Id Kah Mosque

Entrance fee: 20 Yuan. Although, we managed to get exempted from it by mentioning that we want to go inside for prayers (in which, you should be Muslim). Visiting is not allowed during prayer time.

Id Kah mosque is said to be the largest mosque in Xinjiang and China. At least all over internet says so (additional info: it can accomodate 10,000 up to 20,000 worshippers). Although, in reality, we are rather surprised that it’s not as big as we thought. The mosque consists only a small portion of covered physical building (which is the prayer hall) and huge portion of open-air landscape, all surrounded by walls with the iconic huge entrance gate (pic above). Which later we have come to learn that the huge gate is a significant feature in every old mosque in Xinjiang, which is probably the closeness to those in Central Asia.

It’s easy to recognize the mosque as the center of Kashgar town. It has a huge yard which most of time is a public common area – you can see people walking around, children playing and cycling, and the elder men sitting and talking to each other. This space can be filled completely during Eid prayers (just Google Image for Id Kah mosque Eid prayer to see how it looks like!). It’s a pity that we couldnt come here during Eid, so I was wishing that I could watch the same crowd for weekly Friday prayer also, let’s see.

The common sight of elder men sitting in the mosque yard talking to each other really gets our attention. They’re typically wearing coats and trousers (despite the midday heat), identical Uyghur caps, and seem to be spending here all day in between prayer times. A very laid back lifestyle, I can say.

The Azan (prayer call) is not as loud, but each time, these men would gradually disperse and walk towards mosque. When they’re done with prayers, they would come back to sit in groups again and continue the chat.

There are row of shops selling religious books and items as well as skull caps next to the entrance gate. In a corner, there seems to be a permanent ice cream stall (2 yuan per cup!) with chairs provided. I would get one every time I wait for Az praying.

Shops around the mosque area, and at the edge of the yard, we’re excited to see a row of shoe shine people busy serving the customers. Note: Kashgar men are all wearing leather shoes and it seems an obligatory for them to ensure they’re clean and shining. Az is eager to try out but we’re in sports shoes (who would wear formal leather shoes when traveling??) so nevermind.

Let’s go back to the mosque. The whole complex has several entrance gates apart from the main one. Az points out that the main door’s padlock has this significantly big padlock with Arabic sript carvings. When we enter the main gate for the first time, we’re surprised to see nothing but open-air garden with many trees – inside the mosque. There’s no prayer area yet – you have to walk further down the small path in between the garden, and there’s a not-so-proper covered area which I understand the prayer area for those who can’t make it to the main prayer hall (whether it’s full or they’re late). Walk further for the part where the actual building starts. It’s the main prayer hall.

When we’re about to step in, an old man with unfriendly face points out that we need to go back to the entrance and buy ticket. Az forgot to wear his kopiah which is understandable if the old man couldnt see we’re coming to visit and perform prayer. After saying that we’re Muslims, he lets us in and guides us along. We’re brought in an area inside (not the main prayer hall) where it seems the place tourists are taken and given briefings about the mosque. We, on the other hand, request to perform Zuhur and Asar prayer in the very place.

The main prayer hall, photo taken by Az during other prayer time (women are not allowed to pass this area). By proportion, the physical building area is rather small than the whole Id Kah mosque area with the garden inside and yard outside, yet it’s labelled as the biggest mosque in China. The mosque is said to be almost 600 years old, although the structures might have been renovated since.

It’s probably the culture, but the mosque does not provide prayer area for women. Az would join the congregational prayers, and at first I had to wait outside. When I notice a few women enters the gate during azan, I couldnt help but follow them as well. It turns out that these women (only four of us) had to pray on an old rug in the back of the garden.

Around Kashgar

Unlike initial itinerary that we planned to immediately go to Karakul Lake today, we have to postpone for tomorrow as yesterday was too rush negotiating with tour agent, which we ended up deciding to check at hostel, which now gives us happy news that we could go to Karakul Lake without permit, by bus, all by ourselves. So today we’ll spend for Kashgar sightseeing, and go buy tomorrow’s bus ticket for Karakul.

Food is everywhere in Kashgar. Naan stalls are sitting side by side, and sometimes you can spot naan maker preparing dough and baking naan in traditional oven. Uyghur people eat naan as we eat rice, so lots of supply is a must. From our hostel to the town center (if I want to refer the center of Kashgar, it should be the Id Kah mosque area), we have to walk less than 15 minutes down Wusitangboyi road, and along the street there are heaps to see, people, old buildings.

