Srinagar in A Day

Located in the north of India, Srinagar is the largest city and summer capital of the Indian administered state of Jammu and Kashmir. It is a beautiful place and famous for its beautiful Mughal gardens and lakes. Nowadays, it is considered safer to travel to Srinagar, but you can still find armed soldiers guarding the streets of Srinagar. Being my first time traveling here made me a bit nervous, but Alhamdulillah, everything went well.

I traveled with my buddy, ET, to North India last year for 2 weeks. Our desire was to travel to Leh-Ladakh by overland. Srinagar was our departure point for our overland journey and we only stayed for 1 night in Srinagar at our friend’s house. We took the opportunity to roam the city by chartering an auto rickshaw for a half day, and visited almost all of the attractive places in the city. With the help of a kind old man we met, we were able to enjoy the beautiful views with a bargained fare. So, here’s the lists of what we did and where we went in Srinagar in a day.

Mughal Gardens

Nishat Bagh

It is one of the most beautiful terraced Mughal garden in Srinagar and is the second largest Mughal garden in the Kashmir Valley. Designed by Asaf Khan, the brother-in-law of Mughal Emperor Jahangir in 1633, it is filled with chinars, flowers, fountains and awesome landscape with Pir Panjal mountain range as background view. We met school children there who were having fun in the sun. They were so beautiful to look at. They were actually on school trips to enjoy the view and good weather. When we asked them for a photo, they became excited, and later took our photos the most. I felt like a celebrity myself for a moment.

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Chinars @ Nishat Bagh

Chashma Shahi

This terraced Mughal garden was built overlooking the magnificent Dal Lake. It is famous for its spring water which according to local legend, it can cure illnesses due to its medicinal properties. People lined up to drink or collect water from the origin of the spring. Even after some times passed, the line seemed to never end. We then decided to spend our time here looking at the colorful flowers around the garden and observing people enjoying their time out in the sun.

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Flowers @ Chashma Shahi

Pari Mahal

This is another terraced Mughal garden in Srinagar. It is located above the Chashma Shahi at the top of Zabarwan mountain range. This garden was built by a Mughal Prince in the mid-1600s and was used as an observatory to study astrology and astronomy. The building depicts an example of Islamic architecture and patronage of art during the reign of the then Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. The garden is now the property of Srinagar government. When we reached there, it was almost noon, and it was so hot that we decided to just sit underneath a tree and enjoying the view of Dal Lake.

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Building @ Pari Mahal
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Dal Lake view from the top of Pari Mahal

Mosques

Jamia Masjid

This masjid (mosque) is situated in the middle of the Old City. It is the oldest and biggest mosque in India, and it is believed to be a sacred shrine for Muslims. Jamia Masjid is famous for its beautiful construction. There are about 370 wooden pillars supporting wooden ceilings and a splendid courtyard. There is a fountain in the middle of it which is also used for ablution (wudhu’). We took our time enjoying the view while waiting for the Zuhr praying time. It was so peaceful amidst the busy bazaars surrounding the mosque.

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The garden within Jamia Masjid

Hazratbal Mosque

Another famous mosque in Srinagar is Hazratbal Mosque or Shrine. It kept, what has been believed by many Muslims of Kashmir, a relict which is the hair of Prophet Muhammad. It was said that the relic was first brought to India by Syed Abdullah, a purported descendent of the prophet. The name of the mosque means a “respected place” and considered to be Kashmir’s holiest Muslim shrine. We weren’t able to pray in the mosque as it only allows men to pray in it. We spent a very short time here as the tiredness has caught up with us and the weather became too hot to stay outdoor.

Lakes

Dal Lake

Known as “Srinagar’s Jewel”, Dal Lake plays an important role in the tourism industry in Kashmir.  Most tourists came here to experience staying in the houseboats as an alternative to staying in typical hotel. You could find hundreds of houseboats that offers beautiful and luxurious interior designs complete with various tour packages. We just passed along the lake as we planned to spend most of our times at Nigeen Lake, where our friend’s house is located at.

Nigeen Lake

Smaller than Dal Lake, Nigeen Lake is also a tourist attraction in Kashmir that offers beautiful view  and interesting activities. Houseboats and shikaras are a common sight. Truthfully, I prefer Nigeen Lake as it is less crowded than Dal Lake. We stayed at Siddique’s family house for 1 night, and it was an amazing experience.

The family members welcomed us with warm hearts and open hands, especially both Papaji and Mamaji. Papaji owned a shikara, which he took us for an evening ride to watch the beautiful sunset, and an early morning ride the next day to the floating market. At night, we were served with hearty dinner and we ate like the locals. We were also entertained by Ibrahim, Siddique’s young cousin with games. We had a long talk with Papaji on various subjects, from local politics to his dream of buying more lands in Srinagar. All in all, I was truly blessed for having the chance to meet this family, and I hope we can meet again in the future.

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The Beigh Family: Mamaji, Siddique & Papaji
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Papaji and his shikara

 

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Having kashmiri tea on shikara
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Houseboats @ Nigeen Lake
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Morning floating market @ Nigeen Lake
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Sunrise view @ Nigeen Lake
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Lotus field @ Nigeen Lake

Silk Road (China) – Xi’an

Xi’an, or used to be known as Chang’an, is the capital city of Shaanxi Province. The city marks the eastern end of the “Silk Road” and also famous for its Terracotta Army. This is where we will end our 3 weeks long journey in Northwest China.

After another long train ride (about 28 hours journey, and thank god on hard sleepers), we arrived at Xi’an Railway Station. Our first mission was to look for a nice and warm place to sleep in. The location that we chose was in the middle of the city, where mostly everything is within walking distance; the local attractions, transportation and eateries. During our time in Xi’an, we decided to stay in the 8-person dormitory of Bell Tower Youth Hostel.

We spent our first night in Xi’an by roaming the famous Muslim Quarter looking for something to eat. It was like heaven for food lovers. There were various local dishes and street foods offered, but we decided to have a light dinner as it was already late. But, we had a hearty meal on the second night, thanks to Dexun and his local girlfriend who introduced us to the most famous dishes in Xi’an that everybody should try, which are roujiamo (marinated beef/lamb stuffed in a freshly baked bun) and yangrou paomo (Uyghur dish of pita bread soaked in lamb soup). Dexun is a Singaporean whom we met on the bus from Hua Shan to Xi’an City. He came to Xi’an to meet his future in-laws and took the opportunity to enjoy the local attractions. His girlfriend (I totally forgot her name, sorry) is a very beautiful and friendly girl. We had a great time with them, and we wished them good luck for their future.

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Roujiamo and yangrou paomo for dinner

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Other than Terracotta Army, people flock to Xi’an to visit Hua Shan, one of the “5 Great Mountains in China”. It is also known as “the Number One Precipitous Mountain under Heaven”, and offers the world’s most dangerous hiking trail for adventurous and daring visitors. It is about 120km east of Xi’an, located near Huayin City. We went there on the second day as the weather forecast showed that it was bright and sunny although it was gloomy in Xi’an. We planned to stay overnight at the top of the mountain to watch both sunset and sunrise, so we packed light and left our big backpacks at the hostel in Xi’an.

There are 2 options to get to Hua Shan, either by bus or train. Since we had enough train rides for the last 3 weeks, we took a bus to Hua Shan. The buses actually don’t have any schedule. It departs once it’s full with passengers. The journey from Xi’an to the Hua Shan entrance gate took about almost 2 hours. When we reached there, it was so foggy, nothing like what the weather forecast told us.

To get to the top, you can either climb up the steep stairs or take the cable car. Both have pros and cons. It’s way cheaper to climb but it will take a very long time to reach the top. And by the time you reach the top, you won’t have much energy left to enjoy the view. Plus, the stairs are too steep, no kidding! (p/s: you need to be super fit to climb the stairs. It has about more than 6,000 steps all the way from the bottom to the top). Since I was in my ‘most fit condition’, I took the cable car instead. Hahahahaha!!! With cable car, I reached the West Peak in less than half an hour. But it’s way too expensive. I’ve spent CNY520 that includes entrance fee, bus and cable car to get me to the top of Hua Shan and return in a day.

At first, we were kind of disappointed with the weather. It was so gloomy that we thought we have wasted our time and money for view that we couldn’t enjoy. Even when we rode the cable car, we couldn’t see anything except the fog that enveloping us for about 20 minutes ride. But when we were almost reaching the West Peak, we saw a ray of sunlight approaching us, and later, a spectacular and unforgettable view came upon us. It was like out of this world with sea of white clouds below us and mountain peaks waiting for us to land on them. We were so surprised that screaming in delight was the only way for us to express our excitement. Luckily we were the only one in the car. Even when we finally got off from the car, we’re still in awe.

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It was so foggy at the bottom of Hua Shan

On top of Hua Shan, there are 5 peaks that offer different views . You can enjoy a beautiful sunrise at East Peak and sunset at West Peak, climb to the highest spot at South Peak, and enjoy spectacular views from different angles at both North and Middle Peaks. Even though we didn’t use much energy to get to the top, still we were only able to reach both West and South Peaks. There’s an accommodation available at West Peak above the temple. The price was reasonable enough and its condition was acceptable, except there’s no water in the toilet. It didn’t take long for us to decide not to stay overnight there.

We spent the bright and sunny afternoon enjoying the splendid view. We were among the lucky ones, as I heard that it was so foggy and snowing the day before. Numbers of visitors also lesser than usual, making it safer for us to climb. Also, less chances for our photos to get photobombed. The only thing that I didn’t dare to try was the famous plank walk. Although you’ll be provided with body harness, I have this preconceived idea that it is not at its best condition and my safety will be at risk. Nevertheless, I had a really good time.

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View from South Peak
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Me enjoying the view

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We went to visit the Terracotta Army Museum on the next day. It is about 45km from Xi’an and 1 hour journey by bus. Dexun had warned us before that it might bored us as there’s only statues and more statues to look at. We took his warning by keeping our excitement to the lowest level. When we arrived at the location, the place has already been swamped by thousands of visitors. Hundreds  of local tourist guides were ready to approach us at the entrance gate. Sadly, they didn’t speak English and we had to turn down their offer. (Dexun told us that we don’t really need a guide as everything’s explained in dual language, both Mandarin and English).

Terracotta Army was one of the most significant archaeological excavation of the 20th century and has been listed by UNESCO in 1987 as one of the world cultural heritage. The finding has made Xi’an known to people all over the world. Millions of people visited the museum in a year. I saw on one of the information boards at the museum stated that they received a whopping record of about 500,000 visitors within a week during China’s National Day in 2015. Wow! I feel like every corner of the place was packed with people. I am not the person who enjoy very much being in a crowded place, let alone hundreds of thousands of people. I think I might go crazy.

There are 3 pits (Pit 1, Pit 2 and Pit 3) and an exhibition room within the museum. As suggested by Dexun, we visited the exhibition room or known as Bronze Chariot Exhibition Room first so that we could get the “behind-the-story” before looking at the statues. Then, we proceeded to Pit 1 (the largest one) where thousands of re-built terracotta statues were impressively displayed. As we went along the pit area, we could see that there are hundreds and hundreds of broken statues that are yet to be re-built. Researchers believed that there are thousands of statues that yet to be discovered and excavated. In the pit, we saw excavation tools laying around but unfortunately, no workers were to be seen that day. Maybe it was their off day.

