It was time to leave Tashkurgan and, as I repacked the bike, I was again the source of much curiosity for some Chinese tourists. One of them was confident enough to ask me where I was from. On hearing my reply of “Australia”, the curious tourist replied “Gud diy, mite!” in his best approximation of Paul Hogan’s accent. He seemed very pleased with himself.
After all the necessary photos were snapped on mobile phone cameras, I headed off to ride the 280km to Kashgar, with Abdul ahead in a hire car. One of the unfortunate conditions of my permit to travel “independently” in China was that I must be accompanied by my guide whenever I was on the bike.
I found this condition very frustrating for several reasons. One, I didn’t like being expected to follow another vehicle whose driver may choose, and usually did, to travel at a vastly different speed to me. Secondly, I wanted to be free to pull over whenever I felt like it, whether it be to take photos and simply for a quick “pitstop”. In the end, I just forgot about the guide/escort vehicle and let it race on ahead. I reasoned that I was the one paying for the privilege of the escort, and paying big time I might add, so I would travel at a pace that suited me and it was up to them to stop and wait for me at various places along the way. Abdul, the guide, had no problem with this – after all he was a tourist guide. But the driver of the escort vehicle seemed to think he was driving in a F1 grand prix.
About 5km outside Tashkurgan I was stopped at an extra Police security checkpoint where I had to show my passport and then stopped yet again at the major checkpoint about an hour north of Tashkurgan at Kekjor. I guess they just wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to cause any trouble along the way. After this second stop it was relatively plain sailing all the way through to Kashgar. As I dropped down from Tashkurgan out of the mountains I found myself in the flat valley around Kara Kul, a broad shallow lake with stunning views back to one of China’s highest peaks – Muztagh Ata (7550m).
As I got closer to Kashgar a dust storm blew up around Ghez and made the last 100-150km to Kashgar very unpleasant riding – made worse by the fact that I had now dropped from 3200m to about 1300m with a corresponding increase in temperature. It was now in the low 30’s, a big change from the chilly temperatures in Tashkurgan.
Eventually I arrived on the outskirts of Kashgar where I was expecting to see the escort hire car. All I saw was my guide, Abdul, standing on the side of the road – abandoned by his impatient driver. After rearranging my luggage I plonked Abdul on the pillion seat and we headed off in search of my hotel – the historic, but often mispronounced, Seman Hotel. That’s “Seman” as in “SEM-aan” not “SEE man”.
The Seman Hotel is historic because it once housed the Russian Consulate during the height of the Great Game. Until recently, it was the only hotel in town that could accept foreigners. It has since been overtaken by a number of modern high-rise hotels that have none of the Seman’s links to Kashgar’s vibrant history.
Arriving at the Seman hotel was not just the end of another day’s riding. It was the end of my journey up the KKH that had started all those weeks ago in Abbottabad. I had ridden over 1100km over some of the worst roads I had ever come across. But I had also seen, up close, some of the most jaw-dropping mountain scenery on the planet.
The end to my journey along the spectacular, and sometimes spectacularly bad, KKH may have fizzled out in the traffic jams of Kashgar, but the end of one journey is but the beginning of another – one that would take me from Kashgar to Dushanbe in Tajikistan along the gloriously remote, and seriously high, Pamir and Wakhan Highways.