In order to make it to the point where we were able to begin pedalling, we gave up our jobs in Perth, sold our possessions – bar for a small container – and enjoyed a final scenic road trip up the west coast of Australia to Darwin. We enjoyed an interesting 2 weeks holidaying in India; ‘interesting’ due to it being the absolute dichotomy of the conservative Australia we had left behind. A flight across the Himalayas landed us at our starting point: Kashgar, in the Western Chinese Province of Xinjiang.
Kashgar lies at a natural intersection of pathways between East and West and is therefore a melting pot of cultures, faces, languages and dwellings, and not at all the China we were expecting. Arab, Persian and Turkic influences are seen throughout the city; all under the watchful eye of a towering statue of Mao Zedong, one of the few left in the country.
The first notable challenge upon arrival into Kashgar is to determine what the time is. China operates on a single time zone, which is odd for a country roughly the size of Australia. As a result, the good people of Kashgar refer to ‘Beijing time’ – which is the actual time – and ‘local time’ being two hours later– which is the time everyone wishes it was (and the time it probably should be). The two terms are frequently interchanged, with no apparent consensus on which time everyone should operate under. The single time zone was a former brainchild of Emperor Mao to create unity within the county, and it would be safe to say that a significant by-product of this unifying initiative has been some pretty tardy meetings and a few missed dentist appointments.
With the help of a Taiwanese chap who’d just ridden solo across from Taiwan, we were able to locate a Merida bike shop shop through a dust storm, from where we bought our touring bikes. Liang proved invaluable as our translator in the bike shops, but more importantly for introducing us to the finest dumpling restaurant in the city (and probably China). The remainder of our time in Kashgar was spent setting up our bikes with the saddles and extras we had brought with us, and ruthlessly reducing our equipment and clothing piles.
If you decided to take a holiday to Kashgar without the intention of tying it in to a cross-continental overland journey, I can only imagine you would be quite disappointed. This is a sprawling, highly populated operational Chinese City, and even the Sunday markets – which are sold as the centrepiece of this town, were certainly u underwhelming. Notwithstanding this, Kashgar served us well. The people at the Pamir Hostel (http://www.pamirhostel.com/en/) were nothing short of excellent and come highly recommended. The food market near the hostel is a worthwhile evening experience, particularly when craving sheep intestines, brains and hooves.