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When I Journeyed Down the Silk Road

A curious writer tells of his unforgettable adventure down one of the world’s oldest and most historically important trade routes, braving the cold weather and high altitudes to experience breathtaking sights and sounds.

Text & Photos by Zain HD

In July this year, I was part of a 10-car expedition from Malaysia that travelled from the most western part of China – Kashgar in Xinjiang Province, to the most eastern point, in Heilong Jiang Province, where just across the narrow Wusuli River, I saw Russia! This 30-day, roughly 12,000km journey on a 4-Wheel Drive is definitely one to remember, and a must to share. Enjoy!

Day 1 – 8th August 2012 : Good morning Kashgar! Cars arrived at our hotel in Kashgar, and we’re almost set to go….almost! Massive cleanup and safety checks are on the agenda before taking off. That’s me on the roof rack unpacking the equipment, food and dust. Many greetings and hugs between new and old faces in this 2012 expedition.

Day 2 – 9th August 2012 : At 3500m altitude, the Karakule Lake’s unbelievable beauty reminds us why we suffered the sudden drop to 2 degrees Celcius at night, the shivering experience further enhanced by strong winds. I found out the next morning that most of us did not sleep all night. Looks like we all suffered together… in silence!

Day 3 – 10th August 2012 : One of the many re-fuelling stops we made, as we started travelling towards the other end of East China. It’s quite a sight to see the locals bringing their goats to the petrol pump. Since one cannot beat them, one should join them, I put my shoes and socks up on the roof of the car to dry. Just because.

Day 4 – 11th August 2012 : Our morning after our camp over at Kargilic - a farm boy observes us from a distance as we packed up our tents and drove off. Communication breakdown – no one got his Facebook name. By the way, there was no water supply at the campsite, so Hasta la Vista!

Day 4 – 11th August 2012 : I took my turn behind the wheel, and lo and behold, I forgot my prescription glasses. I improvised by layering two glasses on top of each other, and gave myself a congratulatory pat on the back. I thought the road looked a little sandy to me, but what do I know? I was Mister Six-Eyes on that day.

Day 5 – 12th August 2012 : Goodbye Xinjiang Province, and hello Qinghai Province. We will be enduring 880km of driving through the largely barren Taklamakan Desert. No, this vintage bike here is not re-fuelling to join us. By the way, motorcycle helmets are not in fashion here.

Day 6 – 13th August 2012 : Our most memorable midnight activity – a car problem in the middle of our incredible journey! Don’t worry, this episode only lasted for less than 10 minutes as our super mechanic fixed it in a jiff, and soon we were back on the road!

Day 7 – 13th August 2012 : What a day! We covered more than 600km of distance today. We were behind schedule; drove extra and finally reached Crystal Lake in Qinghai. Trust me, setting up tent in the cold dark windy desert at 2,885m altitude can be both fun yet unpleasant. The slumber right after that - the best! The next morning, the sun blaring down the ‘crystal’ shining in the sand made the place seemed like Glitter Land.

Day 8 – 14th August 2012 : Yeap, we’re still in the desert. The terrains are beginning to look the same over the many horizons, and everything feels like déjà vu. Mini sand whirlwinds of sand were not uncommon, and our macho selves felt empowered (and scared) to drive through them many a-times.

Day 9 – 15th August 2012 : Believe it or not, this is a sundry shop! Made of tents, managed by Tibetan farmers, it’s located at 3700m altitude – a stumble-upon as we passed through scenic mountains. The stove there runs on manure. Locals selling mushroom hung around the roadsides as we started downhill, along with their yaks and sheep.

Day 10 – 16th August 2012 : We’re on the way down, and at 3200m altitude, we camped at a sheep and yak farm run by Tibetans. Although the land was scattered with excrements literally everywhere, the workers treated us to top class hospitality. Free flow hot tea and fresh bread all day long - a rewarding treat after some of our cars had trouble crossing the river and the more equipped cars had to winch them with a strong rope. Unexpected obstacles are aplenty, but it was a truly an unforgettable experience.

Read the full feature in the November issue (page 100) of Travel 3Sixty. Read it here.