Big red river.
Day 13: 224 km.  Last night I came to the idea of cycling to Kashi in one day. The road stone close to where I camped indicated 208 km. That was just the number of kilometers till the end of road No. 309; there were another 40 km to Kashi. If I started at 6:00 and cycled to 20:00, I could manage it with 18 km every hour.
I started at 6:10, after breaking down the camp and oiling the chain - I'll need smooth transmition today. There is a lot of downhill in the first part, so in a first few hours I am ahead of the schedule for half an hour. I overtake one French on a recumbent and stop for few minutes to chat. The road then goes through mountainous land for 120 km and I struggle to keep up with the schedule. I lost almost an hour there. At midday I stop for a lunch. After that I drop into the plane, shift the chain to the big ring and ride with high pace for few tens of km. I caught the schedule again and was now sure I'd make it. After the long gradual climb there is the final downhill and I expect no troubles more. But there is one. The big stream broke out, floated across the road and made a road block. I tried to cross the stream but there was a strong undercurrent throwing stones at my feet, so I backed up. Someone made a good suggestion that I cross downstream of the road where the river was wider and the flow weaker. And so I did. Then it was a quick ride on poplar-lined flat road until the road marker indicated kilometer No. 1. I took a right turn there and made the final 20 km to Kashi on a freeway. The ride was 20 km shorter from what I expected, so I was in Kashi around 19:00.
Kashi was again a surprise for me - a big town where I couldn't orient myself. I asked for the directions to Seman hotel and got a bed in dormitory. I'll check to a better hotel with my own room tomorrow. Tomorrow's my first rest day. I feel filthy as a pig; there's going to be a big wash up.

Kashi streets.
Day 14: rest day.  So, I took a day of rest. In the morning I went over to a Qinibagh hotel to ask for a room. The cheapest was 360 Yuan, but I said I was looking for something around 100. I got a room with two beds, clean sheets, air-conditioning, TV, tea, separate bathroom, toilet paper, towels, soap, tooth brush, tooth paste, comb, bathroom slippers and cloth for cleaning shoes. An unheard-of luxury for 80 Yuan.
I then proceeded with a long list of errands waiting for me today. I washed myself, washed the cycling jersey, shorts, socks, gloves and cap, charged up the battery, patched up the holes in my clothes, plastered the blisters, changed the money, called home, sent a couple of e-mails, went for a lunch, bought cigarettes, cleaned the chain, borrowed a book and read much of it. Hooh, a lot to do on a rest day!

Up the Ghez river.
Day 15: 125 km.  It rained in the morning and the skies remained overcast for the rest of the day. An ideal day for cycling! I lingered a bit too long, it was so pleasant in my hotel that I almost stayed another day. After the breakfast (never order a western-type food in a third world country!) I finally moved on.
The first 60 km are flat on smooth road through the villages and only after 80 km you get to the Ghez river bed. Then up the river bed on gentle incline with tailwind - despite the few rain drops it was the best part of the trip so far. I intended to cycle until 20:00, but just after a check point a man invites me to spend the night in a jurt. I accept after bargaining down the price a bit.

Kongur Shan group.
Day 16: 165 km. It was a miserable night. The jurt may have looked good, but it had a smell of dirt; it would have been much better in my tent.
The morning is sunny, the road excellent and I proceed quickly up the canyon to the top at 'fossil point'. It's totally unreal place, in the middle of grey desert with grey lake where a big crowd gathers to sell and buy stones. From here there is a rather long way to Karakul lake - a renown place with a lake at the base of two 7000+ peaks, Muztag Ata and Kongur Shan. The views are much better before you come to this tourist trap. The Chinese have put up a number of concrete jurts for tourists there. It's a joke just like plastic palms along the streets of Ali and Lhasa. But this joke is at least functional - you can comfortably spend the night in one of those jurts; they probably even smell better than the one from last night. I ate an exceptionally expensive and untasteful lamian here, went over to the lake - because it's THE thing to do here - and moved on. I know the road very well, of course, I was here in 2004. I expected an easy climb to Ulugrabat pass (at 4098 m), but it isn't entirely naive: you get a good workout over 7 km. The big downhill to Tashkurgan is somewhat spoiled by a strong side wind, turning to headwind before the town. At least, you get a good lookout to the left on Muztag Ata group, which changes appearance with every kilometer. Memories come back as I pass the group of jurts: it was here that a dog bit me in 2004.
The view from the "fossil point".
In Tashkugran I bargained down hotel room to 80 Yuan. A little knowledge of few Chinese phrases did me a lot of good here, it charmed the receptionist. I took a shower and went for a dinner. I couldn't make anything of the Chinese menu, so I ordered something I knew the word for: chicken meat and plain rice. I got a plate full of small pieces of meat which were chopped from a whole chicken. Every little piece had at least one bone in it.
With regard to scenery and road quality this was the best day of the tour.

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