 

This is the junction nearby our place, go further for Id Kah mosque, or turn right to walk to head to main road Renmin West (where you can get plenty of bus heading East, to the Southern bus station for example – where we’re going to buy or Karakul Lake ticket). The weather in Kashgar is just lovely in April, the morning can be a both cool and warm, noon is a little hot with cool wind so walking a long distance isn’t a big problem. When we realize again, people do not wear short sleeve shirts in here.

We catch a shop selling Uyghur musical instrument, and a man is overwhelmingly playing the tune loud enough that people of nearby shops can enjoy the music as well. Will put the video clip later when I manage to find my DVD back.

 

We pass by some shops selling Uyghur traditional craft souvenir, but not really keen to buy any now.

 

The old part of Kashgar still consists of old buildings which probably age hundreds of years, and entrances like this usually belongs to a mosque, although sitting in between shop lots, equally old. We sneak into one and see the prayer area.

I yelled when we saw Samsa for the first time (lots of research would help to expect what food to eat in Kashgar ;)) and our first samsa happens to be the best in all Kashgar. Only priced 1 yuan per piece, samsa is a baked dough with lamb fillings, best eaten when hot.

  

The people behind samsa making. Two men are busy baking prepared samsa into traditional oven, and another two are inside kneeding dough. And at another corner (not in picture), a man filling the dough with minced lamb.

 

In fact, the stall actually provides open-air eating area, complete with tables and free Chinese tea (chai). We managed to finish 4 samsa, and if it’s not Az telling to save our tummy for other foods, I would have managed 10.

 

We cross the main road in front of Id Kah mosque to check what’s there (because in map says there’s a market/bazar there), and even in the subway there are shoplots selling stuff. We randomly walk further and around until we see an area looking like market. Although, it seems everything is about fabrics and clothings.

I have encountered some Kashgar women wearing burqa (like one in this picture) and feel intrigued on how neat they’re wrapped and done. I dont know what it’s called in here, but it’s commonly in dark brown color, made of woolen fabric and mostly elder women wear them. I decide to ask around the shops to check and try on my head, but it’s rather expensive for 40 yuan so I’m not buying.

 

 

We walk passing some small streets seeing small shops and stalls, while we dont have anything in mind to search and buy. Just checking what kind of fabrics and clothes they’re selling here.

Az has already planned to buy Uyghur caps ever since he saw one, but it’s still too early to fill our luggage with shopping yet. We ask around it’s 40 yuan per piece. Not buying either. We suppose they must be cheaper if you find in street market.

 

We left the market area, and back to the main road, and the place where it’s supposed to be night market is being set up. We pass by another samsa stall and decide to have it a try.

 

Az points out that the stall guy does the selling and his wife is sitting in a corner taking care of the payment and money while babysitting. Samsa here is a little expensive than earlier, 1.5 yuan, but slightly bigger, so okay. And we managed to ‘chat’ a bit with the owner (nevermind the language) and he asks to play with our camera, so result is, a candid photo of two of us eating :) well, there’s hardly our photo together yet except for self-taken.

Next food place is at a proper restaurant rather than small stall, which I just randomly entered after seeing something like beef (lamb?) noodle on the picture, and I’ve been waiting to find one. Taking order is hard when they dont even understand noodle, mee, lamb, beef =.= (our mistake for not learning Uyghur beforehand) so I had to go out of the restaurant to literally point to the very photo of lamb noodle I was meaning to say.

 

It’s rather a kuey-teow (flat rice noodles) soup with chuncks of lambs and vegetables. Taste like normal kuey teow sup in Malaysia, only with extra black pepper. Nice but a little expensive than our expectation, 26 Yuan including 2 kebabs.

Kashgar Old Town Youth Hostel

Old Town Youth Hostel entrance

Kashgar Old Town Youth Hostel, Wusitangboyi Road, Kashgar (300 meters from Id Kah Mosque)
Website: http://www.pamirinn.com
Dorm: 35 RMB per person, Private double room: 80-90 RMB per room. All rooms are without bathroom. Common bathrooms are shared but reliable (clean, hot shower, separate toilet).
Facilities: Free WIFI, PC in public area in case you dont bring laptop/tablet – free for 1st hour usage. Free hot water for drinking. Washing machine 10 Yuan per use, iPad rental 15 Yuan per hour. They also provide air and train tickets booking service. Tours to Karakul Lake and other places can be arranged.

