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!

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.

Karakul Lake – Part 1

How to get there: Take bus from South Bus Station in Kashgar, 36 yuan. Bus departs 8am Beijing time (10am local time, double check with ticket counter person). Buying ticket one day in advance is advisable. Bus takes around 4 hours to reach the lake, including a stop for breakfast in the middle for half an hour.

We woke up in the morning to the biggest shock that we didnt charge all our devices (camera, camcorder, phone) last night, thanks to full day walking around Kashgar until late plus eating like mad at the night market before went to shop for some bowl instant noodle for tomorrow, and returned to hostel totally flat. Now all we can do is to wish there’s some village in the mountains where power sockets are available, although it’s hard to think the possibility.

We have to check-out from hostel since we’re planning to overnight in the lake, and thankfully the hostel manager is nice enough to let us leave our big luggage in the management office while we’re away. We dont bring any stuff other than (wearing) extra layers of clothings, gadgets and chargers, instant noodle, some Milo and Nescafe, and tripod.

We run quickly to the main road and catch a town bus for Southern Bus Station (luckily we already learned the route yesterday) and it doesnt take us long to reach the station on time, and we’re taken to a mini bus which is going to Tashkurgan. Here we are, to our ultimate destination! :) The bus leaves a little after 8am, and it’s almost full. After like half an hour when we’re somewhere outside the city, the bus stops to fetch a few more people, and now it’s full. Those people do not look like they’re going to the lake, and I guess they’re possibly heading to Tashkurgan.

We’re stopped after 1 hour at a small restaurant by the roadside for breakfast. We share a plate of polo rice and some manta (steamed bun). The stop is for around 30minutes so it’s an appropriate chance to find a restroom. While I am not sure how and whom to ask, I randomly approach one of the bus passengers, and she’s a well dressed lady. She doesnt know “toilet”, or “bathroom”, or “restroom”.. and I instantly remember universal sign “WC” (at least in China), and gotcha, she then walks us to the back of the restaurant around 100 meters, and there you go, the toilet!

We’re amazed to have finally come across this type of toilet :D It reminds me alot to the toilet one in the Oscar-winning movie Slumdog Millionaire, where it’s practically a hole and you can directly see the entire view of poops underneath. And Az has to take a photo of it!

Continue the ride, the bus stops to get some fuel, and you can notice the fuel price and somehow compare the fuel price back home. Sitting next to us are some curious Uyghur men who look like “they want to talk to us but dont know what language to use”. Body language works, though, and I somehow manage to let them know we’re going to Karakul Lake by showing the bus tickets.

A few hours gone, and the view start turning into a deserted mountains with no houses and trees in sight. Attempted to take more photos but have to save the (50%!) battery for the real destination. There’s a few small lakes we pass by and the more we anticipate to see the majestic Karakul Lake for real. And suddenly the bus stopped and the driver shouts to us, “Karakul! Karakul!” and in the midst of surprise, we get down the bus to the middle of nowhere. And even more surprising, the bus drops only US there, and nobody else!

Suddenly some five men in motorbikes approach us, they seem to be owners of yurts and houses nearby and asking if we need yurt, each of them busy making their offers, “50 yuan only, with 3 lunch”.. what, 3 lunch.?? Okay, I think he meant 3 meals. And another, “Come to house, yurt very cold! House not cold”.. It’s so much a tense of offering and bargaining for us being their only targets for that day. To be fair, Az asks if we can go to see the house and yurt first, and we’ll decide later. So Az jumps on the yurt owner’s bike, while I am on the house owner’s bike, along with 4 other their friends we’re convoying along the quiet road to see the house first, then then back to the lake to see the yurt. And the wind is so cold that I have to cover my face altogether!

We decided to choose the yurt over the brick house, being the house located a little farther from the lake. Although we have to be prepared when the house owner warns that it will be colder at night when staying in yurt. We pay 100 yuan for two persons staying 1 night, and it’s understood that it includes meals. The yurt owner is a Kyrgyz, who has a weird name too difficult to pronouce, we end up calling him “Mr Same Price” for some funny reason. He says that there’s a German lady who arrived earlier from Tashkurgan to stay here too, so it’s quite a relief that we’ll have a companion. But to our disappointment, he says there’s no power socket in the yurt, and no place to charge our camera in the village, although we silently wonder how he manages to own a mobile phone. Mr Same Price then goes back to his house (located in a village 10 minutes away) leaving us alone in this empty place.

After securing our luggage inside the yurt, we walk to the lake, and this is the view of the yurt from the lake! And see the outdoor toilet far to the left? It’s an epic! It may not be season yet, as I guess during summer, there should be alot more yurts set up in this large area to accomodate more tourists.

Until then, we have all the lakes for ourselves!! :D Isn’t this exciting?? The view just looks so amazing that somehow I couldnt believe it’s real. And we’re here!

The iconic Muztagh Ata mountain. Some hard core travelers would hike around it during summer. The summer starts very late in here being in high altitude, and it’s late April now and the lake is totally frozen! Imagine the cold wind!

We borrow some bigger jackets from the yurt and start taking photos. But we look fat in them, so forget it =.=

Centered view of Muztagh Ata….

Which is perfect for jumping photos! :D

And my turn!

Our favorite moments, trying to step onto the frozen lake. It may look frozen, but you can never sure how thick it is, the moment it breaks will straight away dumps you into the cold water! With extra precaution, Az steps and settles his position first, while I set the camera timer (thanks to bringing tripod, where else you can put your camera in this deserted, empty place?).

Okay, looking alright. Step further to get my space, and be calm. Next shot, yay, we’re on the lake!! :D

We wander around for a couple of hours, and it’s getting too cold so we go back into the yurt to curl ourselves in thick blankets, and somehow fall asleep for a short nap.

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.