Urumqi with CouchSurfers

Right after train arrived, we’re now no longer strangers to Urumqi Railway station since having been here for short transit before Kashgar earlier. We quickly took Bus no 10 going to the Bazaar, and before that, we informed Nazar that we’re back in Urumqi and if he’s free for meet-up.

We’re also going to meet Hasnat – the Pakistani student I knew from Xinjiang Facebook page – whom we didnt have a chance to see during last short transit. Nazar said he would be free, so would Hasnat after his class, so I guess we’d spend time with them for afternoon. We waited for Nazar at the Bazaar as usual while having pomegranate juice.

Because of plans change, we didnt really prepare anything for Urumqi for today, so when Hasnat offered us to visit Red Hill, we just said OK. Nazar came first to meet us, and it was Zuhur time so we went to the mosque first. This is Uyghur mosque in Urumqi, among the biggest ones. Although, it’s only him and Az praying inside while I had to wait outside (no prayer space for women, unfortunately). Which later it was such a hassle to find a place for me to do prayers  which we ended up asking from a boutique so I could do my prayers inside.

So our itinerary for Urumqi is roughly like this:

Today (Wednesday): go around town with Hasnat, Nazar, later meet our CS host, Mischa
Thursday: visit Tianchi Lake, maybe overnight there
Friday: visit Nanshan pasture
Saturday: fly to Xian afternoon

But unlike Kashgar, Urumqi is a very big city that we’re not sure how to go to those places by our own feet, or probably we have taken Urumqi for granted for not having much studies on bus stations and routes (then again, least we thought that Urumqi is actually this BIG!) and getting to meet 3 locals here kind of made us less independent in a way ;D I mean, we can easily ask Hasnat and Nazar and Mischa and maybe ask them to go with us, no?

Having told Nazar our stories in Kuqa and how we managed to leave our shoes in the sleeper bus and now are left with crocs, he brought us to several shoe shops around the town to see if we like to buy our new shoes here. Which we couldnt find any – they look cheap but aren’t that cheap either, so we said we’re going to survive with crocs only. Later we asked Nazar to bring us to his favorite restaurant in Urumqi, and we ended up in this posh-looking restaurant!

We havent been in any restaurant this standard while traveling so I had to ask Nazar a few times if it’s expensive. And to our surprise, the food is rather affordable! We had two plates of polo rice (I share with Az), and a big portion of grilled lamb, all for 45 yuan. They even serve yoghurt as dessert. I was overwhelmed to see the big lamb chunk with bones and didnt really know how to start with it. It taste really good! Shortly when we’re done, I got a call from Hasnat that he’s arrived at Bazaar, then we directly made our way to the place again.

Now a group of Malay – Pakistani – Uyghur friends in Urumqi! :) We introduced ourselves and exchanged stories, and when Hasnat said he was bringing us to Red Hill, Nazar then offered us to leave our big luggage in his aunty’s house, some steps away down main road in the town. Nazar then left for having some matters and we’re now following Hasnat to Red Hill.

We aren’t fan of parks like this, let alone parks with heaps of tourists. But since it’s near and we dont have any other plans in mind and it’s Hasnat nice offer to bring us there so there’s nothing much to complain. Other than having to climb very high stairs to the top! (I had to stop several times taking breath). That’s the view of Urumqi city we get to see from the hill top. You wouldn’t imagine Urumqi looks like this, no? ;)

After Red Hill, we followed Hasnat to nearby tour agent office from which he took his trip for Tianchi Lake earlier, for only 100 yuan. Initially we had in mind to do the trip to Tianchi by ourselves as we did for Karakul Lake, but knowing that we dont even know which bus station to take in Urumqi, and the tour package is offering 100 yuan including transportation and entrance ticket (which we understood earlier from internet it’s 100 yuan alone for entrance) so we thought it’s a good deal and bought the trip for tomorrow from the agent.

When it’s getting dark, a friend of Hasnat, Nitasha came to join us. She’s a university mate of Hasnat, and although she’s from Pakistani descent, she lives in Saudi Arabia, and at the same time, an American citizen! (how complicated is that?). Our CS host, Mischa called us and joined us as well. Mischa is Kazakh Chinese and now we’re a bunch of multi-national group having a dinner at this decent restaurant. Pity that Nazar wasn’t around to join! Anyways. We had a large platter of spicy chicken and in fact the largest plate I have ever seen in my life! They dont serve forks so you’d better be good at using chopstick already!

Here’s a short video to summarize today’s places and people:

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.

Agra and around

Breakfast: Rs.120

We came back from Taj Mahal around 9.30 and thought of having breakfast. There are many restaurants and cafes located in between small hotels here but it was still hard to choose. All places are quiet. We passed by this Taj Cafe that claims itself to have been recommended by Lonely Planet Book, but were not really impressed. They definitely think that by claiming it out loud that it was featured in Lonely Planet, it would attract more customers.. but we can see that it’s being overused here. In that street there are a number of restaurants displaying the same in their signboards too. On the other hands, I cannot remember our favorite Mughal Darbar restaurant in Srinagar displays something telling that they’re featured in Lonely Planet (despite they really are). Perhaps in Agra especially in this area, all restaurants look almost the same, old, small buildings and not attractive at all, so you have to verbally tell people that you’re special in order to stand out from the rest. And they dont need to know if you’re telling the truth or otherwise :P

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Mughal Darbar Restaurant, Srinagar

Dinner first night: Mutton biryani, mushroom korma – Rs.320
Dinner second night: Kashmiri Biryani pulao, salad, tea – Rs.300
Dinner third night: Kashmiri Biryani pulao, mutton sour soup, papadom – Rs.440

I first heard of Mughal Darbar restaurant from one of the forums in IndiaMike – where I’ve got most of info and travel advice for India. The way they recommend it as if it’s a must-visit restaurant if you happen to be in Srinagar. Later, when Az & I was researching from Lonely Planet book we got from library, and this LP book is the oldest edition we ever seen – 1970’s!! And this book featured Mughal Darbar as well, and I mean, since 1970s! Therefore, we really have to go and see how special this restaurant should be.

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