Mauritius October 2017

Despite a bit of a convoluted journey including a night in Perth on the way across from Australia’s east coast, then a 4 hour delay due to an Air Mauritius pilots’ strike, we made it.  Even in the dark as a driver took us to our Flic en Flac apartment, we could see some of the big rock formations that dot the landscape of Mauritius. Next morning Mr Frequent Flyer had an early start for work commitments but I had a walk along the beach over the road and found this:

Unfortunately this beautiful weather did not last – the first two days were the best of our nine day stay. After that, we had overcast and windy weather most days, particularly in the afternoons. I had four days on my own while Mr FF worked and still enjoyed exploring the area and its blend of India, France and Africa. I loved the quirky beach shacks selling delicious local food. I walked miles each day along the beach, read my books and admired the tropical flora. I liked speaking some French, though it was definitely different. I took the local bus to the Cascavelle shopping centre one day for 24 rupees (only about $A1). The bus was a bit rickety and was ‘air conditioned’ by having the windows opened, but was fine – I enjoyed being with the locals. The buses had names like King of the Road, Road Warrior or Perle du Jour.

The driver who had taken Mr FF to and from his workplace for the first four days was made available to us on the fifth. Good timing as I felt I had seen most of Flic en Flac. With his help, we planned a day of sightseeing in the north. Our first stop was the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanic Gardens at the charmingly titled town of Pamplemousses (grapefruits). The gardens were begun in the 1700s and had some fantastic lily ponds and pads and a great variety of palms.

The Mon Plaisir chateau in the grounds was reminiscent of the planters’ houses in the Deep South of the USA – not surprising really with the French having colonised both places.

L’Aventure du Sucre was a Museum describing the history and importance of sugar in Mauritius. Very interesting but at times a bit too detailed for me. It was amazing though to read about the immigration and slaves – it really was a history of Mauritius not just sugar. We tasted different rum, jams and sugars at the end.

The simple little church at Cap Malheureux was our next stop. (It’s so named because boats ran aground on the reefs here – the name means Cape Unfortunate). It was a picturesque spot right at the north of the island. Some of the islands nearby were used to quarantine immigrants with infectious diseases way back.

Our driver’s suggestion of Pereybere beach rather than Grand Baie for our beach stop was perfect and we spent an hour or so enjoying this little cove.

Another day, we hired a little car and went to the south of the island. We definitely recommend doing this. The driving was not difficult, being on the same side of the road as we are used to. The flexibility and the chance to get out to some small villages and rugged scenery made it a great day out. The Slaves’ Memorial was our first stop. Lots of sculptures from various worldwide sculptors depicting slavery. The mountain of Le Morne was an appropriate backdrop. It was here that some slaves, unaware that they were finally free, jumped to their death after seeing police approaching.

Le Morne was a great walk despite its sad history. We had to sign our names in a little book then sign out again on our return. We did not not go right to the top – apparently you need to be with a guide for that – but even from halfway up, we got great views. Not as spectacular as some we saw on postcards because of the cloud, but we got the idea.

We continued around the south coast through undeveloped small villages. We stopped at a big rock with steps up, then at Riambel beach for some noodles in the rain.

After some lunch, we turned inland on the A9 and the road climbed. We had not planned on visiting the Bois Cheri tea plantation but it was afternoon tea time so why not? We enjoyed the tea tasting – a bargain at 100 rupees for as many as you would like to try. Initially we parked at the front and started to walk in, but realised we could drive in further and park near the lake.

The Grand Bassin had a huge Hindu temple complex complete with a sacred lake, statues of Shiva and a massive but empty car park. On searching for more information I found out that half a million people come for the major festival each year. We continued to Alexandra Falls and the Black River National Park. No hiking though, as it was getting late and we were not keen on night driving.

