The Kuqa mountain road



The Kuqa mountain road : DAY one
In Turpan we decided we were bored of taking national roads which, since Xi'an, have been a lot better than before. Less traffic and better roads have enabled us to drive at least 400km or more per day. Our "Asia overland" guidebook mentioned the "Kuqa mountain road", open in summer only. Instead of taking the blue route on the map above, 400 km to Korla the first day and another 400km to Kuqa (pronounced Kuche) the next day, the red coloured route promised scenic villages and mountain passes. Let's go !  


Our morning route took us through a couple of small mountain passes surrounded by huge dunes and a few oasises. All roads through oasises seem to be lined with poplar trees, soaked in water from flood irrigation. After around 220 km, we stopped for lunch in the Tarim Bassin, a huge stretch of flat desert looking like the Bonneville speed desert, where we had our now usual plate of Uyghur noodles for lunch.


Chinese characters along the road


The "life tree". In the middle of the desert, these trees defy the harsh weather and lack of water.


Who wants a free load of sand ?


Things took a different turn after lunch when the only road going north (to right of the words "Tarim Pendi" on the map) was one big construction site. Very rough roads, traffic jams etc. Three hours for just 50 km... There goes our average speed. We were concerned we had not yet reached the start of the mountains.


As we started to climb into the mountains, we drove through dry grasslands surrounded by snow capped mountains. We were greeted by a warm evening sun. Every now and then we would pass a shepherd with his herd of mostly sheep or goats.  


Stunning views nearing the top


As we climbed to more than 3200 meters, the road again frequently deteriorated. Several passages trough snow and ice had to be negotiated in the lowest 4x4 gear (yes, this is the road on the picture on the left). We have no snow chains with us. This is something that can sometimes be hired in China. You hire 2 or 4 drive up your mountain pass and return them them at the other side. The less funny part of the story is the fact that an unlucky chap has to drive his overloaded motorcycle back. (Any snow chains for motorcycles ?). We did not want to get stuck in icy holes that were sometimes 30 to 40 cm deep. The few trucks driving the other way would wait for us at the other side of the difficult stretch. The wind was quite strong and we definitely did not want to get stuck here !


At the top of this mountain pass, after about 10 hours driving, we found ourselves in a sea of ice with a marvelous and very low sun. The wind is blowing VERY hard and the smile on our face was stuck for the next hour (frozen) ! The first two pictures below are taken at the same spot. There was nothing around us. Unfortunately, the road did not go down after this top and we stayed on a plateau at pretty much the same altitude. With no shelter from the wind, this was not a wise place to set up camp. We drove for another 3 hours first with the low sun right in front of us, then with all lights on to try and figure where the bumps were. At around 23.00 we found a small house cum restaurant cum guesthouse where we stopped for the night. It was -10 that night. We needed a good night's sleep, took a sleeping tablet (high altitude = difficult to sleep) and slept from 24.00 to 10.00 !


This was only the first day of our 2 day journey. What happened the next day ? Day 2



Turpan to Hotan Back to Trip page Day 2 !