Where are the Women?

Trip Start Jun 05, 2011
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Trip End Feb 28, 2013


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Where I stayed
Old Town Youth Hostel
What I did
Corban Festival

Flag of China  , Xinjiang Uygur,
Thursday, November 3, 2011

Oh God said to Abraham, "Kill me a son", Abe says, "Man, you must be puttin' me on" God say, "No." Abe say, "What?" God say, "You can do what you want Abe, but The next time you see me comin' you better run" Well Abe says, "Where do you want this killin' done ?" God says. "Out on Highway 61" - Lyrics by Bob Dylan

Corban is a Muslim festival celebrated in Xinjiang 70 Days after Ramadan by Islamic ethnic groups like the Uygurs and Hasake. Also known as the "Livestock Sacrificing Festival," it commemorates the day that Abraham had a dream in which God told him to kill his son as an offering. Just as Abraham was about ready to do this, God intervened and told him to sacrifice a sheep instead. Muslims begin Corban by washing themselves and visiting their local mosque. Later a sheep is sacrificed by slitting its throat. The animal is then skinned, carved up and eaten. Whatever is left over is given to the poor. This festival conveys Muslim's mutual aid, courtesy, and friendship. The word "Corban" means sacrifice and self-devotion in Arabic. The five day Corban holiday began November 7, 2011.

Return from the KKH

On our return from our drive up and back on the Karakorum highway, they gave us our own room back at the hostel. Cissy, Jannie and Midori-san were gone but now we had many cyclists at the hostel.

More cyclists
Franka and Frank are a German couple who are riding from Germany to Indonesia. They rode in from Kyrgyzstan and planned to ride the train through the Taklamakan desert and continue riding from Xining. Frank didn't talk much but Franka more than made up for it. They have a blog at www.mit-dem-rad.de  They had third wheel attached the rear wheel or their bikes on which a third set of panniers attached. It looked like a great alternative to pulling a bob trailer. But it still was not as clever as the couple how have their bikes stored in the basement while they headed to Urumqi to apply for Kazakstan visas. That couple travel very light. She has one duffle strapped to her rear rack, no panniers. He carries what fits in a rear set of rear panniers.

Craig and Walter arrived from one of the –stans too, Tajikistan or Kyrgyzstan. They had just met on the road the day before. Craig from New Zealand was anxious to ride the length of the Silk Road through the dessert to its terminus in Xian. He could only get a 30 days on his visa and planned to get it extended in Jiayuguan where he expects the PSB will extend his visa to the maximum of 90 days. Different offices interpret the rules differently. Having only 90 days allowed on a tourist visa gives all the cyclist visa fits. Our multiple entry tourist visa is valid for one year. But still, we have a limit of 90 days for each stay and we have to leave the country to restart the clock. The rule is nonsense because you are allowed to leave and return on the same day with a new 90 days. I asked Dave to guess how old he thinks Walter is. He said 22 or 23. Walter is just 18 years young. He certainly has the face of an 18 year old but he handles himself quite responsibly. We are in awe of Walter for having the courage to take on such a challenge a such a young age, on his own. Craig said he wouldn’t likely continue to ride with Walter because he didn’t think he could keep up. Walter is young enough to be my son, he lamented.

There was another cyclist on a Long Haul Trucker like Dave’s. He is from Singapore and is going west. He seemed to have cycled a lot in China and gave advice to the other cyclists on spots to avoid, how not to get caught in off limit areas and places known for banditos.

Everyone was hanging out in Kashgar until after the Corban festival as were we. We had no trouble filling the days exploring Old Town Kashgar again and again.

Demolishing of the Uyghur Old Town

Old Town Kashgar has been deemed unsafe due to earthquake concerns and is being rapidly demolished. Some of the demolished areas are designated historic and are being redeveloped under a special Government program. The reconstruction seems a bit shoddy but they are putting rebar and new sewers in the new buildings. One news article touted the program and included quotes from happy new home owners. The article stated the government was responsible for the exterior shell of the new building while the home owners would be responsible for the doors and windows. It did not talk about the areas that are not deemed historic and are being replaced by Chinese high-rises. We saw one section of the old city wall fenced off and the foundation for a new high-rise being made right next to the old wall.
 
