Whither Winter V

Fresh Nan and Bagels
November 5, 2010

It snowed last night. I'd better move along.

I knew that I'd have to be somewhere along this trip when the cold set in. But that place shouldn't be Xinjiang Province much longer. Winter temperatures here can drop into the negative-twenties.

I've been slow to leave Urumqi for several reasons. I still haven't seen everybody I'd like to see. I'm enjoying opportunities to speak some Uyghur. Perhaps even more what's keeping me inert is that I can't figure which route to take from here.

I'm trying to make this an entirely overland journey from Pacific to Atlantic. But, I'm finding myself tempted to just get on a plane when I move on from China. This would be the ideal point to hop on a flight. For an area that borders so many other countries and other Chinese provinces, Xinjiang offers few onward land routes. There are about a dozen roads and one rail line crossing into other countries. But few are open to me right now on account of either weather or travel restrictions:

The breakdown is that there are only two countries--Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan--that I could cross directly into from Xinjiang, right now.

My first plan had been to leave through Kyrgyzstan. Regardless of which country I ultimately cross into my next stop will be the ancient cities of Southern Xinjiang (e.g., Kashgar, Hotan) after leaving Urumqi. Then, the Kyrgyz border is just a few hours northwest of Kashgar. Kyrgyzstan seemed a logical exit route.

I realized, though, that the only reason I was choosing to cross into Kyrgyzstan was as a transit point. I was just in Kyrgyzstan last year, to attend a wedding. There is nothing specific drawing me back, now. Then, thinking about the alternative, the route through Kazakhstan didn't sound particularly compelling, either. I've been through that country many times. Which other way could I go?

The only other overland option I have would be if I not cross any of Xinjiang's international borders: I could backtrack through China to some other Chinese province. Though my mind seems to change daily, I think that's what I'm going to do. If I can cross Tibet it would be easy to exit into Nepal and continue on to India. Winter in India sounds a lot better than winter in any of the 'Stan countries.

But any road to Tibet will be complicated. That back road from Kaghalik to Tibet that I traveled five years ago will be very difficult to navigate now. The weather may be cold now in Urumqi--but that means it must be miserable there, up above 5,000 meters. Temperature aside, arranging tranportation as a foreigner into Tibet is always a hassle. Doing so with all the proper papers requires paying lots of additional money to obscure agencies for an "Alien Travel Permit".

There is another route I could take into Tibet: the new train to Lhasa. Riding that would mean backtracking a fair ways just to get to the line running to Tibet. I would still have the headaches and expense of arranging the Alien Travel Permit. It would still be extremely cold. But right now, it sounds like the most compelling option.

The desinations I'm most interested in visiting on this journey are Syria and Lebanon: far, far away in both distance and time. Which route I take to get to that corner of the planet is yet open. Still undecided, I suppose I could wind up just about anywhere in Central Asia or the sub-continent over winter.