(Barely) A day in Xian

Xian Great Mosque

Our day in Xian, apparently, did not go as planned. The whole night after we arrived from Urumqi, Az was down with high fever – literally shivering under thick blanket, and his body was burning. He was vomitting several times since the flight. It was the worst I have ever seen him. One can imagine how panic I could be, for us in a foreign land far away from family, with our sim card not able to call or send sms to outside China, I was praying hard that things would just be better than worse. The medicines we brought from home came as a savior, although, it seemed only  as a little, tiny impact. I was almost considering to ask hotel people to bring us to hospital, but it’s not gonna be easy. The least I could do was to cool him down with damp towels from time to time.

We did not leave the hotel room early in the morning – unlike usually during travel – and although the fever has gone less, thankfully. While I was still optimistic that things should be okay and we can make do with the remaining time sight seeing Xian, but for barely a day and we hadn’t started early, then the visit Terracotta Warriors has been removed from the list. Is there anyone else who actually visits Xian but NOT see the Terracotta Warriors? >.<

We stayed in Super 8 Hotel in the center of Xian, even I can say in the center inside the city wall, so the main landmarks were actually very near by walking distance. The weather was nice, but coming from Xinjiang, it seems the environment suddenly changed, totally! Xian is full of tourist coming to see touristy sights and shopping touristy souvenirs. Not our type of place, but hey, we’re here! Az was still not in the mood to walk at first, and we stopped a few times to let him rest.

The Drum tower. Well, Drum Tower and Bell Tower are located not far from each other and I still cannot tell which is which, but thats not important, and we only had a look from afar. Going inside there probably requires admission tickets.

Some sights. Full of hotels and shopping arcades. I know Xian has lots of historic attractions but when we’re really here, it’s hardly a place we can actually enjoy. Maybe we’re already used to charming, tourist-free, quiet little Kashgar. I dont know if it could have been different if I had put Xian in the beginning of our China trip (which I did in earlier itinerary drafts), we could have probably not care much but joined those tourists being impressed with this city!

And they have McDonalds! It might be boring but I liked it that we can replace drink in a meal set with a coffee. Just in the center as well we found a Tourist Information Center, where we walked in to ask a city map (and we got one for free).

The only highlight of Xian for us may be The Great Mosque of Xian. Within the touristy area, small paths between bustling shops and crowded souvenir stalls somehow can lead you to the hidden wall of the mosque.

The Xian mosque is one of the oldest mosques in China, founded in year 742. The architecture is Chinese (like the Hui mosques in Urumqi) and of course, Muslims in Xian are predominantly Hui ethnics. It was Zuhur prayer time when we’re there, so we decided to do jamaah prayer. As usual, the facilities inside mosque seem to be reserved for men only. We couldnt find rest room or ablution for women at first but asking a student there (he comes from Inner Mongolia) the women’s place should be in different building outside the mosque area. When I reached the place, it turns out most women just do the prayers in the that building, but after wudu’, I returned back to the mosque main hall with Az.

The main prayer hall. At first I decided to wait for Az outside (when I thought only men can enter the mosque during jamaah prayers), but as soon as Azan (the call for prayer) was announced, more and more people came filling the mosque. Some elder men gave a sign that I could actually enter, at the right corner which seems to be unofficial place for women praying. It’s only divided by curtain from the outside, but it’s better than no place at all.

And the moments come when a few Hui women (I guess around 4 of them) were with me preparing for the prayer. They seemed so surprised looking at me and I tried to introduce myself to them with whatever language and sign language I could think of. They were smiling from ear to ear with a super-impressed face all times as if OVERWHELMINGLY HAPPY of seeing me, making myself rather blushing and awkward and at the same time asking to myself “what happens with them?? Aren’t they used to meet other foreigners coming to pray here before?”. Anyways. And after prayers done, when I want to say goodbye, not only they hugged me (expected) but also kissed me in the cheek few times! I felt like an adorable small baby ^_^ And they kept smiling even when I was leaving the prayer area.

Inside the main prayer hall, we entered here after everyone has left. See the wall? They’re beautifully carved with THE WHOLE SCRIPTS in Quran! If you have time, maybe you can sit and trace all 30 juzu’ written in here. It’s amazing.

