Crossroads in Kashgar.

Trip Start Apr 26, 2012
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Trip End Oct 31, 2012


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Where I stayed
Kashgar pamir Hostel

Flag of China  , Xinjiang Uygur,
Thursday, June 21, 2012

Our "wanna be" formula one driver picked us up at the allotted time in a slightly bigger car than yesterday. The reason became clear soon enough as we headed round the back of the hotel to pick up another passenger, a nice German/English lady who lived in Hong Kong and was just as passionate about getting off the beaten track as us. We were soon trading stories and in no time had reached the station.

About an hour later we were safely stowed on the train and headed west. The scenery from the window was quite spectacular in parts with tall craggy mountains, some with snow capped peaks. In other parts it was simply flat, hot and dry..the settlements broken down and crumbling and not too many inhabitants in sight.

Once in Kashgar it was a simple matter to hop on the local bus and head into town. The locals let us know our stop and it only took one phone call to the hostel to set us in the right direction. The Kashgar Pamir Hostel was brand spanking new in terms of budget accommodation in Kashgar. Only open a month it was filling the much needed niche for clean dormitory and simple rooms with a common seating area, café and wifi. Just next to the main mosque and surrounded by street stalls, the market, cafes and restaurants it was already becoming the place to stay in these parts.

The three of us booked into the one room…it had 8 beds but we had it all to ourselves….and then set up to find out information about tours in the area. Tim and I didn't have that much time to spend as the Sunday market was our main priority and we then had to run to the northern border with Kazakhstan as our visas were running out. Our new friend Bettina, had almost 2 weeks to spend in the area and had the time to head out into the mountains and lakes before heading back home.

We headed over to John’s Café in the Seman hotel, where the friendly staff helped us through our options. We had hoped to only head back as far east as Kuqa and then take the mountain road north to Yinning. Definitely possible BUT we weren’t assured of getting a ticket on the one daily bus and may not reach the border in time….Dammit we took the safe road. A 25hr train all the way back to Urumqi, a 6 hour break and then straight onto a 12 hour train to Yinning. From there we would track down a bus heading across the border to Almaty. Tickets booked we had 2 full days to relax before the market.

In the end we decided to explore Kashgar properly rather than rush around on day trips. That gave us the freedom to wander around at leisure. So what was it like…..

The smell of Kashgar is definitely BBQ. The food of choice are lamb kebabs on a roadside grill, generally wrapped in a thick bit of flat bread…If you start to get sick of lamb, there’s always a rotisserie chicken or a bowl of hand pulled noodles in a tomato based sauce with small bits of mutton. Fruit and nuts abound. Melons, stone fruit, almonds, walnuts and raisins….It definitely had a Middle Eastern feel, topped off by the call to prayer at the requisite times.

The old town was crumbling, being demolished and in parts, systematically rebuilt to make a “new” old town. Some houses obviously didn’t have running water as the local residents came to collect at a public water source.

Part of the city were just like modern china…shopping malls, electronics and I-phone shops….but the people were definitely different. Many of the little girls and their mums dressed in the brightly coloured traditional dress and the guys with traditional green Muslim cap. Many of the older men wore the long white tunic and sported beards, a very rare sight in the rest of mainland China.

We explored the “People Park” on the weekend with hundreds of the locals. Ping Pong tables, basketball courts, a fun fair sporting lots of dilapidated rides and dozens and dozens of ice creams stalls. Not exactly Disney land but the kids, their parents and the courting couples all seemed to enjoy it immensely.

We also walked our way down to the “Lake”. Obviously the esplanade is still a work in progress but considering the rapid rate of development in other parts of the country, this would be a fully functioning leisure area in the next year or two.

One of the more disconcerting things about Kashgar for us was the “time”…It’s thousands of km’s to the west of Beijing but they still are still in the same zone as the East. That means it is 10.30 for sunset and 11.30 almost before it goes dark. Tours and the market don’t really get going until 10 or 11 in the morning so there’s no need for early starts. Even the checkout for the hostel makes allowances being 2pm rather than the usual noon.

So rather than the usual pre dawn start to see the best of the markets we were able to have a lie in till 9, have a leisurely pot of tea and then make our way out to find a taxi at 10.30…

The animal market was our first stop. Traders from all over the area travelled in on Sundays to buy and sell goats, sheep, donkeys, cows, bulls, donkeys and the occasional horse. Apparently it had moved several times over the years so we made sure we had the exact name to show the driver. We knew we were heading in the right direction as we saw all manner of vehicles with livestock in various states of comfort heading in the same direction…

The market, whilst a draw card for tourists, is definitely all business. The protagonists were mainly men and the negotiations were quite “robust”. Generally there were two sides, a buyer and a seller plus a middle man who tried to find an acceptable result to both parties. After a slow walk around the outskirts of the action we headed on in to the gutz of it to witness the proceedings. Sometimes things went quickly and the animals were quickly loaded on a truck, ute, trailer to head off to their new destiny. Other times the middle man really had to earn his money with lots of protracted and very animated discussions….

By early afternoon, most of the deals had been done and the crowd had thinned out so we headed out to try and find a ride back into town…..Luck was with us and within 5 minutes we had hailed a cab back into town to the Central Asian Kashgar Grand Bazaar……What a cool name and what a cool place.

Acres of goods lined the alley ways of the huge undercover market. Where we entered were the “furs” and hats….A bit hard to get serious about in 35C but I’m sure quite necessary in the depths of winter. I just hope the animal skins were fakes…I didn’t dare ask and I certainly didn’t buy.

As we wandered through the different sections our eyes were assaulted by a barrage of colours. The textiles and rugs were especially bright, a bit too much lipstick for my tastes but certainly a sight to behold. Then there was the nuts and spices and fruits and shoes, and jewelry and sunglasses and toys and clothes and on an on…even an electronics section with brightly decorated refrigerators and washing machines. We could have spent hours more time but our stomachs were growling and it was way past lunch time.

We headed towards the small food outlets and tried to pick out what was popular with the locals…a hand-pulled noodle shop looked to be bursting at the seams as the “chefs” proudly showed their noodle pulling skills out the front. They were definitely performing for their audience and the patrons definitely appeared to be enjoying their produce. The owner proudly showed us through to a back room, ousted a couple of other patrons and produced a pot of tea and three plates of steaming hot noodles within a minute flat. At less than a $1 each it was definitely one of the best value meals we had eaten in a while. Soft, tender, plump noodles with a delicious tomato based sauce topped with small bits of tasty mutton..yum.

Pretty knackered by this stage we headed back to the hostel via the old and new-old towns. Having experienced these new-old towns in other parts of China we knew it wouldn’t be long before they started trucking in the busloads of Chinese tourists to see the sights….They would need a load more souvenir stalls of course, but that is operational detail…

Overall, Kashgar didn’t disappoint but I wished I had seen it 10 years ago. There was definitely an air of the exotic about the place but it was slowly being drained away, probably to be replaced by a Disney version to fit in with the “ideals” of the Chinese domestic tourism market…I certainly can’t begrudge the locals the improvements in infrastructure that goes along with development but I see these truly special places becoming a bit devoid of character…Progress is definitely a double edged sword!
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