There was also an article about new special economic zones in Xinjiang touted to bring employment opportunities to local Uyghur people. The article stated that the businesses from the east that have taken advantage of the SEZ programs have brought their Han workforce from the west and have not employed one Uyghur to date.


Kashgar International Bazaar

The International Bazaar is the largest bazaar in all of China. It doesn’t disappoint. The minute we walked inside and found ourselves in stall after stall of amazing hats made of pelts of marmots, minks and rabbits. Sad to see they also had fur of endangered species too. I was tempted to buy a warm rabbit or marmot hat or scarf. We refrained.

We admired the carpets from local weavers as well as Afghani, Tajik, Uzbek weavers. Then we walked aisles and aisles rich brocaded fabric. They love lots of glitter and bling here! Boots, shoes, scarves are decorated with rhinestones and glittery sequins. I drooled at all the scarf stalls as I touched them to discern if they were silk or polyester. One guy spoke to us in English. He was doing some shopping for the upcoming Corban festival with his wife. He introduced himself as Abdul White, a guide here in Kashgar. He advised me on the fair price for a scarf I was looking at. They asked for 50 and I got it for 20RMB. Then he invited us to his home for Corban. We were delighted with the invitation and Abdul said he would send a driver for us on Monday. His only caveat was that we would need to pay the driver. I asked what we should bring and he said some candy for the 9 children at his home would be nice. He told us to call him on Sunday night. We explored the market for another few hours before making our way over the small hill through the narrow windy streets home. We can’t get enough of that.


The vibe in the old town is changing. Hundreds of sheep clutter the intersection near our hostel with men lined up buying and selling them. Some leave on scooters loaded with a sheep and some lead their Corban dinner home on a rope through the streets much like returning home with a Thanksgiving turkey, only this meal can walk on its own. Some must sense what is in store them as they protest with bleats and tugs on the leads. I love these sheep with their fat wiggly buttocks. We enjoyed watching the chaos from the second floor tea house.


When Sunday came, we walked among many scenes of the sheep slaughters. On the sidewalks or in small alleys, throats are cut and the blood allowed to flow into a bucket for a few moments. Then with a slice along the sheep’s abdomen the hide is expertly removed. As the day rolled on, piles and piles of the skins appeared on the corners for resale.


Beginning of Corban

On Sunday evening we called Abdul and he said he would send a taxi by 1PM for the 65km ride to his house. Due to the holiday the driver wanted 400RMB. We said okay figuring the day would be so special. Abdul said to call him again Monday at noon.
 
On Monday, we were up at 8:30 AM Beijing time (6:30AM Xinjiang time). Men walked in front of our hostel chanted a prayer as they marched in procession, prayer rugs under their arms, into the mosque. Only those who went early would find room inside the mosque. Other processions of varying numbers arrived from different directions. As the sun rose, the square in front of the mosque began to fill with thousands of men, all with prayer rugs under arms.  Uniformed police presence was strong and they patrolled the area in teams of four. They pulled suspicious characters out of the crowd and lead them to the police van where they inspected their bags before releasing them to rejoin the worshipers. Men continued to arrive from all directions. In the end I suspect 40000 men where there to worship. It was a lot of testosterone in one place.

At 9AM, the First Maola conducts "Wa'z," standing on the steps of the throne inside the Mosque. Followers seated themselves facing  Mecca inside and out, in proper lines. After an hour long reading of the Koran,sermon and prayers, we got a head start and made our way back to our hostel.


We called Abdul again and he said the driver wasn’t ready to leave his family yet. We reluctantly decided to cancel our visit and let the driver stay with his family on this special day.   

I had a little bowl nokot (hot chickpeas) from a street vendor. Very tasty.

Back at the hostel where we were told to go see the dancing on the square. Dancing is not always permitted by the police, but this year they allowed it. Uyghur 'men’ gathered on the square in front of the mosque, dressed in their holiday best, danced "Sama" overflowing with enthusiasm, to cheerful drum beats and music. But I kept wondering “where are the women?”
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