Friday Prayer at Id Kah Mosque

We have been waiting for Friday so much, ever since I started planning itinerary for Kashgar I would arrange it so that Az could spend time attending Friday prayer at Id Kah mosque and I could watch the crowd. Even when our itinerary changed a bit when we went to Karakul one day later we still chose to skip going to Tashkurgan just because want to be back in Kashgar by Friday!

Wanna know why? Because we’re hoping to see the crowd as we’ve seen on internet (check Google images here) and although the images were taken during Eid prayer, I cant help but hope to watch the (almost) similar crowd for Friday prayer too.

Az gets the camera, and I’d wait outside with camcorder to film the crowds during prayer (and see notes at the side bar to know why you dont see any video attached here). I keep watching increasing number of men walking towards and into mosque, and some young boys standing in front of the entrance selling blue-colored “disposable” plastic prayer rug for 1 yuan for those who dont bring their prayer rug.

Sitting around me are several women whom I guess are waiting for their husbands too. Although, when prayer was about to start, a police officer came to disperse us and ask to wait somewhere not too near to the mosque. And I could hear the sound of prayer preach/Khutbah clearly and the thought of Az listening khutbah in Uyghur language makes me smile. According to Az, he was feeling sleepy like usual during any Friday khutbah, yet was amazed to witness that every single man around him was paying full attention to the preach. In Malaysia, half of the audience would easily fall asleep.

To my disappointment, when the prayer starting, the crowd was only a little exceeding the entrance stairs, so this proves that the large crowd filling the entire mosque yard only happens during Eid prayer.

After Friday prayer is over, Az got to watch several woman holding plates of food (dried fruits?) standing at the entrance and men coming out of the mosque would stop and blow at the food, and some look like spitting. Which is weird, and only after we’re back to Urumqi later, Nazar told us that it’s a traditional practice for people who can’t afford to get sick family member to doctor and this alternative is to let religious men recite prayers on the food in a way so that it somehow becomes medicine. Or so we’re told.

After Friday prayer, the street going back to hostel apparently has turned into a busy afternoon street market. We look around to see if there’s anything interesting to get. It’s like a common atmosphere you can find in any flea market, people selling just everything. There are even people selling used office shirts, they’re clean, looking new and cheap so we managed to stop and waste a few minutes browsing the items, although ended up not buying. I was also tempted to buy some leftover fabrics (good quality and price starts from 3 yuan!) but thinking that I hardly have time for sewing and it would give unnecessary extra weight to our luggage, so forget it.

We passed by an old woman selling Uyghur cap, which is unusual since we have come across many shops selling them and they’re run by men, and she’s selling it for only 20 yuan! (We have asked many places before and they’re 30-50 yuan) so Az says it’s time to buy one for him, as well as additional 2 for souvenir.

Az wearing Uyghur cap, and from the moment he wears it, we always get friendly stares from the locals, as if they’re saying to each other “Look, there’s tourist trying to be Uyghur!”. It feels rather good, and even funnier when people have to look twice at us to ensure if we’re locals or tourists. It also happens several times when we stop by shops and places, people would ask from where and how much we bought the cap. I mean, it’s like a necessary question!

This is our neighbor restaurant, they’re just two doors away from our hostel and we get to see them every time we go out from and return to hostel, and they would smile at us and we would exchange wave. Today, we decided to give a courtesy stop at their restaurant and have a couple of lamb kebabs. And additional to lamb kebab, they gave us free lunch!! :D It’s a large plate of noodle and I must say it taste really good! Despite the communication barrier, we feel so welcome by them and they’re trying to express their pleasure to meet fellow Muslims from far away (which is funny that had to “test” us by asking us to read some verses framed on their wall, and we did).

After lunch, we went to take bus to go to train station to change our ticket. Why? Because we realized we have come to like this place even more. Now Az asks if it’s possible we extend our stay in Kashgar, rather than going to Kuqa, Turpan and Urumqi that early. As for now, our confirmed itinerary will be:

Today (Friday) to Sunday: Kashgar. Sunday evening take bus for Kuqa (have to go buy bus ticket tomorrow).
Monday: Arrive Kuqa Monday morning, one day sight seeing, then take night train to Turpan
Tuesday: Arrive Turpan, meet CSer Ahmad and visit Tuyoq village
Wednesday: Around Turpan, and take afternoon bus to Urumqi (2 hours). Meet CSer Mischa.

