect either. The soft-sleeper is a little luxury, it’s in closed cabin it even has this silk-road theme curtain! We had upper berth both, and luckily the lower berth passenger only came in a couple of hours after Kuqa, so until then, we had all the cabin for ourselves! :) Like usual, we like to walk around to other coach and now see the interior of the double-decker car! The train will take 18 hours to reach Urumqi (880km)

Kuqa disaster, and Ihsan Restaurant

The bus dropped us by the road side somewhere in town, which we only realized much later that there was the bus station across the road (hence stopping here). We quickly noticed something obviouly wrong about this place right now – Kuqa was in heavy haze/dust/smoke/whatever you call it. After picking up our luggage, the bus then left to continue the journey to next destination (Kuqa apparently is a stop in the middle).

We were clueless where to start at this place, and we need to look for somewhere to put our luggage before probably going to walk around the town. But the heavy haze doesn’t look promising so we randomly entered a restaurant by the road side, with Uyghur signboard (you can find a few in between a row of Chinese restaurants). It’s Ihsan Restaurant.

Finally I found the best soup noodle (it’s called “Tangman”) in Kuqa! Only 4 yuan per bowl, and we had two. I just went to check what people were eating at other tables and pointed as if saying “I want this food!” to the waitress, who was probably wondering “who are these people with huge backpack who dress and look like Uyghur but couldnt speak a word in Uyghur.. “. And they also have delicious manta, 1yuan per piece.

We told them that we’re going to train station by showing train ticket for Turpan this evening, but before that we want to see the Kuqa mosque and town, so the waitress lady told us the number of bus to take and which direction.

Az with Mr Ihsan, the restaurant owner. This restaurant is very recommended by us! And the waitress lady, which we assume that she’s daughter of Mr Ihsan.

We managed to catch a bus going to town (which I refer to the place probably we can see market and mosque). And it was then when we realized that we HAD LEFT OUR SHOES IN THE SLEEPER BUS FROM KASHGAR!! =.= I know, it was my fault for taking them inside bus to put underneath berth while Az already had tied them to our luggage in bus compartment, but it was such a hurry when we got down bus this morning that we didnt double check our stuff! We’re now left with our crocs only, with still one week of journey to complete.

Town bus fare is 1 yuan as usual, but in Kuqa the bus conductor gives ticket! (in Kashgar you just simply put the money into box in front of driver and that’s it – no ticket). Oh, and yes, they have bus conductor here (person who issues ticket), and it’s a young lady (the one with black skirt and scarf!) When we told her that we’re going to train station afterwards, she instantly helped to write something in Uyghur in our book so we could show it to our next bus going to train station (which we understood that we need to change bus at some point).

Watch the video on the bus ride showing dusty Kuqa! Arriving the so-called town, it was really “sleepy” as described, and dusty air makes us uncomfortable to actually walk around. We couldn’t find any place to put our luggage here, so we decided to go immediately to train station and see.

Bus to train station doesn’t really stop in front of the terminal building, but at a junction of main road so you have to ask around fellow passengers and let them know you’re going to train station. From bus drop place, we had to walk for 300 m towards the building.

Az keeps stressing that the dusty air is too serious and it doesn’t seem right to go around outdoor at this condition. I on the other hand was trying to take it easy as if it might be common for Kuqa (I have read some cities in China have quite bad air pollution index, only I didnt expect to experience it here at this time) and afterall, everyone seems to survive in this dusty air.

I mean, it would be a waste if we stop by a new place but not go  sightseeing it, am I right?

When we arrived at the train station, we still couldn’t find a place we could leave the luggage. Kuqa train station is the least busy train station we have been in China. The waiting lounge was mostly empty, and we could even make our temporary shelter here. Then again, probably it’s not within the hours train is stopping, hence the few people. Az suggested us to stay here until the train comes, but it’s 6 hours to go! :-(

After hours killing the time at the waiting lounge, Az finally got tired seeing me sulking, so he suggested, “okay, let’s go to the town, but if you get sick, dont blame me..”

Anyhow. Az might be right, the dusty air seems very unhealthy at this time, you can’t really ‘sightsee’ much coz everything in distant is almost invisible, covered by dusty air. We made a stop in the middle of the road and instead of exchanging bus to town, we went into a grocery shop instead to get some water, instant noodles and biscuits, then headed back to train station.

Two hours before our scheduled train, there was earlier train passing, and our train should be next, so we waited patiently while preparing our Milo and instant noodle. Suddenly a train officer came to us saying something in Chinese with a serious face expression, and when I said we dont understand Chinese, she still kept on talking. I thought that she had noticed us staying at the waiting lounge rather too long since morning and probably suspected us trying to overnight here, so I showed her our train ticket for Turpan that was coming in 2 hours. And she kept on stressing “Moua! Moua!”, shaking her head.

