It’s been a long and grueling couple of days, but I’m safely enjoying my air-conditioned room in Turpan. Unfortunately, although I had hoped to head on to my next destination, Kashgar, tomorrow, I have not been able to get a ticket on the one train that goes there. In China, you cannot book a train ticket in advance from another city. You actually have to be in the city from which the train is departing. As a result, I’m stranded here for at least another day, staying in a luxurious hotel by Chinese standards (the only one in town that wasn’t booked).
My trip here was eventful. I left Dunhuang yesterday evening in a shared cab to the train station, two hours away, straight through the desert. As we got going, the other three passengers, all old chinese men, immediately fell asleep. I had the fortune of riding in the middle seat in the back, from where I made direct eye contact with the driver through his rear-view mirror. Just outside of town, we almost hit a wild bactrian (two-hump) camel. A bunch of them had been resting on the side of the road, and one suddenly darted (as much as a camel can be said to have “darted”) into the center of the road. My cab driver, who didn’t seem phased, just stepped on the gas in hopes of squeaking by the massive beast. We barely made it, and I could hear the camel grunting furiously through our open windows. By the way, I didn’t even know that there still were wild camels.
As we moved out into the harsh desert, I began to notice, in the rear-view mirror, that my driver was struggling to stay awake. He kept trying to force his eyes open, but as soon as he did, they began to droop again. Since nobody else in the car was of any help, I made it my duty to kick his seat every time I saw his head bow. Eventually, after about 45 minutes of kicking his seat, and after he stopped to relieve himself on the side of the road, he seemed to snap out of it, and we were moving straighter towards our destination. The landscape quickly changed from yellow sand, to completely barren black sand, which is supposedly rich in iron ore. It was the most desolate landscape that I have ever seen, even in photographs (unfortunately, I don’t have any of it, as I was crammed between two sleeping men in the back seat of a speeding Volkswagen). Eventually, we made it to the crowded train station, where I had an hour to lounge around with two thousand other people before my train arrived.
This train was completely different than the sleeper train on which I travelled before. Rather than separate rooms filled with bunks, they were all just open. Needless to say, my feet didn’t fit in the bed, and I had to pull them in, or people would hit them as they walked down the aisle. It was a rough night, but I got through it, and arrived at the train station in Turpan, which is an hour away from town, at 6:30 this morning.
My guidebook suggested taking a mini-bus to town, saving a lot of money. Unfortunately, though, the mini-bus drivers don’t leave until their cars are completely full, and I guess nobody else needed to go in my direction, because we sat at the train station for an hour and a half, waiting for more people as each train pulled in. Maybe people thought I smelled (I was on a train for ten hours), because nobody got in. Finally, I gave up, and just took a cab to town, which set me back $20 (the mini-bus would have cost me $1.25).
All in all, though, today was a really good day, and I met some great people. I spent time exploring the town on foot, and then the surrounding area by cab. Although I’m still in China, I feel like I’m in a completely different country. The pictures are below. Remember that you can click to enlarge them.