Region of another Muslim sect …

Little did we know, by following the boy down this track at the Gircha village, we’re entering a world we knew so little of.

Mr Raza, the manager of the schools in Gupal area supported by Aga Khan Foundation, introduced us to another sect of Muslim. This region in the Northern Area are mainly populated by the Ismaili Muslim, devotees of Aga Khan. The females don’t seemed to be as reserved and were eager to interact. Here we’re all seated in the grand hall, solely for receiving guests.

A village tour by Maksut, his son, revealed a magical garden of clear spring water, fertile soil & lush greenery. This is a plot for potatoes, one of the fame export from this region.

Wheat is also a main crop & their staple food. Using the flow of the spring to the river, this 100 yrs old mill provide the grinding for the village. The owner, the grandson of the man who built the mill, just collects 1kg of flour for every usage.

How enchanting this place is, simply listening to the music of the flowing spring, rhythm of the breeze, rustle of the leaves & songs of the birds. Due to unavailable technology, we apologise for the inability to project its realism.

History says that a Sunni Muslim used to stay in the village. This ‘machit’ is where that man practice his belief, sized just for one.

There were no conflict between the different Muslim, hence this little piece of history has been preserved. Recently the unique ‘machit’ has even undergo some rework.

In the grand hall, cotton mattresses were laid for us. Such comfy and royal treatment, indeed spoilt in a 5-star accommodation. Thank you so much!

Mountains after mountains … can never get enough.

Smooth ride downhill all the waaaayyyyyyy…. in the end Sean went too fast, too furious, hit a pothole and overturned and skidded. *ouch*

A sturdy bridge over the mighty Indus river while the majestic giants look on. How small we really are.

With proper irrigation, a green oasis like this village can be cultivated. Often projects like this has been funded by foreign aid.

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Out of park, into Sost

Steep walls, loose rocks, snow & wind have caused much erosion in this stunning landscape. This major landslide has to be revived by constructing a concrete tunnel to provide a safe passage.

Endangered animals of Khunjerab, the Ibex and MarcoPolo sheep.

We found the hot spring after coming round for the 2nd time!

This marks the secret spring :)

For 2 nights since leaving the Chinese border, we went ‘missing’ in Khunjerab. Now it’s time to set the record right … Sost!

A small town that served as an important & the only China-Pak border crossing. Here Chinese yuan can be use freely.

The Chinese trailer drivers each held a special China-Pak passport for clearance. Here they may have to wait as long as a month for their goods to be cleared.

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A taste of Chinese cooking in Khunjerab National Park

Weather turned for the better as we descended. The Pakistani KKH runs along the Indus river for most of its way through narrow gorges and high mountains. As we discovered later, we were not always on a downhill ride towards Islamabad.
(Pakistan … 06.06.05 to 05.07.05)

Wu, preparing to cook beside his truck in the Khunjerab National Park. Wu and 3 other truck drivers have driven their trucks load of commodities from Urumqi to Pakistan. The KKH is meant to facilitate trade between Pakistan and China and it is these guys who drive 40′ container trucks from China, across the Pass to Pakistan, Sost. We were invited to join their dinner when we met them just outside KNP. The drivers were stopping for the night there due to a puncture repair.

A taste of Chinese cooking in Khunjerab National Park (KNP) with the Urumqi drivers. All of them were well prepared for such cooking on the road, anywhere. Some had the gas burners, the salt and sugar, the disposable chopsticks and the different varieties of ‘fast food’. We had a meal of spicy preserved, marinated beef with tomatoes, cucumbers, Xinjiang nan, salted peanuts from Hu-jie and Almond instant milk drink. And before this dinner, we were all trying to spot the ibex that were seen on the mountain opposite us. So much for a ‘picnic in the park’!

The Park Rangers from KNP with whom we stayed overnight with. The KNP is home to several highly endangered and protected species of animals such as the snow leopard, ibex and marco polo sheeps, etc. Since the establishment of KNP, several community around has to be relocated and grazing in the park is reduced and discouraged. Every foreigner travelling through the KNP (which is on the KKH) has to pay US$4 park fees for every entry. According to the Park Rangers, certain percentage of this park fee is given to the relocated community, to assist them in sustaining their livelihood.

Riding on the narrow KKH with the rock wall that is prone to landslides on our right and the cliff that drops 500m+ to the river below, on our left.