Because we had to check out in the morning and were leaving at night, we spent our last day in Port Louis. After leaving our bags with the security man, we caught the local bus from Flic en Flac. It was an old bus but it was fine and very cheap. We enjoyed seeing the different areas on the hour long journey. The (‘Immigration’) bus station was conveniently opposite the Aapravasi Ghat. Once slavery was abolished, this was where the indentured labourers (really not so different from the slaves who preceded them) arrived. It’s now a World Heritage Museum site and is free to get in. Very interesting with lots of personal anecdotes, photos and some interactive activities to bring the history to life for younger people. The labourers mostly came from the Indian subcontinent and very few went back, although they were technically allowed to at the end of their contracts. Thus Mauritius gained its Indian influence that remains to this day.

There were symbolic footprints and steps where the labourers stepped onto Mauritius and some buildings remained from that time.

The nearby Central Market was definitely a real market. While there was some tourist tat, it was predominantly fresh food for the locals.

Le Caudan waterfront had a surprising number of eating places. It’s a shopping area combining some older buildings with more modern ones, reasonably successfully. After a delicious thali and a coconut pancake, we continued on our walking tour.

Government House, built in 1738, is the oldest building in Mauritius so we had a quick look. It is a colonial building surrounded by other old buildings, right in the centre of Port Louis. Not open to the public as it is still in use for the parliament.

The shade of the big banyan trees in the nearby Company Gardens gave us a tranquil break. Sadly the nearby yellow Natural History Museum (complete with Dodo skeleton!) was closed for renovation.

We found the return bus easily and were glad to have a seat for the journey back to Flic en Flac. Then off to the airport, back to Perth and finally home the next day.

Travel for 2016 was over but a few things are planned for 2018.

Flic en Flac Restaurants:

We had good fish (sea bream) at Bougainville both grilled and in a curry. With complimentary chili bites and a carafe of pleasant local wine, this was a great introduction to Mauritian food. We ended up going back a second time on our last night.

Zub Express was a cheap and cheerful place. We had samosas, butter chicken, fish curry, naan and saffron rice and could not finish it all. It was our cheapest meal out, partly because they serve no alcohol.

La Marmite Mauricienne was okay, but I was not crazy about the spices in the Fish Vindaye – they tasted like pure mustard to me, but maybe that’s how it should be. They also asked if we would like noodles or rice with our meal and we presumed this was included, but were charged extra for another main course. Not a big deal, but annoying.

We really enjoyed Rib and Reef especially the fish skewers. It was a bit smarter than some of the other places, though the service was a bit slower.

Casa Pepe was reasonable – not the best, nor the worst pizza we’d had.

We ate in a few times, getting food both from the Spar in F en F and Monoprix in the Cascavelle shopping centre. Monoprix was the better of the two but both had the French influence with delicious baguettes and pastries.

p.s. Only two places to eat in the airport, both fast food. We opted for Subway as the slightly healthier of the two. Eat before you get there if you can!


A Wee Stay in the Highlands, September 2017

Before we even collected our hire car at Edinburgh Airport, I knew what our first stop would be – The Kelpies.  Zooming past these on my ‘Hairy Coo’ tour a few days earlier had me wanting to see and know more.  So after collecting our little Peugeot, off we went.  These huge statues are a tribute to the role of horses in industry, pulling canal boats and wagons.  (The name Kelpie comes from mythological creatures that were super strong.)  The statues are 30 metres high and are set in Helix Park next to a canal.  We loved them and spent time wandering around and seeing them from all angles. 

En route to Stirling, we saw a sign for Bannockburn and wanted to have a quick look at the battlefield.  We were tossing up whether to go to the whizz bang audio visual visitors’ centre but then realised there was no need – we could just walk out to see the battle site and statue of Robert the Bruce.  Stirling Castle was our next stop and we joined a free guided tour after paying to go in.  Went to the amazing Great Hall (converted to army barracks during WW2), the chapel, kitchens, palace and gardens.  We were surprised to see an exhibit about the Terracotta Warriors in China. We saw them on our trip to China in June so enjoyed another look at this small example.  Lunch was from the excellent on site Unicorn cafe and the weather was mild enough to sit outside.

A surprising exhibition in Stirling Castle!

