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.

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!

Finally in Kashgar!!

The bus driver dropped us in front of the Id Kah mosque as we requested earlier. Because the mosque is literally the center of Kashgar city, and in Lonely Planet guide map or any Kashgar map would use the iconic Id Kah mosque as the landmark. It’s almost 7pm when we reach the city but it seems as if around 5pm (NOTE: Xinjiang officially use +8 GMT as Beijing also, but locals would use Xinjiang time which is 2 hours prior) since we actually arrived in Xinjiang only today in Urumqi (it seems a long journey already, huh?) we just start getting used to it when we arrive in Kashgar. We dont need to change our watch time (KL time) as it’s practically the same as Beijing, only when you’re Xinjiang, you need to be careful when asking/being told about time and be specific if it’s refered to Beijing time or Xinjiang time.

Continue reading