Urumqi – 15/07/2009

Written by Mārtiņš K., translated and details added by Agnese

We are getting up early as we have agreed before – at 7am. The other kupe growls as usual that there should still be time to sleep. They are actually right – we arrive at the destination station 2 hours later than planned.
Improvised policeman set up by army are everywhere in Urumchi/Urumqi city. On the one hand we have a feeling of safety because of the high security, on the other hand, of course, it wouldn’t be nice to get in rougher checks and get fumbled. The most frightening fact to me is that somebody could take away the knife given to me as a present from a friend of mine. Metal detector beeps, but the lady fumbles my pockets and lets go.

The seats on the later train which would be the best according to the schedule (evening) are sold out. So are all places on at least 2 other reasonably good trains and all the sleeping places on all trains today. The best places we could get are soft seats for a train that leaves at about 4pm, therefore we won’t have much time in the city. But it’s better to take this train than wait till tomorrow, so we buy the tickets.

We arrange two cabs which could take us to museum of minerals. The agreed price is 25yuans for each. Our cab takes us to a wrong place at first – to history or similar museum. After short expounding, we arrive at our proper destination. The first group reports that the museum is closed, however the main object of interest for our astronomers – the huge meteorite – is found exposed next to the museum and we can see it. We take a picture of ourselves and tick off this item from our must-see list.
It’s drizzling small drizzle, but as the temperature of the air is not low there’s no threat of getting soaked. We decide to go to Urumchi Red hill park.
Me, Mārtiņš M and Everita want to go by foot, which we do. Others take a cab. Initially we follow the intuition and hopefully head in the right direction. Of course, it turns out to be wrong. A lady on the street explains that we should go in completely opposite direction.
It is interesting to observe both daily rhythm of local people and local lazybones.
The rain gets more intense and we get a bit wet. On our way to the park we realize that it won’t be possible to get there more or less along azimuth, and to reach the entrance we need to make a detour of several blocks size. In a little while we arrive at the destination.

railway station 4th biggest meteorite in the world City view

When we start walking in the park, the drizzle stops and we get dry very quickly. The park offers very interesting and extensive scenery of the city.

After the walk in the park we get some cash from ATM and bank. The first ATM we notice on our way, works with our bank cards, which seems quite surprising for Agnese as she has read that there might not be more than couple ATMs in this whole city. We continue to supermarket to buy some needed products while Agnese and Mārtiņš M. tries (more or less successfully) to get prepaid SIM card from some Chinese operator.

A bit of stress and a bit more stress about some irresponsibility or something like that, as we thought at that time. We bought also some cognac, which was probably produced or bottled in China.
And then for 15 yuans per each of the 2 cabs we get back to railway station to go further.

At the entrance of railway station there are metal detector checks again. Me and Mārtiņš M are asked to open bags for detailed check. The manual metal detector beeps because of knife that’s attached to my belt under shirt, however as there is camera battery close by in the pocket, they find that and ask to show. Mārtiņš M. was asked if he has a knife or anything like that in the bag. And he honestly shows his knife. I answer without lying that I don’t have knife in the bag. :) I was let go, however problems arise with the knife of Mārtiņš M. It appears that we would have needed to declare or file or similarly note such things. As the train leaves in couple of minutes, there’s no time to discuss about the conflict, and the knife is given away for confiscation voluntarily.

Silk road train

As our group had become lazy writers, I asked everyone to write some 5 sentences about our journey from Almaty to Urumqi. I got many sentences, not so many facts, and most of them all were about our time on Kazakhstan/China border, so there will a separate post dedicated to the funny border crossing. But for now – about the Silk road train “Zhibek zholy”.

It was quite late when we entered the train, but who would have known that the caption “Alamutu – Wulumuqi” on the side of the train standing on 1st tracks, means that this is the train to Urumqi. Again, we had booked places in 2 adjacent kupes, but this time they were a little bit different from each other. Each of them had violet clothes-hangers, but in the boy’s kupe each of them had a “pretty” ribbon. There was a little fight to get a hanger with a ribbon, and finally the boys were so kind to change their hangers to ours :D. We put down our bags and stepped out to take a photo, with the hangers, of course.

