Central Asian Market Day
Trip Start Dec 26, 2003
94Trip End Mar 28, 2005
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The trip crosses the Taklamakan Desert, I am told the second biggest in the world (???) and a road to enable traffic to cross the desert has been built. At over 500km this is the longest desert crossing road in the world. I think you can imagine the scenery, but can you imagine how much sand a bit of wind can whip up. It's dusty!
Sunday is bazaar - or market - day in Hotan, on the southern edge of the Taklamakan Desert, and the colourful and lively bazaar swamps the town
The bazaar area is unable to accommodate the people who have come from all around and the streets of the town are as alive with stalls as the market area. The main street of the old town features stalls on both sides of the road, actually on the road and not the pavement, between these walk people at market and between these buses beep their horns furiously as they try to pass and ply their regular routes, not to mention the pedicabs, donkey carts. It all looks so impromptu and completely unplanned.
The atmosphere is unquestionably central Asian. Skullcapped, shaven headed men; modestly dressed women, sometimes with a face covering chador and stall signs in an Arabic looking script; the language of choice is Uyghur and sales pitches are clearly made in this and distinctive Arab sounding music playing out of loudspeakers; the smell of mutton kebab being grilled and wafted by vendors, keeping their coals burning and disseminating a mouth watering scent. It is all too easy to forget which country you are in.
The town appears to be holding a competition on how many ways a sheep, or part thereof, can be sold. There are whole dead sheep hanging on butcher's hooks; live sheep, obviously whole; parts of sheep cut to take home to eat; fried, battered mutton, ready for immediate on the premises consumption; mutton kebabs; sheep skins; sheep heads; dyed and natural coloured wool ready for weaving; bags of sheep hair
Muslim skull capped Uyghurs walked around the market with their recently purchased sheep on a rope, similar to how one might walk a dog around the high street, though Fido is far less likely to be found adorning a skewer over a spit; other people hold on to their roped sheep whilst riding home on the back of a donkey cart; one farmer takes home his four newly bought ovines, legs tied, on their backs in the back of a small motorised tractor-like truck and trailer.
Whilst bargaining over 10 kilos of wool, the participants faces are deadly serious. They argue and bicker, shake their heads and wave their arms theatrically until a price is agreed and a deal is closed. At that point the faces change wide smiles open out and both men hold, grasp and shake each other's hands in a two handed grip. At the end, it looks more like a meeting of old friends than an economic transaction.
There are also sections for knives, skull caps, carpets, clothing, blankets, refridgerators, washing machines, white jade, fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as live birds, ducks, geese and chickens. Skilled, old barbers offer cut throat razor face and full head shaves, scissors appear not to have yet gained popularity Hotan.
At the end of the day my grey shirt is a shade of desert sand brown from the thick dust coating it has received. I am tired & happy. This was a truly amazing & memorable day.