Category Archives: Silk Road

China 16 – Silk Road 13 – Up the Karakoram Highway

Full photoset @ flickr

The Karakoram Highway runs south from Kashgar across the Khunjerab Pass at nearly 5000m all the way down to Islamabad in Pakistan. Khunjerab means ‘Valley of Blood’ from the days when bandits guarded the pass and plundered anyone foolish enough to come through this way without the protection of a small army. The name Karakoram comes from the days of the Mongol Empire who used this route to reach their south Asian territories, Karakoram was the capital of the empire at the time.

I’ve joined a car for a couple of day’s tour exploring up these parts as the prospect of sitting on a bus looking at closed curtains and passing all the best scenery didn’t appeal too much. We head south across the Kashgar oasis and gradually into more dusty plains for a couple of hours before hitting the abrupt line of the northern flank of the Himalayas and into the Ghez Canyon which climbs all the way up to the high plateau through sheer sided walls with glimpses of high icy peaks way above.

When upgrading a road in China, the strategy seems to be to rip up the entire length in one hit, then maybe work on a little bit at a time occasionally while the rest of the stretch goes to hell turning a one hour trip into a five hour 4WD adventure. That was the lucky experience along the length of the canyon with most of the road reduced to single lane mud and rock – add to this the habit of drivers in China to drive at each other in an endless game of chicken, it added a bit of spice to journey. On the plus side, you don’t want to be in a hurry driving through this kind of scenery.

Eventually, back on proper road, we popped out at a dazzling blue lake surrounded by sand dunes of the Sarikol Pamir at around 4000m, and pass through an ever increasing scenery as the two massive peaks of Kongur and Mutzagh Ata mountains loom up at over 7500m each. We stop Karakul Lake for some amazing views across to these mountains, the ice bound tops and massive glaciers tumbling down the valley towards the lake with great reflections.

The road beyond takes over more high passes and through deep green lush valley floors dotted with round nomadic tents with grazing yaks and camels, flanked by stark barren mountains. Tajikistan and Afghanistan lie just over the ridge to the right.

We reach the small city of Tashkurgan set in a broad valley walled in by two long lines of imposing mountains. The 1400 year old fort gives incredible views of the vista in all directions (it was used in the filming of The Kite Runner). It feels far removed from China up here, more part of a Central Asian republic, with the predominant Tajik people and landscape more reminiscent of Afghanistan or Iran.

We have a great couple of hours wandering the fort and the grasslands below before heading back to Karakul Lake for the night.

By the time we reach the lake, the sun is angling low through high snow clouds making for some dramatic lighting as the day draws to a close. We stay in a nomadic tent and the temperature plummets (the tents inside are incredibly warm, fuelled by a hearty yak dung fire): clear skies, 4500m altitude and the proximity to so much snow and ice don’t make for balmy evenings.

The night sky is incredible with the Milky Way arcing overhead, the high Himalayas lit up by a bright moon. It’s a stunning sight to see which lasts as long as my ability to not shake violently with the cold.

Morning breaks with clear skies and more superb scenery. A few hours kicking around the lakeside and it’s time to head back to Kashgar and on to a flight to Beijing to pick up my Mongolian visa to begin the next leg of the adventure. This is the end of the Silk Road for me ….

China 14 – Silk Road 11 – A Central Asian Crossroads

Full photoset @ Flickr

Kashgar was a major hub in the Silk Road days. To the south lies the Karakoram Highway to Pakistan, the west is Kyrgyzstan with Afghanistan and Tajikistan in between and Kazakhstan further north. More Stans than you can shake a stick at. Being at such a strategic crossroads surrounded by regions ruled over by competing factions and warlords, it’s changed hands more times than a hot potato at a hot potato changing hands competition:

754 Tibetan Empire
840 Karakhanid Khanate
1041 Eastern Karakhanid
1134 Karakhitai Khanate
1218 Mongol Empire
1225 Chagatai Khanate
1306 Moghulistan
1392 Timurid dynasty
1432 Chagatay
1466 Dughlats
1524 Yarkent Khanate
1697 Dzungar Khanate
1759 Qing dynasty
1867 Emirate of Kashgaria
1878 Qing dynasty
1913 Republic of China
1933 East Turkestan Republic
1934 Republic of China
1949 People’s Republic of China

The people here are mostly Uighur with Tajik, Kazakh and ancestors of a host of other peoples who came in its heyday and never left. In the last twenty years a significant number of Han Chinese have moved here as part of the government’s resettlement programme, the cynic might say to Sinicise the area, something that doesn’t go down well with the more traditional inhabitants who are strongly Muslim. There’s a strong feeling of control going on here including posters displaying what is considered appropriate Muslim dress and what is forbidden (including hijabs, niqabs, veils of any description and any beards considered excessively Islamic). It’s not a touristy town, in fact many Chinese stay away from the area believing it to be some kind of hotbed for terrorism. It’s safer than a lot of Western cities that I’ve been in.