 The Wallace Monument was next.  We had stopped there on my tour from Edinburgh but I hadn’t climbed it, knowing that Mr Frequent Flyer would like to.  I was right and we had a much better day for the views from the top.  Displays about William Wallace described his life and his death (in gory detail!)   

Well deserved afternoon tea after an uphill walk and 246 steps in the tower.

The scenery was spectacular as we drove on via Callander, Loch Lubnaig and Lochearnhead to Killin.  Killin is small so it was easy to find Dall Lodge.  We chose this place on its wonderful reviews and can only confirm and add to them.  It was excellent.  Our hosts Monica and Roman were originally from Switzerland and have somehow combined Swiss efficiency with local knowledge and genuine warmth.  Very comfortable, if slightly dated, rooms, but wonderful hospitality and exceptional breakfasts.  Really exceptional – as in porridge slow cooked all night, the best quality fruit selection I’ve ever had in any guesthouse or hotel, (including fancy places), homemade yoghurt and bread, and Scottish favourites like haggis and black pudding.  

Dall Lodge from the side

Private dock and parklands opposite

Dall Lodge – best place to stay in Killin!

Our lovely hosts booked us in for dinner at two of the town’s best places.  The first night it was the Bridge of Lochay Inn, a delightful old inn next to a rushing stream.  We walked there on a beautiful clear evening.  We were a bit early so sat outside next to a stone bridge with a drink until our reserved time. We ate scallops with black pudding wontons plus haddock fish cakes for starters, then fish and chips and fish pie for mains – all delicious. 

Monica helped us plan out a driving loop the next day.  The single track road was an experience, but thankfully we met very few other vehicles, though quite a few sheep. 

We actually missed our intended walk towards Ben Lawers and unknowingly set off on another longer one in the heather. It was serene and scenic though we had to do a bit of guesswork to return to the car!

Glen Lyon Post Office was a welcome sight after a morning of walking and driving in fairly remote areas.  It still operates as a Post Office, but it was its tea room facility that interested us. Delicious soup and sandwiches with a view before we continued our journey.  Some cyclists were eating up before going the opposite way to us.  We didn’t envy them as we had come over a pass then had a long downhill drive into the valley.

The actual Glen Lyon was narrow and surrounded in parts by high hedgerows so driving was a bit of a challenge at times, but nobody seemed to be going too fast.  Fortingall was an attractive village anyway, but we were there to see the world’s (possibly) oldest living thing – the Fortingall Yew Tree.  We were looking for something huge, but actually it was not the biggest tree around.  It is believed to be around 5000 years old and has two ancient trunks.  Unfortunately it had to be fenced off to preserve it and stop vandalism. 

Kenmore was a picturesque stop at the other end of Loch Tay from Killin.

We walked to Taymouth Castle, built in the 1800s on the site of a former castle. It is in the process of being renovated and will be an upmarket golf hotel. 

Crannog was a word I had never heard but crannogs were ancient overwater dwellings.  This reconstruction was on the south side of the Loch and shows what life was like 2500 years ago.

The 17th century Ardeonaig Hotel

Loch Tay in the rain

Despite the drizzle, we took our wonky umbrella and for dinner walked to the charming Courie Inn, again reserved by our host Monica.  She also ensured we got the best table in the place.  Again we had delicious fish and good wine.  People eat early here – we were the last people in the place at 9.15 but there was no pressure to leave.  In fact we had a great chat with the owner.

We heard the rain before we even got up on the third day.  We lingered a bit longer over our second huge breakfast and planned our day.  We decided to do a simpler version of Monica’s walking tour around Killin, driving where possible.  We parked near the ruins of Finlarig Castle and explored them.  Lovely to be the only people there – the drizzle probably had something to do with it.  We walked along the edge of Loch Tay and admired the lone angler, then returned to the car to search for Killin’s own Stonehenge – an ancient stone circle, admittedly a tiny version of its more famous cousin.  We found it but admired it from afar in our warm and dry vehicle.

