Goodbye Kashgar, and Sleeper Bus to Kuqa

After we’re done packing and checking out hostel, we ran into this barber across the road. The guy has been waving at us from afar every time we passed by, so Az said that he *must* get a trim on our last day here. The moment we entered and gave salam, the barber immediately pointed at the huge world map on his wall as if asking where we’re from. It’s so funny, this so-called introduction. And what’s more intresting, on the map (I’m not too sure if it’s Uyghur or Arabic written), it even has detail points for our little hometowns, Kota Bharu and Malacca! :)

Now please watch the barber in action.. yes, finally a video!

Az managed to pray Zuhur at the Id Kah mosque before we left, and surprisingly, we came across Elvis again, on our last day! (read here how he saved us on our very first day in Kashgar). We said goodbye to him and he wished us best in our journey ahead, and plus, asked to pray for him in finding a wife! (you may contact him if interested. Hint: he’s featured in Lonely Planet book :P) This is the restaurant near Id Kah mosque we haven’t been in, it doesn’t look the prettiest and cleanest restaurant from outside but we can see lots of people inside so I guess it must be quite special. We decided to give it a try.

What attracted us is the lamb meat are marinated with spice, unlike our regular lamb kebabs that are usually best grilled as it is (original flavor). And it turns out our last lamb kebab in Kashgar taste the most splendid! This salty-spiced lamb kebab is 3 yuan per stick, although you may have to wait longer than usual (thanks to queuing customers).

We arrived at the bus terminal 1 hour before departure and surprisingly met William buying ticket for his journey tomorrow (also for Kuqa!). He was the fellow traveler from hostel that asked our advice for Karakul Lake, which he was heading to the day after we had returned to Kashgar, and now he told us his version of Karakul Lake story: He missed to stop at Karakul becuase he was asleep on the bus, and ended up in Tashkurgan! He even clumsily forgot the name of the lake when he wanted to head back to Karakul by hitch-hiking. We then exchanged showing photos we had taken in Karakul, and our rest of plans.He’s heading to Kuqa tomorrow, and proceed to Urumqi then hopping into bordering Central Asian countries (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgysztan etc). I so wish that we had that much time and money to travel there as well since we’re already near.. *sigh*

This is our sleeper bus for Kuqa! And notice that drivers’ name and photos displayed at the windscreen! The bus journey from Kashgar to Kuqa (700km) will take around 14 hours (!) and we got upper berth (157 yuan) and lower berth (172 yuan) each. One of the main reasons we want to stop in Kuqa, apart from dividing 24 hour train journey into half and choose to travel at night only, is because we want to ride this sleeper bus for the first and only time! Despite that we’re not expecting much what to see in Kuqa (LP book describes it as a “sleepy town”) and travelers who stops in Kuqa usually want to visit Kizil Thousand Buddha Cave, 70km away from Kuqa town – which we’re not going, so we’re thinking to only waste time walking around town and see the mosque, before continuing train ride to Turpan at night.

We put our big luggage inside the bus compartment underneath, and both our shoes are tied to them (Az suggested us to wear crocs only while traveling in bus to ease the possibly need to take off shoes). I didnt like the idea of leaving our shoes attached to luggage, so I took them to bring inside the bus, and I properly put them underneath my berth. (You have to take off shoes inside the bus). The bus beddings are rather comfortable, but the sheets don’t seem to be washed for a while =.= And get ready to endure the smell of socks throughout the journey!

The bus departed late than scheduled by one hour, which we instantly fell asleep after a while. We were apparently the only foreigners on board.

It was around 4am when the bus made a stop for supper and toilet break somewhere near the highway. I dont know where this place could be, but it was quiet and at this hour cold wind was blowing hard. Some passengers stayed in bus while others were probably sitting here having a cup of hot tea. And yes, that’s our bus driver having a cigarette break!

We wanted to find somewhere we could do jama prayer and so we stepped further to nearby restaurant. Only using body language, we managed to get the permission and the restaurant owner delightfully brought us to a corner near the kitchen inside which is supposed to be their prayer place, complete with prayer rug.

