Chinese children mobbed me as I pulled into a village to rest for the night. Parents slowly strolled over to see what the ruckus was all about and Kirghiz Chinese hospitality was about to be put on full display. The adult villagers escorted me to their yurt along with a long trail of children following behind. The stoves were filled with wood as water would soon start pounding against the tin water pot. Green tea and freshly rolled naan would be served momentarily. The family insisted I stay the night with them until I heard the all too familiar word “polizia.” We walked back down to the main road and several Xinjiang police officers were waiting for me with their cameras ready. After several mug shots were taken, an attempt at deeper verbal communication ensued. “You can’t stay with the family,” a robotic voice radiated from the officer’s Chinese to English translation application on his smart phone. I figured that asking for a reason why would have resulted in a dead end as everyone I had encountered connected with the Chinese government never had given me a direct answer to the dreaded “why” question. This was a debate I had no chance of winning so I decided to save my energy.
The villagers kindly escorted me to a small highway underpass where I would pitch my tent for the night. As soon as I took my $30 USD Namibian tent out of my backpack two local teenagers grabbed my poles and pitched the plastic contraption that became my main source of shelter in so many regions of the world at lightening speed. The Kirghiz are nomadic people who roam the open fields with their animal herds for days at a time and have a long tradition of yurt construction using simple wood and animal fur, so I should not have been surprised by their tent pitching skills. Nonetheless, I have to admit they had me dazzled. My tent was indeed another simple task for them as they gathered the best stones to support the joints of the structure and had wide mouthed smiles at the notion of helping a cycle tourist. This was indeed hospitality at its best.
The next morning I stretched my legs after waking up to the sound of goats roaming the rocky terrain where I pitched my tent the previous night. Today I would make my way to the 3,600 meter high Karakol Lake and enjoy one of the main attractions of the Karakorum Highway. Wind on the highway was intense as I thought I might be knocked off my bicycle several times. Sand pelted my face for a solid hour that seemed like an entire day. I went through hell to reach heaven. It was all worth it as I made it to another section of roadway which was exactly what I imagine heaven to be like if I ever make it there. The clouds that covered the sky were suddenly gone and now there were nothing but deep white clouds scattered through the vivid bright blue sky. Muztagh Ata, a 7600 meter high glacier was staring right at me in the distance. I cycled in awe at the beauty that Mother Nature created for all earthlings to enjoy. It is places like these that motivate me so intensely to become a better global citizen and preserve the mother that provides all resources for her children. I may only be one person, but I am doing the best I can so that all generations to come will enjoy the same beauty that I have.
Suddenly three children flagged me down and started to run alongside my bicycle. They waved me into their yurt and I took a break from pedaling. As I sat in the shade it all hit me at once. The altitude and sunlight were taking their toll on me and I felt like I was on a surreal planet light years away from our solar system. I must have been on an adrenaline high from experiencing such natural beauty as I felt no fatigue at all until sitting down in the shade. Tea and bread were served in the yurt and the mother stared to cook a pot of “plov” or “pilaf” as we call it in North America. A space with colorful blankets was laid out for me on the floor as she signaled for me to rest using body language. Fresh carrots, onions, garlic, green peppers were chopped with immense precision and simmered in a large bowl. Next came the lamb meat which provides serious calories as all daily tasks in this region of the world are completed using pure human energy. No machines included! Usually I do not eat meat when offered, but in this case I decided to take advantage of the hormone free, grass fed livestock culture that is becoming more and more scarce in the world today. The Kirghiz mother watched with satisfaction as I wolfed down milk tea and several thick pieces of naan as the smell of Central Asia’s signature dish filled the air. There is nothing like a home cooked meal with fresh local grown ingredients after a long day of cycling on the 8th Wonder of the World. Another unforgettable experience on the Karakorum Highway!