When I left Sitai, the people there had already told me that the way ahead was going to be much harder than the day before.
I waved good-bye and got on my way:
…ran into two Uyghurs:
…climbed the road in all its steepness:
It was terrible. On a flat road, I would usually be able to walk ten kilometers before each break. Sometimes fifteen, sometimes twenty. Out here, with the incline going on like that, I could only walk three kilometers, tops, then I would have to sit down and breathe for a while. Have a sip of water. Look around and be desperate.
Once I passed a cottage that looked like it could have been part of the props of Braveheart or something:
And another time, a lonely sunflower:
Besides that, there was only road, road and more road:
When a truck driver stopped and introduced himself as a Kazakh, I thought he was a Chinese Kazakh. But he wasn’t:
He was really from Kazakhstan. And he gave me a bottle of water and a can of café latte.
The incline went on for hours:
Most of the drivers of the larger vehicles would drive with their engines exposed, hoping for the wind to cool them:
I found a bridge, decided to lay down in its shade, have some cookies, get some sleep:
Then two shepherds appeared:
And they brought cows with them:
The herders were of the Kazakh minority:
They didn’t speak much Chinese:
Anyway, I enjoyed their company. I particularly liked looking at the little goats:
…and at the camel that was carrying their luggage:
When the Kazakh herders were getting ready to leave, a bunch of construction workers from Hunan had flocked around us. They had just arrived, and they hadn’t seen many camels in their lives. We watched in awe as the herders were loading up their desert ship:
After that, we all left. The herders went into the mountains. The construction workers went to work. I went back to the road.
It wasn’t easy.
But at some point, the road made a turn, and the green hills looked almost like some of the high pastures I had seen years ago, thousands of kilometers from here:
A road sign said that the incline was coming to an end:
I was at more than 2000m when I sat down to have cookies and café latte:
Like a gentleman.
When I got back on the road, walking was finally good again. The incline was over, the road was flat.
The hills were rolling:
The sky wide open:
I saw green pastures dotted with horses and cows in the distance:
And there was the occasional Mongolian yurt:
I could feel that I was very close to Lake Sayram, the dark blue spot that I had been staring at on Google Earth for such a long time.
But first I needed to find a place to sleep. There were no hotels anywhere around, but there were yurts.
I rented one for two nights:
The inside was too spacious for me, but that was okay:
I got some food, brushed my teeth, washed my feet and lay down in my sleeping bag.
The day had been tough:
There was a dog, Whitey 小白. He belonged to the Mongol owners of the yurt camp. He sure was white, but he wasn’t little at all. He was pretty big actually. Whitey had decided to lay down just outside my yurt. To protect me, I thought. Or because I looked like a long-lost friend.
I woke up several times that night. Sometimes because it was so cold up here in the mountains.
Sometimes because Whitey had detected the enemy.
He growled and barked like a big white Cerberus.