After the entrancing post-Soviet kitsch of Almaty, Kazakhstan and the crumbling walls of the Old Muslim Quarter in Kashgar, China, we headed west. In fact, we had a ticket booked to fly out of Chengdu, China in late August. We, however, underestimated the distance (over 4,300km from Kashgar) and overestimated the availability of transport in the region (limited). Once we left Xinjiang province, all movement west was accompanied with increasingly more crowds and tourists - and ultimately sold out train tickets.
Travel west was piecemeal, a series of transfers and glimpses of desert towns strung along a circuit in the Northern Taklamakan Desert. Since the China train system does not have centralized booking, we had to wait until we arrived in the city to buy tickets from that city onto to the next destination. Okay... We would arrive in a city in the early morning and head straight to the ticket counter, hoping that transport to the next destination was available within a day or so. If we were lucky, we'd get tickets for later that evening, drop our bags at the luggage deposit, and set out to explore the small towns for the day, eating our way through local treats.
The most difficult day we had was in Lanzhou. We had arrived via a 36-hour (or something equally taxing) hard seat train trip from Dunhuang, I think. Upon arrival, we realized that the train to Chengdu was sold out for weeks! Worse yet, there are no direct buses from Lanzhou to Chengdu. Weird.
Further compounding my annoyance, access to any pertinent internet information was limited because all the information about bus travel (or lack thereof) from Lanzhou was on Blogger-supported sites, which are blocked in China. We were left with two options: (1) Take the tenuous route through Sichuan province, through small Tibetan towns with haphazard bus schedules; or (2) take a train to Xian, which is further west still, and hope that connections via bus or train could be made there. And, we were running out of time.
We opted for Xian, and yes there was a bus connection there!
Long story short: We eventually made it to Chengdu and had a few days to spare. We settled at Sim's Guesthouse, a cozy little gem of a place, and explored the city, lamenting the end of our trip. It was a wonderful few days of Chongqing hot-potting, dumpling eating, and Tibetan sweet yak milk drinking.