The Long Train to Xinjiang

Date: July 1

It’s July 1st. The first day of an epic journey across China’s least explored provinces. And dare I say, China’s most restive provinces. It’s a Friday, and much of the day is spent  packing. Just how do human beings accumulate things? It’s unbelievable the things we can do without once we realize that life has to be stuffed into a 20 kgs-only suitcase. “Do you really need that perfume? We can buy it later in India.” Discard. “Do you really need to take that Rs150-bought-in-a-trashy-sale tracksuit frayed at the edges? Discard. When you know that you are carrying things on your back, your perspective becomes clearer.  I thought then why can’t we  do the same in life? If we realize that things like stress, pain, anger, hatred, intolerance are things we carry on OUR back, how burdened then we are! How stooped our own backs are! Discard. Lighten your backs.  Well, that’s what I did. I mean, literally. For one-month, the backpack I lugged on my back, was the lightest – and it just felt…good.

It was around 6PM when we gathered at the North Gate. Jorg has a new haircut – or rather, a new hair-less cut.  Shorn so short, I can’t help but laugh, he looks straight out of prison! George, who is leaving for the Czech Republic in a few days time, is coming  to see us off. It’s 6:15, and Chengdu’s infamous taxis are hard to find. “Let’s just take the bus,” drawls George. I agree, although Jorg looks askance. “It will be faster,” Birdy adds. Magically, it is. We reach at 6:55. A quick hug from George, and then a mad scramble inside the seething  station. And there is the train. Orange on the outside, a T train, fully air conditioned, about to embark on its long, 48-hour journey from Chengdu to Urumqi. We have 3 hours less. We are going only to Turpan, China’s hottest place. I know. I love torturing myself. Inside, the train is already crowded. Our berths are occupied by Chinese Kazakh women. For the first time, I am seeing people who are radically different from the Han Chinese. These women, one of them with blue eyes, look more Russian than Chinese. They are also one of the nicest people we were to meet on our travels – teachers traveling through Sichuan, now making the slow  road back home which lies 60 hours away in Ili, a picturesque valley, near Pakistan. As they give us home-made cookies, the train  moves away, and Chengdu would just be a memory for the next 28 days.

Posing on the train
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