After a discussion, we decided to skip Kuqa and Turpan and will buy either direct flight or train ticket to Urumqi from Kashgar. It will take 24 hour train or expensive 500+ yuan flight, now we have to choose between saving money or time. But before that, we already have train ticket from Kuqa to Turpan which had already been booked by Derek earlier. So if we are really determined to skip Kuqa and Turpan, we have to cancel the train ticket, or change it to new route Kashgar – Urumqi for Tuesday/Wednesday. Then again, we’ll only save 1 or 2 days extra in Kashgar and we’re still contemplating if this will be worth skipping Kuqa and Turpan. Anyhow. Now we’re going to train station to see if we can change the ticket, or refund it. If it can be done, then we’ll extend our stay in Kashgar, just to eat more lamb kebabs! :)

So we had to ask a favor from our hostel’s manager to write Chinese translation on our book so we’ll just simply show the message at the ticket counter (yes, don’t expect that they would understand English!).

Arriving at the train station, we quickly ran into ticket counter (like any other train station in China, the ticketing center is usually located outside the terminal building). There’s only one counter operating so the queue was rather long. The officers are all Chinese, no doubt. We have to bear with some tensed moment when some men in front of us falling into argument with the ticket officer, and after a while we could notice that the officer is being prejudice towards Uyghur people and for any reason would yell at them loudly in Chinese. On the other hand, she would talk normally and politely to fellow Chinese, even those who look and smell drunk. Fear of being in the racism dispute, I asked Az to remove his Uyghur cap before dealing at the counter.

When I showed the translated messages with our ticket, the ticket officer was saying something in Chinese and refused our tickets and it was a hell of pain that none of the fellow officers understand us. It took some time for her to ask the guard to go out and search for someone who could talk to us, and like 15 minutes later, a neat lady in uniform approached us explaining what’s going on. I guess she’s a senior officer or something.

She said our tickets cannot be exchanged or refund here because they had been booked via internet (by Derek) and the only possible way is to change it at the boarding place, in this case, at Kuqa! Why on earth would we want to go to Kuqa just to change tickets when our aim now is to NOT going to Kuqa?? =.=

Feeling upset, we left the train station, went to nearby shop to buy pomegranate juice and took bus back to town. We try to cheer ourselves by thinking that it’s meant to be and we need to follow itinerary as planned, and we get to try sleeper bus to go to Kuqa, and meet CSer Ahmad in Turpan, and we’ll still be within budget. Yeah, we’re sticking to our plan finally.

Kashgar Night Market

Back to Kashgar. Here, even without this night market, you can find endless stalls and restaurants at every corner, along every street. Did I say earlier that Kashgar has instantly become our official ultimate food destination? Especially for juicy lamb kebabs, of course! We only learned about the night market after one day touring around the town picking up every single lamb kebab in sight, and by evening, the night market was just starting and we were already full! Too bad! Az said let’s come again another day (which is, after visiting Karakul) to enjoy the night market to the fullest.

Now we are here again after back from Karakul, at the right time, right place, most importantly with enough space in tummy to try food particularly in the night market. What makes this place more interesting than regular restaurants is surely the crowds, and different types of food cramped in a place. Ignore the improper bench for sitting and it’s perhaps not the time to care so much about stalls condition. Food is first!

Most of the stalls provide long bench for you to sit up and have your meal right at the very place, facing the seller and the food itself. This is something that we dont know the name, but it’s like long big hot dog made of rice and mince lamb and veggies, being cut alongwith other stuff and soup mixed together to become something what Malaysians know as Yong Tau Fu for, 5 yuan. To us it’s tasteless, but we have to finish it anyway. Serve us right for the itch of trying new food, which turned out not as worth as lamb kebabs.

We tried soup noodle next. 5 yuan per bowl, and from the appearance of those bones I guess it’s supposed to be lamb noodle. Although hardly contains significant meat chunks in it, the soup is great. However, the stall owner noticeably looks unfriendly for whatever reason.