The Falls of Dochart, thundering down at the entrance to Killin, were our last stop in this lovely village.  Even in the rain (or perhaps because of it) they were spectacular. 

The rainy weather meant that our views of Loch Lomond were virtually non existent so we headed straight to Luss, singing ‘..the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond..’ (badly) as we went.  Luss had charming cottages whose owners seemed to be competing for best floral display.  Our destination was the Coach House where for lunch we had a huge bowl of soup and wedge of bread each.

Mr Frequent Flyer mentioned that his favourite whisky was Glengoyne, once recommended to him by a Scot.  I noticed that their small distillery was almost on our way back to Edinburgh so we made a short detour.  It was surprisingly busy, perhaps because of the dismal weather.  We went on a slightly difficult to understand tour, as our guide was Russian with a strong Scottish accent, but we got the gist.  Glengoyne only has single malt whisky and the water used originally all came from a nearby waterfall.  We had the obligatory taste and learned about the colour changing over the years and the amount of evaporation (known as the ‘Angels’ Share’). 

Each bottle represents one year. The colour changes and the ‘Angels’ Share’ evaporates (from casks, not bottles).

Our final night was at the Premier Inn near the airport.  This was our first stay at this chain and it impressed us with a very comfortable bed, reasonable price and pleasant decor.  Ideal for a one night stay with an early start.  

Our Scottish sojourn was over.  Next we were off to Mauritius.

Edinburgh, August 2017

The long journey from Australia to Scotland was eased considerably with an unexpected upgrade to First Class on the Dubai to London leg.  A bucket list item ticked off!  I must have looked like I had a sign round my neck saying ‘I’ve never been in here before!’ as the lovely flight attendant quickly asked me if I’d like her to show me the features of the ‘suite’. I happily agreed. We were able to eat a leisurely and delicious meal together and time passed too quickly – not my usual feeling on a long haul flight.  Then, crunch, back to reality, the Heathrow to Edinburgh leg in economy and if we’d needed any food, we would have had to pay. 

After one night in a comfortable Airbnb in the West End, we walked to our accommodation for the next week, Distillers’ House in the same area.  This building was recently refurbished and 10 apartments of a high standard were created.  Ours (number 10) was excellent – very spacious and luxurious with everything we needed.  We were slightly concerned about reviews saying it was noisy, so armed ourselves with ear plugs just in case. We had no need for them as our apartment was at the rear and top of the building. We had keyless entry which worked well and there was no ‘Who’s got the key?’ problem when we went out separately.

Mr Frequent Flyer was busy most of the week with work so I did a lot of looking around on my own.  We did manage to do some things together, including a walk to Dean Village and along the Water of Leith to St Bernard’s Well.  Dean village seemed so rural and village-y for a place just 10 minutes walk from Edinburgh’s centre. 

We kept walking towards the Modern Art Museum and got there in the end despite the Water of Leith path being temporarily closed.  Loved this place, its beautiful cafe and interesting sculpture garden. And it’s free to get in, always a bonus.  There’s even a free shuttle bus to the main Art Gallery in Princes street.

Not just attractive landscaping, this was a sculptor’s work of art.

Another place we visited together was the Scotch Whisky Experience.  It was my gift to Mr Frequent Flyer, who doesn’t mind a dram.  The first part of this place was a bit corny, riding in a barrel through audio visual displays, but did explain the process of whisky making.  We then watched a beautiful movie about the different whisky producing regions of Scotland before our favourite part, the tasting.  The guide explained the peculiarities of each region and even gave us a scratch and smell card to reinforce the differences.  I only tasted the lightest one, not being a huge whisky fan, but Mr FF had the ‘Gold Tour’ so had four (small ones) to taste.  We also visited the world’s largest whisky collection, part of the experience.

With the festivals still on, Edinburgh was buzzing.  Lots of buskers, posters and people.

Having been in Edinburgh a few years ago (as well as long, long ago), I decided not to go to the castle, the Britannia and Holyrood Palace, though I really recommend all three.  Instead I went to a couple of quieter places on the outskirts of Edinburgh. 

