Tag Archives: desert

Where are we now? Cook

Train taking on water at Cook

When I went to Perth on the Indian Pacific in 1980 with Emma the train called into a number of small communities, whose sole purpose was to service the train and the railways. All goods were brought to the towns by the train.
On this trip the train stopped for water and fuel at only one community, Cook, but much has changed.

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Canning Stock Route – Things along the way

Camping under desert oaks at Lake Disappointment

Camping under desert oaks at Lake Disappointment

The land we travelled through was mostly Indigenous Protected Areas (IPA lands) which require a permit for access.

An Indigenous Protected Area is an area of Indigenous-owned land or sea where traditional owners have entered into an agreement with the Australian Government to promote biodiversity and cultural resource conservation. Indigenous Protected Areas make a significant contribution to Australian biodiversity conservation – making up over a third of Australia’s National Reserve System.

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Canning Stock Route – 2

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We were 16 passengers of mature age who had all travelled with Outback Spirit previously. There were 4 terrific blokes who drove the purpose designed vehicles, set up camp, cooked our meals, provided information on the track and the Surveyor Alfred Canning, and kept the show on the road.

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Canning Stock Route – 1

Map of the Canning Stock Route from Wikepedia.

Travelling the Canning Stock Route was an incredible experience. We were 16 passengers of mature years with 4 incredible blokes in 2 4 wheel drive vehicles towing trailers and 2 6 wheel trucks. We are on the track for 14 days and saw half a dozen other vehicles and one Polish fellow riding a bike along the route.

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Travelling on trains

Across Mongolia

Across Mongolia

I am about to start on a 3 week trip to the North Island of New Zealand which includes a train trip, the Auckland Wellington Northern Explorer, described by The Man in Seat Sixty One as

..an epic 681 kilometre (423 mile) journey right across the interior of the North Island, taking you in a single day past every kind of scenery there is, from coastline to volcanoes to mountains, from lush green farmland to thick New Zealand rainforest.

This has made me think about the train journeys I have done and why I am so enamoured of travelling by train.
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Turkmenistan

Before this trip I had not heard of Turkmenistan now I  wonder if I dreamed it except when I meet other travellers who say “Have you been to Turkmenistan? It is like somewhere on the moon.”

The notes on the tour told us not to discuss politics in Turkmenistan and that our movements were likely to be monitored.

We crossed the border from Uzbekistan, there were more than 40 trucks waiting to cross.  The distance between the 2 border posts is 2 km and we fortunately got a lift. It took us an hour to get a visa which cost $70. Total time to cross from Uzbekistan to Turkmenistan 3 hours.

Turkmenistan is about the size of Spain with a population of 5 million, 80% of the land is the Karakorum Desert.

Karakorum Desert

Karakorum Desert

 

Camels

Camels

It’s exports are 40% natural gas, 25% petroleum and oil and 10% cotton.   Turkmenistan has oil and gas agreements with Russia, China and Iran.

It is the ninth largest cotton producer in the world, the water is provided by the Karakorum Canal.

Turkmenistan had not been a country prior to the end of the Soviet era. It had been part of the Otterman Empire. They were nomadic tribes who were feared and involved in the slave trade. It became independant in 1991 ruled by a former Communist official President for Life Saparmurat Niyazov who is called “turkmenbasy” Leader of the Turkmen until his death in 2006.

Education, health and fire services were cut to increase spending on the police and the army. (A bit of a worry when staying on the 7th floor of a hotel)

The first President wrote his own book which all citizens were required to buy, it was compulsory study in school and used for university entrance where again it was one of the 4 subjects of study.

The people do not pay for water or electricity and get 120l of petrol a month. Females students all wear green dresses to school and red dresses to university, male students wear black pants and white shirts with ties.

Ashgabad the capital has very many gold statues of the first president and white marble buildings.

Statue of the first President

Statue of the first President

Largest indoor ferris wheel in the world

Largest indoor ferris wheel in the world

These white buildings all seem deserted except for people polishing marble. There is a mosque dedicated to the first president with his name above that of Allah and quotes from his book around the walls.

The 2017 Asian Games are to be held in Ashgabad the capital and many marble stadiums are nearing completion.

Turkmenistan has some appalling roads and the worst toilet we encountered in our entire trip.

My camera and phone were examined on leaving the country and the guard went through all my photos, stopping for quite a while on one which May have been of Archie and Harry feeding kangaroos.

Women at Merv

Women at Merv

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Bukhara

We travelled to Bukhara over a slow very bumpy road through 6 road checks. The journey took about 5 hours though the desert.

Uzbekistan, is one of the largest exporters of cotton in the world.

For decades, the government of Uzbekistan, under President Islam Karimov, has forced adults and children as young as 10 to pick cotton under appalling conditions each harvest season. Provincial government offices order schoolteachers to close schools and enforce quotas in the cotton fields. The local authorities send government and private business employees to pick cotton, in order to meet cotton production quotas. The Uzbek government combines these orders with threats, detains and tortures Uzbek activists seeking to monitor the situation, and refuses to allow international monitors into the country.

www.cottoncampaign.org.

We passed crops but we did not see cotton being grown. We were told that a tourist bus had stopped and passengers had spoken to the workers picking cotton. This had been reported to the government and the cotton was now being grown some distance from the road.

Bukhara
The city is 2500 years old. It is located in the middle of the steppes and the desert with temperatures up to 45C in summer but it got up to 55C last summer. Bukhara has been part of the Silk Road since the 7th century with the largest caravan having 3000 camels and the smallest with 500 camels. (According to our local guide)

It has the look and feel of an oasis.

Cafe under mulberry trees

Cafe under mulberry trees

We stayed in a hotel which had been the house of a Jewish merchant and had a courtyard covered with vines.

Hotel had been a house owned by a Jewish merchant.

Hotel had been a house owned by a Jewish merchant.

We visited the Emir’s palace where in June 1842 two British officers,Colonel Charles Stoddard and Captain Arthur Conolly were put to death. They were paying the price of being part of “The Great Game”. In fact it was Conolly who first coined this term.

One of the highlights of my visit to Bukhara was a homam, a turkish bath in a 16 century bathhouse. A great experience.

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Turpan to Kashgar

Waiting for train at Turpan

Waiting for train at Turpan

Back on the train for the 1580 km to Kashgar, passed oil wells, the industrial city of  Korla which is part of the Mongolian Prefecture and a centre of the Petroleum industries.  The centre seemed to have broad streets, many modern buildings and some very fashionably dressed young women joined the train here.

This is when I realised that there is no nowhere in China.
Then across Taklimakan Desert to Kashgar a city of 60 thousand of whom 74% are the ethnic minority Urygurs.   However more Han Chinese are moving into this region.  The faces are different, the clothes are different, women wearing scarves and outfits with lots of bling, there is Arabic script on all signs and the food is different.
We visited the 14 century mosque and  the remains of the old city where much demolition is happening under the name of building better houses for earthquakes.
Our hotel was a decaying Russian Consulate built in 1840s, very grand in its day.   We also saw the old British Consulate, more of a hill station building.
We went to the largest animal market in Central Asia, where goats, sheep, cattle and horses were being traded.  Then to a very large market which was somewhat over whelming but I had a lunch of noodles, veg and bread for 4 yuan and shared the table with 3 generations of a Urygur family.

Animal Market

Animal Market

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