The wreckage of a Chinese truck lies, uncleared on the river bed, a testament to the danger of KKH. We were told by the previous Chinese drivers that the driver of this fallen truck narrowly escaped death when his truck plunged into the river during an eventful night some months ago.

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Back to the Khunjerab Pass!

The plan was simple. Alight at 1st check post after the Pass if we could not alight on the Pass. Stay overnight in the no man’s land (we are not officially in Pakistan yet). And ride up 17km to the Khunjerab Pass. From the Zero Point, we would then start our descend down the Pass, on the KKH towards Islamabad.
Back to the Khunjerab Pass!
(Pakistan … 06.06.05 to 05.07.05)

The 1st KSF Check Post, 17km from the Khunjerab Pass.

Staying overnight in the Commandent’s room! They Khunjerab Security Force (KSF) initially rejected our request to stay at their premise and urged us to proceed on the road to Sost, >60km, the Pakistan Immigration Check Post. However, “anything is possible” with the Pakistanis (as we have also heard from other riders) and we managed to persuade and convince them to allow us a night’s stay there. With the ice breaking done, everything turned out smoothly and in a relaxed atmosphere – the Commandent gave us his room, we even had a gas stove (notice the fiery flame beside SK?) to provide some warmth and we were invited to have dinner of chapati with beans. The welcome drink … a cup of hot, soothing tea. That night, the KSF officers undressed to civilians, singing and dancing, accompanied by 2 bottles of chinese vodkas – something that is illegal to pocess at least in this part of Islamic Pakistan and something we could not capture on video or camera. It was our surprising, unexpected 1st night in Pakistan mountains. Salam Ali-khum, Welcome to Pakistan!

The KSF officers who have warmly hosted us, sheltered us and fed us.

Riding up the KKH towads Khunjerab Pass. It had in fact snowed the previous night but fortunately this part of the road was not covered by snow.

“KKH, Pakistan-China Friendship” a simple signboard on the way. Simple as it seems, it carries the deep relationship between Pakistan and China. The testament to this friendship is the magnificent feat of building the highest metalled road on which our wheels rolled.

Back to the Zero Point, start of the Pakistan KKH after 2hrs of uphill riding. It started snowing again when we reached the Pass. The only non-white things were our bicycle tracks and the KSF building. If you refer to the previous photo when we reached the Zero Point the day before (refer to ‘Crossing the Khunjerab Pass’), you would see the difference after a night of snowfall.

On the Khunjerab Pass we met this group of Chinese with their 4WD. They were from Urumqi but were not the ordinary tourists. On Sean’s right is the Team Leader and organiser. On Sk’s left is a Pakistani KSF Officer and beside him, an experienced 4WD cross-country/dessert rally driver. He has in fact recently won some 4WD rally across the Xinjiang dessert! In addition, there were 3 ladies inside the jeep. They came on this overland trip just to swim in the ICY COLD Karakuli lake! The ladies are those athletes who trained for such extreme swimming, alike the cross English channel kind of swimmers. Hmm … anybody game for some sub-zero swimming or dessert rally on 4 wheels??

The Chinese PLA frontier soldier on duty at the Pass. We chatted with him for sometime and he was masked all the way. Just when we decided to part, he then realised his ‘masked identity’. “At least you should know who you have been talking with … ” he joked as he removed his mask.

With the Pakistani KSF on the Pakistan side of the Khunjerab Pass. The deteriorating weather did not allow us more time on the Pass. It was a pity, with the snowing, everything was white, we could not actually see anything besides the road, downhill.

OFF we go! Riding down on the wet KKH from the Khunjerab Pass (at 4700m+)

Islamabad, 800km. This is our last shot on this part of the downhill. Due to the snowing and subsequently raining that blinded our vision, we have to concentrate on the hairpin turns down the mountain … brrr…

