Our Trip to XinJiang: Part 5 of Many 14

Day 5:
We got up in Aksu (阿克蘇地區) and went on our way to Kashgar (喀什).  This day was mostly a travel day as we needed to cover 467 kilometers, which according to Google will take just over 10 hours.  We stopped over at a small town for lunch, and had other short gas and bio breaks. Other than that, we were pretty much on the road the entire day.  We did manage to stop for more road side shots mid drive though, how could we resist?  Look at those mountains!

Once we got to Kashgar, we were debating where to go eat.  Siu Bo said there was a restaurant where they would perform local folk dances while we ate and thought that was something we should experience.  However, when we asked whether the food there was any good, he frowned and basically said it was "doable".  As we were debating whether watching this dance was worth our giving up good food, Siu Bo parked the car out front and said the performance is about to start, and we can always go in, take a walk around like we're looking for something, watch the dance for a bit and then come back out!  So that's what we did.  We went inside admiring the decor, and wandered around the restaurant.  To our dismay, there was no performance that night, so we left and went on our way.

Outside the restaurant with the folk dancing.

We ended up going to Little Sheep (肥羊) Mongolian Hot Pot restaurant for dinner!  We picked this place because it's become an international chain with locations in Hong Kong, Japan, Canada and the U.S.  We've been to the store in Toronto, so we really wanted to try the one in XinJiang since their lamb would be that much fresher and authentic.  And they didn't disappoint us!  At the doorway, they were already promoting fresh, organic lamb, which we wouldn't get back home and instead of the the all you can eat style in North America, we actually had to order off the menu.  The menu showcased different dishes indicating which cut of the lamb we're ordering (something else we didn't have back home), and whether it'll be thin or thick sliced.  They also served ice cold beer! Woot!  Needless to say, we had a blast.

Morning of Day 6:
We woke up early the next day and headed out to Shipton's Arc (天門) as the sun was coming up.  It was about 45 minutes outside of Kashgar and we had to drive off road through some farmers fields to get to the bottom of the trail.  The trip there was really pretty, especially during dawn.

We had Siu Bo stop the car to get some pictures of this herd of sheep we passed by.  There was a dog by the house barking at us the whole time we were taking photos, and you can see another dog at the top of the hill. (Left)

The road ahead we have to drive through.

We spotted two (wild?) camels in the distance.

A farmer's house

From the foot of the mountain, it took us about an hour to get up to the top of Shipton's Arc.  There was actually a sign that warned us at the base, of the dangers going up.  It proved to be an interesting hike.  There were twisty narrow paths, icy terrain, rusty metal steps and a wooden ladder bridge!  Siu Bo came up the mountain with us as he's never been up to the top either, and also to make sure we would be safe.

Top Left: Kel on a twisty narrow path.
Top Right: Annie and Kel climbing up some narrow rusty steps as Siu Bo waited at the top to lend her a hand.
Bottom: One of the half frozen rusty steps we had to climb.

Left: Flora and Annie passed through a wooden ladder laid horizontal as a bridge across a gap in the rock formation.
Right: The steep icy path up.

We finally caught sight of the "mother of all holes" as the Aussies put it.

Kel being Kel.. what else can I say? LoL :)

Looking down at the snowy path we came with Kel behind me.

Flora and Annie on the way up.

Look at how steep the path was!

The arc at the top! Mother of all holes! You can see the mountains in the distance through the hole.  And no, we couldn't look down the other side unless we leaned down, which we didn't really want to do..

When we got to the top, all there was to prevent us from falling off the other side was a flimsy chain joined by short metal posts.  The link at the end was broken off the last post almost like someone fell over the edge!  Annie and I didn't venture that far out as we were both afraid of the altitude we were at.  Only Kel and Flora kept going.  The view at the top was extraordinary.  Much more than we could capture especially with the size of the arc and the limited places we could position ourselves.

Kel and Flora at a distance, hiking further up the slippery slope, while I sat by the broken link fence.

The view of the arc at the top. (Photo courtesy of Flora.)

Pics of Kel and I at the top, courtesy of Flora!

As we were leaving, we spotted some (wild?) horses in the distance.

We saw a herd of baby lambs, too!  We saw this one fall off a small slope and made many attempts to scramble back up.  So cute!

Day 6 to be continued!

Our Trip to XinJiang: Part 4 of Many 14

This post took me a while to do.  I didn't realize we actually covered that many things in one day, hence, let this be your warning.  A LOT of pictures in this post.

Day 4:
We woke up in Kuqa and spent the first part of our morning there exploring the town.  Of all the cities and towns in our trip, we enjoyed Kuqa the most, and not just for the buildings and culture, but for the people as well.  The dwellings in Kuqa were unique in that they were mostly large one story brick buildings resembling our plazas in Canada, with families in different units.  Siu Bo taught us that you can tell how wealthy a family is by their front door.  The better off the family, the more intrinsic the design on their door.

A family's house/store front

Left: Locals on their way to work
Right: The local butcher stand

Left: A family of chickens we found running along the street
Right: The local taxi

Left: The local rice and cornmeal stand
Right: A manhole cover I spotted on the street.. I didn't dare step on it to test it's strength..

Next, we went to explore a smaller residential street and came upon a house that caught our attention.  The family there were setting up a naan (馕) stand in front of their house and while we were busy taking photographs, they welcomed us by letting us take pictures of them at work.  They opened the door to their kitchen, where we saw two women prepare the raw dough and an old man tending the oven.  When we were about to leave, they gave us a piece of naan to try!  We tried to pay them for it, but they refused to take our money.  This was definitely a unique experience we did not expect, especially in China.