Panic, I made a call away to Ahmad, a CouchSurfer who will be our host in Turpan, telling him to talk to the train officer then translate to us. And to our shock, we’re told that our train today has been CANCELLED because of sand storm! That explains a lot the dusty air outside, but now we’re stranded here! We can’t even go sightseeing Kuqa yet we have to stay another day in here, isn’t that a total nightmare?? Shortly later, everyone at the waiting lounge was paying attention to TV news showing sand storm happening from the desert near Korla, and now many flights, trains and buses have been delayed and cancelled, while some having terrible accidents.

To summarize all the hassle and panic in two hours afterwards, we had to return our tickets at the counter to get refund and buy new tickets for tomorrow. And we couldnt get our money back because our ticket had been booked by Derek online and the only way is to ask Derek cancel and get refund for us. So we called Derek and got help, also asked him to talk to the ticket counter person when buying new ticket. And the only train safe to be running tomorrow departs at 4.30pm the earliest! Needless to say, only expensive soft-sleeper tickets available. OMG, we’re gonna waste another 24 hour in Kuqa for nothing! ~.~ Having no choice, we had to buy ticket directly to Urumqi (had to say sorry to Ahmad as we wouldnt have many days left anymore to stop by Turpan, which is pity, such tragedy on trip like this!).

We then took a taxi to go to town (bus from train station suddenly stopped operation!), and find ourselves a possible cheap hotel to overnight. Traffic Hotel is one of alternatives mentioned in LP book, and it’s located just next to the Kuqa bus terminal. At 120 yuan, the room is very basic and old, but we were too tired after the long day of disaster and all we need is a good, long sleep before leaving this town tomorrow.

Friday Prayer at Id Kah Mosque

We have been waiting for Friday so much, ever since I started planning itinerary for Kashgar I would arrange it so that Az could spend time attending Friday prayer at Id Kah mosque and I could watch the crowd. Even when our itinerary changed a bit when we went to Karakul one day later we still chose to skip going to Tashkurgan just because want to be back in Kashgar by Friday!

Wanna know why? Because we’re hoping to see the crowd as we’ve seen on internet (check Google images here) and although the images were taken during Eid prayer, I cant help but hope to watch the (almost) similar crowd for Friday prayer too.

Az gets the camera, and I’d wait outside with camcorder to film the crowds during prayer (and see notes at the side bar to know why you dont see any video attached here). I keep watching increasing number of men walking towards and into mosque, and some young boys standing in front of the entrance selling blue-colored “disposable” plastic prayer rug for 1 yuan for those who dont bring their prayer rug.

Sitting around me are several women whom I guess are waiting for their husbands too. Although, when prayer was about to start, a police officer came to disperse us and ask to wait somewhere not too near to the mosque. And I could hear the sound of prayer preach/Khutbah clearly and the thought of Az listening khutbah in Uyghur language makes me smile. According to Az, he was feeling sleepy like usual during any Friday khutbah, yet was amazed to witness that every single man around him was paying full attention to the preach. In Malaysia, half of the audience would easily fall asleep.

To my disappointment, when the prayer starting, the crowd was only a little exceeding the entrance stairs, so this proves that the large crowd filling the entire mosque yard only happens during Eid prayer.

After Friday prayer is over, Az got to watch several woman holding plates of food (dried fruits?) standing at the entrance and men coming out of the mosque would stop and blow at the food, and some look like spitting. Which is weird, and only after we’re back to Urumqi later, Nazar told us that it’s a traditional practice for people who can’t afford to get sick family member to doctor and this alternative is to let religious men recite prayers on the food in a way so that it somehow becomes medicine. Or so we’re told.

After Friday prayer, the street going back to hostel apparently has turned into a busy afternoon street market. We look around to see if there’s anything interesting to get. It’s like a common atmosphere you can find in any flea market, people selling just everything. There are even people selling used office shirts, they’re clean, looking new and cheap so we managed to stop and waste a few minutes browsing the items, although ended up not buying. I was also tempted to buy some leftover fabrics (good quality and price starts from 3 yuan!) but thinking that I hardly have time for sewing and it would give unnecessary extra weight to our luggage, so forget it.

We passed by an old woman selling Uyghur cap, which is unusual since we have come across many shops selling them and they’re run by men, and she’s selling it for only 20 yuan! (We have asked many places before and they’re 30-50 yuan) so Az says it’s time to buy one for him, as well as additional 2 for souvenir.