Kashgar food is mainly lamb, and lamb-based, including the inner organs and parts that something too weird to learn that they’re edible. Sheep head and feet for instance!

We call this curly hotdog, 1 yuan per stick. Grilled traditionally on fire and dashed with some hot spice powder and within a minute, it’s ready to be enjoyed right on the street.

This is manta, some kind of steamed bun (I know the name because already having it earlier with Nazar in Urumqi) and if earlier we had manta with lamb fillings, this stall owner gave us to try one with garlic chives in it. 1 yuan.

The ultimate food you have to taste once in a lifetime: THE SHEEP HEAD! Like, seriously. See the well-organized stack? While we used to think it’s the last part in a cattle that someone would eat, people in Kashgar on the other hand are very fond of eating sheep head, there are many stalls that serve only the heads! We’re contemplating whether to try it or not (ya, it looks gross, but the curiosity kills everything!).

So we had a plate, OMG! (Although, the stall owner – which I think he purposely – misunderstood that we want to eat for two =.=) so we’re given two sheep heads in one plate (18 yuan). Know how he serve it? He chooses one head from the stack, with a knife, he chops the head into half, and with hands, break everything into smaller pieces before putting into a plate (the bones and skull seem to have turned a little soft thanks to being cook in soup for a while) . And it comes with a bowl of soup – yes, the very soup from which sheep head had been cooked in. This is the meal! Now how do we eat this thing? We look around to see how others eat theirs: without choosing and checking what is in their plate, have them straight away into their mouth and munch delightfully. And they dont leave anything in the plate! Even the skin, the organ tissue.  And I wonder if they eat the eyeballs?? I mean, I can take eating chunks of meat that’s left at the skull, and that’s all. Okay I guess I’ve eaten something else too (which I dont want to try to think what they could be) and washing them down with soup does make it taste better (and less gross feeling). Anyways. For a moment I thought we’re taking part in a Survivor challenge. And we did it! :D

We end up coming to night market every day since just to explore Uyghur food and see the feast. For record, we had another bowl of soup noodle mentioned earlier, and the manta, and curly hotdog, but never again sheep head!

A Tale of an Old Shoes Seller – Part 1

I just have to document a story about a particular old man we met in Kashgar. He’s very old and it’s clearly seen by deep wrinkles, wearing worn clothes, and with big hat, he’s regularly found sitting at the mosque yard by late afternoon selling old shoes. We have come across alot of people in Kashgar and some of them happen to leave a memorable mark in our heart and mind. This old man is included.

After a rest and intense shower and charging camera, we left the hostel to walk around town and find lunch. For the record, we realized that we hadn’t had shower since moving to the hostel, which was a day before we went to Karakul, so do the maths! Blame the weather too being too cold in the morning and at night and with us busy exploring Kashgar during day time, getting shower doesnt come as important anymore :P So when we’re back to hostel during afternoon now it seems the appropriate time to get clean and healthy again.

As usual when we walk across the mosque yard we’ll be passing by the row of shoe shiners busy polishing customers’ shoes. We stopped for a few minutes to watch as if it’s something really amusing to our interest. Maybe it is! Az says we have to try it out once.

And this time it seems our wish has instantly come true, coz when we left the shoe shiners a few steps ahead, we saw an old man selling used leather shoes (the old man in the middle, that is!). I caught a sight of a beige-colored pair and thought they should be women shoes (probably the only among all men shoes) and spontaneously pointed “I want that shoes!”. After seeing the size is okay and being told the price is only 10 yuan, I didnt think any further. We then cheerfully made our way back to the shoe shiners just to test them with this newly bought shoes!

There’s this gypsy-looking woman caught our attention for looking so skillful and quick dealing with her customer. I show her the shoes and it’s understood to her that I need a polish. So I sit down comfortably and let her do the magic to my worn leather shoes.

The cleaning-polish only took 5 minutes, for 5 yuan. The shoes are now clean again, but the woman doesnt seem satisfied with her work because dark weary marks seen clearer on a bright-colored leather like beige shoes which polishing alone wont get rid of the stains. She gave a sign suggesting to paint the shoes black, which we didn’t understand at first and refused, but she managed to convince us well that shoes will look better and the paint won’t run. She would do it for another 15 yuan, and thinking that our initial reason of buying the 10-yuan old shoes in the first place was only to try out the shoe shiner, I guess it wont give harm if they get worse anyway.

