The idea was to get to Da Huang via Geermu. We were running behind schedule and needed to double up in order to reach the border on time.

Geermu is quite a large city. We made our way downtown in search of a nice restaurant. Following a sweet scent, our noses led us to a small bakery where we picked up some freshly baked membao cakes after which we stumbled upon a Korean food joint. By the time we finished devouring our meal, it was already six pm. Da Huang was still seven to eight hours away but we had to push on.

We drove late into the night and at around one in the morning, we stopped at the first hotel that had any rooms available. We were still 70km away from our planned destination but it everyone was tired and it was time to call it a day.

Da Huang was still 70 kilometers away from where we spent the night. According to plan, we were supposed to reach Harmi by the evening. But things rarely ever go to plan.

The temperatures were finally normal at 12°. It was a welcome change from the biting cold we had grown accustomed to. We cleaned out the cars, filled up our water cans, bought juice and were on our way.

As we proceeded towards Da Huang, I was reminded of Dubai. Sandy dunes on either side starkly contrasted with the greenery from the landscaped highway. The major difference was that here, the temperatures were at least 20 degrees lower.

We rolled into the city just in time for lunch and ended up finding parking space next to a group of fully decked out SUV’s. For a change our cars didn’t seem so out of place. A big group from Beijing were on a week long desert expedition of their own and man were they prepared. They made us look under equipped!

Our meal can be best described as Chinese lasagna. Flattened noodle slices and chicken served with one of the best tasting gravies I had tried in a while. It was a special dish created by the restaurants chef and I don’t remember the last time I ate so much.

Post lunch and we were struggling for directions to our next destination. After about the third U turn, we decided to take matters into our own hands and punched Kashgar into the navigation system. Much to our horror, we realised that Kashgar was in the opposite direction so we had to drive all the way back to where we spent the night. We essentially drove an unnecessary 150km just for lunch. Although it wasn’t part of the itinerary, We took our chances with the route we were eager to reach Kashgar and four days seemed too far away. China has been a wonderful experience but two and a half weeks in and I’m more than ready for Kyrgyzstan.

Frustrated, we drove back the same way we came. All around us there was absolutely nothing but desert and flat land. We could see ahead of us for miles and miles almost straight up till the horizon

As evening approached, the dimly lit sky coupled with the terrain gave an extraterrestrial feel. It felt as through we had landed on a different planet. Not a soul was around. If I ever imagined the surface of Mars, it would look like this

Like clockwork, we were stopped at a police checkpoint for a while and officials asked to view our passports multiple times. The level of paranoia that the Chinese display is astounding and slightly flattering. What harm do they think we could possibly do?!

Haixi, the town we had entered, wasn’t yet open to tourists and we didn’t have the permits for this particular route since we changed course last minute. All we could do was hope that they understood our situation and let us pass through.

At this point all we want to do is get to Kashgar. We’d had enough.