“Is the meat fresh at this butchers?”
Meanwhile, at the “Rest Assured That The Meat Shop” …

I’ve missed seeing the original old town. The historic buildings were torn down a few years back and replaced with a new old town made from concrete and sprayed with a synthetic mud to give the appearance of the original style. If you don’t know that it’s surprisingly got a very historic feel to it, largely due to the streets being filled with people selling all kinds of wares as it probably once was – various bazaars cater for different specialities including metal work, spices, carpets, musical instruments and hats. Oddly, it seemed every few shops popped up a back street dentistry … maybe not.

Dentest surgeon anyone?

While not Turpan heat, it’s still hitting low 40’s and with clear skies the sun is packing some punch. Ramadan is on, meaning the Muslim population are fasting during daylight hours and have taken on a decidedly lethargic attitude to everything. It’s contagious and a few hours of wandering the streets is enough to fog the mind and call for a siesta followed by a cold beer or two. There’s a good crowd in at the hostel, this pattern seems to continue for the next few days. I’m happy to turn down the pace a little after the last 10 days or so of constantly being on the move in the heat.

Lethargy – there’s a lot of it about
Street bazaar near the grand mosque

Evening brings more respectable temperatures and the day’s end to the fast kicks off with the opening of the night market street food, which the locals descend on with the vigour of hungry locusts. There’s all sorts of food on offer here, some recognisable, some not. I’m game to try just about anything including the sheep’s head, but I draw the line at stomach (bad experience in Morocco) and the “Fountain of Dysentery” – a dubious hose firing white liquid of some sort into the air and back into an entirely unsanitary looking trough. Good call as it happens, I meet someone later who tried this one and ended up three days in bed. It’s a noisy bustling affair, you squeeze onto tables where you can and get shouted at if you linger too long. Sensory overload.

The Fountain of Dysentery with special ameoba
The best meal $2 can buy …

China 13 – Silk Road 10 – A Hard Sleep and a Mysterious Canyon

Full photoset @ flick

I’ve arrived in Kuqa as a watery sun struggles to pierce the early morning smog. I’m a bit tired and grumpy from the overnight train due to sleep deprivation – it was an all-night circus going on with the Chinese lack of concept of personal space or consideration that people might be trying to sleep on a sleeper car, possibly so named from a Confucian sense of irony but I’m doubting that.

The hard sleeper cars are chicken coups set up in bays of two lots of three tiered bunks open to a narrow corridor the length of the carriage. It’s open game to have long conversations with someone at the other end of the carriage at a volume to overcome the distance, the noise of the train and the noise of other people doing the same. Add into this the curse of the Chinese mobile phone addiction which means people playing games and movies at competing volumes (nobody has heard of earphones seemingly) and the curious Chinese habit of a) watching your phone for a good minute while the ringtone plays at full volume before answering it and b) putting the phone on speaker mode then holding the speaker to your ear, then holding the phone out in front of you and yelling as loudly as possible (repeat this cycle for a good 15 minutes minimum). This went on all night.

Chinese hard sleeper carriage (chicken coup class)

My first impression of Kuqa is “what the hell have I come here for?”, possibly due to aforementioned sleep deprivation, possibly due to it being ugly and smoggy as hell. I’m more interested in getting out of the city to some of the remote sites but even my best haggling powers struggled to get a driver down below NZ$100 for the day – seems the distances were more than I realised and nobody was that desperate for business. I figure to cut my losses and catch the next train on to Kashgar, but that turns out to be at 2am the next morning, 20 hours away. I book that and go for Plan B – find a cheap hotel, get a shower and catch up on some sleep. At the hotel, I meet a couple of Korean and Chinese tourists who are wanting to head out to a canyon in the desert and figure I might as well chew up some time and tag along.