Az wearing Uyghur cap, and from the moment he wears it, we always get friendly stares from the locals, as if they’re saying to each other “Look, there’s tourist trying to be Uyghur!”. It feels rather good, and even funnier when people have to look twice at us to ensure if we’re locals or tourists. It also happens several times when we stop by shops and places, people would ask from where and how much we bought the cap. I mean, it’s like a necessary question!

This is our neighbor restaurant, they’re just two doors away from our hostel and we get to see them every time we go out from and return to hostel, and they would smile at us and we would exchange wave. Today, we decided to give a courtesy stop at their restaurant and have a couple of lamb kebabs. And additional to lamb kebab, they gave us free lunch!! :D It’s a large plate of noodle and I must say it taste really good! Despite the communication barrier, we feel so welcome by them and they’re trying to express their pleasure to meet fellow Muslims from far away (which is funny that had to “test” us by asking us to read some verses framed on their wall, and we did).

After lunch, we went to take bus to go to train station to change our ticket. Why? Because we realized we have come to like this place even more. Now Az asks if it’s possible we extend our stay in Kashgar, rather than going to Kuqa, Turpan and Urumqi that early. As for now, our confirmed itinerary will be:

Today (Friday) to Sunday: Kashgar. Sunday evening take bus for Kuqa (have to go buy bus ticket tomorrow).
Monday: Arrive Kuqa Monday morning, one day sight seeing, then take night train to Turpan
Tuesday: Arrive Turpan, meet CSer Ahmad and visit Tuyoq village
Wednesday: Around Turpan, and take afternoon bus to Urumqi (2 hours). Meet CSer Mischa.

After a discussion, we decided to skip Kuqa and Turpan and will buy either direct flight or train ticket to Urumqi from Kashgar. It will take 24 hour train or expensive 500+ yuan flight, now we have to choose between saving money or time. But before that, we already have train ticket from Kuqa to Turpan which had already been booked by Derek earlier. So if we are really determined to skip Kuqa and Turpan, we have to cancel the train ticket, or change it to new route Kashgar – Urumqi for Tuesday/Wednesday. Then again, we’ll only save 1 or 2 days extra in Kashgar and we’re still contemplating if this will be worth skipping Kuqa and Turpan. Anyhow. Now we’re going to train station to see if we can change the ticket, or refund it. If it can be done, then we’ll extend our stay in Kashgar, just to eat more lamb kebabs! :)

So we had to ask a favor from our hostel’s manager to write Chinese translation on our book so we’ll just simply show the message at the ticket counter (yes, don’t expect that they would understand English!).

Arriving at the train station, we quickly ran into ticket counter (like any other train station in China, the ticketing center is usually located outside the terminal building). There’s only one counter operating so the queue was rather long. The officers are all Chinese, no doubt. We have to bear with some tensed moment when some men in front of us falling into argument with the ticket officer, and after a while we could notice that the officer is being prejudice towards Uyghur people and for any reason would yell at them loudly in Chinese. On the other hand, she would talk normally and politely to fellow Chinese, even those who look and smell drunk. Fear of being in the racism dispute, I asked Az to remove his Uyghur cap before dealing at the counter.

When I showed the translated messages with our ticket, the ticket officer was saying something in Chinese and refused our tickets and it was a hell of pain that none of the fellow officers understand us. It took some time for her to ask the guard to go out and search for someone who could talk to us, and like 15 minutes later, a neat lady in uniform approached us explaining what’s going on. I guess she’s a senior officer or something.

She said our tickets cannot be exchanged or refund here because they had been booked via internet (by Derek) and the only possible way is to change it at the boarding place, in this case, at Kuqa! Why on earth would we want to go to Kuqa just to change tickets when our aim now is to NOT going to Kuqa?? =.=

Feeling upset, we left the train station, went to nearby shop to buy pomegranate juice and took bus back to town. We try to cheer ourselves by thinking that it’s meant to be and we need to follow itinerary as planned, and we get to try sleeper bus to go to Kuqa, and meet CSer Ahmad in Turpan, and we’ll still be within budget. Yeah, we’re sticking to our plan finally.

Train journey: Lanzhou to Urumqi

Train T197 Depart Lanzhou 11:00. Arrive Urumqi 07:35 (actual arriving 9:30 – 2 hours late! Total 22.5 hours). Distance: 1892km
Hard sleeper bottom 390 RMB
Hard sleeper upper 365 RMB

The second train. Before we come to China, we had in mind that it’s too much to ride 2 long journey trains in a row for 3 days.. I thought we would suffer bored and got nothing to do. I even wanted to bring 3 books to read in train, plus LOMA notes that I was going to take exam in May. But we have come to rather enjoy the train ride (of course, there’s boring times too) and it does feel like faster than we thought. I am not even reading books (except checking Lonely Planet PDF chapter). We’re almost there! :) I mean, it’s survivable.

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