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Crossing the Khunjerab Pass

We wanted to try negotiating with the Chinese authorities on cycling across the Khunjerab Pass from Tashkurgan, 126km away. From cyclists we have met so far, all of them told of the same story – the only way to cross the Pass from either Pakistan or China is by arranged jeep or authorised bus service, a new legislation that seemed to be effective from 2004.
Inside the Customs House, we went through the normal cross-border check – stripping all panniers from the bikes and having them screened through X-ray machines. The Customs guys were friendly and approachable. Even a few Immigration Officers came forward to chat with us, especially since we could converse easily in mandarin. The atmosphere was relaxed, the only people there were some Pakistanis and English tourists all bound for Pakistan via the state-authorised bus service that plies Tashkurgan and Sost.
We approached the Immigration Officer to ask about the possibility to ride across the Pass. One of the Officer decided to give it a try, in a bid to help us, and went into the office to enquire. However, he returned with the same story, citing security issues, remote environment, bad roads and foul weather on the mountains. The same reasons as at Torugart Pass almost applicable on this Pass. He did his best and we did not want to press on with the Officer.
After exiting from the Customs house, the bus was still there and the staffs were pressing us to buy tickets asap as it had to leave soon. The driver was complaining about the snowing at the Pass and his worries of crossing. We avoided the bus operator’s staffs and approached the Chinese Army Officers there, trying again to negotiate a passage through the Pass. They declined to further comment, and that the decision and rule is firm. Finally, after making a scene at the Customs House, the Officers gave their last say – either we leave immediately with the bus, or they would void our departure stamps on the passports and chased us out of the premise!
This time, we have to bargain with the monopolised bus operator on the bicycle or “cargo” charges. In the end, we settled for US$30, much to the unhappiness of the staffs. The bus driver was getting impatient and we rushed to load the bicycles onto the bus roof.
Finally, we set off for the 4hrs journey by bus across the Khunjerab Pass …
(Xinjiang,China … 12.05.05 to 05.06.05)

A PLA soldier making a last passport check before leaving Tashkurgan. All authorised vehicles passing through Tashkurgan and Khunjerab would have a military personnel to escort. This guy would be in our bus throughout to ensure ‘security’ and no bus-hopping.

A pee-stop along the way, after almost 3hrs on the road. Actually the bus was not allowed to stop halfway. However, the young PLA soldier was asleep and some Pakistanis who could not hold their bladder any longer managed to persuade the bus driver to e-stop. Almost all the guys alighted for the much needed relief. Weather was not on our side and a sand storm was brewing in our way. Peeing in a sand storm was not something we were accustomed to! By this time, the PLA soldier had woken up and was furiously shouting for everyone to board and resume the journey. After a confirmed head count, we rolled off again.

Bad weather approaching and visibility reduced as we climbed higher. For >3hrs, the bus drove through almost dessert liked barren landscape, passing a few villages and scattered yak herding Tajik settlements. From this point onwards, we were zig-zaging up the mountain.

Driving up at snail’s pace on the ripped off KKH road.

The Chinese PLA frontier post, 3km before the Khunjerab Pass. The soldier in our bus left us at this point. He would catch the next incoming jeep from Pakistan to return to Tashkurgan.

Approaching the Khunjerab Pass. The Chinese watch tower can be seen ahead. The Pass is actually on a plateau at 4700m+, sandwiched by snow-claded mountains of the Pamirs and the distant Karakoram.

800m from the Chinese border, we reached the Pakistani side, the zero-point of the KKH from Pakistan Khunjerab. We approached the Khunjerab Security Force (KSF) for permission to alight there and cycle all the way down to Sost, 80km away. However, the Officer there rejected our request and instead instructed us to seek clearance from his Commandant, 17km down the Pass.

Barely squeezing through a passage through snow caused by landslide.

Our bikes travelled in this manner for 140km, binded on the bus roof, bumped, shaken and bruised but survived the ordeal. *phew*

The bus rolling off, leaving us with our bicycles and panniers at the 1st KSF Check Post. The good news was that we were allowed to alight there, with the permission from the Pakistani Commandant! *clap*

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Sichuan food, Japanese girl … in little Tashkurgan

Outside “ChongQing” restaurant with 2 new Szechuan friends. Song, the 18yr old boy from ChongQing met us while we were riding around the city and brought us back to his restaurant where he’s an apprentice. There, we met Chef Chen (in cap), Song’s teacher, especially
experienced in southern China cuisine. He prefers southern dishes for the sweet and salty rather that the hot and spicy Szechuan ones. According to him, too much Szechuan dishes and your tongue, lips and stomach would not be good. We spent almost the whole afternoon in their restaurant where Chef Chen eventually offered us his room for our stay in Tashkurgan.
(Xinjiang,China … 12.05.05 to 05.06.05)

Junko, a 24yrs old girl, another Japanese. We met her at the Khunjerab Customs where she just emerged, having crossed the Khunjerab Pass on a 6hrs 4WD journey from Pakistan. Junko took her
savings and started travelling from April 2004. From Egypt, she went to Africa where she has trekked and climbed the peaks of Mt.Kenya and Mt.Kilimanjaro with another Japanese girl. She even brought along a foldable bike in her travel (in pic) so as to commute easily in cities. She has been travelling alone ever since her friend left her in Africa. When she could not secure a transport down to Kashgar, we brought her back to “ChongQing” restaurant, to put up for the night in Chef Chen’s room.

