Monday, 22 June 2009

Birthday Challenge

A fabulous trip to China and Kyrgyzstan and I promise to post some more pictures soon. For now, as you can see, I crossed the famous Takla Makan desert and, even though it only took four or five hours in an air-conditioned bus rather than a year by horse and camel, it was certainly worth it. I'd never been in a sand-dune desert before and it was the nearest I've ever come to a barren wilderness.
At one point the day before it seemed like we might not make it, however. On my birthday we stopped for lunch at a place called Onsu, on our way between Khotan and Aksu, the starting point for the desert. Most of us went off for a meal in a local restaurant but a few of the rest went to buy lunch in the market. This aroused the suspicion of the police, perhaps on the alert for trouble in the run up to the 20th anniversary of Tianmen Square, perhaps always concerned about foreign tourists talking to the local Uighur people in Xinjiang, where the situation is very similar to that of Tibet but not publicised so much in the West. Anyway, when one of our party refused to show her passport to the police, they became very nervous and wanted us all to register at the local police station. I must confess that I did send up a little prayer at that point asking that this not be the way I spent my 50th birthday! Fortunately our very able local guide calmed everything down and we were allowed to go on our way. And I had a fabulous birthday in Aksu, with cake and a candle and everything! But we were certainly made very aware that we were not travelling in an open society and this was confirmed when we saw evidence later in our travels of the bulldozing of the old town in Kashgar by the Chinese government. The corner pictured had been full of brightly coloured pots two weeks previously.

This near escape from Chinese officialdom has been very much on my mind this week as Aung San Suu Kyi has been spending her 64th birthday in Burma's notorious Insein Prison. Please keep her in your thoughts and prayers.
Meanwhile, it's not too late to donate to my birthday charity at, £1005 raised so far for The Lavender Trust at Breast Cancer Care.