Left: The house that caught our attention.
Right: The naan bread (馕) stand at their door.

Left: The kitchen where they worked.
Right: The naan cooking in their oven.  Over the duration of our trip, we found that they baked things like bread by sticking them to the side of the oven wall.

Left: The piece of naan bread they gave us.  We almost forgot to take a picture!  Some of us obviously ate a lot faster than others!
Right: Looking into a side alley to the locals houses.

Next, we headed to the Kuqa Subash Ruined City, otherwise known as the Subash Buddhist Temple Ruins (庫車蘇巴士古城 - 蘇巴什佛寺).  It was interesting, but there was only one building that was fully standing.  All the rest were either piles of rubble or only had a few walls left.  While we were exploring, we ran into an Australian couple, Ian and Tracey.  Alas, more English speaking folks!  They told us they had took the train south to Dunhuang (敦煌) and traveling north back up to Urumqi.  Of their travels thus far, one attraction that stood out the most was Shipton's Arc (天門).  They highly recommended it and called it "mother of all holes"!  The arc wasn't listed in any travel books and definitely had us intrigued!

The Subash Buddhist Temple Ruins

Our picture with Ian and Tracey before we went our separate ways.

When we got back to the car, we asked Siu Bo about Shipton's Arc, whether he knew where it was and how we could fit it into our agenda.  Siu Bo had a vague idea as to what we were talking about and said he could take us there.  He didn't think there was much to see there, but we could go check it out later on.  Sounds like a plan!  From there, we headed to the TianShan Canyon of Kuqa (天山神秘大峽谷).  The canyon is made up of maroon mountains on either side, and goes about 5.5km deep.  The formations at this canyon was much more interesting than the last.  Depending on which part of the canyon we were at, the temperature could differ by at least five degrees!  We weren't sure whether this was the case all year round, because we could still see a bit of ice on the ground and in the notches where the sun couldn't get to, and this could be what's causing the effect.  No matter what the reason was, it was definitely quite refreshing!  Even though we knew there might not be much at a fork, we'd go in to cool down, as the narrow forks tend to be quite cool like walking in to a refrigerator!  What made this canyon even more interesting was that when we got to a certain point, there was a sign that  told us the path would get more treacherous and "proceed at your own risk".  We enjoyed this section a lot more as the trail narrowed, required more climbing and had random obstacles for us to overcome.  The only regret we had was not knowing about the second part of this trail as we had spent too long on the first half taking pictures and now was unable to complete the entire route.  This canyon only has one entrance meaning we would have to go out the way we came.

The entrance to the canyon.

The magnificent rock formations once inside.

Our first encounter with ice in the canyon.
Left: Kel and I "ice-skating" in the canyon.

Left: There were a few buddhas in the canyon.  Notice the chain ladder up the side?  It was tied up to prevent people from climbing up.  From the sign posted at this site, it seems like tourists might have been allowed up at some point in time.  We also saw railings at the top that shows that might have been the case.
Right: An amazing sight!  A big piece of boulder wedged between the two sides.  We were able to crouch down and walk to the other side.  Do you notice something at the bottom of the boulder?

That's right!  Kel's holding the big boulder up! LoL

We found some deer statues when we exited.

We left Tianshan Canyon towards where Siu Bo thought was Shipton's Arc (in Chinese pronounced as Tianmen).  He took us to the entrance of Tianmen canyon, but the road in was closed.  At the entrance, we inspected the signs and pictures that were posted and were convinced that this wasn't the place the Aussies had described.  We called the Aussies' tour guide to try to get more information and directions, but he was very vague and refused to let up much more than he already had.  Siu Bo started calling his other contacts to see if anyone else has heard of such a place and where it could be.  It was then that he had actually started driving and forgotten to release his hand brake.  We realized soon after and had to stop to let the brakes cool down.  No worries though, it may have been a hot day, but in XinJiang, beauty is all around us.  We can always past our time taking more pictures!

Check out those mountains!  The layers and the colours are not like anything we've ever seen! And this is randomly at the side of the road!

Left: Piggyback ride!
Right: Another of our crazy pose pictures

After our break, we continued onwards to our last attraction of the day, the Kizilgaha Thousand Buddha Caves, otherwise known as the Kizil Thousand Buddha Grottoes (克孜爾千佛洞)  in Kezi'erxiang (克孜爾鄉).  These ones were actually caves we went into with a guide who told us stories about the paintings on the cave walls.  We couldn't take any pictures inside the caves though because cameras weren't allowed to help preserve the relics.  What we did notice inside the caves was the commonality that statues would be missing as well as cave paintings.  The guide said that over the years, random discoverers that came by would take them back to their home country and it was only in recent years that the government had stepped in to prevent them from doing so.

Left: The Grottoes from the outside. There were actually other tourists at this site!
Right: A statue at the bottom

Left: We spotted a family of chickens running around.
Right: The tree lined road exiting the Buddha Caves.  Apparently, this was quite common in other parts of the province.  We'll see a lot more of these as the days go on.

We left the Kizil Thousand Buddha Grottoes and headed into Aksu for the night.  Distance travelled on day 4 was approximately 294 kilometers.  It might not seem much in North American standards, but for all the non major roads we took, Google's mapped it to just over 7 hours.