After a long drive through dust flat desert we reach a mountain chain and, shortly afterwards, the mysteriously named “Mysterious Grand Canyon of Tianshan”. The mystery being “what’s so mysterious about a canyon in the desert?”.

The “Mysterious Grand Canyon”

It’s a narrow cleft a few hundred metres deep with a thin stream running through with some nice sandstone patterns. Along the way up we reach a side canyon with the mysterious sign reading “… the whole valley twists and turns leaving anyone roaming inside with an endless aftertaste”. A bit like eating Durian fruit then.

Gaishi Valley – 5.2m wide and 5.2-6m wide, leaving an endless aftertaste …

Further up the canyon gets narrow enough to almost be a squeeze to get through before ending up at a small waterfall (more of a water-trickle really). The drive back through the dusty plain and intense heat send me off to a blissful slumber.

The Mysterious Canyon becomes a squeeze

I figure I might as well visit Kuqa’s one site to visit, a mausoleum and palace from the days when this was an important city in the now defunct country of Kashgaria. It’s pretty run down and a bit of a fizzer so I wander back through the markets, but even here it seems everyone is in a kind of torpor. Time for that shower and bed before the 2am train, which, as luck would have it, I find in a dreamy state of dormancy, not a sound. I’m rocked to sleep as the train pulls out, headed south the old capital of Kashagria itself.

Kuqa – even the locals struggle to find interest in it all …

China 12 – Silk Road 09 – Out of the Fire, Into the Fan Assisted Oven

Full photo set @ Flickr

The train glides into Turpan, the doors open and a wall of heat normally only found inside a fission reactor greets me. It’s the evening and the temperature is a bone dry 47 degrees. A bit like sticking your face into an oven on gas mark 6 to see if it’s heated yet.
Despite being thousands of kilometres from the nearest coastline, Turpan sits at 154 metres below sea level in the second deepest depression in the world. Daytime temperatures are hitting low to mid 50’s. Maybe I’ll crack out the shorts for that one then.

Winters here on the other hand are bitter as Siberian winds arrive dropping the temperature to -20 and below and then some for the wind chill. Spring time brings dust storms so I’m guessing there are a couple of days in late autumn when the climate is agreeable.

On my way out of the station, I meet a Ahmed, with light skin, fair hair and pale green eyes, he looks more Russian than Chinese, and speaks perfect English. He’s never taken a lesson and had learnt everything from watching movies apparently. He’s Uighur as it turns out and also a tour guide with an amazing knowledge of the history and culture of the area, and has a car as a bonus. I’m dropped at the hostel and arrange to meet the next day to tour the surrounding sites scattered far and wide around Turpan. The hostel’s a bare bones affair with no air con and a heat radiating off the walls that could grill bacon. Luckily they’ve given me a duvet in case it’s not warm enough for me.

Scenery north from Turpan
Karez aqueduct

The area around Turpan is one of the largest raisin producing regions in the world. The surrounding countryside is covered in vineyards with adobe drying houses scattered around. Despite the dry arid climate, Turpan is home to one of the engineering marvels of the ancient world, the Karez System – hundred of kilometres of underground aqueducts that have existed for thousands of years to bring water down from the distant mountains and turn the scorched earth green.

After travelling through long kilometres of grapes we reach the Flaming Mountains, so named because of the orange and red hues of the rocks that glow in the sun. Apt considering the already soaring temperature despite only being 7:30 in the morning. In fact they’re a bit murky today as fair amount of dust is blowing in from the desert.

Grape drying rooms for raisin production, Tuyoq town

We pass through an impressive gorge and reach the ancient village of Tuyoq, inhabited for thousands of years and home to the most sacred shrine for Uighur muslims – seven trips to this one is equivalent to one to Mecca apparently. There are also some 2nd century Buddhist caves in the cliffs close by which have somehow resisted centuries of attempts to destroy them by both muslims and the Red Book waving zealots of the 1960’s, mostly due to their apparent haunting by the spirits of massacred monks. Who said realism was dead?

Buddhist caves at Tuyoq
Tuyoq mosque

The countryside contrasts with stark barren mountains on one side and lush green vineyards at the other. The ancient Buddhist caves at Bezeklik weren’t so lucky as the caves at Tuyoq, local and passing muslim people have sabotaged the huge wall murals depicting scenes from the sutras and the life of Buddha. Portraits of living things (plants, animals, people) are considered haram and in their zeal for kuranic purity, any offending portion of these once amazing paintings dating from the 6th Century were chipped and ripped from the walls. What was left was largely looted by European and Japanese treasure hunters in the early 20th Century and then suffered further damage from bombing campaigns during World War II (I can’t think what anyone would have even been targeting way out here). Still, there are enough remains to get an idea of what once was, and the setting is dramatic enough.