Song busy with cutting vegetables for Chef Chen. Already an experienced apprentice, Song however does not yearn to be a cook in the future. He wants to be a doctor … hmm …

In ChongQing restaurant at mid-night, with Song, Mr.Tang (the owner of ChongQing) and Chef Chen. We brought Junko there and were invited to a 2nd round of meal – Szechuan hot and spicy mixed soup, meat and vegetables. Specially cooked by Chef Chen for us, it was so spicy that we were prespiring and barely able to speak. Junko only tasted the food and kept her distance ever since. “O-ye-shi” but too spicy!!

Infront of ChongQing restaurant the morning before Junko’s departure to Kashgar. Her next destination would be Tibet from Kashgar and then a short tour of South East Asia before returning to Japan.

Corn porridge and xiao-long buns. Mr.Tang urged us to have some hot food and fill our stomachs before we depart for Khunjerab. He is an avid outdoor lover and is especially enthusiastic about our cycling stint. Under the strong and sincere persuasion from Mr.Tang, we had 3 rounds of what you see in the photo! *grin* It was one of the most memorable breakfast we had, filled with so much warmth and friendship. A pity we only met Mr.Tang the night before and did not have the chance to know him more. With a breakfast too much for our tummies, and bagful of encouraging words from Mr.Tang, we set off to the Khunjerab Customs.

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Back on the KKH … to Tashkurgan

On our way back to the KKH, we visited YuSanJiang again at his meteological office. This time, we are able to witness water and temperature recordings. A Kyrgzs colleague (pic) taking water sample from the river below the office.
(Xinjiang,China … 12.05.05 to 05.06.05)

It was another round of meal cooked by YuSanJiang with his Kyrgzs colleague. We were the ‘special’ guests to him and he even extended invitation to stay overnight at his room.

Out of the brick factory site, we came to this plateau where the environment was totally different – more greens, grasslands and trees with a river running through. It looks liked paradise unlike the sandy, barren landscape in the valley.

The smallest province in China, Tashkurgan and one of the highest at 3000m. The remote province does not attract many developments and heavily depend on the central government for funding. The main road that runs through the city to the Khunjerab Customs is barely 2km long.

Some of the grocery, general stores and motorcycle repair shops along the main street. Alot of mainland Chinese have been encouraged to start business there, catering to the needs of the thousands of locals, mainly Tajiks. Tourism is minimal there. Many of the Han Chinese we came across are from Henan. They commented about the remoteness, extreme climate and the difficulties of making money in Tashkurgan. Looking at the quietness of the city, one can easily understand their difficulties.

An eagle (famous in the Pamir Plateau) statue erected in the city centre. Behind lies the historical and cultural musuem dedicated to this region.

A Tajik selling “SuoYang”, the same herb that Ou and Sean went picking in the valley the previous day.

Family planning with a local favour, targeted at the Tajik minorities. The minorities in this region can enjou 2~3 children per family, unlike “1 child policy” for the Han Chinese.

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“Xia-Ban-Di” Dam

The valley that would be flooded after the completion of the dam in 7 years time. Work has barely started now, with the arrival of some engineers from Urumqi Water Works and other Geologists. There were only around 100 workers at that time and we were told that in the later construction stage, there can be a few thousands of people, literally turning this valley from a ghost site to a village! A small uphill path on the right leads to the KKH, the same way we have ridden in.
(Xinjiang,China … 12.05.05 to 05.06.05)

The current, temporary brick shelter with 20 rooms built by the Szechuans for the engineers. The site lies on the foot of the hills, facing the valley that is supposed to be flooded. While the engineers stay in the quarters, the Szechuan labourers were sleeping in the tentage outside.

Engineers from Urumqi at work, making some kind of funnel that would separate the different kinds of rocks for the initial foundation of part of the dam.