After we’re done, we’d like to thank them by ordering some food in their restaurant. It helped that they have big menu with pictures on the wall so we could simply choose what we’d like. This is lamb soup eaten with rock-hard bread, and when I gave a sign that the bread was too hard to bite, the restaurant owner gave the instruction how to properly eat this thing: you have to break the bread into smaller pieces INTO the soup, so they’ll get soft! They seem to be overwhelmed by our sudden appearance at this odd hour, and despite the language barrier, we felt so welcome by their friendliness and hospitality!

The bus continued the journey for a few more hours and when we woke up, it was already bright. It was around 10am when we arrived in Kuqa, and to our shock, the town was in a heavy haze.

Animal Market, Kashgar

Sunday has finally come, and the highlight of Kashgar visit for almost all travelers is to witness the biggest livestock market, which is a weekly event on every Sunday. I have arranged our itinerary so that we could visit the animal market just before we leave Kashgar. Least that we knew that we ended up meeting many other tourists here in the animal market, while you hardly see any of them for past 6 days walking around Kashgar town (except the backpackers at our hostel, but I’m talking about some other tourist groups on guided tour, coming with a bus and minivan!). Anyways.

The most interesting fact is ALL cattle that reside within 50 km radius from Kashgar will be brought to here every Sunday for the biggest trade event! The animal market is located some 10 kilometers outside the town, and during the time we were there, we’re told that no bus is going to this place, so you need to share taxi with other traveler (we did for 20yuan per taxi). We shared a taxi with a British traveler, and he’s apparently been staying in China for many years, and quite a traveler who’s been to almost everywhere. The animal market used to be held in the town, but since few years ago the government shifted the place to here in order to avoid any possible spreading of disease produced by the cattle (H1N1, mouth & nail disease, etc).

Yes, the owners are bringing their cattle to here by all means of transport.

Before the lorry and trucks bringing the cattle can enter the trade area, they have to undergo some inspection by the animal health authorities.

Here we are! With many sheep around! :D

Fat sheep for sale! Imagine how many sticks of lamb kebabs you can make out of this sheep! :D And you can find horse and donkeys too, although they’re a means of transportation rather than food. They use a very big scale to weight their livestock. Then they can decide the price to sell them.

We’re rather surprised to see cows here as well, because I almost thought they’re nonexistent in Xinjiang, thanks to the large supply of lamb kebabs we’ve had everyday and I cant remember if I’ve seen any made of beef! Or it can be possible that they taste the same?

A man offering his well-trained donkey. Kashgar people still ride donkey carts in villages, especially to help them in farms. And bargaining started among the sellers and buyers. This young boy and his father (probably) are tourist-friendly and asked us to take their photo! :)

This kind of view which I’ve been waiting so much to take a photo of….

the epic sheep fat-ass that seems to be a must for snapshot for everyone visiting the animal market! I’ve seen loads of these from other’s blogs and now I have got my own masterpiece :) Once and bargain and trade done, the sheep is brought into the truck again to go home with new owners.

At a corner, you can find some stalls making food out of fresh lamb. They have samsa, polo rice, among others, but to us it seems weird to enjoy the lively animals exchanging owners and dead animals being food, all in same place. So we decided to pass the food here, plus the atmosphere is a little dusty with the existing of thousands running around this area.

They’re also selling cattle food, drinking water container and carts for donkey.

We spent for around 2 hours here before heading back to hostel. There’s this motorbike-taxi quoting 10 yuan per person going to town (which is expensive, we paid only 10 yuan for sharing a car-taxi coming to here!) but I dont know why we instantly agreed, and probably I’ve actually been waiting to ride this since many days ago, and we didnt have much time to wait for taxi to share it with another tourist.

It was a fun ride because the driver went into smaller roads in villages rather than the main road from which we had come earlier. And he stopped to pick up a few more passengers along the way. We saw a mosque in the village which has the identical gate to those in town. Upon reaching the town, we caught a sight of something looking so strange as if it’s a mutant of a car and motorbike!

Reached hostel around afternoon, and we need to pack our luggage and leave for bus station!