Seeing the crowds coming for jamaah prayer, I can’t help wondering if those Muslims really live near here, coz all we can see here shops and tourists and business area rather than a neighborhood. Nevertheless, there are significant number of Muslims being part of the tourist industry here, selling souvenirs for example. We found a restaurant at the Muslim quarter having lamb kebab!! They’re a little expensive compared to what we had in Xinjiang, but what the hey, it’s such a feeling like you have sadly accepted that you won’t be getting it again (after leaving Xinjiang), but before you knew it, it surprisingly came to you! ;)

As we have a few hours left until our train tonight, we took a bus going to train station just to see the city from bus (as Az was already tired walking). Nothing much to be impressed with the city view, except the fact that this whole area is surrounded by the huge wall. Then we’re back to have dinner, do our last shopping and collect luggage at hotel.

This should be our last train in China! :) Az was still feeling unwell when we were waiting at the departure lounge, and totally not in mood. I went to buy a few cup noodles for our food in train. And while we’re sitting at the bench this man was watching me giving a head massage to Az, and probably acknowledging that Az was sick, he came towards saying something in Chinese, then left, then came back again bringing something at his hands – 2 packets of something look like seeds. He asked Az to swallow them and giving a sign as if it’s some herbal medicine for head ache. It’s funny yet touching to know some stranger we dont even know in some foreign land would be so nice to us!

Well, heading (back) to Chengdu, finally!

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.

Fatehpur Sikri

How to get there: Go to Agra bus station, and you will find a bus going to Fatehpur Sikri (Rs.30). It takes 1.5 hour though. For faster way, you can take a shared sumo taxi. 
Way back: Shared Tata Sumo taxi Rs.30, auto-rickshaw to hotel Rs.80

Everyone coming to Agra would not miss going to Fatehpur Sikri, for it being a relatively historical monument as Taj Mahal and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Although it’s located a bit far away from Agra, people do come to here to see such huge structure built in the era without modern machinery. The bus going to Faterpur is regular town bus. So when we  were going, the bus was full of locals, leaving us with another Danish guy to be the only foreigners on board. We chatted with the Danish guy, he was traveling alone and just entered India from Nepal.

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Heavenly Pahalgam

How to get there: Go to a taxi stand near petrol station. It’s a shared taxi, in form of Tata Sumo jeep going to Anatnag (Rs.50) it will take about one hour. In Anatnag, change another shared taxi to go Pahalgam (Rs.50) for 45 minutes ride. Same goes to way back (Pahalgam-Anatnag, Anatnag-Srinagar). Alternatively, you can always take return J&K Bus at Tourist Info Center, the same way we get to Gulmarg. But have to check first which day they run to which place (they usually rotate Gulmarg, Sonamarg and Pahalgam). But I guess shared taxi is faster with same price. Do not take Tata Sumo jeep in front of bus station, as they will be chartered for you only and you have to pay fares for whole car. 

Pahalgam is definitely my favorite place in Kashmir. Nicknamed as Switzerland of India, we were really on cloud nine when arriving in this place we almost feel as paradise of earth. Initially wanted to go by bus as we did for Gulmarg, but unfortunately when we went to the Bus Station early morning to book a ticket, they say they’re only going to Sonamarg today and Pahalgam will be tomorrow. We dont have another tomorrow to visit Pahalgam and we would skip Sonamarg over Pahalgam. So when we went out to find taxi, we found the mysterious guy again and he helped us to find our way to another taxi stand which can get us to Anatnag, and from Anatnag we can get another taxi to Pahalgam.

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Morning walk along Dal Lake

We’re going to visit the Mughal gardens finally, it’s always easy to take auto-rickshaw, but as Ramzan said it’s still reachable by walking, we wanted to try and see if we can manage to walk until Shalimar Garden. So after breakfast, we started walking to the opposite side than we always come from Dal Gate by auto-rickshaw. We’re glad that we took the walk, it might be the longest walk we had in Srinagar, but it was worth every step. It didnt feel tiring at all when you’re surrounded by beautiful view of nature you cannot stop being mesmerized with.

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