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View in Pit 1
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View in Pit 1

We completed our tour in the museum including a visit to the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor, which is located a few kilometers away, within a day. We went back to the city and continue to roam the Muslim Quarters and had our dinner there.

We spent our last day in Xi’an by going around the Ancient City Wall that surrounds the Old City in a square. To enjoy the view, we rented bicycles for 2 hours. I thought it was a good idea at first until I realized that it wasn’t. It was quite difficult for me, who live my whole life and so used to the tropical climate, to ride in a freezing weather and strong wind. We couldn’t finish circling around the wall since the time was up. But, it was a good way to view the city from another perspective, plus we had a good morning exercise.

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Visitors cycling on the Ancient City Wall
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View from top of the wall
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Enjoying the city view

We then walked back to the Muslim Quarters to do some last minute souvenir shopping. We also took our time to visit the Xi’an Great Mosque, which was located next to the Muslim Quarters. The mosque is architecturally ancient and represents many periods of time as additions were made during other dynasties. It combines both traditional Chinese architecture and Islamic art. It was first constructed during the Tang Dynasty in 740 with the intention to honor the founders of Islam in China. Islam first came to China during Tang Dynasty through the Muslim merchants. They traveled through the “Silk Road” and later settled in China and married the Han Chinese. Today, the mosque has become one of the most important Islamic places of worship in China.

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Entrance towards Xi’an Great Mosque praying hall
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Inside Xi’an Great Mosque praying hall

Our visit to the Great Mosque marked the end of our trip in Xi’an and we had to fly back to reality after spending 3 weeks long for the overland trip in Northwest China. Nevertheless, it was a great and unforgettable experience that will be remembered forever. I’ve learned a lot through this trip especially about myself. Some people say that you’ll become a different person once you travel, and to me it is so true. As Mary Anne Radmacher said, “I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world”.

THE END.

Silk Road (China) – Kashgar (Part 2)

We’ll be leaving Kashgar after spending almost 2 days there and 2 days in Tashkurgan. Our next destination will be Turpan, where we will change train and head to Xi’an, our last stop for this adventure. There is no direct train from Kashgar to Xi’an. Our train to Turpan was scheduled at 2.00 p.m. (Beijing time). Since we have free time in the morning, we planned to spend our time roaming around the streets of the Kashgar’s Old City.

After a good night sleep, we woke up feeling refresh and ready for the next journey. We checked out from the hostel and decided to stop by at Id Kah Mosque, which was located nearby. It is the largest mosque in China and may occupy up to 20,000 worshipers at one time. To visit the mosque, visitors are required to pay CNY20 for the admission fee. But since we’re Muslims, we can enter the mosque for free. The mosque consists of praying hall, courtyard and gate tower. Usually, we will take the opportunity to pray in any mosques we visited while traveling. But since women here are not allowed to pray inside the mosque, we just walked around and took pictures.

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Entrance towards the praying hall at Id Kah Mosque
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Courtyard inside the Id Kah Mosque

We then walked back to the area we went during our first day in Kashgar. It was still early, but the locals had already up and about doing their daily chores. We stopped at a bread shop and bought breads that looked like big doughnuts for our breakfast. We walked further down the street and found a small park where several kids were running around and an old man was playing his flute. We sat on a bench and had our breakfast while enjoying the view and music.

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My breakfast
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Enjoying the view while having breakfast
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Kids playing with marbles

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An old man playing flute

After we finished our breakfast, we continued walking down the street. Once I saw a documentary about the Old City and it showed the houses that they lived in were half ruined, and I thought that was quite something. They built their houses and other buildings using the soil and after      some times, it was eroded and damaged by the environmental factors such as wind and rain and even the natural disasters such as earthquake. But, when we were there, we couldn’t find any ruined buildings. Later we found out that the Old City is undergoing redevelopment phase. China government is spending millions of yuans to give ‘facelift’ to the city and promised a better living conditions to the local residents. But for me, I felt something is amiss despite the new look of the Old City.

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Kashgar’s Old City Gate

One thing I found quite amusing here was the dental clinics. You could find it almost everywhere and even they opened it next to each other. What a competitive market, I might say, and of course, high in demand. When we walked around, I tried to take photos of the local residents doing their daily chores, but it was a bit disappointed as they were uncomfortable being photographed by strangers. I had to ask permission first or took their photos from afar. So, I hope you do understand on the quality of some of the photos, especially since it was taken by camera phone. Despite we roamed to almost every roads in the Old City, I was a bit bummed out for not being able to visit the locals’ houses. We couldn’t find anyone who was willing to open their doors for us. Sounds a bit sad, doesn’t it?

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A butcher was slaughtering the sheep at the roadside

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Entrance towards locals’ houses
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Morning market
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Morning market

When it was time for us to go, we head back to the hostel to get our backpacks. To go to the railway station, we took No. 28 bus from the bus stop in front of Id Kah Mosque. The last stop will be the railway station. When we were in the bus, we were able to engage with the locals, the Uyghur men to be exact. They were excited when we told them we are Malaysians. Please bear in mind that our communication was done through body language. Within a short time, we were being taught of some basic Uyghur vocabs for shirts, pants, body parts, etc. by these men. In exchange, we also taught them the basic Malay vocabs. But sadly, I forgot what I learned now.

When we arrived at the railway station, there was already a very long queue towards the entrance. We quickly followed others to queue up. But of course there were some people cut the line unashamedly. In this situation, what we needed the most was a lot of patience to face these bad attitude people. And after a lot of pushing and blocking, we managed to get into the station in one piece. However, that was just the beginning. Since our long train journey previously was on hard sleepers, we thought we could handle the 24 hours journey on hard seats. What could be more worse than that, except that we couldn’t stretch our body to sleep. We were wrong… So wrong…

When we finally boarded the coach, it was already half filled with young soldiers and their luggage. We quickly went to our assigned seats and one of the soldiers helped us to store our backpacks at the overhead compartment. And then our nightmare began. It started with passengers kept coming into the coach even though all of the seats were already taken. What came into my mind was maybe they were in the wrong coach. But later, I found out that they were in the right coach, except with no assigned seats. They’ll be standing in the coach throughout the long journey. OMG!!! I was thinking maybe their destination will be the next station. But I was wrong again. They were not getting off the train, but even worst, people kept boarding the coach at the next stations.

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The coach was half occupied with soldiers
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A 24-hour train ride on hard seats. An unforgettable experience.

Throughout our journey, we shared our seats with a middle-aged and a young Uyghur men. They looked friendly and because of that,  we tried as hard as we could to talk to them, but it was disappointing. As soon as they heard we talked in different language, they immediately shook their head. So, we just used body language to converse with them. They offered us fruits and stuff and we accepted it with open arms. In the middle of chaotic surrounding, I saw them looking so relax, and I bet this situation was normal to them.

After passing few stations, the coach’s aisle was fully occupied with people and it seemed impossible for us to pass through or move around. The coach was so full that we felt hot and stuffy. I tried to open the window to get some cold air inside, but the coach’s officer in-charge scolded us. I quickly closed the window and only opened it once in a while when the officer was not around.

Along the journey, a question popped into our mind, what would happen if we left our seats for a while? The question was answered when we saw the seats in front of us were taken immediately by others when the 2 Uyghur men left their seats. When they came back, they couldn’t take their seats back and had to stand for quite a long time even though they had asked the occupiers to leave. We couldn’t afford to leave our seats, so we decided only to eat and drink just enough for us to survive throughout the 24 hours journey, so that we didn’t have to go anywhere. And I bet the toilet was also at its worst condition with so many people onboard. Luckily it was already night time, so we spent most of our time sleeping.

At first, a young soldier voluntarily cleaned up the coach. He went to every seats to collect trashes and sweep the aisle. But, after sometimes, he gave up as the numbers of trashes kept increasing and people couldn’t care less to clean it up themselves.

At midnight, the energy of the people inside the coach has decreased a bit even though some of them were still playing cards and chatting. At this moment, we could see passengers with no seats were trying to find ways to rest and sleep. Some of them were trying to sleep while standing, and others squatting at the aisle. We even saw an old lady slept soundly under the seats surrounded by the left-over instant noodle cups and plastics. Seriously, the view was memorable to me as it really hit me hard.

As for us, we were so grateful to have seats albeit it was uncomfortable to sleep on. I was so happy when the morning came and couldn’t wait for the train to reach our destination. The surrounding was still the same except most of the passengers were looking tired. Nevertheless, we’ve reached our destination at last after the long ride. Again, another episode happened to me before we got off from the train. My wrists almost “broke” when I tried to get my backpack from the overhead compartment. It was stuck in between large sacks. The upper sack was so heavy when I tried to remove it, it almost dropped and hit me.  Instantly, I stopped it with both my hands. The sad thing was no one was trying to help me. They were only looking at me with expressionless face. I almost cried when suddenly a middle aged man came and helped me out. I was so thankful to him. But then I kept wondering what was inside the sack. I was hoping it was not something bad.

When we got off the train, the first place we went was the toilet to freshen and loosen ourselves up. Then we went out from the building to find something to fill our stomachs. We only had a couple of hours before the next train. Seriously, it was like a “train ride from hell”. A once in a lifetime experience. At that time, we kept telling each other there will be no more of this, and asked ourselves why did we do things others won’t do. But after sometimes, I kinda missed it. I missed being crazy for adventures and being in unexpected situation. But then again, I prefer to keep questioning myself for the crazy things I did rather than sit in a corner asking myself why didn’t I do it.

To be continued…

Silk Road (China) – Tashkurgan

Long before I went to China, I’ve heard and seen on the internet and TV about the Karakoram Highway (KKH) as one of the  scariest and toughest road in the world that connects China and Pakistan. Since we always opt for adventurous route rather than the easy one when traveling, and we’ll be in North West China, ET suggested for us to experience a little bit of KKH up until Tashkurgan. The road was not in good condition, but the scenic view offered along the way was awesome. At first, we even planned to stay a night in a yurt together with the locals in Karakul Lake. But then we changed our mind due to the coldness.

Our journey to Tashkurgan started very early in the morning. We checked out from the hostel and walked about 1km to bus stop where we will take bus No. 4 to the International Bus Station. We followed the direction in the map we got from the hostel. We got lost a few times, but luckily there were kind people who helped us to go to the right direction. When the bus arrived, we quickly boarded it to get seats. In the bus, we asked the locals who were sitting next to us on the exact location of the International Bus Station. I was not sure whether she understood me or not, but when the bus stopped for police check, she asked us to get off from the bus, saying that we’ve arrived at our destination. As we didn’t know exactly where we were, we did as we were told.

Once we got off from the bus, we looked around in the dark, and realized we got off at the road side, which looks like a highway road to me. We crossed the road where there were rows of buildings. We walked further until we realized that the buildings were empty and there was no single person in the buildings. I looked around and found a small guard post nearby. I went there and asked for the location of International Bus Station from the men inside the small post who were watching TV. None of the men understood me and they ignored me by continuing to watch the small TV they had in that little space. As the surrounding became brighter, we then realized that the place was actually a center for international trading, based on the signage we saw on the buildings. OMG, we were at the wrong place! I looked at my watch and realized that it was almost time the bus to Tashkurgan to depart.