So the real magic begins! The woman starts putting a generous amount of black paint, not one but from many different bottles and polish them off with another layers of chemical liquids (many types!) which I guess to set the black paint at place. Then she continued putting some more polish (different colors) paste and brush the shoes to shine. It was almost 30 minutes of suspense anticipating the final product of this make over. We cant help but amazed that the whole procedure was done very carefully, comprehensive without any mistake. So ta-da! My old worn beige shoes are now transformed into a pair of shining new black shoes! :D

We spent the rest of the day walking by the small roads and explore other corner of the old part, before heading to the night market. And seeing how locals make a living, right at the street. Uyghur people are blessed with craftsmanship and it’s well preserved in their culture. At the street, we get to see people actually making Tembur body.

We have earlier come across traditional instrument shop where we got to watch a live play, this is yet another, although it seems more a souvenir shop. The significant ones should be the “Tembur”, the Uyghur sitar.

ilyani’s tips on Karakul Lake

I have just done Karakul Lake part in the Travelogue, and here I’d like to summarize some things that might be useful to future travelers. Although, I’d like to remind you that this is from our personal experience in April, 2012 and things can change since.

  1. First, be sure to fully charge your camera before going to the lake, because there’s no possible chance of getting power socket for charging in yurt or village (ignore the fact that yurt owner uses a mobile phone and dont waste your time thinking how on earth he charges his phone). Bringing an extra battery would help (yes, for our own note too, in the future!) because battery would dry faster in cold weather.
  2. Permit issue is what stops travelers from going to Karakul Lake normally by bus (fare from Kashgar is 36 yuan/person). At least we were too much worried about it thanks to confusing/inaccurate/obsolete source all over internet, including WikiTravel. People (who I suspect are the tour agent themselves) would post everywhere stating the restriction of going to the lake and you need permit because it’s located near the Kyrgyzstan/Tajikistan border blablabla and if without permit you are likely to be stopped in the checkpoint and you might be turned down and have to go back to Kashgar! That sounds like a nightmare, doesn’t it? Especially for travelers in limited time. And they say the only way to get permit is to go with a tour, and price starts from 1000 yuan! My way is to be determined enough and go to the police station asking the actual rule! I guess it’s the most reliable source afterall, ignore those threating info from internet! It would help if you have a friend who speaks Chinese to  explain/ask the police on your behalf. There *is* the check point but all you need to do is to show your passport with valid Chinese visa.
  3. Bring your own food, those instant noodle in bowl are easily found in shops in Kashgar, coz they taste way much better than what yurt owner would serve you. And I guess, after we gave this piece of advice to a fellow traveler we met in Kashgar hostel, he went on and chose to stay in yurt with exclusion of meal, and only need to pay 40 yuan! (it’s actually 50yuan with horrible meal).
  4. There’s no proper toilet in the lake so be prepared about it.
  5. If you dont like the idea of drinking lake water, bring lots of bottled water from Kashgar.
  6. Ask the yurt owner to teach you how to light the heater burner, because it would look enough to heat the yurt overnight, but what happens if it doesn’t? Once the heater dies at 4am and you will end up sleeping in a freezer!
  7. Bus from Kashgar to Taskurgan departs around 10am Beijing time/8am local time. Only one bus running everyday. Please tell the driver that you want to get down at Karakul Lake, and please dont sleep in the bus (which happened to that fellow traveler!) or you would miss the stop and you will end up reaching Tashkurgan and have to take taxi/hitch hike to get back to Karakul!
  8. It’s safe to keep in mind than bus from Tashkurgan to Kashgar will pass by Karakul Lake around 10am local time/noon Beijing time and I can’t be sure if there’s more than one bus running, so get ready to wait by the road side (there’s a so-called bus stop without bench, with China’s universal bus stop sign) for you to catch bus passing and take a ride to go back to Kashgar. In the meantime, you can waste time watching wild cattles nearby the hills.

Read full stories of Karakul Lake here:

Karakul Lake – Day 2 (and closeup of the epic toilet!)