Pretty hangers Silk road train kupe

The train and the compartments were clean, white and somewhat “sterile”. Every kupe had two thermoses with drinking water (the previous train had drinking water tap in the corridor, however, we drank mostly boiled water after cooling it down in a glass bottle, placed in Everita’s sneaker to not fall apart). Electricity sockets were under the table in each kupe, there were more than 1 and not all the same, but I don’t remember neither how many exactly nor what types. There was a Chinese style (squat) toilet in one end of the wagon, a normal toilet in the other. Also in this train there was a big place for our things over the corridor. We kept there many things including bed linen in day time and among them the melon which had been carried around in Almaty and turned out to be the only piece of fruit to survive till China. Beds were much harder than in the train before, but we slept very well after the long day in Almaty.

Next day I woke up to see a nice scenery outside the window. There was a nice, blue lake behind a meadow and it was still there some hours later. Apparently a very big lake. Here and there were some village or  Muslim cemetery. The landscape of eastern Kazakhstan was very beautiful and none of the pictures taken through the dirty train windows made it justice.

Big lake Mountains Green green grass Rain

It was very quiet in the train. While in the train before everyone was keeping the doors of their kupes open and visiting other people in the train, even unknown people, here most doors were closed and there were no people chatting in corridor. We kept our doors open mostly and sometimes tried to shut the curtains of the windows in the corridor so that there was less Sun shining into eyes. Though the carriage attendant walked through the carriage time after time and always opened them if it was light outside and always shut them if it was dark. He seemed to be a very patient person as he never tried to say anything to us, when we opened the curtains uncountable times in the evening.


– Sorry for delay on article, I’m a lazy writer. ;)

Rise and shine. Early in the morning I woke up when our new Kazakh room-mate was rustling. We told him that we will be arriving in Almaty after 7:00, bet he was not convincible – in his mind it would be at 6:00. Some minutes past 7:00 we arrived in Almaty, station 2.

Our first task was to buy tickets to Ürümqi. Timetable was showing “место нет” meaning – there are no seats. At the information woman said that we should go to pay-box and ask for tickets. Pay-box was opening at 8:00 – little while to wait. Also we were informed that tickets cost about 50% more than expected. After visiting ATM and currency exchange point we felt quite comfortable. :)

Looots of money!

After we bought the tickets we went to put our baggage in storage room. After that we contacted people from couch-surfing community to go to them for a shower. At first we thought about going by taxi. We were told that it is not so expensive (we should not pay more than 1000 tenges for all of us to get to our destination near microdistrict Orbita). But first taxi offered to bring us for 2000 tenges for each car (we needed 2). We were bargaining a little while when at this point woman at storage room intervened and told us how to get to our destination very easy using public transportation. We didn’t mind, it was in our (at least in my :) ) interests to explore this culture by participating in their everyday life – walking same streets, taking same public transportation, meeting people, et cetera. Taxi momentarily dropped his price to 1000 tenges for a car. It was still twice to much and our minds were set to going by bus.

First bus explained that we should go 2 stops and then reseat. We decided to go by foot. Taxi was still there, with friends. All of them were trying to convince to go with them. Now price was dropped to 1000 tenges for both cars. But we were going to our new target – bus stop No98. On the way there it was very interesting to acquaint oneself with their culture on the roads. As well as glancing at beautiful fountains.

At the bus stop we awaited our bus. Conductor was hurrying us up to get into the bus. As we found out later it is custom to do things fast – jump into or out of the bus almost while it is still moving. Conductor also showed us where to get out and where was the park with columns and beautiful fountains. Some public thermometer showed 38­ degree C a while ago. So while waiting our contact persons we were sunbathing, taking photos and lounging near fountain.

Bus 98 Beautiful park Fountains! Fountains!!

We divided into two groups. One group went with let’s say “woman” and the other with “girl” :)
One after another we went to the shower at hers place. Feeling was much better. Woman made some sandwiches and omelette, and some other viands – cheese, sausages, tomatoes, etc. Very, very nice and kind from her.

Couchsurfing rollz! Couchsurfing rollz!!

After that we decided not to go to the observatory and nearby lake as it seemed to be very expensive. Instead we would be going to museum of music instruments. On the way there we enjoyed waterworks and flower gardens. Unfortunately museum is closed on Mondays. After quick chat with guard we went on. Clouds began to gather and it looked like there will be a thunderstorm soon. Indeed after a short while rain was starting to fall. We decided to go into some coffee for a lunch. Not all of us were so fortunate to get such a large meal at their couchsurfing place… :) Everyone ordered what they want. Me, Anders and Everita only beer and snacks. Unfortunately after a meal there was some misunderstanding about the the prices we had to pay. After 20 minutes and loud discussion situation was more or less solved. I don’t like to participate on such events, so I didn’t.