Not yet giving up, we hailed a taxi to take us to the bus station, hoping that the bus will depart a little bit late. The driver then drove us back to the city and dropped us off at the mini van area. We asked him to take us quickly to the bus station, so that we can catch the bus to Tashkurgan. He kept saying that we need to take the mini van. Tired of arguing, we got off and went to the rows of mini vans where the drivers were waiting for passengers. We then negotiated the fare and able to get CNY50 cheaper than the standard fare. We were told to wait for about an hour to wait for another passengers. We used that waiting time for us to have our breakfast at the nearby halal restaurant. That morning, we had dumpling soup for breakfast. Alhamdulillah…

We were joined by 2 other locals to Tashkurgan. It was a bumpy ride and a bit uncomfortable with the cold weather too. When we arrived at a military checkpoint, we have to register ourselves. For registration, all you need to provide is your passport together with the tourist visa. Here, there was a row of small shops which sell local products. But, the driver didn’t stop long for us to take a look around. When we continued our journey, an idea came across my mind. I was thinking maybe we could stop for a while at Karakul Lake to take photos since there’s only 5 of us in the mini van including the driver. 10 minutes wouldn’t cause much delay, right? Furthermore, the driver and the 2 passengers could have their 10-minute cigarette break. When I asked the driver, he agreed to stop for a while, without question. Maybe he had the same idea, who knows?

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The driver waiting for us at the military checkpoint

Few hours later, we’ve reached Karakul Lake. The view of the lake was awesome, I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. With a background of snow-capped mountains, the lake seemed so calm and peaceful. The water was half-frozen and it was windy that day. There was no one at the lake except for passers-by like us. We took photos from the road side as we did not have enough time to venture the area. Earlier, we decided to cancel our plan to stay at the local yurts, and I think we have made the right decision, as we only found empty yurts. Maybe due to winter season, the locals have moved to a warmer place. ET told me that we could stop there and hitch hike later, like what Sully did when she was here. But looking at the weather and surrounding temperature, we didn’t dare to take the risk.

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Half-frozen Karakul Lake with Muztagh Ata at the background
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Muztagh Ata a.k.a “Father of Ice Mountain”

We continued our journey to Tashkurgan. The road condition seemed better now. After a couple of hours, we’ve reached our destination. After the driver dropped the other passengers, he brought us to the hotel nearby the local bus station (about 50m away). Straight away we went to the hotel and asked for the room rate. Since it was low season, the owner gave us one of the big rooms for only CNY100 per room. The room’s condition was excellent, the heater was working well and Wifi connection was good, except we couldn’t use WhatsApp, in addition to Facebook, Instagram, etc. What a bummer… I felt we have been living in a cave for a very long time, and didn’t know what’s been happening outside of China.

Once settled with the room, we went to the local bus station first to buy ticket for tomorrow’s journey back to Kashgar. There was only one bus available on daily basis scheduled at 9.00 a.m. (Beijing time), and we couldn’t afford to miss this bus. When we asked from the officer, he told us that the ticket will only open for sale 30 minutes before the departure time. He kept on stressing the departure time follows Beijing time to make sure we do not miss it. Then, we went sightseeing around the town. It was a relatively small town as compared to other towns/cities we’ve visited in China. Actually, there are many places for tourists to visit here such as Stone City, Golden Grassland and the museum. According to the signboard, the nearest tourist attraction from our location was Stone City. So, we decided to walk there. After been walking for some times, we couldn’t find the location. Apparently, there was no more signboard that shows the way. It’s getting dark and without thinking much, we decided to walk back to the hotel and spent our time in our warm room. At night, the outside temperature could go down to several minus degrees.

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The Tajik Eagle Tower with Pamir Mountains at the back. Tajik Chinese worship the eagles.
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Rows of shops in Tashkurgan town

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We woke up very early the next morning. Our plan was to be early at the bus station so that we could get our ticket ahead of everyone else. After we checked out from the hotel, we walked towards the bus station. It was so cold that I believed the temperature was below zero degree. When we arrived, the building was still dark and there was no one around. We decided to go inside the building to keep ourselves away from the wind and the coldness. Unfortunately, the door was locked. Great… I looked at my watch. There’s still few minutes before the ticket office opens. Then, there was a man approaching the building and we’re hoping it’s the officer. But our hope got crashed when it’s just another local with the same mission as us. ET silently walked closer to the main door, to start queuing up. Another man came, followed by another, but still there was no sign of the officer. We stood there almost frozen waiting for him. Talking ’bout punctuality… Ppffttt…

After about an hour, the officer came and unlock the door. We quickly went straight to the counter and asked for 2 tickets. By the time we got our tickets, it was already past 9.00 a.m. (Beijing time). When we looked at the tickets, the departure time was postponed to yet another hour. With no heater, we have to wait for one more hour in the freezing cold temperature. I felt almost numb on both of my hands and feet. I remember I was so happy when I saw our bus pulled up at the parking lot and was hoping that it will be a lot warmer inside the bus. My hope yet again was crushed by the fact that there was no heater installed inside the bus. Then I remembered that I brought heat pads with me in case we’ve encountered this kind of emergency situation. I gave a couple of pads to ET and quickly we placed the pads accordingly. After 15 more minutes of waiting, the bus finally departed. We were the only unfamiliar faces in the bus apart from the Tajiks, Uyghurs and Chinese. I found that the Tajiks love to wear their traditional colorful clothes. I tried to take their photos, but they looked very uncomfortable to look at the camera.

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The view from the bus driver’s back seat
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View from our journey back to Kashgar

We traveled back to Kashgar using the same route we did yesterday for more than 6 hours of journey. In the middle of our journey, there was a weird clunky sound came out from under the bus. The driver stopped the bus to check what had happened under there. I prayed hard that nothing bad happened to the bus, since we’re in the middle of nowhere and it seemed like we were far away from any help. When the driver came out from under the bus, he looked relax as if nothing happened. He picked his tool bag, took out a metal wire and went under the bus again. Less than 10 minutes later, he reappeared, took his driver seat, and continued our journey. Along the way, the driver stopped several times to pick up passengers. I wondered where these people came from as I saw no house nearby. Hmm…

When we almost reached our destination, I said to ET, the place that I looked forward at that moment was the International Bus Station. Since we failed to find it yesterday, I was hoping we could find it today. I thought the last stop for the bus should be at the bus station. But I was wrong. The driver dropped us all at the area where we took the mini van yesterday. And until today, I still don’t know where is the location of Kashgar International Bus Station… From there, we walked back to the youth hostel. It was about 1.5km in distance. I think I’ve exercised more during traveling and thought no wonder traveling is good for you physically and mentally.

When we’re on the bus, we only ate apples for breakfast and lunch. And now our stomachs have started grumbling and hungry for more food. On our way back, we found a restaurant that serves fish in their menu. We quickly went in and ordered the dish together with 2 bowls of white rice. Surprisingly it was pretty cheap considering the size of the fish. I finished my portion in a flash, but ET couldn’t. She had trouble eating the fish as there were lots of small and fine bones that need to be removed. But anyway, we had a good dinner that day.

With happy bellies, we walked back to the Old Town Youth Hostel. We decided to end our day that evening and have a good night rest and recharge our body for yet another adventure tomorrow.

To be continued…

Silk Road (China) – Kashgar (Part 1)

It’s been quite a while since my last post. I was busy planning for my North India trip and went there for 2 weeks! And now I’m back and having the post-travel sickness. OMG!!! I will let you all know my experience there once I completed the China trip stories. Don’t worry, I hope it won’t take too long as I am now gathering all my energy and mood to write this post. So, let’s continue.

We checked out from the hostel in Urumqi very early in the morning to take public bus to the railway station. Before we went out, we left some ‘mementos’ at the hostel’s creative wall. It didn’t take too long before I realized that there were Malaysians who already left something on the wall. It’s so good to know that more Malaysians have become travelers. One of them was ET’s friend, Sully. She went there a year ago with her friend.

Our mission that day was to go to Kashgar (Kashi) by train. We found out that Kashgar was filled with Muslim Uyghurs. We would like to know more about them, and also we wanted to go to Tashkurgan, a small town located at the China-Pakistan border. So, this time we decided to take public bus instead of taxi to go to the railway station. From the hostel, we took the underground pass towards China Post building, which was located across the road. We took no.52 bus and paid CNY1 for the bus fare. We then got off at the last stop which is the railway station.

The Urumqi South (Wulumuqinan) Railway Station building was so big. In China, train plays an important role in transportation modes as it is considered cheap for long distance journey and they have a wide train network. We went to the fifth floor for departure. When we reached there, many people were already waiting for the train. We didn’t wait long, only about 30 minutes to board the train. We were able to get the middle hard sleepers for the 1,000++km journey. Oh, by the way, we stopped a while at a small aisle located within the row of shops next to the railway station to try the famous lamb kebab. It was delicious!

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The lamb kebab skewer. Delish!

 

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Hundreds of passengers waiting to board the train

As usual, we didn’t do much throughout the journey, except listening to music, talking to each other and sleeping. The lower sleepers were occupied by the Chinese and they were talking very loudly. We couldn’t sleep very well as we were always been interrupted by their conversations. It seemed like they didn’t sleep all way long. But, since we’re in China, we had to bear it. Of all the many coaches that we boarded in China, this one was so dirty and I couldn’t even handle it. Since the coaches were fully occupied, the amount of wastes, especially food waste had increased tremendously. To make it worse, cleaning of coaches was not done as regular as possible. The toilet condition was really bad. We were only hoping that we could arrive to our destination as quickly as possible.

 

At last, we reached Kashgar the next day after 26 hours of journey. We then straight away went to buy train tickets from Kashgar to Turpan (Tulufan) which was scheduled 4 days after. When we reached the ticket office, the place was already packed with people. There were long lines of people queueing up to buy tickets. As usual, ET went to join the queue, and I looked after our luggages. But after almost an hour of queueing up and being knocked over by people, ET gave up and asked me to take her place. It was so pity of her because people took advantage of her small frame and cut the queue. When I took her place, I also had to face the same problem, but luckily, there were policemen to help in controlling the crowds. But after some time, it seemed that they didn’t care about the police anymore. These irresponsible persons kept giving excuses to cut the queue.

I had to queue for another hour and needed lots of pushing and blocking for me to get the ticket. When I reached the counter, I was told that there were no sleepers available for the journey. I was a bit taken aback as I didn’t expect this. At last, I bought the hard seats tickets as we couldn’t afford to stay any longer than the planned date (This is the downside of traveling within limited time). When I told ET about the seats, we didn’t expect much from it. All we thought about was to get out from the building and headed off towards the old city. Outside the railway station, there were buses parked at the parking lots. We then boarded the no.28 bus, which will be heading to the old city area. Our next destination was Id Kah Mosque.