The Bezeklik Cave complex

We visit some other villages and sites, stop for some lunch at a local hangout and then, early afternoon, arrive at the 1600 year old remains of the garrison town of Jiaohe on the edge of the desert. A thermometer nailed to a shady tree proudly proclaims that the temperature is currently sitting at 55°C which just pips my previous record of 54°C. The site was built on an island between two (now dry) river beds and built of mud and adobe. The city spread over around six square kilometres now mostly just the remains of walls and streets to wander along. The heat is radiating off every surface, my two litres of water has gone before I’ve even reached the far end and I’m feeling like I’m wandering about in a heat induced stupor. I’m sparing a thought for those ancient soldiers that used to have to stand out in this in full battle dress standing guard over the town.

The ancient ruins at Jiaohe
Emin Minaret

Last stop for the day is the impressive Emin Minaret built in the 18th Century and standing 44 metres high, it’s the tallest in China and one of the tallest mud brick structures in the world.

I’m on an overnight train to the west this evening, and fortune has it that as I mention this to Ahmed he tells me that it’s from a different Turpan station that lies an hours taxi ride to the south in the desert. Nothing like Chinese travel to keep you on your toes …

China 11 – Silk Road 08 – Circus in the Desert

Full photo set @ flickr

Lesson #2 in not holding romanticised ideals of places I’d read about and seen in old photos …

The Crescent Moon lake was an important stopping off point on the Silk Road and the principle reason for the existence of Dunhuang back in the day. Crescent Moon lake … because it’s the shape of a crescent moon … Singing Sands mountains, because the sand makes a long mournful moaning sand when the wind shifts it, said to be the cries of the souls of those who perished trying to cross the desert. Not that you’d hear today as the place is abuzz with camel ride touts, quad bikes, micro-lites and helicopter joy rides.

I wanted to go up mid afternoon, in the 45 degree sun, which the locals told me I was mad to consider. “Go at sunset, that’s when everyone goes there”. That was about all the encouragement I needed to go there and then. It was busy but comparitively quiet compared with what was to come, but with a bit of effort I could still get relatively away from it all. By “bit of effort”, I mean climb a 300 metre high dune during the hottest part of the desert afternoon. Nothing a few litres of water couldn’t put right …

From the top is a view back to the dusty city of Dunhuan and the tourist mecca below. In the opposite direction, endless tracts of massive dunes stretching off beyond the distance. I stayed long enough to watch the shadows lengthen and the colours become deeper, which was about the time the wave hit below and thousands started to pour in. Exit stage left. Time to head into town and try out the lamb’s penis kebabs.

China 10 – Silk Road 07 – Ancient Grottoes #2

Full photo set @ flickr

Near to Dunhuang is the UNESCO protected Mogao Caves. Started by a Buddhist monk some 1000 years ago after he came across the oasis here, it grew to over 700 intensely painted and carved shrines hacked into the cliff face.

The level of detail and scale of it is mind boggling, particularly when you think of the crude implements and technology they had at their hands to create this. Amongst this is the now second largest Buddha in the world (promoted after the Taliban blew up the Bamiyan giant Buddha’s in Afghanistan). There’s a powerful sense of history and timelessness inside the caves, hard to put into words.

The miracle of this place is that it survives at all – not from the elements (the bone dry climate here is perfect for preservation). Muslim travellers and local rulers took offence at images of deities and portrayal of human and animal forms (prohibited in the Koran) and promptly gouged the eyes out of everything they could reach. In the early 1920’s, White Russians fleeing the Bolsheviks came down into this region and, having no food or money, began ransacking everything they could lay their hands on – modern day Hun. The newly formed Republican guard rounded them up and, in their infinite wisdom, decided to use the caves as a prison. The White Russians being orthodox also took offence at the portrayal of heretical images of worship and began to destroy the images, also largely motivated by the extensive use of gold leaf throughout. Once they had been dealt with, the first academics moved in and found a hidden cave containing ancient scrolls dating back to the origins of the caves themselves. Lacking any funds to preserve and study the cave, the local commissar promptly sold them off to anyone who would have them at bargain basement prices only to appear in later years in private collections and museums across the world.