The first of these was Dr Neil’s Garden in Duddingston.  I knew I had to catch the number 42 bus but wasn’t sure where to get off. I thought we were close and asked the bus driver where to get off and he said ‘Here!’  So that was good timing.  For the record, get off at Holyrood High School, walk back the way you came until you get to a car park, then walk through towards the church where you will see a sign.  Follow the path below (this is not the garden as I first thought) , veer to the left at the end and the gate is there.

 The garden was wonderful and for most of the time, I was the only person there.  It was very peaceful, full of flowers and had the Loch and Arthur’s Seat as backdrops.  I just wandered and sat. One of those times when I didn’t want it to be over.

Flowers were everywhere in Edinburgh.  Hanging baskets, window boxes and local parks were all ablaze with colour.

I was not aware of the existence of Scottish Impressionist painters, but found them in the Art Gallery of Scotland as well as other works by Scottish painters. It’s a great place, very central and free to get in.  Many famous and not so famous artists from around the world represented.

Cramond was a village I had planned to visit and when the sun came out, I headed out there by bus.  I got the £4 day ticket, as I did several times and it was perfect when I planned three or more trips on the tram or buses.  It can be bought on the bus or from machines along the tram line. After being slightly unnerved when the bus seemed to be on the return journey from Cramond, I asked some fellow passengers who unfortunately were as lost as I was.  We all got off there and then and it was the right place.  A short walk down a street to the right and there we were. In the sunshine, Cramond looked a perfect seaside village with boats, an offshore island, lovely cottages and a long promenade along the shore.

 A statue from Roman times, the ‘Cramond Lioness’ (now in the National Museum of Scotland) was discovered here relatively recently, in 1997.  After walking along the promenade, I retraced my steps and went back the other way, along the Almond River Walkway, another lovely spot.  The island was not accessible as the tide was not out. 

Back in town, I climbed Calton Hill for great views all over Edinburgh and saw the Nelson memorial tower and the Parthenon like structure. 

I had prebooked the free (tip based) Hairy Coo tour for one day,  aware there would be some overlap with our weekend in Killin a few days later. Walking to the starting point on the Royal Mile at 8.15 in the morning, I  had the unusual experience of seeing the Grassmarket and lovely Victoria Street almost empty. 

 The tour was a fun and full day, leaving at 8.45.

We started with South Queensferry with its three big bridges (the Queensferry Crossing actually opened while we were in Scotland).  We passed the Kelpies statues (more about them in my next post) en route to Stirling where we stopped at the Wallace Monument. We admired Stirling Castle from below, with some ‘hairy coos’ perfectly placed in the field below.

The Wallace Monument

Stirling Castle

The Lake of Menteith, Scotland’s only lake (a technicality- the others are lochs) was a beautiful stop. 

Lunch was at Aberfoyle – the bakery was great.  At the Woollen Mills shop a sheepdog was in action rounding up, not sheep, but ducks.  A stop up in the heather covered hills gave us a chance to wander for a bit. 

Next Loch Katrin.  A lovely spot probably but in the rain it wasn’t at its best. Very cute ‘glamping’ cabins had just been put in and a boat trip was still going ahead despite the gloomy weather.  I guess they are used to it!  

True to the tour’s name, we fed some Hairy Coos along the way.

The last stop was Doune Castle, used in Monty Python movies as well as Game of Thrones and Outlander.  The amusing audio tour was narrated by the Monty Python team.  Doune apparently means castle so our guide said, so it was ‘Castle Castle’.  

We arrived back in Edinburgh around 6.20.  It was a full day out but great for a quick look at some Scottish scenery if your time is short. My remaining day in Edinburgh was spent doing some shopping and exploring the West End area.

We were looking forward to the second part of the Scotland trip – a long weekend in the Highlands. 

Funny Menus and Signs in China

Lots of menus and signs made me smile in China.  Of course with my meagre vocabulary of about 10 words in Mandarin, I shouldn’t have been laughing.  But it was hard not to be amused.  Most pictures are from our Silk Road trip but some are from an earlier visit to the north of China.  Hope you enjoy them.  (Please note, all images are copyright.)