We didn’t know exactly where to get off the bus. We looked for the mosque’s signage from the bus. When there’s no longer signage showing the direction, we decided to get off at the bus stop opposite the Sultan shopping mall. We then asked people around the direction towards the mosque. Where we got off, the surroundings; i.e. the people and the buildings were a lot different from a typical Chinese city or town. It’s a little bit like Turkish town. The people that we asked showed us the mosque’s direction. Thank goodness it was not too far. But, we were a little bit surprise as the Id Kah Mosque didn’t look as what we’ve seen on the internet. Or maybe we were wrong. The people there, they speaks mostly Uyghur language instead of Chinese. However, they still understand Chinese as it is the primary language to use when doing official business and at school. During our trip, we didn’t prepare at all for Uyghur language. Sorry, our mistake. (T.T)

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Main Entrance of Id Kah Mosque

 

The reason why we were looking for the mosque was that there were 2 youth hostels available near there; Pamir Youth Hostel and Old Town Youth Hostel. But we didn’t get clear direction on how to get there. We asked people around, but either they never heard of it or they led us to the wrong direction. Even the tourist information center didn’t know the place we were looking for. Exhausted from the long journey and ticket buying experience, we stopped a little while and suddenly I saw an A4 size poster indicating the Old Town Youth Hostel. Quickly I crossed the road and tried knocking every door they have, when suddenly one of the door opened from inside. I asked whether I am in the right place or not. They welcomed me in and I was so happy to know that we’ve found one of the places.

We asked for any room available, and they gave us 2 beds in the female dormitory. The receptionist here could speak english well. The condition of the hostel was quite OK. It has the old and traditional interior design of a Chinese house, I think. The room was heated up using coals, which will be added frequently by the staff. We unpacked our bags and freshened ourselves before heading out for lunch cum dinner. We walked back towards the main entrance of Id Kah Mosque, when I saw a halal fast food restaurant nearby. Immediately my longing for fried chicken came and I urged ET to have our meal there.

After we finished our meal, we decided to walk around the old town before going back to the hostel. The time in Kashgar was 2 hours late than the Beijing time. We had to always keep alert as the schedule for any transportations here will follow Beijing time. When we walked around, it was around 5.00 p.m. (Kashi time). It was almost dark. We saw children went out from school gate. ET took some photos with them and we tried to engage them in conversation. Since we couldn’t converse well with them, we kept using body language and throwing out some famous names of people from China just to get into conversation. I thought they might find us quite amusing to look at as they kept on walking next to us,  smiling and laughing. They must be thinking what were these two Banjar and Melayu-Jawa girls doing here as if they had nothing else to do.

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ET and local school children. Not much different… 🙂

 

As the surrounding getting darker, the city became alive with night market. The streets were full with stalls selling street foods, clothes, fruits, sweets, and many more. We planned to go further to explore the Old City more, but since it was already dark, we postponed our plan, maybe after we come back from Tashkurgan. We also took our time to find the other hostel, which actually located not far from Id Kah Mosque. However, this hostel got scratched off from our list, not because of the bad condition or service, but because they have a very huge dog that guarded the front door. It kept barking at us like we’re the bad people. Huhuhu… Being afraid of dogs, we didn’t want to take risk staying there. When you stand facing the Id Kah Mosque, the Pamir Youth Hostel is on your right (about 50 meters walking distance) and Old Town Youth Hostel is on your left (about 200 meters walking distance).

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Night market at Kashgar’s Old City

 

We went back to our hostel to study more on the journey to Tashkurgan on the next day. We were told that it will be a lot colder there than in Kashgar. The receptionist lady told us that we could go to Tashkurgan either by bus or mini van. The bus will cost us CNY55 per person with duration of about 8 hours to reach the town. While shared mini van will cost us CNY150 per person with only 5-6 hours of journey. She advised us to go to Tashkurgan first, and Karakul Lake later, on our way back to Kashgar. Since it was low season, there was only one bus available everyday to Tashkurgan, and it departs at 10.00 a.m. Beijing time from International Bus Station. Then, from Tashkurgan, we could take a mini van to Karakul Lake, where the driver will only drop us. We need to hitchhike or wait for another 1 or 2 hours for mini vans to get back to Kashgar. Upon hearing this, we decided to go to Tashkurgan by bus and decide later whether to get off at Karakul Lake or not, depending on the weather and temperature.

We slept early that night and soundly, I might say, due to the exhaustion we had during the day. And we needed to go out very early in the morning to get to the bus station. That night I had a dreamless night, yet again…

To be continued…

Silk Road (China) – Urumqi

Urumqi @ Wulumuqi ialah pusat bandar bagi wilayah autonomi Xinjiang dan merupakan bandar terbesar di bahagian barat China. Urumqi merupakan sebuah bandar industri  dan lebih kurang 10% penduduknya ialah dari kalangan minoriti yang kebanyakannya masyarakat Uyghur yang beragama Islam. Masyarakat Uyghur merupakan salah satu kumpulan etnik Turk yang tinggal di kawasan Asia Tengah. Mengikut analisis yang dibuat pada 2013, Urumqi merupakan antara 10 bandar paling tercemar di dunia. Namun begitu, di Urumqi juga terdapat tempat-tempat yang mempunyai pemandangan semulajadi yang cantik seperti di Tianshan Wildlife National Park, Nan Shan dan lain-lain. Itu yang membuatkan aku tertarik untuk pergi ke sana.

Dari Dunhuang, kami naik bas (atau realitinya van 12-seater) ke Liuyuan Railway Station yang mengambil masa lebih kurang 2 jam setengah. Sampai di railway station, ET terus ke kaunter untuk beli tiket ke Urumqi South @ Wulumuqinan. Tapi kaunter tutup sementara. Tak tau sebab apa. Maybe system down gamaknya. Sebenarnya, aku agak nervous sebab takut ter’miss’ train pukul 7.00 malam atau seat dah habis. Ni lah akibatnya main redah je. Hahaha… But we stayed positive even though it was almost 6.00 p.m. But at last, dapat jugak 2 tiket train ke Urumqi South. Tanpa berlengah, kami terus ke Departure Hall untuk boarding.

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12-seater van from Dunhuang Bus Station to Liuyuan Railway Station

 

Kami tiba di Wulumuqinan Railway Station pada pukul 6.00 pagi. Dengan segera kami ke Ticket Hall untuk beli train ticket ke Kashgar @ Kashi pada keesokan hari. Alhamdulillah, masih ada hard sleeper untuk kami hadap 24 jam perjalanan. Settle beli ticket, kami terus ke jalan besar untuk amek cab ke Maitian Youth International Hostel yang terletak di You Ha South Road. Bila naik cab, tolong pastikan driver gunakan meter. Kalau tak, diorang akan charge dengan tambang yang tak masuk akal. Lokasi hostel ni agak tersorok. Puas kami pusing-pusing mencari. Bangunan hostel ni terletak di sebelah Parkson Shopping Centre yang dipisahkan dengan lorong kecil. Terdapat balai polis berhampiran dengan bangunan hostel. Signage hostel pulak kecik je. Kalau tak tengok betul-betul, memang tak perasan. Lagi satu, sebelah pintu masuk hostel ni ada restoran.

Since kami sampai sebelum Subuh (waktu Subuh ialah pukul 8.00 pagi), semua orang masih tidur lagi. Tapi mujurlah pintu masuk hostel tak berkunci. Bolehlah kami masuk dan panaskan badan. Suhu kat bahagian utara ni sejuk yang amat. Belum masuk winter lagi, tapi dah 0ºC. At the same time, kami try panggil sesiapa yang ada untuk bertanya pasal bilik kosong. Rupa-rupanya mamat yang jaga counter ada tidur kat lobby area. Bila dia tersedar, dengan rupa kusut-masai dia assist kami. Dan dia agak fluent English. Kami pilih untuk stay kat 5-bed female dorm. Masa masuk dorm, 3 katil dah berpenghuni. Since kat luar masih gelap, kami rehat dulu sementara tunggu waktu siang.

Di Urumqi, kami plan untuk spend satu hari di Tianshan Wildlife National Park dan memilih untuk naik public bus ke sana. Setelah dapat direction dari mamat yang jaga hostel tu, kami gerak keluar dalam pukul 9.00 pagi dan terserempak dengan budak-budak nak ke sekolah. Kelihatan sungguh ceria diorang ni walaupun cuaca sejuk yang amat. At the same time, banyak abang-abang askar berkawal di kawasan bandar. Siap ada kereta kebal tu… Dahsyat sungguh kawalan askar kat sini. Tapi aku rasa ini adalah pemandangan yang normal bagi penduduk tempatan kot. Kat Malaysia, tak pernah aku nampak kereta kebal kat public area except during the Merdeka Day procession. Tu pun aku tengok kat TV je. Dari lorong hostel, kami berjalan ke arah kanan untuk ke underground passageway dan menuju ke Hong Shan Station (BRT stop). Underground passageway ni terletak berhadapan dengan pintu masuk ke Parkson. Our way of surviving when traveling was to keep asking for direction from the locals. So, jangan malu untuk bertanya. Orang tua-tua pun selalu cakap, “malu bertanya sesat jalan”. Dan jangan risau. Most locals will try to help you as much as they can.

National park ni terletak di daerah Fukang. Kami kena amek bas untuk ke Fukang dulu, kemudian amek van atau cab untuk ke pintu masuk national park. Bas untuk ke Fukang perlu diambil dari North Bus Station. So, dari hostel, kami kena amek BRT untuk ke North Bus Station. Dari Hong Shan Station, kami amek BRT No.71 untuk ke Huan Wei Chu Station (this station is just one station after Hong Shan Station). Sebelum nak masuk ke BRT stop ni, bag akan diperiksa dan sesiapa yang ada bawak botol yang berisi air diarahkan untuk buang botol tu. Aku adalah antara yang disuruh buang botol air. Huhuhu… Once dah lepas dari bag check, kami tunggu BRT No.71 di sebelah kanan kami. Tambang sekali naik ialah CNY1. When we arrived at Huan Wei Chu Station, we got off from the BRT and went to the opposite side of the station to take BRT No.7. You don’t have to pay for another fare as you are still within the station. Kami ni tak tau, so kami keluar dari BRT stop dan masuk balik. Dah kena bayar tambang lagi sekali. BRT No.7 ni menuju ke North Bus Station (last stop for the bus route).

Kami terus beli tiket bas ke Fukang sebaik saja sampai kat North Bus Station. Harga tiket bas ialah CNY15 seorang. Bas untuk ke Fukang ada banyak. Perjalanan bas ke Fukang mengambil masa lebih kurang 1 jam 30 minit. Sepanjang perjalanan, mostly kami dihidangkan dengan pemandangan yang sangat menekan jiwa dan perasaan. Sebabnya, tak nampak apa pun. Aku tak pasti sama ada jerebu yang teruk ataupun kabus. So depressing. Jadinya aku tidur je sepanjang perjalanan. Dalam hati berdoa supaya keadaan cuaca di national park nanti akan jauh berbeza. Bila sampai di Fukang Bus Station, kami amek van ke national park dan bayar CNY40 seorang. Only 2 of us rode the van. We then asked the driver to pick us up at 4.00 p.m. since it’ll be very hard to get public transport back to the bus station during low season. Kami tak mintak pulak nombor driver tu, main percaya bulat-bulat je kat dia. Turun dari van, ada sorang pakcik berbangsa Uyghur sambut kami. Dia pandai cakap English walaupun tak berapa nak fluent.