Dinner with the Director and Vice-Director of the Urumqi Water Works. Mdm Zhu, the Director (lady in picture) travelled all the way from Urumqi by train and pickup with her colleague, Mr.Luo (the Vice-Director, man beside her in pic)to visit the site and her team of engineers. We actually met them while riding into the valley as they were driving out. It was back at the site when they heard about us and invited us to have dinner with them, along with their special treat that night – 2nd class protected highland river fishes called “Xue-Tun”). They had caught those fishes when they went fishing in the rivers. According to them, sale of these fishes in Tashkurgan ‘black’ market (illegal since protected) would fetch
~USD15/kg and the fish is only 10~15cm long! However, the atmosphere in this dinner was unlike the previous dinner(s) we had with the labourers. It was more liked eating with your boss, very business-liked atmosphere. The engineers were respectively asked to join in and in return, they repeatedly sang praises of their bosses and toasting them with alcohol (60%). The repeated praising by the humble staffs really made us very uncomfortable in the dinner. Eventually we declared in a most humble fashion of our desire to turn in for the night. *grin*

The “Xia-Ban-Di” Dam Central Command camp, about 3km from the Urumqi Water Works site. This would be the site where the dam is to be built. A plaque indicated that the dam site at 2902m (ie. where the photo was taken).

3km from the base camp, another team of Geologists from ShanXi were at work. (pic)An engineer entering a 60m hole to collect rock samples at different depths. The samples would be brought back to ShanXi for in-depth study and analyzing to ascertain the available and suitable rocks there for the construction of the dam wall. Some of the team members have been collecting rock samples for the past 3 years. In fact, according to the head of the Geologist team, study on the region for the supply of water and energy and its possible influence in climatic changes has been on-going for 20 years already!

Drilling the hole for collection of rock samples. The depth can be from 20m-60m. Crates of rock samples can be seen around the drill site. Photography was only allowed at the permission of the head of the Geologist team (who, coincidentally was an avid photographer and head of some photography club).

Workers separating the rocks of different sizes and depths.

Ou proudly displaying the “SuoYang” herb that he and Sean have picked that morning. According to them, his herb is also good for the male ‘organ’. *grin* The look and shape of the herb already suggested something of that nature … *blink*

Hu-jie making ramen (Xinjiang handmade noodles) for the 20+ Urumqi engineers. Her husband is the site doctor and she followed him there to cook for the team, and to earn extra income for their family. It was through her that we learnt of the social status difference between blue and white collar workers in present China. The engineers are considered the upper class and the Szechuan labourers are coined as the people’s workers (or min-gong). She was surprised that we could stay and eat with the Szechuans and was even particularly concerned that we were not fed well enough. As such, during our 2 nights stay there, she repeatedly brought food for us, sometimes discreetly to avoid the Engineers’ knowledge. Her husband even gave us free blood pressure checking during the day, just to see how healthy we were at such altitude and long period of cycling.

A family of Tajik in their traditional costumes. They bring their livestocks into the valley for grazing during the spring and summer seasons. Their house is in the valley, barely few hundred metres from the work site. In few years time, their grazing ground would vanish.

Another team of Szechuan labourers working on a piping wall for the Urumqi Engineers.

With the team of Szechuans on our departure day. They have infact finished their work there and were waiting for the salary before leaving. However, unhappiness arose when their boss returned with the news that he could not get full payment from the Urumqi authorities (even though it is state-owned organisation!). As such, the workers have to contend with only partial payment and a “I.O.U” slip for late reimbursements. Delay or no salary payment issues were quite commonly heard during our numerous interaction with the Chinese workers along KKH.

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Looking for a DAM

We heard so much from our brick factory friends about the beauty of the little known valley just beyond their site. From our map, it shows a possible road connecting there to ShaChe (a town en route to Tibet). It was a little known route through the mountains, valleys, through scattered and remote Tajik villages. However, what attracted us was the DAM in construction inside the valley. In a few years time, part of the valley might be gone due to flooding for the dam. We decided to cycle 30km into the valley … Looking for a dam.
(Xinjiang,China … 12.05.05 to 05.06.05)

7km inside, we came to a small dam with a small scale power plant.