Street shopping, Id Kah mosque night view, and a Tale of an Old Shoes Seller – Part 2

It’s our last evening in Kashgar, for tomorrow we’ll leave for Kuqa at 8pm Beijing time/6pm local time. It’s going to be our last visit to the night market, last visit to the evening street market, last scenery of Id Kah mosque at night, last meeting with some people we’ve encountered regularly. Time flies so fast, and while we’re regret for not staying here longer, it’s just time to move on and proceed to our next destination, hopefully equally enjoyable. Until then, we’d like to utilize the next 24 hours in here to the fullest as we dont know  if time promises us to return to here again, someday.

The street market is an everyday shopping place just like night market, and it starts late afternoon (around 4 pm local time). There’s rows of shop lots selling clothes and stuff, but nevermind that, coz there’s MORE rows of sellers selling them cheaper, on the street. At the pedestrian road, to be precise. Some has mobile stalls, but most of them just have a large spread cloth for them to sit with lots of merchandise items dumped in front of them. Mostly clothings, but there are other items like cosmetics, sunglasses, accessories like handbags and shoes as well. It’s kind of amusing to see Kashgar people are such shopping freak as well. Browsing the dresses and blouses, I do think they have a rather good sense in fashion.

What Kashgar women normally (read: must) wear – Skirts, and black stockings! If not long dresses and jubah/abaya. And they’re generally fashionable, and I guess more women wear high heels than those who don’t! They DON’T wear pants and jeans, so wearing pants in here makes me feel a little awkward in a way, and I almost wanted to buy a pair of these skirts and stockings as well just to wear in Kashgar but thinking that we dont want to fill our luggage with unnecessary items (and they’re expensive too!), the least I could do is to wrap my bum with a shirt, so it could somehow looks like as if I’m wearing skirt too (from behind).

The boys we bought our socks from :D We met them like, everyday! So today we have to say goodbye! *sob* And, I feel regret for not buying one of these Uyghur movie DVDs.  They’re so crazy about shopping! And everyday is “sale” day, how wonderful is that?

And I *have to* join the crowd too, thank you. When I made promise to Az that we would only do shopping on the last day, so here we are! I’ve got a few pairs of long skirts here. Also some leggings, coz they’re cheap and I need them alot when traveling in cold places like Xinjiang! It’s okay now, coz some of old clothes we have worn here will be disposed in Kashgar so I have a little space in my luggage!

Done with shopping, we’d like to take some proper photos of us with Id Kah mosque, which havent done it earlier. Now the tripod comes handy.

After going back to hostel to drop the stuff we purchased, we made our way to eat the BEST LAMB KEBAB IN KASHGAR, for the last time. In front of the kebab restaurant is the only naan stall that has onion naan (Az’s favorite). Here, and it’s 10 yuan per stick (big stick) while regular smaller sticks you can find everywhere are usually 1.5-2 yuan. Nevertheless, lamb kebab here is worth every single yuan! It has the biggest, softest, juiciest chunk of lambs in all Kashgar! And Az had to take a farewell photo with these wonderful kebab makers.

We passed by the old shoes seller again. It’s already late but the old man was still here selling the old shoes (actually, we haven’t seen anyone really buys his shoes, or even stops to see them). Now Az wanted to buy a pair of shoes to try the shoe shiners, and after choosing one, the old man gave a sign with hands telling 15 yuan. We gave him an ‘brow-rise’ look, thinking that he’s trying to overcharge us, coz I bought my shoes 3 days ago for only 10 yuan! We gave him a pass and wanted to proceed going to the night market, but I dont know what made us turn back and bought the shoes anyway.

Az negotiates for 10 yuan, and the old man seems desperate and hopelessly agreed with a weak smile. When we left a few steps away with the shoes, I felt so sorry with the old man and now we went back to him and paid another 5 yuan regardless he already had agreed with 10.

Now Az trying the shoe shiner! Unfortunately, the skillful lady that did magic to my shoes last time was busy with her queuing customers (yes, she’s got many loyal customers who would wait just to get her excellent service!). Az wanted to wait, but thinking we dont have time for it and there’s another shoe shiner guy sitting next to her currently free, the lady asked us to do with her colleague. Hmm but we hope the guy is good too. Well, he managed to get the dusty shoes shining black again, but we still feel it could have been done better by the hands of the lady.

