Getting back to magical Xinjiang…
Wanna buy a… sheep?
We’d awoken in the cold, dark of pre-dawn back in Tashkurgan in order to make it back to Kashgar in time for the Sunday livestock market. Driver put the pedal to the metal and we raced along, retracing our route along the spectacular Karakorum Highway as the night melted gently into day. The hours slipped by easily and before we knew it, we were driving into Kashgar.
We didn’t want to miss the action at the market, which starts wrapping up mid-afternoon, so we headed straight there. See my earlier post for plenty of photos. Suffice to say it was incredible! We’ve visited tons of food and goods markets while traveling in Asia, plenty with handfuls of live animals for sale, but this was our first opportunity to see an honest-to-God livestock market.
The market takes place in a huge open space that was packed to the gills by the time we arrived with thousands of animals and maybe as many farmers, traders and shoppers. It was apparently wedding season in Xinjiang, and no Uighur wedding celebration is complete without plenty of roast sheep and goat to feed the hundreds of guests, so it was prime time shopping season!
It was fascinating to wander cautiously through the narrow lanes separating the groups of livestock, observing the heated negotiations between buyers and sellers while attempting not to step in (too much) fresh goat/sheep/cow poo. 😉 I’m not sure if we just got lucky but there were hardly any other tourists there and it really felt like entering a completely different world and I just loved it. (Click here for the photos)
After the market, Yusef kept us moving. I’ll do a separate post about the tourist/historic sites we visited. I enjoyed them but for me the real highlight of the day was Kashgar’s old town. Lonely Planet writes this about the city:
“Modernity has swept in like a sandstorm. The highways and railroads that connect it to the rest of China have brought waves of Han migrant workers… and much of the old city is being bulldozed in the name of ‘progress’. Yet, in the face of these changes, the spirit of Kashgar lives on. The great-grandsons of craftsmen and artisans still hammer and chisel away in side alleys; everything sellable is hawked and haggled over boisterously; and not a few donkey carts still trundle their way through the crowds…”
Indeed, there was a stark contrast between the modern part of town, where we saw as many, if not more than, Han faces as Uighur, the streets were broad and the buildings boxy, modern, anonymous, and the warren of narrow roads that made up the original and entirely enchanting old town.
Too cramped for cars to easily navigate, the streets are none-the-less busy. Skooters, bikes, donkey carts, push karts and pedestrians make their way through patches of fragrant smoke from the plentiful kebab stands that line every road. The buildings are low, only a few stories at most, crumbling and in the traditional Uighur architecture. Men with wrinkle-etched faces in traditional caps and women in incredibly colorful layers of clothes and headscarves, small open-air shops of nuts and fruit and meat and breads, beautiful arched doorways leading to squashed, intriguing back alleys – there was just too much to look at and all of it was fascinating! 🙂
Fanning kebabs on the narrow grill
We luckily had an extra day in Kashgar after our tour was complete so we had a bit more time to enjoy the city on our own. The photos below are from both days.
Bits and pieces
Just a few things I want to remember about Kashgar:
We saw tons of wedding parties on the move while we were in the city. This involves a truck with a group of traditional musicians sitting in back, playing awesome music on drums and other instruments as it cruises through the city, announcing the wedding party to any interested onlookers. (More on Uighur music) The truck was usually followed by another vehicle with a guy and a camcorder sticking out the window, filming the procession. After this comes any number of cars all decorated with colorful ribbons and cloth – the wedding party. I loved seeing these processions! 🙂
A car decked out in wedding gear (this was actually in Tashkurgan)
If this sounds like your cup of tea, this guy can perform and film YOUR wedding for you! Just call 152….
I also got a kick out of how agrarian the city is despite it’s being, well, a city. Donkeys are everywhere, even in our hotel which was outside the old town we woke up to the crow of roosters and I even saw one woman feeding her goat by walking it along the grassy median dividing the sidewalk and one of the main streets.
If I haven’t mentioned it before, I really loved they way the local women dressed in Xinjiang. I’m not sure if there’s an official name for their style but I’m calling it gypsy chic. 🙂 These are women who are not afraid to wear a bit of color! Check out the shoes, the rhinestone, the sequence, the attitude!
Yusef took us to an incredible tea house (incidentally also a film-location for Kite Runner). We made ourselves comfortable on the balcony and he ordered what I believe is the only thing on the non-existent menu. Incredibly delicious saffron tea and some of the traditional bread. I was the only woman in the whole building; Roman and I were the only non-locals. Everyone else on the balcony with us were Uighur men in their caps, sipping tea, watching the progress of life on the streets below and putting the world right in their drawn out discussions. Loved it!
Delicate, sweet saffron tea – good to the last drop
Photo impressions from Kashgar