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.

Hajj Revisited: Stoning Jamrat on 12 Zulhijjah

When we were doing the first Jamrat stoning yesterday (err, I meant 10 Zulhijjah) I didnt get to take any photo or film any video of the very action of stoning thanks to heavy, dangerous crowds that night. It’s the most challenging step of Hajj, and annual death reports mostly come from accidents during the stoning (you can imagine). We did it on the first level of Jamrat complex (it was 3 levels as per Hajj 2008, I understand that they’re in the middle of building 9-storey of Jamrat complex). We’re now doing the 2nd stoning, which you can do it anytime before 13 Zulhijjah. We chose to go to Mina from Makkah after midnight, spend a few hours there before Fajr prayer and get ready to go stoning the very first thing in the dawn. They say it would be less crowded, but we’ll see.

We use 3rd level this time (elevators and escalators were in construction at this time so only a few were functioning). The 3rd level isn’t very crowded so I got to film this short video finally. The stoning ritual is part of Hajj pillars as a mock of stoning the evils.

People who camped in Mina would go back to Makkah right after the second stoning done. You can do the third round of Jamrat stoning if you wish, it’s optional.

Motorbike Ride around Karakul Lake

Mr Same Price returned to yurt bringing a big bowl of polo rice, and that’s supposed to be our lunch. Taste is bad, and I couldnt even finish half plate. We asked him if we can have boiled water for our instant noodles, and after checking that water isn’t enough after making our tea earlier, he went out to take water from the lake! Yes, where else we can get water here? =.= I just hope the lake water is clean. The water was half water-half ice when he brings it to put on fire.

While we’re eating, Mr Same Price offered to bring us on motorbike ride around the lake, it’s going to be around 2 hours, which is all we have until sunset. He asked 50 yuan per person as each has to be passenger of 1 motorbike. It sounds expensive but I guess we have no choice since there’s no other means of transport here!

The ride was very exciting along the lake side and mountains, although we have to bear with cold wind. I ask them to stop everytime I see beautiful view to take some photos. There’s a part in a corner of the lake where we find fresh ice frost, totally untouched. It feels so great stepping on them, it’s soft and powdery.

Continuing the ride, we’re now on the other side of the mountains, much like in the middle of deserted land. We cant stop being amazed on how beautiful the place is, and among all, the emptiness of it.

Muztagh Ata from the other side. This place is called Akto, a small county inside Kizilsu Kyrgyz Autonomous Prefecture located in East Xinjiang. Kyrgyz ethnic people make a large population here, and they actually live in this corner of the world where there’s no sight of buildings and proper road ways (apart from the Karakoram Highway that connects Kashgar to Tashkurgan, and even Pakistan if you go beyond that).

We somehow arrived to a community place that looks like a school, nearby two blocks of houses (which probably lives around 20 families). I was so surprised to see people here. I mean, can you imagine they really make a living in this cold place without much facilities? Those are the Kyrgyz kids we meet there. Look at the chapped cheeks suffering from the extreme cold! I just hope they do actually move to a warmer place when it’s winter.

And we get to see yak! Not one, but quite a number of them, and the locals get milk from yak. I have read earlier in other blogs that you can taste yak milk tea in here, so we ask Mr Same Price we can find it somehere.

Mr Same Price brings us to a village house which I guess one of his relatives, and he asks 10 yuan per person. I believe he’s trying to over charge us.. I mean, a cup of milk tea for 10 yuan? I said we’re not having much, just to try a little. So we agree 10 yuan for two persons.

Inside the house. It has a large hall and there’s the kitchen at the entrance. I guess the burner also is also functioning as heater. The Kyrgyz woman quickly prepares yak milk tea for us

Yak milk tea is ready. We’re given hard, cold naan bread to go with it. The tea is salty! Before I assume that the woman has put in salt by mistake, I see Mr Same Price drinking it just normally. And now I recall having read someone’s blog before that he’s given salty milk tea in Xinjiang. It’s possibly this, no mistake! Finally we pay 10 yuan for something we can’t really consume for the strange taste. But at least we can say we had Yak milk tea in in Kyrgyz house.

It’s nearly sunset and we continue the ride. Mr Same Price says it’s about 13 km to circle the lake. Because we already paid 100 yuan for the ride, I tend to utilize it by making them stop at many places to take photo ;p

We arrived to an extremely bumpy land, and their motorbikes seem to be capable in riding in such condition. It feels like riding a wild horse! Nearby,  we saw a few children playing and they seem to know Mr Same Price very well.

There’s a corner of the lake we get to see this pretty reflection of mountains in the lake (I guess the lake isn’t fully frozen here).

The view is so imaginary, dreamy, breathtaking and romantic. I wouldnt mind spending hours in here just to be amazed of how wonderful this place is.

Az with the bike. For photos only. And look, wild camels! I dont know if it’s okay to approach them but apparently Mr Same Price lets us to walk to the camels by ourselves. I dont think they’ll attack us, but yeah.

A view that reminds me to some cigaratte poster. Or was it Harley Davidson?

There’s a small stream with a small waterfall and it’s amusing to see how it looks like when waterfall gets frozen! Right picture is Az with Mr Same Price and his friend, our motorbike buddies! Yes, face is full wrapped coz the wind is too cold!

Traditionally, Kyrgyz people are nomad who set up canvas yurt in places they go. But somehow there are brick yurt too, and they call them “fake yurts”. They’re meant to be permanent there for whatever reason. At this point of time, nobody lives in there though.

We then get back to yurt when it’s alsmot dark. Camera battery is nearly finishing, and thanks to cold weather, we’re afraid it will quickly dry even though not using it. Therefore we decide to snap some final photos at the lake again while watching the sunset.

Mr Same Price and Az inside yurt. When the night comes, the German lady whom mentioned by Mr Same Price earlier returns to yurt. Her name is Inga and she’s traveling alone. Instead of taking bike ride like us, she chose to walk around the lake. We have a real great talk with Inga and learn how she’s been traveling the whole China and ended up in here. After dinner, Mr Same Price prepared the bedding for us, one  corner for Az and I and another corner for Inga, three of us are equipped with many thick layers of blanket, but they still dont seem to be enough. He prepared the traditional heater and then leaves to go back to his house, which I regret for not asking him well about setting up the heater, coz apparently the fire dies around 3 am and we’re freezing in -5 degree celcius!