We were still excited seeing the final product, and this time we wanted to go back to the old man to show off the newly polished shoes just to make him surprised! But he was not there, although his old shoes were still arranged properly on the floor, being taken care by someone else. We were upset coz of the urge to meet the old man again now. It was only less than half an hour ago that we bought shoes from him. Well, nevermind, and we said to each other “Maybe he went to buy food straight away after he sold the shoes to us”.., and we walked towards the night market.

It was when we stepped out of the subway crossing the road in front of night market, Az suddenly caught a sight of that old man, sitting at a corner of a soup stall, gobbling his meal delightfully from bowl. The sudden sight made us paused, looking at him from afar blankly. I mean, we were just talking and teasing about him a few seconds ago, and what we said was unexpectedly TRUE! He went to eat right after he got money from us.

It was then when I couldn’t hold my tears but burst there right away, at the corner of the busy night market. The feeling that I couldnt really describe how and why, but it just strike me hard, and sudden thoughts filling me,

“he’s been sitting all day waiting for someone to buy his shoes, but who would regularly buy those dirty, dusty shoes..?”

“..what if we didnt buy the shoes just now (which we almost did not), would he still be left without money and not able to buy food for today?”

“.. since we bought his shoes 3 days ago and today, were there anyone else buying the shoes in past 2 days for him to buy food? Or has he been starving since?”

We stood at the corner for a few minutes while I’m done crying at Az’s shoulder, and we could only see the old man from afar, busy with his soup, and we didnt want him to notice that we were watching him either, so we quickly left to other direction. And for a record, we never even tried the soup place that the old man was eating, it didnt look appealing.. and maybe cheap. But what if it’s all that he could afford? We have eaten lamb kebabs like mad every single day, and we forgot that there are people who need to sell old shoes just to buy a cheap bowl of food for the day.

After Maghrib prayers, we again setup the tripod at the large mosque yard to capture some night views. Id Kah mosque is surely the icon of Kashgar, and the Silk Road. Tourist come here to trace the history, but what made us fall in love with this place is definitely the people. The friendliness of the locals and unique culture that will definitely remain in our heart forever.

Until we meet again one day, Insha Allah.

Central Asia International Grand Bazaar at Kashgar

Also known as Sunday Market. Which is a confusing name, because this bazaar is actually opened everyday, not only Sunday. It’s also easily be confused with the Animal market – which is opened on Sunday. Whatever, but we visited this Kashgar bazaar in fact twice, including Saturday.

The bazaar is located not very far from North Bus station, and local bus no 20 gets you there for 1 yuan.

Although we didnt plan for shopping that much, I’m expecting it to be interesting to see this largest indoor market in Kashgar, and even some say it’s the largest in Central Asia (as the name says). It’s large indeed, and I guess we haven’t even covered the whole bazaar completely (well, we didnt really put an effort to it anyways). Maybe for those who’d like to do shopping, this place can be the ultimate destination, for mostly fabric and souvenir.

There are also food stalls nearby here, and we had a few samsa, but I have to say it’s best to eat first in Kashgar town before coming to Bazaar. One should conveniently be guided by the sign board to show location of Kashgar Bazaar, or to be safe, let the bus driver know that you’re heading to the bazaar. Ahead will be Apakh Khoja Tomb, another tourist attraction in Kashgar, which unfortunately didnt attract us enough to make a visit.

Another entrance to go inside Bazaar. it was busy with people on Friday and Saturday, and I guess it will be more on Sunday. We can’t allocate the visit on Sunday as we’re going to see the Animal market, and afternoon should be packing time to leave for Kuqa.

Lots of stalls selling dried fruits and nuts. Local’s famous pomegrenate juice. It’s pity but we never tried fresh juice in here, because the first time we asked at the night market it was 20 yuan per glass! It’s most probably the seller was trying to overcharge us (and funnily, a friend of him suddenly came saying 25 yuan =.= which we instantly refused both, thank you!). Alternatively, bottled processed pomegranate juice can easily be found in shops for only 3 yuan, and Az liked it alot.

