Saturday, July 12, 2014

DAY 24 – 9 July 2014; Kuerle to Akesu

I took a short walk on the bank of the Konqi River in the morning before breakfast. The city was waking up to a new day after heavy rains the previous day. It was overcast and drizzling too this morning. Despite the not so clear weather people could be seen sweating it out, particularly the elderly. A large group of women were doing a kind of local aerobic exercise. The accommodation in the Garden Hotel, arranged by Frank, was extremely comfortable, it being a five star rated hotel. The breakfast spread had Continental dishes in addition to the local delicacies. The view of the Konqi River and the neighborhood looked gorgeous from the 20th floor deck of the hotel, where breakfast was served. Frank insisted that he would accompany us to the highway leading to Akesu. Before boarding the car I had to find place for a large watermelon presented by Frank. As we were driving to the highway Frank took a short diversion to what looked like the fruit market of Kuerle. He bought us a basket of Almonds and a whole lot of peaches despite many protestations. Frank insisted that we eat them on the way and not let them rot. The Almonds and Peaches were too good to let that fate befall them!

G3012 ran between the Tien Shan Mountains on one side and sandy desert on the other. The landscape gradually changed greener with the appearance of shrubs and coniferous trees. The road condition was extremely good such that the prescribed speed limit looked like the minimum. The highway, as usual, was fully fenced on both sides to prevent any kind of trespass. We did see a couple of accidents on the way. Prompt action by the Police too was discernible to clear traffic. Road signs were very vivid. In a couple of locations damaged cars were displayed, evidently to deter over-speed and negligent driving. By and large, discipline of lane driving was adhered to by all classes of vehicles, passenger or commercial. Speed monitoring boards at vantage locations notified drivers of the speed of their vehicles. Cameras were fixed at many locations on the highway and vehicle details were captured at regular intervals.  The drive on G3012 very smooth; the speed limit of 120 kmph was, more often than not, exceeded. There were no police checks either on the way. In less than 5 hours from Kuerle I turned into Akesu city. It was time to tank up. As I turned into a fuel station I found a not too taut rope barring entry into the station. Yingchu found out that regulations include passengers to disembark before the fuel station. Thus, Lal and Baiju had to get down from the car before the car could be driven into the fuel station. I drove in after presenting the temporary license plate and driving permit to the police official present at the entry point. Yingchu informed us that many new restrictions were put in place after a spate of anti-social and suspected terrorist activity in which many people had lost their lives.

Akesu, literally, means white water. The economy is bolstered by farming of cotton, fruits and vegetables as also industries such as cement, chemical and weaving. When the Silk Road was at its peak the fortunes of Akesu too was buoyant. It was an important junction point between trade routes and was even a capital city in the 13th century. In the late 19th century a British Officer found Akesu the most important city after Beijing on his way to India, both militarily and commercially. 

By the time we got to the Zhongtian Hotel, where we were to stay, the hunger could no longer be ignored.  We decided to have lunch prior to check in. Fortunately, the hotel had a good Cantonese restaurant. It was fried noodle, fried rice, dumplings and chicken wings that we decided to have. Yingchu settled for rice porridge since the Hot Pot ‘revelry’ of the past night had disturbed her tummy. The food was outstandingly delicious. It was too hot to stroll in the open after the check in. When we ventured out of the hotel after a couple of hours’ rest the Sun was still beating down mercilessly. We sought refuge along the shade of buildings and alleyways. The harshness of the Sun has to be experienced to be believed. It felt as if the rays would bore holes into my body. The presence of Police and Military personnel all along the main square and public places is apparent. Baiju said he saw a military chap put his finger around the trigger of his machine gun when he saw us pass! We walked around some shopping streets and markets. The bright colors of clothes and excellent T-shirts briefly attracted us. Lal was tempted to buy a leather shoe; the quality of leather is extremely good. the market that sold nuts and flower seeds was a marvel. Nuts of various sizes and shapes, mostly grown in the Xinjiang Province, took my breath away. The vendors were only too happy to let me taste all of them. Unfortunately, I was not able to get the English names of most of the nuts that I sampled. Pecans, Brazilian, Peanuts, Walnuts, etc could be easily identified. The market that sold vegetables had on display Capsicum and Tomatoes that looked alien in size. Fresh grapes, Peaches, Almonds, raisins and dates were other commonly displayed items for sale. I had a couple of ice creams and a beef burger for dinner, while Lal and Baiju settled for Beer and Kebabs. Yingchu had her pot of hot beef noodles.

Interestingly I got reliable feedback from a reference in Kyrgyzstan about the proposed route from Kyrgyzstan to Russia. Ajayan, who lives in Bishkek and has been in the CIS countries for over 30 years, suggested that I change the route in Kazakhstan and in Russia to Moscow. The changes are being worked out. Since I will have his assistance and the support of Elvis Roberts, who runs a logistics firm in Kazakhstan, I feel reassured of making the changes.

We have thus far completed about one-third of the journey in terms of distance and time. In China we had been travelling on the northern segment of the Silk Road since getting into Dunhuang. In the past, Dunhuang-Hami-Turpan-Kuerla-Akesu-Kashgar comprised the northern segment of the Silk Road while Dunhuang-Qargan-Khotan-Kashgar comprised the southern segment between the Tien Shan and Kunjun Shan mountains. From Kashgar our journey will deviate from the Silk Road to Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) and Almaty (Kazakhstan) while the Silk Road will continue onto Kokand, Samarkhand, Bukhara, etc. Please see the map attached below for a clearer description.



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