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.