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.

Uyghur Children

After breakfast, we were walking towards Old Town Youth Hostel in the morning when we passed by the school doing assembly. The children are singing possibly school or patriotic songs, in Chinese. All of them are looking good in tracksuit, and we are wondering if all of them are having PE lesson or today is their sports day.

  

So it’s our first fresh morning in Kashgar, being delighted by encountering some happy Uyghur children ready to pose for our camera.  We stopped by the Old Town Youth Hostel to check if we could move to there, and good news is they have empty dorm room so we can have it all for ourselves. Perfect. So we head to Eden back to check out and get our luggage.

It was almost afternoon when we walked out Eden so we’re passing by hundreds of school children walking home from the school. The kids are just a friendly bunch who would wave to stranger tourists. In fact, they’re queuing for photos! I just have to show all them here, for now wanting to let anyone down ;)

Okay, and this boy is getting way too excited when seeing himself being filmed :D I am too very excited knowing my old DVD camcorder manages to attract them quite a lot.

 

As we’re heading to the town, and they walk the opposite direction, so it was a continuous happy encounter and photo taking sessions. Within a short while we have come to learn that their tracksuit is the school uniform itself. Which looks sporty and convenient that they might only need to change T-shirts inside. While we adore the idea of having tracksuit as school uniforms, it might not be suitable to practice in hot Malaysia.

 

And we pass by the school again when we saw some little ones climbing the fence. And they seem to be playing there by their own without any adult’s monitor!

I mean, I just love to see the kids playing freely on the street by their own without a slight fear of danger. And their parents may not have problems letting them. This place seems a lot safer than other places we have lived and been. I can’t help being amazed in disbelief.

  

Az keeps on eyeing little faces around to take a snap. As we arrived in Old Town Youth Hostel, there are a little girl and her little brother playing sand hill in front of it. It reminds me a lot to the time I was a little kid too, going dirty in sand and nobody needs to care about hygienic. It was almost 3 decades ago and nowadays you hardly see children playing sand anymore. In fact, they hardly go playing outdoor anymore!

Kashgar isn’t really a remote village (it’s rather a big city with old town part being preserved, with modern facilities which some KL doesnt even have – many subways for example) yet this place remains traditional, cultural and safe. I just really can’t describe how wonderful the feelings in this place, I’m not saying KL and places in Malaysia are all bad and full of crime kidnapping children, but I believe such views of children playing outdoor, on the street without parental guide, you can no longer see back home. Ironic, isn’t it?

Anyways. I bet you see the boy’s bum ;P this recalls us to the Lhasa boy we met in the train last time, who was also wearing pant with full zipper opening. But this boy here is wearing pant with full opening without zipper! It’s common here, as the parents dont want to have a fuss over children peeing so they just let them ready to do so all time, with this kind of pants. Az recommends me to buy some pair for future. Oh well.

Eden Hotel, Kashgar

Eden Hotel
No.148 Seman Rd, Kashgar. 15 minutes walk to Id Kah mosque (if you dont stop looking at shops etc)
Website: http://www.xjeden.com/index.php
Double room (Apr 2012): 190 RMB
Comments: Okay and good, only the staff cannot speak English and arent too friendly. No warm/drinking water available during breakfast (only hot water).

We forgot to take photo of the building, but here’s the hotel pamphlet with one.

The hotel at first seems a little expensive for travelers on budget, but however, when you happen to have been traveling by trains for 3 days and havent had shower since, this hotel is the best you could ask for. We are in need of shower SO DAMN SERISOULY! And comfy large bed. Although, no offense to Qini Bagh (which was our option earlier), but Eden Hotel happens to be better if you want to taste a mid-range hotel, Uyghur style. It’s also a relatively new compared to other hotels in the guidebook, at least it looks so. In the ground floor, there’s an Uyghur-Turkish restaurant which we planned to dine once later, only it turns out we didnt have time to come back after checking-out Eden after a night stay (to move to cheaper Old Town Youth Hostel).

 

The receptionists are Uyghur, who hardly speak English (but workable if you only need to know/ask about price, time to check out etc). There should be a tour agent stationed near the hotel lobby, who can speak English. He seems to be regularly called by the receptionists when they’re in need of translation when communicating to foreign customers. The tour agent, whom we asked about tour for Karakul Lake, would charge anywhere around 1000 yuan (which I believe all tour agents in Kashgar would charge, so no issues there). He wouldnt push you either, so we dont have problem even if we want to think longer and find alternative way, say, I still believe we can go by ourselves by bus without permit.

The room is quite spacious and ours facing the road. We get to handwash some of our clothes changed in trains, and it’s convenient to hang them near the window (so can get direct sun heat). That night we had the best sleep ever since few days, and we still couldnt believe we finally arrive in Kashgar :) The hotel check-out time is 1400 Beijing time, so around 12 Xinjiang time.

 

The next day, we’re given buffet breakfast with food we had never seen before (except boiled eggs). Lots of variety of vegetable and salads (which taste sour like pickles), cakes, chicken etc. The taste is exotic, good if you love to trying strange, new food. Although, they dont serve plain drinking water. The staff would bring you hot water upon request. During breakfast, we notice that there arent any foreign travelers staying in this hotel. Most of them looking like Uyghurs and Chinese coming from other cities for business, and maybe neighboring countries like Tajikistan and Kyrgyztan.

