My girlfriend Emily and I traveled from England to Kashgar (the nearest town to the arch) just after a severe sand storm had hit the area, making visibility atrocious. As we stared out of our hotel room window at the hazy brown sky, which all but obscured the surrounding buildings, we wondered if we would actually get to see the famed Shipton’s Arch at all. Worryingly, the poor visibility was predicted to last for as long as we were scheduled to remain in Kashgar. Things didn’t look promising.
We decided however to throw caution to the wind and travel to the arch the following day in the hope that the arch’s higher elevation would have a positive effect on the air quality. We booked our trip through the Caravan Café who provided a guide with a four wheel drive and a small step ladder, the use for which would soon become apparent. Whilst at the Café we met a friendly American traveller called Lynn, who on hearing of our planned trip asked if he could come along as well. So in total our tour party was four people.
The drive to the start of our hiking trail took us about an hour and a half and passed through many picturesque villages. The area was covered in a thick blanket of snow, and as we had hoped, the air was much clearer. The step ladder’s use was to scale a small rock face which, due to the time of year (April), was covered in a frozen waterfall. There were other similar obstacles en-route but these had permanent bamboo ladders fixed solidly in place and were therefore not too difficult to get around.
After a moderate 20 minute hike that negotiated a number of twisting snow and ice covered slot canyons, the arch finally came into view. It looked like something out of a Tolkien novel, standing dramatically, yet gracefully, at the end of a towering snowy canyon. Leading up to the arch was a small rounded hill whose summit was probably 50 feet back from the arch itself. The hill slopes gradually towards the arch then abruptly drops vertically down hundreds and hundreds of feet below.
The arch itself was magnificent and awe inspiring, and far too big to capture on film without a wide angle lens. As a result I decided to take multiple photos of different sections of the arch from a single position. I then cut these appropriately and put them together to form the above image.
Despite having spent many years travelling all over the world, I would have to say that Shipton’s Arch is the most impressive natural wonder I have ever seen.
by Jamie Maslin