It was at the Meteological office there that we met YuSanJiang Abdulik, a Uygur from Kashgar stationed there. He was waken up by our knocking (Oops!) but he made no fuss and surprisingly welcomed us in for a chat and shelter from the cold. His work there is basically collecting water and temperature data daily. The data is important for
the Kashgar Meteological station to monitor climatic changes and in worst case, warnings to flood. Due to the remoteness of the place and the stagnant job, it bores him very much. Thus the sight of us in fact liven up his spirit *grin*. We conversed in mandarin and eventually stayed for lunch. (picture shown) YuSanJiang cooking polough (rice) for us. *slurps*

Lunch in the kitchen-office-bedroom of YuSanJiang. A heat generating fan (beside Sean) provided the necessary warmth for the room. Notice our overalls? it was still cold then.

A remote Tajik village along the way. Where there is green and water available, there would be some settlements of Tajiks living there with their livestock.

30km later, we eventually reached this vast open area, much liked stepping out of the narrow valley into a bigger one. We rode towards a worksite to find a friend …

Ou (in picture beside the blue truck) is the young driver we met the day before at the brick factory. He was transporting bricks back to this work site and had repeatedly extended invitation to us to come into the valley for some “fun”. Ou worked with some Szechuan labourers invovled in the construction of this temporary work site (in picture) to house the engineers from Urumqi Electric.

We got a rousing welcome from the Szechuans, especially during dinner where we were constantly urged to eat, eat, eat (typical chinese hospitality … Eating!) and eat. Never imagine we would be able to sample such delicious HOT & SPICY Szechuan delicacies in such remote
environment. Especially with the cold, eating Szechuan dishes were even more appetising!! *slurps*

Sleeping in the workers’ tent with the SzeChuans. 2 of us shared the same wooden platform bed with the foreman, Mr.Yang (left in picture). No heating stove, just layers of blankets, our long johns and our sleeping bags! The hot and spicy SzeChuan dishes provided the additional warmth in our stomachs … *grin*

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Tajiks in China

The snow cladded Pamir mountains bordering China and Tajikistan. The PLA guys have to travel there for their high mountain patrols. This picture was taken just opposite the military base.
(Xinjiang,China … 12.05.05 to 05.06.05)

The KKH, totally ripped off, reconstructed and widened.

2 young soldiers of the PLA outside the central command base in Taheman. This is a sensitive region due to the proximity to Tajikistan. These young men (only in their early twenties) have to patrol the bordering mountains, on posts situated at >5000m! According to them, they can only travel on horsebacks and mostly by foot in a day to the remote high mountain posts. Temperature on top can drop to as low as -40′C! Definitely one of the toughest military service for these young men.

Hunchem, a Tajik girl in her traditionally cap. When the Tajik woman travels out of the house, they have to wear this traditional cap with a scarf under it. Our 1st and only host with the Tajiks in this area.
We did not ride in Tajikistan but at least we managed to catch a glimpse of those who have settled in this part of China. They still retain their own Tajik language (very similar to Persian, Afghan),
a distintively different language from the Turkic group, unlike their CIS neighbours. As they have settled in China for some time already, some can speak mandarin and that became our medium of conversation.

Making ‘hih-pik’ (or ‘nan’ as the Uygurs,Kyrgys called) in the clay stove outside. Hunchem’s sister-in-law is starting the fire while she is making the holes (that look like flowery patterns) on the dough.

With our Tajik host outside their house. Homestay is not easy here especially near the border area. When we approached the family the night before, they have to seek permission from the local authorities, PSB (Gong-An-Ju). We were “interrogated” (in a friendly atmosphere) by the Chinese officer and his Tajik assistance, checked the passports and eventually cleared to stay with the family, for 1 night. If we want to stay more nights, we have to approach the authorities again for permission. The locals and authorities are very cautious about the pressence of foreigners, security been one of the issue concerned.

Next rider on the KKH, meet Laura Stone from England! It was quite a funny encounter with Laura. Jeremy’s (our previous French companion) friend has initially ridden with Laura from Pakistan on the KKH. Thus we have heard of ‘the English woman’ from Jeremy prior to meeting her. From Laura, we found out that she has in fact met Jeremy (who left for Pakistan ahead of us) on the way up the KKH in the Pakistan side! What a small world! Laura has been cycling around the Himalayas in India. At the time of meeting, she was bound for Kashgar. And guess what, we eventually met her again 2 weeks later in Islamabad … *grin*

The Muztagta range of mountains in the background viewed from the Pamir Plateau. This area is only loosely populated by Kyrgzs and the Tajiks, with the heavy presence of Chinese PLA military camp based there.

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