The hostel entrance doesn’t look very impressive when we arrive. From outside it looks almost like an abandoned old building, needless to say with a small sand hill right in front of the door makes it even uglier. They’re apparently doing some renovation inside, so yeah.

old Uyghur mansion corridor

I read that this building was once a traditional Uyghur mansion before being turned into a hostel. It has plenty of rooms and bathrooms, renovated in such a way to become some large dorm rooms (with bunk beds) and a few private room with twin beds. None of them are really fancy, but for a price of a hostel, you just get what you pay. At this point of time, there are some travelers staying, but not crowded.

dorm room

Our first night in the hostel was in the dorm room as all private rooms are occupied. But luckily they have been nice enough to arrange us to stay in an empty room so we practically have the whole room by ourselves at that night without sharing with others. Not planning yet for other nights as tomorrow we’ll be heading to Karakul Lake and Tashkurgan for a night or two. We are given clean bed sheet and blanket cover (yes, you have to make the bed on your own!).

deco of wooden door colorful painted glass

Some distinctive feature of an old Uyghur house in Kashgar – nice door deco! The old mirrors were painted in colorful to give a new life to their look.

The hostel also offers tour to Karakul Lake with permit with a little cheaper price than quoted by agent in Eden. Feeling this might has to be our last option, we ask the hostel manager if we can share the tour with other travelers. We passed by a European couple and I promptly asked if they have visited Karakul Lake, and when they said they havent, I asked if they wanted to go with us and share the tour. I was surprised when the girl says “We want to go buy bus”.. and I ask “Do you have permit?”.. “No, we dont need permit”.. “Are you sure?”.. “Yes, there was another traveler who’s been there recently and he didnt need permit”.

They however are planning to go there later next week. So nevermind, we can go by our own by bus too. Now I just have to jump in excitement. WE’RE GOING TO KARAKUL LAKE BY BUS WITHOUT PERMIT!! XD

How could that be? All this time, we have come to believe that we need that bloody permit and were having hard time finding a (cheap) way to get a hand of it, thanks to a number of sources on internet claiming so! Still in a slight doubt, we decide to go to police station nearby to ask for confirmation when we go out walking later.

Common area

Dowstairs, they have this common area with tables for travelers having breakfast, tea, etc together while exchanging chats and travel stories. When entering the main entrance, you probably will see this open area first, most probably with a sight of a few foreign travelers hanging out having a drink or checking their laptops, and probably it’s the first place you’ll greet anyone there and introduce yourselves :)

stairway hot water supply

One of few staircase to upstairs, but this one is connecting from the yard. They’re having renovation in the hostel yard, so it was a little messy at this time with sands and unfixed holes. You’ll be required to walk up the stair as quietly as you can. They also provide hot water which is again useful for us to prepare our Nescafe and Milo. Some canned and bottled drinks are available for sale from a fridge next to it.

management office  private room

When we’re away to Karakul Lake, we’re sllowed to check out the room first, get our big luggage packed and they will keep them safe in the management office which we will collect them later upon returning. After coming back from Karakul Lake, we manage to get the private room for 80 yuan, although it’s even less attractive than dorm room, it’s just good enough for us to sleep in our own room without sharing with others.

Managers of Youth Hostel Kashgar

The Hostel is run by a nice Chinese couple, they’re very helpful when you need anything in Kashgar. When we want to change our train ticket, we just write down a note and ask them to write the Chinese translation for us to show at the railway counter. The self-drawn Kashgar city map given by them has been very helpful (combined with a full Kashgar map we collect in Eden). Everything you need to know will be informed right at the moment you check-in: which bus to go which place, places to see, which roads to follow. Thinking about it again, it’s actually our first experience staying in a hostel and all I can say it’s not that bad! Recommended for budget travelers and if you dont want to get stuck by your own in this non-English speaking city.

Uyghur Children

After breakfast, we were walking towards Old Town Youth Hostel in the morning when we passed by the school doing assembly. The children are singing possibly school or patriotic songs, in Chinese. All of them are looking good in tracksuit, and we are wondering if all of them are having PE lesson or today is their sports day.

  

So it’s our first fresh morning in Kashgar, being delighted by encountering some happy Uyghur children ready to pose for our camera.  We stopped by the Old Town Youth Hostel to check if we could move to there, and good news is they have empty dorm room so we can have it all for ourselves. Perfect. So we head to Eden back to check out and get our luggage.

It was almost afternoon when we walked out Eden so we’re passing by hundreds of school children walking home from the school. The kids are just a friendly bunch who would wave to stranger tourists. In fact, they’re queuing for photos! I just have to show all them here, for now wanting to let anyone down ;)

Okay, and this boy is getting way too excited when seeing himself being filmed :D I am too very excited knowing my old DVD camcorder manages to attract them quite a lot.

 

As we’re heading to the town, and they walk the opposite direction, so it was a continuous happy encounter and photo taking sessions. Within a short while we have come to learn that their tracksuit is the school uniform itself. Which looks sporty and convenient that they might only need to change T-shirts inside. While we adore the idea of having tracksuit as school uniforms, it might not be suitable to practice in hot Malaysia.