Pakcik ni cuba beritahu yang dia ada sediakan perkhidmatan pengangkutan untuk ke Tianchi Lake. Kami pada mulanya tak faham, kenapa pulak nak kena naik transport lain? Bukan ke dah sampai? Tanya aku dalam hati. Apa-apa hal, kami masuk dulu ke Ticket Office untuk beli entrance ticket. Di kaunter, officer tu tanya sama ada kami nak beli entrance ticket je ke, atau sekali dengan bas? Kami confuse lagi. Dia pun explain kalau nak beli sekali dengan ticket bas, kena tunggu bas dalam satu jam lagi. Sebabnya bas yang disediakan semua dah berlepas ke Tianchi Lake. Dia nasihatkan kami untuk beli entrance ticket je dan naik cab a.k.a prebet sapu kat luar untuk naik sampai security checkpoint sebelum masuk ke kawasan national park. Dari security checkpoint tu, kami kena bayar ticket bas untuk naik bas yang disediakan dari security checkpoint. bila dah dia cakap macam tu, kami keluar semula untuk kowtim dengan pakcik tadi. Tapi sebenarnya dalam hati rasa tak puas hati, sebabnya kami macam kena bayar lebih je. Pakcik tu pun offer harga yang agak mahal untuk sampai ke security checkpoint je. So, kami decide untuk beli entrance ticket termasuk bas, dan biarkan diorang arrange transport untuk kami ke Tianchi Lake.

Kami sebenarnya sampai dah agak lewat, hampir pukul 1 tengah hari. No wonder la bas dah berlepas. While waiting for the staff to arrange the transport for us, we were later joined by 4 other local tourists to go to Tianchi Lake. Setelah lebih kurang 1 jam menunggu, akhirnya pihak national park menyediakan sebuah SUV termasuk driver untuk bawak kami sampai Tianchi Lake. Special woo!!! Kawasan national park ni dah diselimuti salji walaupun belum officially winter. Pemandangan kiri kanan dah macam winter wonderland. Everything was white! Since this was my first encounter with snow, dia punya perasaan jakun tu lain macam sikit. Hahaha… Tak sabar rasanya nak sampai ke Tianchi Lake. Bila dah sampai, kami janji dengan pakcik drebar untuk amek kami semula dalam pukul 4 petang. Harap-harap pakcik van tadi datang lewat sikit untuk pick-up kami ke bus station.

Kami spend masa lebih kurang 2 jam saja kat sini. Kalau betul-betul pusing segala ceruk yang ada, memang tak cukup masa. Tapi nak buat macam mana, tempoh perjalanan pergi-balik panjang dan terhad. Sambil-sambil berjalan tu, tiba-tiba ada orang tegur kami dalam bahasa melayu. Terkejut jugak, sebabnya dah hampir 2 minggu tak dengar orang keliling cakap guna bahasa sendiri melainkan ET je la. Rupa-rupanya yang tegur kami tu adalah sekumpulan cikgu-cikgu dari Malaysia yang berbangsa cina. Honestly, aku rasa happy sangat jumpa orang-orang kampung ni. Pada aku, semangat nasionalisme jadi membuak-buak bila kau berada di negara orang. Seriously, aku sayang Malaysia! Cikgu-cikgu ni datang ke Urumqi dengan menaiki flight dari Guangzhou. Diorang agak terkejut jugak bila dapat tau yang kami cuma berdua, dan tak tahu cakap mandarin. Before we parted, they kept advising us to always be careful. Baik cikgu!

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Tianchi @ Heavenly Lake

 

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Tianchi @ Heavenly Lake

 

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Tianchi @ Heavenly Lake

 

Tepat pukul 4 petang, kami bergerak balik ke entrance gate. Sampai je kat parking area setengah jam kemudian, kami nampak hanya ada sebiji cab sahaja. Pakcik van tadi tak nampak bayang pun. Kami memang dah agak dah. Bukan salah pakcik tu, tapi salah kami. Rupa-rupanya, cab tu dah dibook oleh 4 sekawan yang sama-sama pergi Tianchi Lake dengan kami. Sebelum 4 sekawan tu naik cab, kami cuba mintak tolong diorang untuk panggilkan cab lain. Diorang bagitau agak susah nak dapatkan cab, tapi pakcik cab yang diorang naik tu boleh amek kami after hantar diorang. Cumanya kami kena tunggu lebih kurang setengah jam. Since memang dah takde cara lain untuk balik semula ke bus station, kami setuju dengan cadangan diorang. Tapi pakcik tu mintak kami bayar deposit dulu, sebab takut kami akan amek transport lain. Selepas setengah jam menunggu, akhirnya pakcik cab tadi datang semula untuk bawak kami ke Fukang Bus Station.

Kami tiba semula di hostel lebih kurang pukul 8 malam. Suhu sekeliling punyalah sejuk, hanya Allah je tau. Kami terlompat-lompat untuk cuba memanaskan badan. Bila aku tengok weather apps, rupa-rupanya suhu -10°C. Patutlah… Bila sampai kat hostel, kami tanya kat receptionist lokasi kedai makan halal berdekatan. Mamat tu bagitau ada satu kedai berdekatan dengan police station. Once dapat direction, terus kami ke sana sebab perut dah lapar sangat. Dari pagi hanya makan biskut dan sosej je. Dekat restoran ni, diorang sediakan menu yang di’translate’ ke English. Tapi aku dengan ET dok pening kepala untuk fahamkan apa sebenarnya menu yang diorang ada. At last aku pick je dish yang bunyinya macam best, tapi sebenarnya tak tau apa. Tak lupa mintak tambah daging ayam sikit.

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Our dinner. Pedas tapi sedap…

 

Bila dinner kami sampai, rupa-rupanya apa yang kami order tu adalah another bowl of noodle. Cumanya, bukan noodle soup. ET yang dah tak boleh telan noodle lagi, terus tambah order nasi putih. Aku pulak, makan apa yang dihidangkan. Pedas tapi sedap. Cumanya, sebab portion yang terlalu banyak, aku tak mampu nak habiskan semangkuk mee tu. Habis makan, kami balik semula ke hostel untuk packing dan tidur. Besok dah nak gerak ke Kashgar pulak. Masa kami nak masuk dorm, kami terserempak dengan dorm mate yang 3 orang tu. Diorang dari Shanghai. Datang ke Urumqi semata-mata nak makan lamb skewer kebab kat sini. Dia cakap, lamb skewer kebab kat Urumqi is the best in China. Dah kalau orang China cakap macam tu, memang wajib lah nak kena rasa. Diorang ajak melepak sama. Tapi bila aktiviti melepak tu ada melibatkan benda-benda yang tak halal, kami tolak dengan cara baik. Lagipun, besok kami nak keluar awal pagi.

To be continued…

Silk Road (China) – Dunhuang

Pada awalnya, plan nak ke Dunhuang ni agak samar-samar. Sebabnya, tak banyak information yang kitorang dapat di internet. Kalau ada pun, tak berapa nak faham dengan explanation yang diberi. Ditambah lagi bila ada perubahan dalam plan asal. Disebabkan kitorang ni travel within limited duration, kitorang kena peka dengan perubahan waktu perjalanan especially long duration journey. Takut nanti ter’miss’ flight balik KL. Masa ET tanya either nak ke Dunhuang or terus je pergi Urumqi, aku tiba-tiba rasa macam tak best je kalau nak skip Dunhuang. Kalau boleh aku nak explore semua tempat. Dah dekat sangat Dunhuang tu dan masa perjalanan masih lagi under control. In the end, kitorang proceed jugak dengan Dunhuang berpandukan limited information yang ada.

Perjalanan train dari Jiayuguan ke Dunhuang mengambil masa lebih kurang 4 jam. Since we boarded the train waktu dinihari, kitorang spend masa dalam train dengan tidur je. Tak nampak ape pun kat luar. Yang bestnya train ke Dunhuang ni ada announcement dalam English. So, tak risau sangat. Even staff dia pun fluent English. Bila sampai, kitorang disambut dengan ramai ‘ulat’ teksi. Diorang beramai-ramai kerumun kitorang. Rimas pulak rasa. Mengikut information yang kitorang dapat, public bus ada disediakan dari railway station ke pekan Dunhuang. Dalam pada dok kena kerumun ni, kitorang nampak ada sebiji bas dekat bus parking area. Ramai jugak yang naik. Terus kitorang berkejar untuk naik bas.

Sebelum naik, aku tanya kat bus conductor sama ada bas ni pergi Mingsha Shan ke tak. Dia angguk dan kitorang terus naik. Mingsha Shan is also known as Singing Sand Dune yang terkenal di Dunhuang. We paid CNY3 per person for the bus fare. Dalam bas, hanya aku dan ET je foreigner, dan takde sorang pun yang faham English. Bas bergerak dengan kelajuan sederhana. Pemandangan di luar masih gelap. Then, kelajuan bas mula perlahan untuk belok ke jalan yang aku tak pasti sama ada jalan tu memang jalan yang proper, atau lorong untuk short cut. Sebabnya bas terhenjut-henjut sepanjang jalan. Bila dah keluar dari ‘lorong’, bus driver berhentikan bas untuk turunkan penumpang. Aku pandang ET sambil bagi isyarat sama ada nak turun atau tak. Tapi memandangkan hanya sorang dua je yang turun, kitorang stay lagi dalam bas. Kemudian bas bergerak lagi dan akhirnya berhenti di T-junction, di mana semua orang turun. Bila aku tanya bus conductor, dia tunjuk arah pintu bas. So, kitorang pun ikut turun.

Bila turun dari bas, sekali lagi ‘ulat’ teksi sedang menunggu untuk amek penumpang. Tapi kali ni tak seramai macam kat railway station tadi. Kitorang lintas jalan, dan seriously, kitorang tak tau nak tuju ke mana. Dalam kepala fikir untuk cari masjid je. Harap-harap ada la masjid yang berdekatan. Kitorang bertanya tentang arah masjid kat receptionist hotel yang terletak betul-betul dekat T-junction tu. Untuk ke masjid, kitorang bergerak ke arah kanan once keluar dari hotel sampai jumpa traffic light. Dekat junction traffic light, kitorang belok ke kanan lagi dan berjalan dalam 20 – 30 meter. Masjid terletak di bahagian kanan kitorang. Masa tu baru lepas azan Subuh. Kitorang terus ke praying hall untuk letak barang.

Aku keluar untuk ke tandas. Puas aku cari tandas perempuan tapi tak jumpa. Aku tanya kat sorang pakcik yang baru keluar dari satu bilik. Masa tanya tu, keluar segala perkataan arab siap dengan gaya sekali aku buat. Dia cuma tunjuk arah ke satu bilik berdekatan dengan pintu gate masjid. Aku try la bukak pintu bilik, dan yang aku jumpa bukan lah tandas, tapi bilik tidur. Aku dah pelik. Dalam bilik tu pun yang ada cuma lelaki je. Hmm… mungkin pakcik tadi tak faham apa yang aku maksudkan.