Brain maintenance was probably just what we needed, we who are listed at number 3 below as the ‘old, old people’.

Not a green to be seen in this dish.

Who knew the humble loaf could do so much?

Love a drink of Lattice Gas!

Just don’t use too much paper, ok?

Watch out for that precipitous topography!

..and perhaps Mick Jagger.

…. or you won’t experience the success below.

Watch your soiling or at least keep it small. And put that hammer down!

I was definitely relieved. We need more of these heart warming places!

Last Days on the Silk Road and a March to the Arch

The Radisson Blu hotel had an indoor pool and we enjoyed doing a few laps after the copious buffet breakfast.  We enjoyed the luxury of this hotel but would not have wanted to stay the whole time here, as it was a bit out of town.  It was a great combination to stay at the Sultan first, right in the hustle and bustle of the old town, then finish with this.

In the afternoon our friendly driver Mohammed Ali collected us and took us to Shipton’s Arch – our last excursion on the Chinese Silk Road.  This was a wonderful half day and a great finale to our trip.  It was about an hour’s drive to get there – it’s about 70 kms from Kashgar near the Tajikistan border.  The arch is known to the locals as the ‘Hole in the Mountain’ and is the highest natural arch in the world.  It’s a massive 457 metres – higher than the Empire State Building.  Eric Shipton was the British Consul in Kashgar and a great explorer and climber.  He mounted a couple of expeditions and finally reached the arch in 1947.   But it remained relatively undiscovered after Shipton’s time until 2000, when National Geographic sent an expedition to locate and document it.  Since then it has become a tourist attraction, but thankfully not yet too busy.

We had a beautiful sunny day for our hike.  First we had to walk through a dry river canyon, then up some sets of steps and up a narrow canyon, bizarrely walking across a thick piece of ice on a hot and sunny day!  Then up a killer staircase at the end.  We had a great sense of accomplishment and enjoyed sitting down on the observation platform admiring the scenery and eating some fruit.   We met a young American who had cycled from Kashgar – a long slow ride uphill – then climbed to the arch.  He was going to cycle the 70 kms back to his Kashgar hostel.  It diminished our achievements somewhat!

First glimpse of the arch. Looked an easy stroll from here but the hardest part was still to come.

It was hard to capture the size and scale of the arch in photographs.  We couldn’t even see the bottom, let alone take a complete picture. 

Mohammed Ali dropped a rock but it took ages to hear it hitting the bottom.

The way down was much easier of course.  We met a few groups of people coming up and they took photos of us and with us. Some had very flimsy footwear and some were quite old.  Not sure how they went but we would definitely recommend decent shoes on the rocky ascent.  And definitely take some water and snacks with you.


Back in Kashgar, we were dropped off at the very ornate Altun Orda restaurant for our final Silk Road dinner.  

We had a delicious meal and an entertaining evening when there was a small fire on the premises and the staff couldn’t figure out the fire hose.  We were in no danger and there was just some smoke.  

But food wise, we liked Nuran better.  It was equally ornate and the food even more delicious.  We went there several times and always enjoyed the Uighur and Turkish style food.

Kasir restaurant was recommended by Ali at Uighur Tours, and we caught a taxi there one night but it was closed being the end of Ramadan, so it was back to Nuran.  As well as our favourite Tea House, we also enjoyed a cuppa at a waterside restaurant over in the west of the old city.  

For a few snacks and drinks, we loved the Ilhas supermarket, close to the Sultan Hotel.  As well as the usual stuff (though no alcohol), they had all kinds of Central Asian foods and amazing displays of biscuits and cakes.

On our last morning in Kashgar, we had another swim in the Radisson pool, then we were off to catch our Air China flight.  The four of us were sitting at the airport when suddenly we were surrounded by about 50 schoolchildren.  We were photographed many times – they changed the configuration, rearranged their teachers and clicked away.  We didn’t have any choice!  We were resigned to being the Kardashians of Kashgar.  We drew kangaroos and Australian maps and wrote ‘Good luck’ in multiple autograph books, but just when it was getting a bit tedious, their flight was called and they waved and ran off.

