Section 1: Yecheng (Khargilik), city forbidden to foreigners … or not

Chinese people does not like to “lose face”, so, usually things are never clearly stated. Usually a Chinese will never answer : “No”, but will give you vague and inconsistent responses, “I’ll think about”, “you are probably right, but now it is impossible”, or will say “I need to confer with my boss”, or will express his regrets by not being able to fulfil your request.

We found ourselves in this situation. We were sent away from Yecheng in a taxi, and driven in a Police car to the taxi station… and we never knew why. Of course if the Police tells you that you are not allowed to be somewhere, and they ask you to leave.. well, you leave first, and you eventually, may ask later.

We had setup a one day stop in Yecheng. We got train tickets from Kashgar to Yecheng, one day, and the next day from Yecheng to Khotan. Yecheng is the departure point of one of the roads that goes through the Himalayas. We reserved a hotel through cTrip, without any problem. Of course, I read that Yecheng had seen clashes between the Police and some Uyghurs, but that was all. Not more than in other cities in the Xinjiang.

Upon arrival, at the train station of Yecheng we tried to catch a taxi… no way, no taxi was willing to take us to our hotel, we did not knew why at this moment. Finally, I asked a Policeman to ask a taxi driver and here we went.

As we learnt later, the center of Yecheng, where our hotel was, is closed to foreigners. How to know it? Was this true, and in this case, why they sold us train tickets to go there? or was it false, and it was an excuse of the Police to send us away from Yecheng… and then, why?

Once at the hotel we learnt that the hotel did not accept foreign people. This is relatively normal, and nor cTrip nor Tripadvisor consider worthwhile to say this somewhere. You may have a reservation paid in advance and, when you arrive at the hotel, then, simply, “meio” impossible.

The owner of the Hotel tried to do something for us, and instead of searching another hotel, he opted to keep us, asking some friend for a permit. (this is China, of course!). It took a couple of hours, but, at the end, we got them.

And then we went in the old town of Yerchen, old adobe walls, were time stopped some centuries ago.

I expected to met Ella and Peter when turning a corner. We were invited to have tea and pastries in the patio of a family house from Uzbekistan. We strolled there for one hour, with children greeting at us (or fleeing from us), and teenagers asking to have a selfie with us. We peeked inside doors half open and we saw patios, shadowed by plants…

Then we decided to go to the Mosque, which was near the hotel. On the street, 4 policemen in plain clothes (one of them had a sweatshirt with “Police” in small letters printed in the sleeve) asked us who we were, what we were doing in Yecheng. We are tourists, Silk Road, on our way to Xining, train tickets for tomorrow… Nothing worked and they asked us to follow them to the Police Post, to “check”.

We entered the Police complex (just the parking lot, no obscure cells to be questioned, although this was impressive enough), some other officers came to met us, and we explained again to them (with the help of a Policewoman who was able to speak a little English) who we were, again, (tourists visiting the Silk Road), where we stayed (Celebrity City Hotel), and that we were strolling around, no harm done, and we were leaving by train the next day, and that we had train tickets as a proof.

Then they told us that the hotel was forbidden to foreign people, who, moreover, were not allowed to enter the city center, and, of course, much less to take photos. They asked us to show the photos in phones and cameras, and asked us to delete them… I cordially refused, with a smile, and they say OK.. situation was serious but not tense. So, the hotel was allowed or not to take foreigners? the city center was forbidden or not to foreigners? Why they asked us to delete photos from places or people?. No airports, no trains, no Policemen appeared in the photos.

But again, we were in the land of the non-said.

Then they asked us to leave the city immediately. We asked them that they allowed us to stay until the next day in our rooms in the hotel, finally, it was not big deal. We will leave, as planned in the morning. Police did not agree, they asked us to leave immediately, a taxi would bring us to Hetian. We say no, plain and direct, no diplomacy there. I was not willing to ride a taxi for 250 km in the middle of a desert, and to arrive there at 2 am, without hotel reservation! to make a long history short, after maybe one hour and a half of discussions they asked to the owner of the hotel to give us back the money, Police contacted a hotel in a city, 75 km away to check if they accept foreigners, they made the reservation for us, they bring us on a Police car to the taxi station, and they talked to a taxi driver to get a good price for us.

Ah yes, we make a lot of selfies with them, they were happy to see us going away from their district.

But… my feeling was that finally, things went well this time… but, should we have found another kind of Policeman, they may have seated us (at our cost, of course) on the next flight out of the Xinjiang