Inside the bazaar, there are countless of shops selling clothes and fabrics. Az got a shirth with Uyghur pattern while nothing Uyghur is suitable for me (unless I want to wear those dress in mannequin!) so I’ve just got myself a couple of scarves that specifically has label ‘Made in Kashgar’ :)

Colorful fabric with striking colors, I guess they’re meant for bridal dress and decoration. Lots of prayer rugs too (people would assume most of them are made in Turkey, but China is one of the biggest producers of these too!).

Well, China is undoubtly the biggest producer of many stuff we use everyday: hand glove, cellotapes, etc and you can actually find every single item being sold in the bazaar.

And this is interesting: the wedding invitation card written in Uyghur! :D This part has shops selling soaps, shampoo, henna, things like that. And some bronze merchandise, if you like.

outside

One of many shops selling this neat colorful fabric (it has a material close to jersey) and I was told it’s 18 yuan for 3 meters during our first visit, but during 2nd visit, another seller was being very rude and saying it’s 50 yuan per meter! Not only I didnt end up buying, it spoiled my mood totally until we’re back to hostel. Like other places, Kashgar also has good and bad people doing business, so it’s best to use common sense to judge if the price is reasonable or not.

Old City of Kashgar

Since we *have to* stick to original plan, on Saturday morning, we made our way to the bus station to buy ticket for Kuqa. Kashgar has 2 bus stations: North (going to Urumqi, Kuqa, Osh in Kyrgyzstan etc) and South (to Karakul-Tashkurgan, Sost in Pakistan etc) so this is our first time visiting the North bus station. On map, it looks rather far, but in the fresh morning, we took a walk by the town’s excellent pedestrian way, crossing over bridge and subways, within 20 minutes or so we’re almost there. But have to stop at this shop selling fried pastry that similar to ‘charkuay’ in my hometown :D

We had our breakfast there, and this restaurant seems popular with its fresh milk (coz you can see at every table, every single customer has one mug of fresh milk in front of them). Az gets a mug, but I am not a milk drinker, so I took out my Milo sachet and pour into the milk and now it taste better :)

At the bus station, ticket purchase was done smoothly since we just wrote down our destination, date and time to show to the officer. Our bus will be at 8pm tomorrow (Beijing time).

Done with the ticket, we’re now walking around old houses nearby, and it’s time to explore the old city of Kashgar. One can be confused with the term “old city/old town” in Kashgar and their locations (me included!). As a matter of fact there are many old cities in entire Kashgar, because they’re afterall homes to many locals since hundreds years ago, and many of them are still living in these places, while some parts have been commercialized into tourist attraction.

When we’re visiting the old city, it’s expected to see many houses nestled in it, built with mud brick, having small alleys to go inside and out. The border of history and civilization. While (some of) the old cities are still preserved, its surrounding is now well developed being located in the center of Kashgar and accessible by major roads. If you see the old city like this, you’ll be wondering “where’s the entrance?”

There it is, the entrance, with neatly constructed high stair. Az says there must be regular entrance for locals who live inside, but I insist that it’s located up high and I dont see any other stair except this one. And we have to buy tickets; for 30 yuan. ( which I only learned later after we’re back, there ARE other ways to enter the old city NOT through this tourist way! We could have saved 60 yuan if I listened to Az T_T and to make it sound a silly mistake some more, it’s actually stated in the LP book but I seem to have taken it for granted and not reading them well particularly about the old city visit >.<)

So this is the tourist entrance, you’ll be guided with small sign board telling you to “Go this way for Route A”, or “Start here for Route B”.. When we’re about to enter, a group of Chinese tourists just arrived by a mini van, and one lady, complete with Uyghur dressing and portable microphone was ready to guide them walking inside the old city.

