Kashgar

Something, maybe border closure delayed Aziza the Truck’s departure to Kyrgistan, so we got an extra night in Kashgar, 3 in all. What a blessing! Kashgar turned out to be a delightful place, full of Silk Road flavour- a highlight of the whole trip. Our hotel conjured up a stop among the sands for a weary 19th century traveler. The bar, John’s Café, was always full of people,, eating, drinking, chatting. Outside, the streets buzzed with activity.

We were towards the edge of the city, just off a main drag that ran through the commercial district, past the old city then across the river into the market, all within walking distance. Weather perfect, hot and sunny.

In Kashgar we are at the western extremity of China, virtually on the Kyrgistan border. Exciting, but a downside is that despite being roughly 4,000km from Beijing, everything operates on the Beijing clock. So in early October everything nominally starts when it is  9am in Beijing- when it is pitch black, maybe 4am on our body clocks. No point getting up at 6 or 7 as we usually would, nothing to do. Unofficially, Kashgar runs on its own time, a couple of hours behind Beijing.

A very visible aspect of central control in China. In addition here there is considerable friction between the local Uighurs and the Han, the Chinese majority group, visible as prominent police presence in public places and especially on the roads, ostensibly to combat separatists and terrorists, but increasingly directed at Islamic commoners. Most locals here speak and maybe write Uighur, a Turkic language, and no Chinese. Only the young speak both, and often English as well. It was great fun to reply to kids who shout ‘Hello’ with ‘Ni hao’ or even ‘yah xmu’, occasioning great gales of laughter.

Around the corner from our hotel were a number of good restaurants, including two real classics, both of which we took in. The area mixed old and new elements, an architectural wonderland, dominated by designs from much further west in Central Asia. At the time I remarked that even the country folk exhibit a better sense of design and quality finish than typically seen in China proper.

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Parts of the old city showed signs of gentrification…

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others dereliction.

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Some parts showed much more recent attention.

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Like the Central Square, with a very visible riot-police presence.

Others, a more commercial intent.

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Some, modern housing…

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Here and there, enduring crafts.

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Down the street, a school for small boys.

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And in a park an odd anomaly- do Snow White and the Seven dwarfs figure large in Central Asian mythology?

And at various places, mosques in various life-stages.

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The main mosque, now closed to worshipers but open as a tourist site…

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It is not clear whether the state of this last one reflects recent policy or renovations underway on the edge of the old city. Chinese policy has become increasingly repressive of religious displays, especially in regard to Islam in Xinjiang.

For two days and part of a third I prowled the shops in the commercial district along the main drag, and especially the markets across the river.

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dresses

The fabric and clothing markets were huge and fabulous. I was looking -successfully- for treasure for the stylish ladies at home.

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Lots of fine food, of course. I had some tasty lunches at these street-side cafes.

Fortunately we were in Kashgar on a Sunday, so we were able to make the mandatory visit to the ‘Kashgar Bazaar’. We set off early into the nearby country, to a huge field already full of cars and people- and animals! This is the livestock market…

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with just about any type of beast you might need.

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Some really beautiful horses, some saddled for test-drives happening at great speed and intensity on the edge of the field.

And for those not pressed for time…

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Here and there, men stood in small groups negotiating sales.

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It’s a deal!

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A sale heads home.

On the sidelines some really interesting crafts. One of the girls, Ariana I think, bought a harness made on site. Wonderful work.

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There were also a lot of knife sellers around. Must be important.  Kelly the Jersey Girl wanted a knife- for her own reasons, I suppose- but she did not like the price offered by a persistent seller. So she enlisted me, of all people, as the bargainer. Well, I turned out to be good enough at stone-walling, to the degree that I did the best job of bargaining in my life (apart from my marriage of course) and Kelly got her knife!

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One night a few of us wandered next door to a very handsome building that turned out to be a gem, seemingly a survivor from the late 19th century. Great street food here too.

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We ate well in a fine café atmosphere – excellent lamb choplets- and were amazed when the large doors behind us flew open to reveal a magnificent wood-carved hall full of very well-dressed women celebrating something. Fascinatingly unexpected!

Next night, the night before everybody except Ariana and I were to depart for Kyrgistan on the Truck, we repeated the experience. Our mentors chose a restaurant, the Allun Orda, a few steps down the main drag that featured the same classical architecture, dominated by sculptured wood over two floors joined by a marvelous staircase. We paraded in like pashas headed to a celebratory feast.

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This time the large luxurious room is not full of finely-dressed women, but average types-and us. This time, at the more adventurous table we forego the choplets and opt for a bunch of lamb –kebobs, liver, and a selection of vegetables: roasted eggplant, mushrooms, leek, bean sprouts, tomatoes in ‘brown sauce’- and a mystery dish, the ‘Special Museum’. Unfortunately the dishes start at the other end of the table so by the time they get to me it is not clear what is what. ‘Special Museum’ goes back  the other way so we do not even get a sample at our end. We are compensated by a delightful crispy chicken ordered by Kelly, always desperate for KFC. At the end, ‘Allun Orda Special Tea’, complimented by a rich honey. All wonderfully tasty. Total damage, $16.

A marvelous celebration of this last phase of my Silk Road epic.

 

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