At that time the Sun was no more shining, it was warm and it was not raining. We decided to go to Kok-tobe by cable-way to watch the city from above. Up there was lot of commercial stuff. Not really interested in. But overall very nice and clean. We were walking around, taking some pictures, visiting mini zoo (free).

TV tower Pretty deer girl The Beatles in Almaty Down from Kok-Tobe

Slowly not hurrying anywhere we decided to go to the train station by foot. Everyone was worn-out. Some took a nap. Some recovered by eating something. After a while Agnese notices that we can go to the train and there is attendant who speaks only Chinese. The train is nice, made by Chinese plastics. The attendant is checking our body temperatures by some infrared thermometer. Everything is OK. Again, we need to fill up some papers for Chinese border. Soon after that we go to sleep.

Route, times, attractions

We are about to leave in some 4 hours. Everyone has packed (I suppose) except me, but that is ok.
My best friend gave me link about riots in Urumqi today and I decided that maybe someone wants to know what we are planning to visit in each city.
As well as – it doesn’t seem so obvious but the map in 1st page, when you click on it, contains all the train stations where it stops as well as times when the train will be in that station.
Here is another link to that map: The MAP.

We will be visiting 7 (or 8 ) cities (click for the objects that we might be visiting):
Moscow (Russia)
Almaty (Kazakhstan)
Urumqi (China) – yes, we plan to visit the places where riots take place, but don’t worry, we will think twice.
Xi’an (China)
Beijing (China)
Shanghai (China)
Hangzhou (China) – no map yet
Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) – Anders will visit this on his own after being a bit more time in China.

So, follow us on twitter, look into map at right side (below Twitter block), and you should know where are we right in that moment.

Looking over options in details. 1st.

The dates when we have to buy our train tickets come closer and closer (it’s 25th or 26th of May), so it’s the last time to decide which train we will take.

There were 3 main options:

1st option.
We have to be in Shanghai on 21st of July at latest. Train from Urumqi to Shanghai goes daily and takes 3 days (departs evening, arrives midday). -> We have to be in Urumqi on 19th at latest, which is Sunday. Train from Almaty to Urumqi goes 2 days a week and arrives either on Monday or on Wednesday. Monday, 20th is too late for us, so 15th, Wednesday would be fine. In this case we have to depart from Almaty on 13th of July (evening).
Train from Moscow to Almaty goes every 2nd day. In order for us to be in Almaty on 13th, we have to take train which departs from Moscow on 9th July evening. So, departing from Riga on 8th evening, which means 2 not 1 extra days of vacation (not sure whether possible for all of us).
Looking from start – if we are in Urumqi on 15th, we can go to Xian with train 1086 (Urumqi – Jinan) and be there on 17th, visit Terracotta Army (takes 3h + getting to/from = 5h) and see city. Then leave in the evening to either Shanghai or Beijing.

Shanghai first
This means, we are in Shanghai on 18th round 2pm and can spend there 4,5 days till evening of 22nd. Then go to Beijing, arrive there 23rd before noon and spend there 3 days before departing home on 26th.

Beijing first
This means, we are in Beijing on 18th round 10am and can spend there 3days, 2 nights till evening of 20th. Then go to Shanghai, arrive there 21st before noon and spend there 4,5days before departing home on 25th night.

In short:
Riga-Moscow(Rizskaja)(004р) – daily, 18:10-12:16, 17:06h (departs 1st day, arrives 2nd)
Moscow(Pavlieckaja)-Almaty(007ц) – every 2nd, 22:50-07:14, 78:24h (departs 1st day, arrives 5th)
Almaty-Urumqi(014ц) – Mon,Sat, 23:58-08:58, 31:00h (departs 1st day, arrives 3rd)
Urumqi-Shanghai(T54) – daily, 17:20-14:31, 45:11h (departs 1st day, arrives 3rd)
Urumqi-Xian(to Jinan,1086), 21:48-07:29, 33:41h (departs 1st day, arrives 3rd)

http://www.tielu.org (+ google translate automatic language detection)