I'll have three donkeys and a camel, please
Trip Start Feb 03, 2008
33Trip End Aug 16, 2009
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Where I stayed
Uighur, Kazahk, Kyrgyz and Hui ethnicity ranchers (guessing by their hats) stood around Dan and I, watching bemused as we exclaimed over the animals. A few yards farther into the fray of donkeys, cows, sheep and the occasional two-humped camel, a little boy wearing a traditional round-peaked felt hat regarded us in disgust as we took pictures of his donkey and cart.
We were out of place here, the few straggling tour groups and touring individuals who made it to the outskirts of Kashgar for a glimpse of working history. Seeing money change hands over a few just-shorn lambs, two teenage boys desperately trying to catch a willful donkey so a potential customer could assess it, a bescarfed woman smiling privately to herself while she counted her takings, I could imagine away the cell phones and watches, the knock-off Nikes and Adidas shoes and believe that we were seeing the same dusty market hundreds of years ago-the camels to be taken on a caravan across the desert, the lambs and cows a measure of personal wealth, even more than they are today
I was reminded of a State Fair in the US, though there doesn't seem to be any ribbon-giving here. Children clung to their sheep and cows, begged their fathers for a few coins to buy an ice cream with.
Dan and I picked our way through the cows to the donkeys on the far side of the large brick-wall enclosure, past the wall seemingly designated for the public toilet, and over to the lambs and sheep. We were constantly in the way--a donkey brayed wildly and rushed at us, a truck full of lambs started unloading its cargo over our heads. I kept my scarf over my camera when I wasn't taking pictures to keep it clean-ish, but soon our faces and arms were covered in grit.
On the right side of the animals small restaurants were setting up, boiling water in huge kettles to pour their guests never-ending bowls of black Pakistani tea. They spread carpets out on the ground or arranged three-legged benches for their customers who ate bowls of long noodles in mutton broth or sticky carrot-and-mutton pilaf. We ate breakfast and watched the crowds. Dozens of children helped their fathers and mothers get the beasts tethered and then beelined for a shack selling hand-made ice cream and apricot ice and blaring out what looked like a Uighur soap opera from a 14-inch TV and a jerry-rigged megaphone
After breakfast we decided to try the ice cream too, at one yuan for two small cones, scooped up from a quickly diminishing pile. This ice cream is churned in something like a converted washing machine, from milk and honey and ice. The treat cut through the dusty heat like ice down my back, and we prayed the ice was made from filtered water.
We stayed around the market, watching it fill with restive livestock until the sun got hot enough to convince us to relocate.
Our next stop was the cooler, covered avenues of the Kashgar Grand Bazaar. Reputedly once the largest market in Asia, it's still a fun though scaled-back experience. The sidewalks outside were overflowing with people. Sellers spread carpets, baskets or boxes out to hawk locally-grown fresh and dried fruit
Inside the market, at the front, a few aisles of tourist wares delayed us for awhile in the afternoon, but we also explored the well-organized pavilions in the back, selling hardware, building supplies, clothes and other necessities.
Not quite tired enough, we walked back to our hotel and past the Kashgar Old City, a walled-off mud-brick city-within-a-city. It would be our destination for tomorrow, before the train to Turpan.