Aku cari pulak orang lain untuk tunjuk arah ke tandas. Pakcik yang aku jumpa kali ni cakap tandas or tempat berwudhuk perempuan memang takde. Pulak dah. Mana aku nak berqada’ hajat segala… Dalam pada aku dah tak tentu arah, pakcik yang first aku jumpa datang balik dan bawak aku semula ke bilik yang dia tunjuk tadi. Rupa-rupanya bilik tu adalah bilik pak imam. Pakcik tu pun tolong bagitau yang aku nak guna tandas. Dengan segera pak imam jemput aku masuk dan bagi guna tandas. Dia siap sediakan air panas lagi untuk aku.

Bila siap berwudhuk, aku bersiap untuk keluar dari bilik dan sembahyang dekat praying hall. Tapi pak imam tahan aku. Dia suruh aku sembahyang je kat bilik dia. Sejadah dah siap dia bentangkan atas katil. Rupa-rupanya kat sini, orang perempuan tak dibenarkan sembahyang kat masjid. No wonder there were no toilet and ablution room for women. But, Alhamdulillah, they were so kind to us when we were there. Diorang tanya aku dari mana. Aku jawab dari Malaysia. Once diorang dengar je aku orang Malaysia, diorang angguk kepala sambil tersenyum. Aku sebenarnya nak tanya banyak benda, dan aku rasa diorang pun sama. Tapi disebabkan language barrier, tak kesampaian niat aku. Setelah aku dan ET selesai urusan di masjid, kitorang mengucapkan terima kasih banyak-banyak pada orang-orang yang bantu kitorang tadi. InsyaAllah, jasa korang akan aku ingat sampai bila-bila.

Kemudian kitorang  masuk ke kedai makan berdekatan masjid untuk breakfast. Kali ni kitorang tanya kat makcik kedai tu apa lagi yang ada selain mee. Terus dia ajak pergi dapur dan tunjuk frozen pau dalam freezer. Kitorang terus angguk dan order 2 biji pau walaupun tak tau inti apa. Bila siap distim, makcik kedai terus hidangkan pada kitorang berserta teh cina. Rupa-rupanya pau tu berintikan carrot dan bawang. Aku hanya makan pau carrot since aku memang tak makan bawang. Rasa pau, memang sedap. Tak tau la sama ada aku lapar sangat atau memang sediakala sedap. Walau aku makan separuh bahagian je, tapi dah membuatkan aku kenyang dan puas.

Sambil makan tu, kitorang try berborak dengan makcik kedai seberapa yang mampu. Mula-mula dia macam tak berapa nak layan sangat. Tapi kitorang keep on bercakap. Masuk pula dua orang lelaki dalam kedai tu. Diorang tanya kitorang dari mana. Kitorang cakap dari Malaysia. ET siap keluarkan duit RM1 untuk tunjuk kat diorang. Bermula dari situ, semakin rancak perbualan dan akhirnya kami bergambar untuk kenangan. Kat sini, bukan senang untuk amek gambar penduduk tempatan. Semacam ada taboo kalau amek gambar agaknya.

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Bergambar kenangan dengan Muslim Dunhuang yang sangat baik hati

Aku sempat bertanya boleh tak kitorang tinggalkan backpack kat kedai ni sampai pukul 2 petang. Makcik tu kata dia tutup kedai awal. Tapi dia cadangkan kitorang letak backpack kat bakery yang terletak selang dua pintu dari kedai dia. Dia bawak aku jumpa owner bakery untuk bertanya. Bila dah dapat green light, aku patah balik ke kedai makcik tadi untuk panggil ET dan amek backpack. Entah macam mana, makcik tadi terus tukar fikiran, dan suruh kitorang simpan je backpack kat kedai dia. Dia cakap dia akan tutup kedai lambat sikit untuk tunggu kitorang. Aku rasa terharu yang amat masa tu. Tak sangka diorang ni baik dan bersusah payah nak tolong kitorang.

Setelah dapat direction untuk amek bas no. 3 ke Mingsha Shan, kitorang bergerak ke arah kanan dari kedai dan berjalan terus melalui Western Road sehingga sampai traffic light. Lepas tu, kitorang belok ke arah kanan untuk ke Shazhou Road South. Landmark yang ada kat situ ialah 7 Day Inn yang terletak di sebelah kanan kitorang. We then crossed the road to go to the bus stop, which was located opposite the inn. Tambang bas hanya CNY2 seorang. Mingsha Shan merupakan hentian terakhir untuk bas no. 3. Keadaan di Mingsha Shan masa tu agak mendung dan suram. Pemandangan sekeliling memang jauh berbeza dengan tempat-tempat yang kitorang pergi sebelum ni. Langit pun kelabu je. Kitorang terus ke ticket office untuk beli entrance ticket. We paid CNY122 per person. Kat sini, tiada discount diberi kepada international student ye.

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Mingsha Shan & Crescent Moon-shaped Spring Guide Map

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Kitorang habiskan masa kat sini lebih kurang 3 jam. Yang bestnya masa low season ni, visitors sangatlah kurang. So, gambar korang confirm tak di’photo bomb’ oleh orang-orang yang tak sepatutnya. Tapi yang tak bestnya, sejuk banget! Kat sini juga terdapat oasis yang berbentuk seperti bulan sabit (Crescent Moon-shaped Spring). Ada macam-macam aktiviti yang boleh dibuat kat sini termasuklah menunggang Bactrian camel, explore the desert by jeep or motorcycle, dan naik glider or helicopter. Janji ada duit. Hahaha… Bagi kitorang yang budget ciput ni, kitorang jalan kaki je untuk pusing-pusing dan panjat sand dune. Nampak macam senang, tapi penatnya macam panjat Gunung Rinjani (ET yang cakap, bukan aku. Hehehe… Sebab aku tak sampai Gunung Rinjani lagi).

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Bactrian camel sedang menunggu penumpang

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Sedang tabah mendaki sand dune

 

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Pemandangan Crescent Moon-shaped Spring dari atas sand dune

 

Nama Singing Sand Dune @ Mingsha Shan ni terbit dari lagenda tempatan. Pada zaman dahulu, kawasan ini merupakan medan peperangan di mana ketika sedang sengit berperang, datang angin kuat yang meniup pasir dan menenggelamkan semua orang yang sedang berperang dan membentuk gunung-gunung pasir. Oleh kerana peperangan masih lagi sengit, askar-askar meneruskan peperangan walaupun ditenggelamkan oleh pasir. Dikatakan bunyi yang kedengaran dari gunung pasir tu adalah raungan askar-askar yang sedang berperang. Tapi hakikatnya, bunyi tersebut adalah hasil dari geseran dan elektrostatik yang berlaku apabila pasir itu ditiup angin atau apabila kita berjalan di atas pasir.

Kewujudan Crescent Moon-shaped Spring ni jugak dikaitkan dengan lagenda tempatan. Pada zaman Dinasti Han, ada seorang general yang bernama Li Guang bersama dengan bala tenteranya melalui kawasan oasis ni semasa pulang dari menangkap seekor kuda yang gagah dan lincah dari Dawan, sebuah negeri yang terletak di bahagian barat China (ketika itu). Apabila tiba di kawasan oasis tersebut, askar-askar Li Guang sudah tak larat untuk teruskan perjalanan oleh kerana terlalu penat. Melihat keadaan itu, Li Guang terus menghunus dan memacakkan pedangnya di tepi gunung pasir, lalu mengakibatkan terpancutnya mata air dan membentuk tasik seperti yang ada sekarang.

Untuk pulang ke bandar Dunhuang, kitorang sekali lagi amek bas no.3 kat luar pagar scenic spot dan turun kat bus stop di Shazhou Road South. Then berjalan semula ke kedai makan pagi tadi untuk amek backpack. Makcik kedai takde pulak masa kitorang datang tu. So, kitorang ke bakery sebelah untuk tanya direction ke Liuyuan Railway Station. Lagi sekali aku sangat-sangat berterima kasih kat diorang ni sebab bersungguh-sungguh tolong kitorang walaupun ada language barrier. Sambil tanya direction, aku sempat jugak beli roti dan cookies. Sedap wei. At the same time, ada ramai makcik-makcik yang datang untuk jumpa kitorang. Terasa macam artist sat. Hahaha… Maybe sebab diorang kagum kot tengok 2 orang perempuan Muslim dari jauh datang tempat diorang ni. Entah la.

Destinasi seterusnya adalah ke Urumqi yang terletak di wilayah Xinjiang dengan menaiki train. Train ke Urumqi takde dari Dunhuang. Yang paling dekat adalah dari Liuyuan yang terletak kira-kira 120km dari Dunhuang. Dari bakery tadi, kitorang amek cab ke Dunhuang Bus Station, untuk amek bas ke Liuyuan Railway Station. Bas ke Liuyuan memang sentiasa ada. Cuma tak tau jadualnya. Takut tak sempat nak catch train pukul 7.00 malam ke Urumqi. Option lain untuk ke Liuyuan adalah dengan charter satu cab, tapi harga sangat mahal. Driver mintak CNY300 per person. At last, we decided to take the bus. For that, we paid CNY36 per person. We only had to wait for about 30 minutes for the next bus to Liuyuan.

To be continued…

Silk Road (China) – Jiayuguan City

From Jiuzhaigou, we took bus back to Chengdu. Destinasi seterusnya ialah Jiayuguan, yang terletak di Wilayah Gansu. Untuk ke Jiayuguan, kitorang akan naik train dari Chengdu yang akan amek masa lebih kurang 32 jam. Sebenarnya, tempoh perjalanan bagi laluan train dari Chengdu mengambil masa lebih lama berbanding dari Lanzhou. Tapi disebabkan oleh perkara-perkara yang tak dijangka, kena hadap je la. Kita hanya merancang, Allah yang tentukan. Dalam bas balik ke Chengdu, we met a Malaysian Chinese guy yang sama-sama nak balik ke Chengdu. Dia akan fly balik KL malam tu dari Chengdu Airport. Bila driver bus turunkan kitorang kat tepi jalan yang ntah kitorang tak tau kat mana, kitorang pun terus ‘ngendeng’ kat mamat tu. Sebabnya, dia ada GPS. Wink, wink…

Dia tanya kitorang nak pergi mana. Kitorang cakap nak pergi metro station yang paling dekat, which is Huaxiba Station. Maka, dia pun dengan baik hatinya tolong search kan dalam map. Mengikut GPS, jarak kitorang dengan metro station lebih kurang 1km. Mamat tu suggest naik cab je. Kalau tong-tong cab fare, agak jimat jugaklah. Tapi waktu tu pulak time peak dan cab memang sentiasa ada penumpang. Kitorang terus berjalan sambil cuba menahan cab. Bila kitorang dah sampai area Xinnamen Bus Station, kitorang berjaya tahan sebijik cab. But, the cab driver refused to take us to the metro station as he said the station is nearby and the road is heavily jammed. Terpengaruh dengan nasihat cab driver tadi, kitorang teruskan berjalan ke metro station. Agak basah jugaklah ketiak bila sampai station. Huhuhu…

Kitorang tak dapat nak berborak lama dengan mamat tu, sebab berkejar nak beli train ticket ke Jiayuguan kat Chengdu North Railway Station. Alhamdulillah, kaunter tiket banyak yang dibuka dan tiket untuk hard sleeper bahagian bawah masih banyak. Kitorang beli tiket ke Jiayuguan dan train akan begerak pukul 7.00 malam. Waktu tu baru pukul 5.00 petang. So, kitorang decide untuk ke Masjid Huangcheng untuk solat dan shopping sikit barang-barang makanan sebagai bekalan dalam train nanti. Kitorang gerak semula ke railway station dalam pukul 6.00 petang. Sampai je kat entrance gate, punyalah ramai manusia dah beratur tunggu giliran nak masuk. ET dah tunjuk muka risau, sebab takut tak sempat nak naik train. Maklumlah, procedure untuk naik train di China agak leceh: pegawai akan check document dulu, lepas tu kena lalu baggage scanner, and last sekali kena body check.

