China, Dublin to Nepal, On Tour

Day 143: Hotan to Qira

Free at last, we awoke ready to cycle and eager to get going without the ever present looming of the Pakistan police escort. This was China, we were free to travel where we please as long as it wasn’t Tibet or any other region off limits to foreigners.
We left our little field and rode to a nearby town where stalls set up at the central crossroads were selling food. Im sure they get very few foreigners stopping in this towns outside of a major city so our presence caused quite a ruckus. Mercifully they have a concept of personal space in this country so we weren’t immediately surrounded and were able to enjoy a bit of banter with the locals. We bought three meat pies, the meat encased in a crusty, bagel-y sort of bread. We hadn’t a clue how to eat it so one of the guys came over and showed us how to cut the bread open with a knife and us that to pull out the meat. They then gave us some tea and wrapped it all up with watermelon, a fantastic breakfast.
We were riding in a desert region, and from what we had seen from the bus it was quite a dusty, sandy desert (unlike the rocky deserts of Iran). However around most of the towns and cities some serious irrigation work had and was going on to reclaim the land, so for most of the morning we were riding next to farmland and stunted trees.

 

starting to enter proper sandy desert

  

Sign for Qira, Kerya and Xi’an

 By lunchtime though we were well and truly in the desert. Long lonely road wound through nothing but sandy vistas. A strong tailwind brought a bit of excitement to the ride but it was hot and dry and empty nonetheless. We had better get used to it though, we have 600km of desert to cover before Qiemo, the city where we will get to turn off and ride up along the plateau for a while.
Intermittent cell phone towers dotted the sandy nothingness and provided much need shade at lunchtime. We waited out the heat of the day and then rode off, but after lunch the wind shifted to a crosswind and the sand was whipped across the road buffeting us as we peddled. 

   

the only shade in the desert

 We created a hill and down the other side we turned away from the wind. Here we ran into some policemen who pulled us over – but only to give us some bottled water. Not long after we pulled into the town of Qira. Qira is one of these newly built Chinese towns with wide roads, large municipal buildings, traffic light, street lights but only about half the population it can accommodate at capacity. To us it was the sprinkler irrigation all around the town watering trees and flowers that was the most attractive part of the city, after the afternoon in the sandy desert.

 

enjoying the shade of a park

 
We rested a while in the shade of one of these trees before eating dinner, a tasty noodle dish, and riding out of the city to find somewhere to camp. The desert didn’t come right back though, irrigation meant trees and far land lined the road and we came across a little patch of dirt away from the road to set up camp in.

  

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