Our flight to Beijing via Urumqi was thankfully on time and we arrived in the capital late at night.  Nobody there was the least bit interested in taking our pictures.  

Sadly, the  Silk Road trip was over.

Silk Road 11: Karakul Lake and Tashkorgan 

A couple of months before we went to China, we had arranged a two day trip to Karakul Lake and Tashkorgan with an overnight stay in a yurt at the lake. But in the meantime, the rules in China changed – foreigners were no longer allowed stay at the lake. We paid a small extra charge to instead stay at the Crown Inn in Tashkorgan.  

We set off with a driver and guide along the Karakoram Highway, also called the Sino-Pakistan Highway.  This is the highest paved road in the world and although we didn’t get to the highest part, we did go to 4100 metres which was the highest we had ever been without flying.   We had to go through a major checkpoint (really like a border crossing, showing passports etc)  just out of Kashgar and another further along.  Our guide had to show papers to the officials – I think this was a permit but they did all that for us.   We stopped to get some lunch provisions in Upal then continued on through a red rock canyon.  Very rugged and nearly as good as Danxia Landforms earlier in the trip.

View from the van

The scenery was just spectacular all the way from there.  We stopped at a huge lake surrounded by sand dunes and glacial peaks. We got out and stretched our legs and avoided the many vendors standing hopefully in the cold.

Onwards and upwards we went to Karakul Lake, in the shadow of two seriously high mountains – Muztagh Ata (7546 m) and Kongar (7719 m).  We had our lunch in a yurt.  A Kyrgyz woman served us yak milk tea which wasn’t great so we politely had as little as possible.  We ate our bread and fruit and the woman brought out things she had for sale.  It seemed more of a commercial venture than our visit to the Tibetan nomad early in our trip had been.  We all decided it was a bit of a blessing in disguise that we couldn’t stay in the yurt – there were no washing or toilet facilities at all and other people were there as well.  I had imagined a cosy evening, just our group, talking to the owners about their lives, but it wasn’t really like that.  Quite a bit of rubbish around too.  It was fine for a lunch stop though and the setting was magnificent.

We went for a walk part of the way around the lake, hoping the cloud would lift from the mighty mountain but it never quite did.  Some yaks appeared as we walked and positioned themselves perfectly for photographs.

Our journey continued on to Tashkorgan (or Taxkorgan or Tashkurgan). It was a strange place.  It really had the feeling of a frontier town and at 3600 metres above sea level, was totally surrounded by mountains.   It’s the last town before the Khunjerab Pass at the Pakistan border and is populated by Tajik people.  The women wear distinctive hats with the veils added after they marry.  The young woman in red below right was wearing a special wedding version. (Not sure about the boy with the gun!)

The Crown Inn was like a country motel and was run by a friendly Singaporean couple.  The rooms were basic but clean and the breakfast was good. We all agreed it was much more comfortable than a yurt!  We had dinner in a Hui Chinese restaurant where the service was appalling and they all shouted and screamed, but somehow it ended up being a fun evening.  The food was good when it finally came and we met a friendly fellow Australian who had travelled through the Stans and was going the opposite way to us.

Next morning we walked along boardwalks in the nomads’ grassland area (our guide called it Graceland which initially confused us!).  We visited the Stone Fort for which the town is named. Tashkorgan means stone fort.  The fort is 2000 or 2500 years old depending what you read.  Even our guide laughingly said it seems to have suddenly aged an extra 500 years in the last year or so.  We enjoyed climbing up on the ruins against the backdrop of snowy mountains.

Then a long, long drive back to Karakul Lake and ultimately Kashgar.

More views from the van

At the highest pass (4100m or 13451 feet) there was a turnstile and entry charge of 130¥ which seemed a bit pointless when we could walk about ten metres to the right and have the same view over the fence!

