This is the first proper highway I’ve seen since… Russia? Even earlier than that. The smooth asphalt and bright green safety rail – it seems like this might be a transported stretch of German autobahn. The only way that it looks different to a European highway is the tall fence on the overpass preventing anything being thrown off or anyone jumping.
The landscape still feels familiar: inhospitable dusty mountains and endless stretches of road without any nearby habitation. But we are definitely not in formerly Soviet central Asia any more. This becomes even more apparent when we flag down a ride. Andrea and I try in every way to tell him that we are hitchhiking, so we are not going to pay him. We are fairly certain he understands, but when we get to Kashgar he asks for money leading to a minor confrontation. Though in retrospect I’m not sure we did the right thing, we feel instinctively defensive. We were sure our point came across earlier, so we stick to our guns and just walk away, each one of us heading a different way. The guy does not know who to chase down.
Google Maps stopped working just as we rode into town, enough time to get a vague sense of direction. Though soon enough public information signs in English show us the way. The city seems chaotic. Though it is not the biggest city I’ve been to in the last few months, it does feel way busier than any other Central Asian city I have seen up to this point. Cars, scooters, cyclists and pedestrians sweep us up in their current, but a slight sense of order smooths my Dutch sensibility when I spot a sign indicating a bicycle path.
When we get to the hostel we come across a good mix of people. Unlike hostels in many other parts of Asia, Chinese hostels aren’t populated exclusively by westerners and Andrea and I are the only Europeans in the dorm room. But Kashgar is not as touristy as the city should warrant, because most Chinese travelers stay away out of fear. The western guests are not the timid kind either: one guy is just about to set off on a touristic trip through Pakistan, another has just come from a long horse-riding trek through Kyrgyzstan. There is also a cohort of cyclists coming from and heading to different directions and a fellow hitchhiker who lets us copy his hitchhiking letter, a note in Chinese explaining what we are doing and how people can help us.