An unexpected bonus of Mogao Caves (and something I’m in full support of being spread across the rest of China) are that the ubiquitous tour leader loud hailers are banned here, tour groups have closed system headsets to listen to their commentaries on. The result, a blissful hush everywhere. Fortunately, I was the only honky in town that day so got my own private English speaking guide to show me around.

Photography inside is forbidden, but here are some photos plagiarised from Google to get some sense of the interior (which don’t come anywhere close to the sense of wonder you get walking through these caves but it’s the best I can do considering …).

China 09 – Silk Road 06 – Into the Desert

Full photo set @ flickr

The bus continues out into the far desert along a rough road. We arrive at the Yan Dan desert area not long before sunset and as a series of thunderclouds roll through.

The low glowing sun makes for some amazing shapes and colours under the dark clouds. There’s a selfie-fest going on with the other members of the bus, but it’s easy to wander a short distance and enjoy the scene unfold in some peace and solitude. The vastness of the desert out here is incredible.

China 08 – Silk Road 05 -The Outer Limits

Full photo set @ flickr

I’ve arrived in Dunhuang, remote outpost of the ancient Chinese empire beyond the wall (ignore that city of several hundred thousand just over there). Frontier country in the old Silk Road days. The Han Dynasty built part of the Great Wall out here sometime back in the 6th Century or thereabout, subsequent emperors retreated due to the fierceness of the climate and the local Hun.

I’ve taken a tour to get to some of the more remote and interesting sites out of town. The heat is on, it’s somewhere in the mid 40’s and things are starting to shimmer.

First stop is to “Old Dunhuang”, the original old walled city. Well, it was until half of it was demolished to make room for a movie studio and the rest completely rebuilt so that anything original is buried deep underneath. Still a good place for a wander, get some sort of idea of life back in the day I guess.

Not-so-old Dunhuang

We move out to Yanguang Pass, an old garrison and lookout post (looking out over some of the most unforgiving and relentless desert stretching out into the horizon … leaves me wondering who was insane enough to be riding out across that), and guarding a nearby strategic oasis. There’s still the remains of an old sentry building on top of the hill nearby with commanding views across the sea of rocky sand spreading beyond the eye’s reach. There’s the option of an electric cart to whick you up to the top and back, I opt to just walk up which the other tourists take to mean I’m verging on insane. I want to ge an appreciation for the conditions people endured out here or something … or maybe I just don’t like being herded into sardine can compression under blaring speakers. One of the two.


Beyond that we find an odd pyramidal shaped outpost building overlooking a sizeable oasis in the middle of nowhere, and the final remains of the original Han Dynasty Great Wall poking out like nub ends in the endless sand. Impressive that this was an earth mound wall built 1600 years ago. Wait … wasn’t Jaiyaguan, 600km to the east, touted as the “end of the Great Wall”?

China 07 – Silk Road 04 – The End of the Line

Full photo set @ Flickr

Jiayaguan sits out in the desert or Western Gansu and was either greeted with jubilation or tredidation by the Silk Road caravans. This was the furthest reach of the Ming era Great Wall. Coming from the West it meant at last they were out of bandit territory in the untamed barbarian lands stretching thousands of kilometres to Persia and were now in the relative security of Imperial China, along with all the luxuries of life that an established local trade route brings. Leaving Imperial China, there was a fair chance that this was to be the last bit of civilisation you might see.

The huge Jiayaguan Fort was the garrison where Chinese armies would ride out to more remote outposts and to quell incursions by marauding hordes. I’d seen plenty of photos of the fort, seemingly in a far flung forgotten corner, slowly being reclaimed by the shifting sands and had romanticised having to travel through some wild country on precarious transport to reach there and have the run of the place more or less to myself.

First lesson in not romaticising historic places in China: a bullet train brought me into town at a leisurely 200kmh where I could hop straight into a taxi to whisk me off to the Great Wall and fort where several thousand Chinese tourists had had the same intentions, arriving by the busload with flag waving tour guides and loud-hailers. It’s possible there were more selfie-sticks in operation than there were guards in the Ming Imperial Army. The fort is completely rebuilt, as is the “last stretch of Wall”, the only remnants of the original in view stretched away from the fort towards the mountains, where it’s been bisected by high speed rail links and motorways.

