The Wandering Scot

An occasional travel journal.

Browsing Posts tagged China

Pamir Passes

Kulma Pass, from the Tajik side

The Kulma Pass between China and Tajikistan was finally opened to foreigners last year, so I seized the moment and took a road trip through from Kashgar to Murghab, then up through the high passes into Kyrgyzstan. There had been a little early snow, enough to make things scenic, but not enough to block any of the passes.

The Kulma Pass border crossing is at 4362 meters (14313 ft), on the Eastern edge of the Pamirs. I had transport pre-arranged on both sides. West China Expeditions took me from Tashkurgan to the main Chinese border post and also drove me the final 20 km up to the top border post, which was very helpful. On the Tajikistan side, Pamir Off-Road Adventure met me and took me down to Murghab.

The Chinese border post didn’t open until 12:00 Beijing time, but they then processed me out quite quickly. They X-rayed my bag, but didn’t ask to check inside, let alone review my laptop or phone. (But you shouldn’t rely on that – this border post is known for sometimes making very thorough searches.) At the top of the pass, the final Chinese review took only a couple of minutes and the Tajikistan entry took about 20 minutes.  I noticed a score or so trucks waiting on each side to go through, but I seemed to be the only foreign traveler.

After a day in Murghab, we headed up the Pamir Highway to Osh (Kyrgyzstan). After a quick stop at the scenic Kara Kul lake, we went up though the Ak Baital Pass (4655 meters = 15272 ft) and then through the Tajik-Kyrgyz border at the Kyzyl-Art Pass (4282 meters).


Ak Baital Pass (4655 meters)

North from Kyzyl-Art Pass (4282 meters)

We hit some shallow snow drifts on the road and got stuck a couple of times. But we eventually made it through. I was very glad to once again safely reach Osh, with its fine statue of Lenin and its excellent Hawaiian Pizza. 🙂

Xinjiang: Shipton’s Arch

This morning I was out at Shipton’s Arch, near Kashgar, Xinjiang, China.

It was unknown outside of local lore until British traveler Eric Shipton “discovered” it in the 1940s.  It is probably the tallest natural arch in the world.  It grows out of a mountain slope and then bridges over a deep canyon.  So one side the arch is only 60 meters or so up from its base, but on the other side it is about 450 meters.  There is a great view through the arch to rugged mountains beyond.

The hike up to the arch was a strenuous 45 minutes, starting as a gentle slope, but working up to a steep scramble over ice and snowy rocks, with metal or wooden steps in the steepest parts.  The observation platform at the top is at about 9500 ft.

Harbin Ice Festival 2016

Harbin.Ice.And.Snow.1

Harbin St BasilsI’m in Harbin, China, for the annual Ice Festival.  This includes various fine ice sculptures, etc.  But the highlight is the gloriously insane collection of giant ice buildings at the Ice and Snow World.  After dark they are lit from within, to stellar effect.

This year the collection included buildings loosely modeled on St Basil’s, the Blue Mosque, the Brandenburg Gate, and many others.

Harbin Blue MosqueIt’s hard to capture in photographs, but the reality is wonderful over-the-top genuine top-of-the-line insanity.  It’s complete madness!  It’s really great!!

Despite rumors of Arctic weather, the early evening was a balmy Zero Fahrenheit (-18° C).  So distinctly cold, but quite tolerable in my North Face down jacket!

Harbin.4 Harbin Brandeburg

Kashgar: New Ancient WallsI’m in the old Silk Road city of Kashgar, in North-West China,  famous for its wonderfully preserved Ancient City Walls.  Or rather, about to become famous, as the Ancient City Walls are still under construction.  They’re coming along well, and in just a year to two I expect the tour guides will be enthusiastically showing off these venerable Ancient Relics.

Kasgar: Wall ConstructionOK, OK, there are still some genuinely old pieces of city walls here and there, and maybe some of the current work is only over-aggressive “restoration”.  But there are definitely large sections of wall that are still covered in white construction dust and look spanking new.  I was even privileged to see a section of Ancient City Walls being built before my very eyes.  They are doing a good job, and with a few years of natural weathering, it will look fine – definitely more impressive and authentic than the mundane older sections.

Kashgar: Really old walls

Authentic Old Walls

“Authenticity” is often a flexible concept in China.  But I was amused to see the creative process happening right in front of me.

Tibet: Everest Base Camp

Everest from RongbukTibet has been on my target list for many years. I finally made it!

I took the train in from Lanzhou to Lhasa and then overlanded out to Kathmandu, with a short detour to the Chinese Everest Base Camp, up at 5180 meters (16990 ft). We drove up from Shegar and got to EBC shortly after dawn, on a wonderfully clear day, and were rewarded with an epic view over the mighty mountain. Hurrah!

Hong Kong’s Dark Tower is one of my favourite buildings.

It is officially called “2 International Finance Center”, but that seems very poor camouflage for such a mighty command post, obviously destined for World Dominion.  I find it both wonderfully elegant and distinctly sinister.  I particularly love the claw-like fingers gently cupping over its peak.

I suspect it is from the same architects who designed Orthanc.