Today, we had a long drive ahead of us, continuing on the Northern Silk Road, with its final destination in China of Kashgar – about 350 km. We left the hotel in Turpan at about 10:30 this morning, and thanks to the recently completed expressway, we were able to arrive at about 6:30pm in Korla. The Northern Silk Route was in fact just a dirt track until it was paved in the 1970s.
The drive to Korla was mostly through flat, featureless desert, but there were some beautiful variations to this desolate landscape. Dry Ditch (Gan Gou) is a gorge that is about 60 km long, full of craggy hills colored blue, ochre, brown and grey – stark and a bit forbidding, but beautiful. Towards the end of the drive, we came upon the marshlands of Bhagrash Lake, an area well known for growing reeds, which are harvested and used for fencing and roofing. It was a welcome slash of green and blue through what been a landscape of only grey for many kilometers.
Korla is a mostly Han Chinese city with little of interest to the Silk Road traveler. Even though it is National Dragon Boat Festival weekend, and we walked the streets of Korla for hours and hours before heading back to our hotel, we couldn’t find much evidence of this celebration here. We did discover the Pepsi Cola people, though… doing their best to drum up interest in their Tropicana and Pepsi lines of soft drinks and juices among Korla teenagers, by having a stage set up downtown, with a DJ, loud pop music, and giveaways of all kinds. Pepsi also owns Kentucky Fried Chicken, which is ubiquitous in China, including a huge KFC next to the main entrance of the Terracotta Warriors site, and they’re clearly trying to make their soft drinks as big as the Colonel!
Tomorrow, we have another drive through the desert planned, continuing west, about 250km, to Kuqa.