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  • Writer's pictureTony Frobisher

The Bus to Kashgar

The Bus to Kashgar

(Tales of a 36 hour bus trip from Urumqi to Kashgar across the empty Taklamakan Desert in north west China, with my best friend Simon Whitton in 1996)

Leaving at 6pm, maybe, probably, hopefully,

The hustle and bustle of modern Urumqi.

The diesel hum, already numb of bum,

Hard of seat, only sunflower seeds to eat

And spit and scatter across the floor

Hours pass, hours and hours and hours more.

Crammed into an all too small space, desert bound,

The last bus in this desolate place.

Or so it feels with every bump

Of the wheels and snores that roar

from seats in front and back

And across the aisle an old woman

Creases her face and laughs in toothless smiles,

Proffers us a handful of sunflower seeds,

Unhusked, 'Please take them' her eyes plead.

But we share no words other than a

'Xiexie' of thanks as we pass ranks and ranks

Of drifting dunes on an empty road.

As the Taklamakan Desert looms

Wide on the horizon, and only dust clouds follow.

And the bus carries us dreamless

Into the night that will stretch, interminable

Until tomorrow sparks with a kaleidoscopic dawn.

Desert decorated, sky lit colours borne.

And the bus will rattle, creak and hum

A brief respite to stretch the legs, an urge to run

And find the nearest public convenience,

Which is in fact a putrid inconvenience.

Cubicles - doorless, brick walled, a foot high,

Retching from the stink and resigned FFS sighs.

Squatting over tall stalagmites of shit,

While either side, our bus-neighbours

Stoic, calm, unhurried, phlegmatic sit.

We perform ablutions together,

while they read the news-

paper Hanzi-character full of

Chinese opinion and views.

Pages read, torn, to the bottom applied,

I leave with nose clenched from the stench

And rubbing ammonia-stinging eyes.

Back on the bus for a renewed fight

With the window that would not close and

All chilly night and furnace day

Showered me with a constant sandy spray.

I watch through gritty eyes, at the brown

And yellow sands and ever dusty skies.

The 'Mountains of Heaven' loom far in the distance.

But there's no time for the Tian Shan,

The driver's persistent, determined to

Make Kashgar in record time.

Comfort breaks become less frequent

And the passengers grumble, whinge and whine,

As the horn sounds when you've only

Just crouched down to squat.

A hurried visit, this is the last place

You'd want to be left behind and lost.

Aboard the bus, an occasional Krygyz,Tajik or Uzbek

Mix with Uighurs of Xinjiang and Chinese Han

An uneasy companionship, a wary tolerance

Joined in travel across the vast ochre land.

And we two - intrepid, sweaty, malodorous Silk Road explorers,

Discomforted, 36 hours on a shaking charabanc endurers.

No luxuries, no showers, no hot drinks, no on board service, no National Express.

Just a sticky carpet of sunflower seeds, a ripening stench of feet and bodies, a sweet-sweat-dripping desert hot mess.

Will this journey ever end? As night fades to morning

Snatched sleep, vibrated, rattled awake red-eyed, yawning.

Are We Nearly There Yet?

And to our complete distress, our utter dismay,

'Kashgar is not far' one of our new Chinese friends smiles, '30 hours travelled - now only 6 hours away'.

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