Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Route

So we spent the past weekend in Novi Sad, where we between liberal amounts of Serbian food and drink (for which I have to admit having a very sweet spot ... roasted meat, chicken liver wrapped in bacon, ćevapčići, sausages, sauerkraut ... fresh and pickled vegetables ... fresh cheese ... sweet red wine ... lager beer and šljivovica ...) got around to actually make tons of decisions about the adventure that lies ahead of us. Most importantly, the route:

This map sketch is now our general plan, but it has two major question marks.

First, entering into Central Asia by crossing the Caspian Sea with the ferryboat from Baku to Türkmenbaşy (Krasnovodsk) is a classic way to begin a journey through Central Asia. In his Tibetanska Äfventyr (1905), Sven Hedin writes:
Kanske ni föreställer er att det är med en känsla af välbehag man efter en lyckad, men stormig färd över [Kaspiska] hafvet sätter sin fot på Asiens kust, då man går i land vid Krasnovodsk eller »de röda vattnen»? Nej bevars, denna stad är ungefär motsatsen till ett jordiskt paradis. Tänk er en liten håla med hvita envåningshus med platta tak, ett par anspråkslösa kyrkor, en omgärdande ring af sterila söndervittrande berg och gula sanddyner, ej ett träd, ej ett grässtrå, nej icke ens en droppe sött vatten! Sådant hitföres i stora träkar med tågen inifrån landet. Det vore en deportation att behöfva bo i denna bedröfliga ort, som låg där och stektes i glödande solgass.
But while this route might be the obvious choice for anyone who has read too many old adventure books, it has two major disadvantages today: The ferryboat services are said to be both irregular and expensive, and Turkmenistan is said to be one of the countries in the world where getting a transit visa is the most complicated and expensive. Very discouraging. So we'll need to investigate this more deeply before making a final decision. Apart from the classic ferryboat ride across the Caspian, the possibility to visit the Door to Hell gas deposit in Derweze also makes this route very tempting despite its drawbacks.

Second, driving through China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (Uyghuristan) would be a wonderful thing to do for many reasons, not the least that China builds great roads also in the most remote provinces and that a new border crossing between China and Mongolia recently has been opened at Altay. But maybe more importantly for me personally is that when I lived in Shanghai, I soon learned that thousands and thousands of Uyghur also lived there and that the city had a wealth of Uyghur restaurants in which I became a frequent visitor, so I've long wanted to visit Kashgar, Ürümqi and the deserts around.

Here you can see Comrade Piotr, visiting me in Shanghai in 2002, helping the house band in a Uyghur restaurant with the drums while forever regretting that he was too cheap to order the Spicy Camel Feet.

But the Xinjiang route has a major drawback in Chinese bureaucracy, which is world famous for a reason. No foreign driver's licenses are valid in the People's Republic and the paperwork needed to get all necessary permits for a foreign driver to drive a car with foreign license plates through the country promises to be more than challenging. Very discouraging. So we'll need to investigate also this more deeply before making a final decision. Apart from the roads and the Uyghur, the sheer bragging rights of having driven through China also makes this route very tempting despite its drawbacks.

There we are now. We'll keep you updated on how our investigations regarding the route proceed. Stay tuned.


  1. To my defense, the regret came the day after at the Zoo, when we at the time very hungry, saw a camel and the sheer size of the foot :)
    And also it cost 80x more than the Chinese breakfast across the street from you...
    In retro perspective the breakfast cost about 0,10€...
    Damn it! I want that camel foot!

    I actually have a photo of the camel that woke my hunger and forever will taunt me with his (presumably) delicious spicy feet.

  2. leif wessel21:45

    Lyckat till.
    Good Luck
    If I were at your age I would have joined without hesitaition, although I alredy visitied Mongolia.

    Leif Wessel

  3. drop a comment or email when closing to tbilisi! :)