Jiayaguan itself is no dusty village – 300,000 people and a lot of heavy industry. Kind of killed that romanticised ideal as I turned from the top of the Great Wall to gaze out on the lonely desert …

I’m still working on learning that lesson …

China 06 – Silk Road 03 – Rainbow Rocks

Full photo set @ flickr

Not far from Zhangye is an area of desert known as the Danxia Rainbow Rocks. No prizes for guessing the origin of that name … take hundreds of metres deep of tightly packed rock layers, paint each a different colour, then bend, shape and sculpt it all into a fantastical landscape. The finshed product is Danxia.

For some added zest, throw in some mighty electrical storms with nowhere to shelter and you make for an afternoon well spent.

China 05 – Silk Road 02 – Ancient Grottoes

Full photo set @ Flickr

Arriving in Zhongye, I’ve quickly realised this is another of those anonymous dusty industrial sprawls that China specialises in so well. A quick manouvre onto a rickety minibus that reassuringly looks like it’s been worked over with a cricket bat and I’m on my way south to the mountains.

Ten minutes into the journey, we pull up behind an empty bus and everyone is ordered off and told to go into the next bus. At least that’s what I presume was said. Lots of shouting and arm waving, I just shrug my shoulders and follow the herd. Trying to work out logic in daily life here is a bad move, madness lives down that path.

Mati Si was worth every effort to reach however. Tucked up on the edge of some very large mountains that form a first barrier to the Tibetan Plateau to the south sits a lush valley with an array of ancient Bhuddist temples carved into the sandstone cliffs starting from over 1,600 years ago with many of the temples accessible only by climbing hidden staircases and vertical shafts in the cliffs.

The people are descended from a mix of Tibetan and Mongol herders, you immediately feel that surrounded by Tibetan prayer flags and stupas on the hills. It’s a blissful world away from the melee of the city to the north. People are relaxed, friendly and seem to have all the time in the world. Life moves at a very  leisurely pace up here. And the air is clean and the sky blue – you learn not to take that for granted in China, especially further east where a brown soup sits over much of the country for weeks on end.

I’ve spent the day climbing around inside the caves and up on to the ridge above for some amazing views across the valley and up into the mountains. In the evening I go for a walk up into the meadows and sit for a while with a local herder who seems intent on holding a long conversation with me despite it being fairly obvious that I can barely form a word in Chinese. I suspect that even if I had a good grasp of Beijing mandarin, I still wouldn’t have a clue what this guy was saying, a bit like learning basic Queen’s English then visiting Falkirk and attempting to engage with a drunk scheemy. It’s ok though, it fits in with the vibe of this place.

In the morning I go for more hikes across the tops with more friendly locals and visit the 1,000 Bhudda caves further down the valley where a man oddly attempts to flog me plumbing fixtures. Just what I needed.

Onwards and westwards.

China 04 – Silk Road 01 – A Close Shave

I’ve decided to abandon any ideas of travelling the south just yet – aside from feeling like a sauna that’s had someone be over generous with the water bucket, there’s floods and lightning storms as far as the forecasts go.

I’ve flown into Lanzhou in the central north on the edge of the Gobi desert with the intention to follow the old Silk Road as far as the Chinese border. It’s already over 40 degrees in these parts but that’s not as hot as it gets and in any case, I’ll take the feeling of sticking your face into a blast furnace over resembling Victoria Falls in wet season any day.

Lanzhou as it turns out is an unnecessary hour’s bus ride from.the airport (always good to find out at 1am) and sits in a bowl surrounded by mountains. When you factor in over 3 million people and a lot of heavy industry it ends up with some of the worst air pollution in the world. There’s a night market across from hotel which I arrive at after 2am, and it seems to be in full swing still. I nestle down on to my bed made of granite and am lulled to sleep by the gentle thwok thwok thwok of an air conditioner that sounds like a military helicopter coming in to land.

View from the train heading west from Lanzhou

With nothing much to hold me in town I decide to take the first train west and get out of Dodge … which I barely make becausqe a) the traffic moves at roughly 4kph so it takes almost an hour to make the short distance to the train station and b) I’m held at the security scan and told that underarm deodorant and shaving cream are too dangerous to take on a train. I didn’t let that one go, in the end I caused them too much embarrassment and they just tell me to get on the train, deodorant and all.

Travelling with toiletries is the kind of living-on-the-edge adventuring I do. When Mao Zedong raised the revolution cry, no way did he do it with sweaty pits and three day stubble.

Chairman Mao – dry pits, no stubble