Back at Karakul Lake, we had lunch in the same yurt.  The woman used a pasta machine to make the noodles, then cooked them in a pressure cooker. The weather was much greyer and more overcast than the previous day so we had been lucky.

After a long day’s drive we were happy to arrive at the luxurious Radisson Blu hotel in Kashgar for our last two nights on the Silk Road.  We were upgraded to bigger, deluxe rooms.   We enjoyed a bottle of Chilean wine with the excellent buffet dinner. 

 Next we were off to Shipton’s Arch.

Silk Road 10: Kashgar 

After a six hour delay at Urumqi airport, we could hardly believe it when they called the flight to Kashgar.  We arrived at 8.30 pm and were relieved to find that the Xinjiang Sultan Hotel was very comfortable and central, with quite over the top faux French antique furniture in the rooms. It had been a bit of a gamble as it had few reviews and was very cheap. Next morning we discovered that the breakfast was not terribly appealing but with the addition of a few of our own supplies (bananas, porridge etc) it was fine.  Kashgar, though, was wonderful!

Xinjiang Sultan Hotel

Xinjiang has international borders with nine countries as well as internal problems, so it is not surprising that security levels were high. Razor wire, scanners at the doors of hotels and other buildings and a police station every 500 metres all seemed a bit over the top.  The police all looked very young and walked around with riot shields at the ready as people did their shopping.  Despite this visible presence, Kashgar still had a  peaceful feel to us. 

The streets around the Sultan were great – bustling with little stalls, people in colourful clothes and a great atmosphere. It looked like a movie set. 

After meeting with Ali Tash at Uighur Tours and organising our trip to Karakul Lake and Tashkorgan, we followed his recommendation and went to the Hundred Year Old Teahouse. This was a wonderful, old fashioned place and the balcony was perfect for watching the world go by. We returned again and again, trying different teas and listening to the musicians.

We walked to an old part of the city where people are being moved out.  A bit depressing as it’s decrepit but people are still living there. 

Other areas were much better preserved and people everywhere were very friendly. A Uighur man, a local teacher of English stopped us and had a long chat.  There was one area of Kashgar that other travellers told us was ‘like Disneyland’ and you had to pay to get in.  We didn’t ever see it.

 We bought some bagel type things for our breakfast the following day but while they were delicious freshly made, they were rock hard next morning.  These two were making them.

In case we forgot which country we were in, there was a huge reminder in Renmin Square!

We timed our visit to Kashgar to coincide with the Sunday Livestock market. People come from all around to trade sheep, goats, donkeys and cattle about six kms outside Kashgar. We arranged a driver (Mohammed Ali from Uighur Tours) and he walked around with us explaining about the animals. It was really in your face – don’t know what else I was expecting!  Animals arriving by motorbike, truck or walking,  lots of people pulling animals along, transactions everywhere and big pots of pilau to feed the crowds.

The Sunday Bazaar was a separate market, back in town, so our driver took us there next. We wandered around this huge place for a while and finally escaped from the sock and stocking aisles, only to be surrounded by hats, then material.  Despite the crowds, the odd motorcycle rider would venture through the aisles!

We spent time at the Id Kah Mosque – a very peaceful place surrounded by trees and gardens.  

 In the heat, we enjoyed the shade.  There was an ‘interesting’ sign about the respect given to the ethnic minorities.  All sounded so good. Hmm….

Our trip out to Abak Hoja Tombs was not without drama.  The taxi driver on the way there was a maniac driving at crazy speeds in a very rattly old car.  Then on the way back, the driver dozed off to sleep several times, only waking up with a bit of a prod from the front seat passenger!  The tombs and gardens were well worth a look.  The glazed tiles and peaceful gardens gave the place a serene feel.  Abak Hoja was a ruler of Kashgar and is buried here as well as his granddaughter, who became the ‘Fragrant Concubine’ to one of the Chinese Emperors. 


After a few days in Kashgar, we were headed for the Karakoram Highway, the highest road in the world.