Kuyten is probably one of the smallest towns we have stayed in with a population of only 250k, 2 power stations and one steel works. So it was with some surprise that we were met first thing in the morning in the hotel car park by a man in a large SUV with even larger aerials on the roof. We are not sure who he represented, but it was some government department and he wanted to see our radio licenses, which of course we did not have. Green was roused from her slumber to come and discuss the issue, while we all evaporated.
Much lengthy discussion and the first conclusion was he was going to check that the CB radios complied with Chinese standards. Surprisingly they all did. Next point was they wanted to take them all and send them to the border for us to pick up on exit. That was unsatisfactory. Compromise was reached and the radios were all removed and put in a sealed box for us to carry to the border and Green signed her life away, personally guaranteeing that we would not open the box.
We were aware that the radios were a sensitive issue here and had not seen anyone else using them, so I guess we were lucky that this happened on our last driving day in China, and it was relatively straight forward.
We noticed that the number of trucks had started to thin out as we headed westward to Horgas. And in parts the road went straight through the towns. Disclosing the usual jumble of old shop houses and what, at speed looks like a lot of old junk, but more likely someone’s business, tyres, timber and bits of metal.
Late afternoon across the wide open grassland, mountains appeared in front of us. We then started to climb from our altitude of 500m. The road was straight, at least on the uphill as we climbed through 2200m. On the downhill, the road snaked from one side of the pass to the other and cut under the uphill on a number of occasions. On the way up we passed nomads in Yurts, cattle, sheep and horses in summer camp.
And then we started descending. In typical Chinese fashion we crossed one bridge hundreds of metres above the cars and trucks on the roadway in valley floor. It took me a few moments to realise that was our road. Our road looped through two mountains as we descended 400m and passed under the bridge.
As we drove down the narrow valleys and looked up at cascading steams and steep slopes dotted with sheep and cattle, we wondered how they managed to drive a camel train up this old Silk Road pass.
Only a few years ago Horgas was a town of 20k people. Today it has a population of over 200k and a soon to be destination for a high speed train and a major transport hub under the Chinese Belt and Road strategy.
Our tour agent was not sure whether our hotel would have running water or electricity. Luckily it had both, although the Soviet built hotel had certainly seen better days.