Rewind to 4am last night: Thanks to the failed heater, it was freezing cold and five layers of blankets plus many layers of clothings didnt seem to help. It was way beyond what I could bear, and I couldnt hardly sleep. I tried to wake up Az to set the heater again but he said it’s impossible and continued to (pretend to) sleep. I woke up and with little help by the dimmed, generator-powered light, I searched for lighter to set up the burner again. But with old papers alone the fire doesnt seem to stay!

I recalled seeing Mr Same Price putting some coal and gasoline in it to set up fire, and I searched around for the bottle, and the container was running out of coal. I was so determined to get the heater on again so I rushed out of the yurt (!!!!) in the middle of dark, freezing night to get the coal from bag Mr Same Price had left outside. With coal and gasoline, the fire still doesnt want to set!! :( It lights for a few seconds then died. So instead of getting a fire, I was getting alot of smoke inside the yurt! This is disaster! I gave up and went into the blanket and tried hard to sleep again for another few hours.

When it’s dawn we woke up and I instantly called Mr Same Price, but couldnt get through. I sent him a SOS sms asking him to come for help. I was panic that the smoke was still inside the yurt, and if I wanted to open the door to let the smoke out, it’s crazy coz the cold wind would go inside. Around 20 minutes later, he turned up and he set up the heater again… actually he uses a piece of old rubber! No wonder he could get the fire stay easily =.= I should have known!

It’s funny to realize our leftover soup (from instant noodle last night) turned frozen this morning. So is our bottled water. And they’re located *inside* the yurt with us! Imagine the yurt has turned into a refrigerator overnight? And we’re inside! Inga says it was even too cold for her (despite coming from Europe!) and she could guess it was -5 degree celcius.

After breakfast, we packed our stuff to get ready to catch bus for Kashgar. Mr Same Price and Inga says the bus from Tashkurgan would pass by here around 12 noon Beijing time = 10 am local time, so we have to be early to wait at the road side, if you miss the bus then the only other alternative would be asking Mr Same Price drive us (or I guess, his friend) to Kashgar for some hundreds yuan. The chance of getting the bus seat is also unknown, as the bus is probably full. So all we can do is just hope.

Mr Same Price came with his daughter Bibi (in this picture) to help him do housekeeping in they yurt. Inga is staying for another night because she’s too in love with the sunset view of Karakul Lake yesterday and would like to see it again today. We, on the other hand, need to go back to Kashgar despite of enjoying this place so much because our camera has been dead since yesterday!! And this morning all the photos are taken by my cheap HTC phone. Not the best, but better than none.

When walking down the lake again, we could see the lake was half-frozen. And we get to hear some chirping sound from the lake, and it’s amazing to learn that the sound is made by the broken ice that surface the lake water. I purposely try to break the ice layer just to hear the sound! :) Watching this great view on our last day in here, it’s so beautiful that we dont feel like leaving!

Can you spot the outdoor toilet? It’s facing to the lake. And believe it, this is the most stunning view I’ve ever seen while using a toilet!

The toilet, close up. Yes, it’s open air, and the proper way to “flush” is using the sand. Luckily there’s only us living here at the moment, I can’t imagine of using it when you know other people are around. Okay, and you can always use the lake water! :P

It was when I was just done with my toilet business, we caught a sight of bus passing the road!! We got panic and ran for our live towards the road, waving with hope the bus driver would see us and stop. But it did not. It was so much a tense, thinking if we already missed the bus and no other bus for Kashgar today, we have to stay in here for another day without camera, or, to ask for Mr Same Price’s car for some extra fares. Or, maybe we could hitch hike some lorry! Nevertheless, we keep waiting by the roadside and hoping for another bus would appear (I was trying to recall reading there’s some Tashkurgan government bus or something).

There’s hardly any transport passing by except big lorries. We wait for like half an hour, before a small bus finally pass by to save our soul. The bus is different than what we used to ride from Kashgar, but nevermind. The driver doesnt immediately ask for fare when we get in (possibly coz we’re the only who get in at the middle of the road!) and only when reaching Kashgar, we just paid 36 yuan per person, as much as we had paid for inbound bus earlier.