We only stayed in Eden for one night, and although at first feeling so excited that we wanted to extend the stay for next few nights (probably because the ultimate excitement of finding shower and large bed after 4 days traveling) but we have to be realistic that one night in Eden would cost almost 3 nights in the Youth Hostel, and since we want to meet other foreign travelers in the hostel, we just need to make a move to there, expecting less convenient than hotel. But we didnt come all the way to Kashgar to stay in hotel anyway. Therefore, on second day in Kashgar, we shift to Old Town Youth Hostel, before going to Karakul Lake the next day.

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.

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Xinjiang: Places we visited (and not)

Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, being China’s largest region and located in the Far West, it borders Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, and obviously the home to many ethnic groups descendants from neighboring countries and ancient Turkic kingdoms. Probably this what has made us pull all effort to visit this colorful land, apart from wanting to get mesmerized by snow capped mountains and taste the world’s softest, juiciest grilled lamb ever. Here’s a summary of places:

1) Urumqi

The capital of Xinjiang and main connector between Xinjiang and other region (and some Central Asian countries) by air, and the city is far bigger than we had expected. Not being fan of big city, we dont find Urumqi very exciting. The Tianchi Lake is pretty, but seems enough to spend a few hours there. It’s been very touristy anyway. I dont find anything amazing about the Grand Bazar either, despite looking like an icon of building from China Silk Road time. We have spent around 3.5 days in Urumqi including transit, which actually could be shorten it to 2 days or not visiting at all.

2) Kashgar

Although Kashgar also turned out to be a rather bigger city than we had imagined (no quite such views people riding donkeys..) but more than half of Kashgar is still purely blended with Uyghur culture, Old Town, exotic food, cattles and easygoing people. We spent around 5 days in Kashgar (includes Karakul Lake) and still couldnt get enough of it :) Az even wanted to change our train ticket last minute and skip Kuqa and Turpan so that we could stay longer in Kashgar, only they didnt allow us as the tickets were booked online by Derek and any changing isn’t possible done in train counter.

3) Karakul

It’s the most distant point we stretched beyond Kashgar (given that we didnt have time to proceed to Tashkurgan finally). Being here is like in a quiet, hidden paradise, watching views you had never imagined to see, all for yourselves without a sight of people. We spent one day and one night in here after 5 hours journey from Kashgar, and we would have wanted to stay for another night if our camera hadnt run out of battery (and if the night wasn’t THAT cold!)

4) Kuqa

We wanted to visit Kuqa as to divide 24-hour journey between Kashgar to Urumqi/Turpan by half, as I believe in traveling during night and spending the day time for sightseeing, whatever place it is. Thefore Kuqa was our chosen transit place to do a day sightseeing before continuing night train to Turpan. But tragedy came unexpectedly, the sleepy town was in heavy dust thanks to sudden sand storm from nearby desert. Because of bad weather, we missed the chance to go sightseeing (only stayed in train station and made a short city bus trip between station and town) and even worse, our train to Turpan was cancelled and we were stranded for another day in this town.

Places not visited

5) Tashkurgan

It’s a town 2 hours beyond Karakul Lake via Karakoram Highway. I read there’s nothing much of intrest about this town except that you can see Tajik ethnic people. The bus between Kashgar and Tashkurgan run only once daily which is the only means for you to have a ride and get down to Karakul Lake in the middle of the road. Were worried if the inbound journey to Kashgar bus can be full, so we thought of hitch hike(?) the bus going to Tashkurgan instead (when possibly some travelers get down at Karakul, and we get to have their seat).  It turned out that 1) We went to Karakul Lake 1 day later than itinerary 2) We could finally get the inbound bus with seat, thankfully. It’s just a matter of going with the flow.

6) Khunjerab Pass

Wanted to go here but not included in initerary because too far. It’s 4 hours beyond Tashkurgan and is actually the Pass entering Pakistan. I read that the mountain views are really majestic when reaching this place. If only we had more days…

7) Turpan

I still can’t belive we had to skip Turpan last-minute because of wasting a day in Kuqa after the train cancellation (afraid not having days left in Urumqi). I dont know what to expect, but Turpan is said to be a must-visit, then again its attractions are mostly ruins of old city, which we dont have much interest in afterall.

8) Kanas

I so wish we could include it in our itinerary, but when you’re planning to go southern-most to Kashgar, Tashkurgan whatsoever, it’s almost impossible to make another trip to the Nothern-most point of Xinjiang. Kanas has very beautiful pine tree lakes and villages bordering Kazakhstan and Russia, yet we have to be realistic that it could be too cold to visit there in April, and the pretty pictures you see on internet are taken in Autumn! Let’s hope there will be a next time to Xinjiang.

9) Ili

Didnt really think of visiting despite having pretty grassland, mountains and lakes. You can never visit ALL places in Xinjiang in a time (unless you’re in one month trip or longer). This place is located far northwest of Xinjiang, with high possible of being an untouched beuty.