But seriously, with a microphone?? =.= I fear that the sound will spoil our quiet moments here (and what about the neighborhood?), so I walked towards faster, as if running away from them. It didnt help though, coz once they’re started, the amplified sound by the microphone seems to be heard loud enough ALL over this place! >.<  who can enjoy the serene of the historic neighborhood with disturbing Chinese speech in the air?

We walked towards nevertheless, to different route than theirs, and now we decided to walk even more slowly, letting them to finish off first and we’ll continue enjoying the walk. Taking different small path and junction towards different alleys just randomly, we’ll get to see aging doors belong to old houses inside the neighborhood, the houses dont have physical shape of house, rather it’s partitions divided inside the walls with a door (even they have house number!), you can guess how the structure is like.

And every time we’ll wonder if people still reside inside. Yes, sometimes I get to peek into slightly opened door and see a lively house compound inside. We feel like so much visiting the family, but at the bottom of my heart somehow managed to guess what they feel towards tourist. I mean, their neighborhood is being promoted as tourist place and it should be more than enough for them to see yet another tourist invading their home area. Anyhow. It’s really amazing to know Uyghur people have lived in here for more than 400 years, and the architecture wih old technology, despite being built of mud brick and timber, managed to survive for such a long time! Walls were made of mud. And, they actually managed to build houses of several storeys using only mud bricks and timber!

We came across an entrance that looks like a mosque. Unfortunately it’s closed, otherwise we’d like to go and see how it looks inside.

And what makes it interesting is the narrow passages in between walls that connect a part to another. It’s almost like a maze and you can simply get lost in the middle of it. I’m so overwhelmed with every angle we see that brings us time-travel to many hundred years back.

Tracing a small alley, we caught a sight of an opened door, but after getting near, it turns out to be a souvenir shop.

Not one, but several  houses have been made into tourist traps and the locals are happy to sell their souvenir like fabrics, jewelry and leathers. I just made a quick stop browsing the item and think it should be cheaper to buy these items in regular market (i.e. not tourist trap like this). And, we encountered the Chinese tourist group again at this house having a live dancing performance. We were there for a few minutes then left.

Walking towards, we no longer can remember from which way we came, but it doesn’t matter anymore since it’s best to just continue walking mindlessly inside the “maze”. And after the tourist group left, it feels much better to explore this place at its silence.

Little children that ‘accompanied’ us walking around their neighborhood :)

We passed by a donkey cart and were wondering why the donkey’s eyes being wrapped off. We end up making our own assumption that the owner fears that the donkey gets confused with the ‘maze’ alley and avoid it from looking at the road. Which I believe it’s a bad assumption :P

Before we arrived to Kashgar, I have read from many sources on internet that since recent years, Chinese Government is in the middle of doing reconstruction of the old city (read: demolish, and build their version of new buildings). The reason is, the they say the old city is overpopulated, very old, unsafe and fragile if earth quake happens thanks to being made of mud bricks. Despite the fact that Uyghurs have been living here safely for many hundreds years! And they believe they will always be. While the government says it’s to bring development to Kashgar people, it’s apparently trying to destruct the heritage of Uyghur culture. Plus, I believe nobody comes to Kashgar to see new buildings and modern structure, no? Which is sad, and yes, we have come across many parts that are already torn down, while others seem to have been dusty construction sites.

We spent here for around 2 hours and slowly we’re trying to find a way out, although it seems difficult!

We ended up at the edge of the village (because we could see bright sky ahead and a glimpse of tall electric tower, so it’s probably the main road…

But it’s not, remember we’re at a higher place? And there’s still wall and you have to get down from here to get to main road. Can you guess how old this mud wall could be?

So we went around to trace down the entrance again, and finally managed it. We walk along the main road to see the old city from outside.

The old city of Kashgar – with uncertain future and no promise that they will still be standing here for several years to come.. partially cleared old city. And now do you see what I see? I realized that we could have gone inside the old city from here (without paying 30 yuan!! =.=). And one remark by Az that makes me feel bad for the rest of the day: “I’ve told you!!”. *sigh*

When we’re about to cross the street to find our way back, a couple of old men greeted us (maybe thinking Az was Uyghur??) and we happily asked to take a photo. Nearby them, some little children doing their school homework.