Kat China, tak payah sangat nak bersopan santun bila beratur. Kita kena sama ganas jugak macam diorang. Kalau tak, memang kita takkan ke depan. Diorang akan tolak dan potong barisan selagi boleh. After a while berasak-asak, at last kitorang lepas jugak masuk gate. Masa tu tinggal lagi kurang 10 minit je untuk train bergerak. Satu hal pulak bila coach yang kitorang nak naik ni jauh dari pintu station. Apa lagi, berlari la kitorang. Tak dan nak amek gambar train. Di setiap coach akan ada seorang railway staff yang menunggu di pintu masuk coach. Sebelum naik ke coach, railway staff akan mintak passport with visa dan train ticket. From my observation, railway staff ni garang-garang orangnya, walaupun perempuan. Susah betul nak senyum.

Once we sat on our assigned sleepers, train pun start bergerak perlahan-lahan. Fuuhhh… mujur sempat. Kalau tak, merana la nak kena tunggu the next train. Tak lama kemudian, sorang railway staff datang untuk collect our train ticket. Dia masukkan ticket kitorang dalam satu file yang mana dia akan monitor kitorang punya destination. So, bila dah nak sampai destinasi (lebih kurang setengah jam sebelum sampai), railway staff akan pulangkan semula train ticket kepada kita. Dia akan kejut sorang-sorang penumpang dan bagitau yang kita dah nak sampai ke destinasi. Pada aku, bagus jugak system ni, sebab bagi masa untuk kita bersiap-siap dan takdelah nanti ada penumpang yang ter’miss’ stesen yang sepatutnya kalau tak terdengar announcement. Lagi pulak announcement dibuat dalam bahasa yang kita tak faham.

Selama hampir sehari setengah kitorang stay dalam train, tak banyak aktiviti yang kitorang boleh buat, melainkan makan, minum, tidur, main game dalam handphone dan berborak sesama kitorang. Sepanjang perjalanan,  kitorang dihidangkan dengan pemandangan gunung-ganang dan gurun, serta bandar-bandar industri kecil yang dilitupi debu kekuningan. Nak amek gambar dari dalam train memang tak dapatlah, sebab tingkap semua berdebu. Tingkap pulak tak boleh bukak memandangkan suhu di luar coach yang sejuk dan heater system dalam coach yang tak berapa nak OK. Nak berborak dengan jiran sebelah pun tak dapat disebabkan language barrier. Senyum je la yang boleh pun. Mujur ada ET, kalau tak orang ingat aku gila sebab cakap sorang-sorang. Hahaha…

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Sunset view from the train

Kitorang sampai di Jiayuguan Railway Station pada pukul 3.30 pagi hari yang berikutnya. Terus kitorang ke ticket office untuk beli train ticket ke Dunhuang. Di sepanjang perjalanan train, kitorang memang amek hard sleepers kecuali train dari Kashgar ke Turpan. Tu aku akan cerita di lain hari. Yang aku perasan kat China ni, railway station beroperasi 24 jam. Pukul 3 pagi pun ticket office bukak untuk jualan ticket. Since kitorang sampai awal pagi dan takde arah tuju yang clear, kitorang melepak kat ticket office. Punya la sejuk dalam office tu sebab diorang tak pasang heater. Ditambah lagi dengan kitorang duduk bersila atas lantai marmar sebab takde kerusi disediakan. Pergghhh…. Tapi dalam public toilet panas. So, kitorang pun berpindah lepak kat dalam public toilet sambil buat apa yang patut. Hahaha!

Bila nak dekat waktu Subuh, kitorang bergerak keluar dari railway station untuk cari masjid. Sambil berjalan kitorang cuba dengar mana-mana bunyi orang mengaji atau azan, tapi malangnya bunyi kenderaan sekeliling meng’confuse’kan kitorang. Try jugak tanya orang yang lalu-lalang, tapi takde sorang pun yang dapat membantu. Bila dah agak lama berjalan with no clear direction, we decided to hail a cab to take us to the nearest masjid. Alhamdulillah sampai jugak kitorang kat masjid. Kelihatan hanya jemaah lelaki sahaja yang sedang bersembahyang. Kitorang tahan sorang pakcik yang baru masuk untuk tanya kat mana ruang solat untuk perempuan. Dia cuma tunjuk jarinya ke atas sambil buat muka tak ramah. Kitorang terus naik atas dan rupa-rupanya ruang solat bahagian atas tu berkunci. Jadinya solat kat depan pintu je la. Tapi mujur ruang tu agak besar. Lepas solat, kitorang sambung tidur sementara tunggu hari siang untuk ke Jiayuguan City.

Kitorang plan nak tinggalkan backpack kat masjid ni je. Malas nak bawak ke hulu ke hilir. Cumanya untuk tinggalkan saja-saja je kat ruang solat tu macam tak berapa nak yakin. Kitorang jumpa sorang budak lelaki (maybe student kat masjid tu) dan tanya boleh tak kitorang nak tinggalkan backpack kat situ. Again, we had problem understanding each other due to language barrier. At last, we decided not to leave our backpacks there. Keluar dari masjid, kitorang ke kedai makan untuk breakfast. Tekak dah mula rindukan nasi. Tapi malangnya, diorang hanya sediakan beef noodle soup je. At that moment, kitorang macam dah tak boleh nak telan another bowl of noodle soup. But since kitorang dah takde pilihan lain, so kitorang order semangkuk noodle soup. Just because we need something untuk alas perut. Walaupun semangkuk je, tu pun tak habis makan. Masa kitorang breakfast, ada few customers datang dan makan. Kitorang sangat kagum kat diorang yang boleh habiskan semangkuk noodle yang panas dengan lajunya.

Done with breakfast, we made our move to Jiayuguan City by walking to the main road to take bus no.4. Sadly, the road was not included in the bus route. Kitorang berjalan lagi (lebih kurang 3km) dalam keadaan di mana kitorang tak tau pun kitorang kat mana sebenarnya. Kiri kanan kitorang banyak bangunan-bangunan kosong yang berdebu. Dah rasa macam dalam movie Hunger Games pun ada. Bila kaki dah mula rasa penat, kitorang tahan cab untuk ke Jiayuguan. We asked the driver to use the fare meter, but he refused to do so. He asked us to pay CNY20 even though the distance is not far. Kitorang try nego, tapi tak dapat jugak. Memang rezeki dia hari tu nampaknya.

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Road in Jiayuguan City

Sampai je, kitorang terus ke tourist information center untuk simpan backpack. Alhamdulillah, they provided the service without any charges. Settle bab backpack, kitorang terus ke ticket counter. Entrance ticket for adult is CNY100. However, if you are student (local or international), you can get 50% discount here. Dengan syarat, korang mesti ada student card. Sebelum pergi China, ET dah pesan suruh bawak student card. Sebabnya kita boleh jimat banyak memandangkan entrance fee to any of the attraction sites kat China ni mahal bebenor. Tak semua attraction sites ni offer discount to international student. So, bertanyalah. Kalau tak tanya, rugi pulak nanti. Hehehe…

Sebelum bertolak ke China, puas aku cari student card aku yang lama. Malangnya, tak jumpa pulak. Punyalah banyak student card aku, satu pun tak munculkan diri. Haisshh… Aku decide, bawak je kad kerja aku. Mana la tau nasib baik, diorang terima. Muka aku dalam gambar pun nampak macam tak cukup umur je. Masa dekat ticket counter tu, kitorang bagi kad dan bagitau yang kitorang ni student. Padahal kad yang kitorang bagi tu dua-dua kad kerja. Staff kat kaunter tu punyalah belek. Siap panggil dia punya bos untuk check and verify. At last, hanya kad ET je yang diterima sebab ada perkataan “university”. Dah memang ET sorang lecturer. Untunglaa… Hehehe… Sebenarnya entrance ticket ni adalah untuk 3 tempat yang ada dalam Jiayuguan Scenic Area iaitu Jiayu Pass, First Fire Tower (the westernmost pier of the Great Wall of China – 8km south of Jiayu Pass) dan Overhanging Great Wall (a section built on steep and bare mountain – 8km north of Jiayu Pass).

Mengikut buku yang aku baca, Jiayu Pass ni adalah satu kota yang dibina untuk melambangkan ketamadunan masyarakat China pada zaman dahulu selain daripada tujuan untuk pertahanan. Terletak di bahagian barat laut China, kota ini merupakan kota terakhir yang memisahkan antara tamadun China dengan puak-puak yang tidak bertamadun lagi ganas. Pesalah-pesalah pada zaman dahulu akan dihukum dengan cara dibuang negeri (towards the unknown) melalui Jiayu Pass dan nasib mereka tak pernah diketahui sesiapa selepas itu. Masa aku kat sana, aku macam boleh rasa perasaan pesalah-pesalah tu bila dah dekat pintu gate sebelum diarah keluar dari kota. Mana taknya, beyond the city gate, takde apa-apa dah. Yang ada cuma gurun, padang pasir, dan gunung-ganang.

Kitorang menghabiskan masa hampir satu hari di Jiayu Pass. Segala ceruk kitorang pergi. Ada banyak cerita lagenda dikisahkan tentang tempat ni. Aku tak berapa nak amek port sangat dengan kisah-kisah lagenda. Aku lebih berminat dengan fakta sejarah. Kat sini ada satu laluan di mana diorang display gambar-gambar Great Wall of China yang bermula dari Hushan di timur dan berakhir di Jiayuguan (barat) dari sejak penemuan semula oleh seorang mubaligh Kristian hinggalah usaha-usaha membaikpulih. From my observation, Chinese people were so proud of their ancestors, and they would like to have those glorious times to be repeated in this modern world. Just my opinion. It could be wrong. Sorry.