 

And we pass by the school again when we saw some little ones climbing the fence. And they seem to be playing there by their own without any adult’s monitor!

I mean, I just love to see the kids playing freely on the street by their own without a slight fear of danger. And their parents may not have problems letting them. This place seems a lot safer than other places we have lived and been. I can’t help being amazed in disbelief.

  

Az keeps on eyeing little faces around to take a snap. As we arrived in Old Town Youth Hostel, there are a little girl and her little brother playing sand hill in front of it. It reminds me a lot to the time I was a little kid too, going dirty in sand and nobody needs to care about hygienic. It was almost 3 decades ago and nowadays you hardly see children playing sand anymore. In fact, they hardly go playing outdoor anymore!

Kashgar isn’t really a remote village (it’s rather a big city with old town part being preserved, with modern facilities which some KL doesnt even have – many subways for example) yet this place remains traditional, cultural and safe. I just really can’t describe how wonderful the feelings in this place, I’m not saying KL and places in Malaysia are all bad and full of crime kidnapping children, but I believe such views of children playing outdoor, on the street without parental guide, you can no longer see back home. Ironic, isn’t it?

Anyways. I bet you see the boy’s bum ;P this recalls us to the Lhasa boy we met in the train last time, who was also wearing pant with full zipper opening. But this boy here is wearing pant with full opening without zipper! It’s common here, as the parents dont want to have a fuss over children peeing so they just let them ready to do so all time, with this kind of pants. Az recommends me to buy some pair for future. Oh well.

Eden Hotel, Kashgar

Eden Hotel
No.148 Seman Rd, Kashgar. 15 minutes walk to Id Kah mosque (if you dont stop looking at shops etc)
Website: http://www.xjeden.com/index.php
Double room (Apr 2012): 190 RMB
Comments: Okay and good, only the staff cannot speak English and arent too friendly. No warm/drinking water available during breakfast (only hot water).

We forgot to take photo of the building, but here’s the hotel pamphlet with one.

The hotel at first seems a little expensive for travelers on budget, but however, when you happen to have been traveling by trains for 3 days and havent had shower since, this hotel is the best you could ask for. We are in need of shower SO DAMN SERISOULY! And comfy large bed. Although, no offense to Qini Bagh (which was our option earlier), but Eden Hotel happens to be better if you want to taste a mid-range hotel, Uyghur style. It’s also a relatively new compared to other hotels in the guidebook, at least it looks so. In the ground floor, there’s an Uyghur-Turkish restaurant which we planned to dine once later, only it turns out we didnt have time to come back after checking-out Eden after a night stay (to move to cheaper Old Town Youth Hostel).

 

The receptionists are Uyghur, who hardly speak English (but workable if you only need to know/ask about price, time to check out etc). There should be a tour agent stationed near the hotel lobby, who can speak English. He seems to be regularly called by the receptionists when they’re in need of translation when communicating to foreign customers. The tour agent, whom we asked about tour for Karakul Lake, would charge anywhere around 1000 yuan (which I believe all tour agents in Kashgar would charge, so no issues there). He wouldnt push you either, so we dont have problem even if we want to think longer and find alternative way, say, I still believe we can go by ourselves by bus without permit.

The room is quite spacious and ours facing the road. We get to handwash some of our clothes changed in trains, and it’s convenient to hang them near the window (so can get direct sun heat). That night we had the best sleep ever since few days, and we still couldnt believe we finally arrive in Kashgar :) The hotel check-out time is 1400 Beijing time, so around 12 Xinjiang time.

 

The next day, we’re given buffet breakfast with food we had never seen before (except boiled eggs). Lots of variety of vegetable and salads (which taste sour like pickles), cakes, chicken etc. The taste is exotic, good if you love to trying strange, new food. Although, they dont serve plain drinking water. The staff would bring you hot water upon request. During breakfast, we notice that there arent any foreign travelers staying in this hotel. Most of them looking like Uyghurs and Chinese coming from other cities for business, and maybe neighboring countries like Tajikistan and Kyrgyztan.

We only stayed in Eden for one night, and although at first feeling so excited that we wanted to extend the stay for next few nights (probably because the ultimate excitement of finding shower and large bed after 4 days traveling) but we have to be realistic that one night in Eden would cost almost 3 nights in the Youth Hostel, and since we want to meet other foreign travelers in the hostel, we just need to make a move to there, expecting less convenient than hotel. But we didnt come all the way to Kashgar to stay in hotel anyway. Therefore, on second day in Kashgar, we shift to Old Town Youth Hostel, before going to Karakul Lake the next day.