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Tunnel towards the Inner City
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Inner City of Jiayu Pass
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Tunnel towards Outer City
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Bactrian camels available for rides at Outer City

Untuk lunch, kitorang makan apple yang dibeli di Chengdu dan baked sweet potato yang dijual di Jiayu Pass. Disebabkan cuaca sejuk, sangatlah nikmat makan sweet potato yang panas. Kitorang decide untuk tak pergi First Fire Tower dan Overhanging Great Wall disebabkan takde public transport untuk ke sana melainkan cab. Settle pusing Jiayu Pass, kitorang balik semula ke railway station. Kitorang amek bas no.4 dari bus stop yang terletak kat tepi jalan selepas keluar dari entrance gate ke Jiayu Pass. Sepanjang perjalanan balik ke railway station, kitorang scan kedai-kedai makan halal sepanjang laluan. Boleh tahan banyak jugak kedai halal, but we decided to go to the one nearest to the railway station. Maaf, jangan ditanya apa nama kedai ni, sebab kitorang tak boleh baca tulisan cina. Yang aku perasan, papan tanda untuk kedai makan halal kat sini berwarna hijau. Tapi kena ingat, tak semua kedai yang berpapan tanda hijau adalah kedai makan halal. Ada tu farmasi. So, kena check jugak.

Disebabkan kitorang dah tak boleh nak telan noodle soup, kitorang order nasi dan lauk yang ada dalam gambar kat kedai tu. Sebelum tu, kitorang tanya adik cashier tentang menu kat kedai tu. Dia cakap semua ada. Tapi lepas kitorang order, abang dia si tukang masak cakap takde. Noodle je yang ada. Kitorang dah stress. Aku memang dah tak larat nak telan sup kambing dah. Lepas tu aku nampak ada sorang mamat ni makan noodle yang dimasak dengan kuah ala-ala spaghetti. Aku terus cakap kat tukang masak aku nak order semangkuk noodle sebijik macam yang mamat sebelah tu makan. Cuma aku nak separuh je dari portion biasa. Aku explain dengan macam-macam gaya, dia angguk tanda faham. Tapi, dia tetap hantar 2 mangkuk. Hisshhh… Masalah problem betul mamat ni. Aku mintak dia amek balik satu mangkuk, dia taknak. Aku paksa dia amek balik satu mangkuk. Dia amek balik sambil geleng kepala dan membebel dalam bahasa dia. Mak dia pulak dok ketawa je. Lepas tu dia suruh anak dia yang jadi cashier tu act as our translator. But still we couldn’t communicate smoothly. Mak dia start membebel kat dia pulak. Dalam kepala aku dok terpikir mesti mak dia cakap, buat penat je aku hantar ko pergi sekolah belajar English, tapi at last tak tau jugak. Hehehe…

Lepas tu si tukang masak ni datang balik kat kitorang dengan bawak smart phone. Rupa-rupanya dia install translation apps semata-mata nak communicate dengan kitorang. Tergelak aku masa tu. Dia bagitau yang diorang ni risau kitorang order makan sikit. Takut tak cukup makan katanya. Aku gelak lagi. Apa pulak tak cukup makan. Terlebih ada la. Tapi lepas aku dengan sungguh-sungguh cakap yang aku OK, barulah dia rasa lega. Tapi still diorang bercakap sesama diorang sambil pandang kitorang. Pelik gamaknya kitorang ni kot. Habis makan, kitorang berjalan semula ke railway station untuk tunggu train ke Dunhuang pulak. Kitorang habiskan masa dengan melepak je kat dalam station sebab suhu terlalu sejuk kat luar. Dan akhirnya, train ke Dunhuang tiba dan bertolak dari Jiayuguan Railway Station pada pukul 2.45 pagi.

To be continued…

Silk Road (China) – Jiuzhaigou (Part 2)

Pagi-pagi lagi kitorang check-out dari hostel. Sebelum pergi national park, pagi ni kitorang plan nak cari terminal bas untuk beli tiket ke Lanzhou the next day. Then, kitorang akan amek train dari Lanzhou untuk ke Jiayuguan. Kitorang tanya kat owner hostel direction ke terminal bas. Macam ayam dan itik. Masing-masing tak faham. Tapi mujur ada dictionary apps yang ET download. Membantulah sikit. Auntie tu ada la bagi nombor telefon terminal bus untuk kitorang nak bertanya. Bayangkanlah, sedangkan yang face to face ni pun tak faham, ape lagi cakap kat telefon. Tapi apa-apa hal, kitorang berterima kasih la jugak kat auntie tu sebab bagitau arah mana nak pegi.

Dalam pada tak confident dengan arah yang dituju, kitorang nampak orang China ramai-ramai turun dari bas. Diorang kemudian berjema’ah berjalan menuju arah yang kitorang pegi malam tadi. Dalam hati aku, betullah gamaknya ni arah nak ke entrance national park. Mengikut apa yang kitorang faham dari auntie tadi, arah ke terminal bas juga adalah sama dengan arah nak ke entrance gate. Tapi bila sampai entrance gate, tak nampak bayang pun signage terminal bas. Kitorang bertanya dengan driver taxi yang ada, tapi malangnya, dia tak faham. Last-last kitorang bertanya dengan pak polisi yang ada. Dia cakap teruskan berjalan lagi lebih kurang 1km. Pergghh… Jauh sungguh. Dahlah kitorang dengan backpack yang berat. Nasib badan.

Kitorang mencari lagi signage terminal bas, tapi takde. Yang kitorang tau, terminal bas ni dekat dengan Jiutong Sunshine Hotel. Maka kitorang mencari la hotel tu. Hotel ni terletak kat tepi jalan besar. Masuk je kawasan hotel tu, terus nampak terminal bas. Dengan happynya, ET terus ke kaunter untuk beli tiket. Aku pulak, keluar bangunan untuk amek gambar sekeliling. Tiba-tiba aku dengar ET menjerit. Dah kenapa pulak? Cepat-cepat aku masuk balik dan tanya kenapa. Tengok muka ET dah gabra dan bagitau tiket bas takde. Pelik, apasal pulak takde? Dekat schedule board ade. Kenapa pulak minah kaunter ni cakap takde. Aku tanya lagi, mana la tau dia tak faham apa yang ET cakap. Awek-awek kaunter semua dah start tunjuk muka boring.

Kebetulan ada satu awek China datang nak beli tiket bas, dan dia tanya kitorang dalam english. So, kitorang pun explain. Dia terus pergi kaunter untuk confirm kan. Rupa-rupanya memang betul. Laluan bas ke Lanzhou dari Jiuzhaigou memang dah takde lagi. Dia suggest kitorang beli tiket balik Chengdu. Itu je cara nak keluar dari Jiuzhagou. Nak tak nak, kitorang beli jugak la. Nampak gaya,  perjalanan kitorang dah lari dari original plan. Tapi disebabkan kepala otak dah serabut, kitorang decide untuk revise plan malam tu je. Settle beli tiket bas, kitorang ke Jiutong Sunshine Hotel untuk cari bilik. Sadly, semua bilik penuh. Aik? Low season pun penuh? Pelik. Kitorang cari pula hotel/hostel lain kat area situ, tapi tak jumpa yang bukak. Kalau ada yang beroperasi pun, rate semalam mahal nak mampus. No wonder la Jiutong Sunshine Hotel tu penuh. Pekan kat area terminal bus ni dah macam deserted town pun ada. Macam takde orang. Kitorang plan cari hostel kat area situ sebab nak dekat dengan terminal bas. Since departure time awal gila, kitorang tak nak la kena bangun awal sangat untuk berjalan kaki. 2km tu jauhnya dari Xiangrui Hostel.

At last, kitorang give up cari hostel dan patah balik ke Xiangrui Hostel untuk stay 1 malam lagi. Settle check-in dan letak barang semula, kitorang menapak semula ke entrance gate. Pagi-pagi kitorang dah menapak sejauh 5km. Belum lagi campur nak menapak dalam national park nanti. Huhuhu… Kalau tak kurus jugak, tak tau la. Bila sampai kat national park, kitorang terus beli admission ticket. Harga tiket sangat jauh berbeza between peak and low seasons. During peak season (Apr 1 – Nov 15), the admission fee is CNY220/person. For low season (Nov 16 – Mar 31), the fee is CNY80/person. Banyak tu kan bezanya. Tapi ade sebab kot kenapa mahal. Tapi view memang daebak!!! Kalau time low season ni pun aku rasa macam dah awesome gile, bayangkan time peak, especially masa autumn. Susah nak cakap la. Hahaha…

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Long Lake

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Five Coloured Pool

Mode of transportation dalam park ni hanyalah environmental-friendly green tourist bus. Untuk naik bas ni, korang kena bayar bus fee yang mana harganya turut berbeza between peak and low seasons. Harga bus fee during peak season ialah CNY90/person dan CNY80/person masa low season. Boleh je korang tak naik bas, tapi aku tak sure la korang larat dan cukup masa nak pusing park ni. Opening hours pun berbeza. Park akan ditutup awal time low season berbanding peak season. Ye la, time autumn and winter, waktu siang adalah lebih pendek berbanding spring and summer.

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Bus stop for environmental-friendly green tourist bus

Jiuzhai Valley atau Jiuzhaigou yang bermaksud ‘Nine Tibetan Village Valley’ terletak di kawasan pergunungan Min Shan iaitu di utara wilayah Sichuan. Lembah ini sangat terkenal dengan tasik dan air terjun yang cantik lagi memukau serta mempunyai kisah-kisah dongeng/lagenda yang tersendiri. Untuk penerangan lanjut berkenaan Jiuzhaigou National Park, boleh klik di sini. View kat national park ni memang awesome. Tangan aku laju amek gambar dengan smart phone yang ada. Almaklum la, itu je yang mampu. Hehehe… Bila dah tak larat amek gambar, aku hanya mampu tengok dan simpan ketat-ketat dalam memory otak aku ni je. Oh, btw, kitorang lunch simple je, makan telur rebus dan apple yang kitorang beli semalam.

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Arrow Bamboo Lake

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Wooden walking platform @ Panda Lake
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Panda Lake

Pihak pengurusan park ni ada juga sediakan platform untuk kita berjalan dari satu tasik ke tasik yang lain. Korang akan berjalan menyelusuri tasik, sungai dan anak sungai serta air terjun. Semua tu just right next to you. Dia punya rasa excited tu, jangan cakap la. Kitorang ni terjerit-jerit manja gitu bila tengok view yang cantik. Lepas tu, orang sekeliling dok tengok je kitorang. Dalam hati diorang agaknya cakap, kesian budak 2 orang ni. First time keluar kampong kot. Kekeke… Sebenarnya kalau ikut rasa hati aku, aku nak duduk situ lama-lama. Mana cukup pusing-pusing dalam masa 1 hari je. Aku siap cakap kat ET yang aku nak je pindah dok situ. Best woo kalau hidup dikelilingi nature ni. Lepas tu jadi local kat situ. Hahaha!!!

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Five Flower Lake
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ET @ Pearl Shoal
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Nuo Ri Lang Waterfall

 

Dengan langkah berat, kitorang keluar dari park, dan seterusnya jalan kaki balik ke hostel. Sebelum tu, kitorang singgah kedai makan untuk ‘tapau’ nasi dan lauk untuk dinner malam tu. Dan sebelum tidur, kitorang rearrange program perjalanan kitorang yang dah lari sikit dari asal. Once settled, terus kitorang tidur sebab besok kena keluar sebelum waktu Subuh untuk jalan kaki sejauh 2km ke terminal bus.

To be continued…