Kashgar is as I had hoped. While the ‘new town’ is like other Chinese towns—all new buildings—the people aren’t like other Chinese towns’ people at all. They are Uyghur, quite Turkic looking, and the older ones dress very traditionally. The older men wear long coats and big hats of various persuasions. The older women wear flashy, spangly clothes and a few drape a brown covering over their heads which is not very sheer and I’m sure presents a serious problem to see through. I observed that some lifted the veil to cross streets, etc. The younger women wear jeans, high heels, but often spangly tops or scarves. They all wear long sleeves, even though the temperature is about 80 degrees, midday.
The first day in Kashgar I wandered around town, especially in the ‘old town’ which is like a time capsule. The walls of the houses are of adobe and wind this way and that. I thought I might never find my way out again, but I did. Decorated doors open into courtyards where much of the daily activity takes place. Lots of children called ‘hellooo.’ One little girl hit me on the backside when I couldn’t let her take a picture with my camera.
The Sunday market was as big as I anticipated but not really as exotic as I was expecting. I went to the animal market first which is a few kilometers out of town. There were huge numbers of sheep and cattle, some horses, some goats, some burros and a few yaks. There were lots of food stalls and supposedly were 50,000 extra people. That’s probably correct, as certainly this is the biggest market I’ve ever seen.
The regular part of the market (in town) had everything you can imagine for sale including pomegranate juice that came from a stainless steel press in which were placed pomegranates.
I was kind of surprised to see that the country people really didn’t look different from the Kashgar people. So while the incredible size of the market was impressive, it was not as exotic as I anticipated.
As I walked back into the main part of town, apparently some kind of rally/extravaganza was just over as I met swarms of youngsters in costume (mainly colored tee shirts) carrying pompoms, fans, and flags, and lots of adults carrying tiny stools on which to sit. The reviewing stand by the big statue of Chairman Mao had different colored rows of plastic chairs, so I think that there had just been a program there. The day before while driving by in a taxi I saw a group of youngsters with colored fans sitting in these chairs. Maybe that was a rehearsal for the next day. China does seem to be big on galas of this type. Since this week is their National Holiday which commemorates the inauguration of the ‘People’s Republic of China’ in 1949, there are celebrations, parades and rallies.
The TV is full of dramatic film clips of Chairman Mao and the great day of the 1949 ceremony in Tianman Square in Beijing. One night I watched a musical program on TV with all the currant dignitaries seated in the front row. The camera panned the dignitaries more often than the performers. They all looked absolutely moribund, sitting so stiff and occasionally making a small clapping gesture without actually touching their hands together. The row contained about 12 old men and one woman, but obviously none of the spouses.
I had spent some time seeing the Kashgar sights—the museum, several tombs of famous men, the main Id Kah Mosque, large and well attended, the park, and various shops selling musical instruments, brass and copper, hats, and the Gold Market. In the Gold Market a pretty young woman was trying on a sizable gold pendent and chain. I asked if I could take her picture but a woman that was with her scowled and made gestures of ‘no.’ This may have been part of a dowry being chosen. Later I saw the same scowling woman and when I gave her a big smile and nod, this time she smiled back.
But the people are the most interesting. Many of the women have two, four, or even six front teeth covered in gold. They really favor shiny, sparkly fabrics for skirts, blouses and headscarves. It seems incongruous when they wear a sparkly skirt, sexy sandals, and then cover their faces with a brown veil that they can barely see through. All of the people seem to dress so warm, even though the midday highs have been about 80 degrees.
The men’s hats offer quite a display. Some wear smallish four-cornered gray embroidered hats, some wear high oval shaped white hats with a black brim turned up all the way around and with some black embroidery on the white crown, some wear black hats with black bushy fur on the brim, and a few wear small white skullcaps. Young men and boys don’t wear any hats, or if they do, it’s an American bill cap. So no doubt these clothing traditions will soon be a thing of the past.
When I arrived in Kashgar the hotel where I had planned to stay had representatives at the train station holding a sign offering ‘free transportation’ to the hotel. They had a minibus and along with me, there were three Chinese from Beijing and two Korean young men.
At the hotel there were two tour operators that kept buttonholing everyone to take their tours. When the dust had settled, I was ‘odd man out’ and there was no room in the cars going to Karakul Lake, and to Tashkurgan where I wanted to go. One group of five was quite rude to me when I asked if I could join their group. Finally I thought, “Screw this,” and took a public bus.
I left on Monday at 1:00 for Tashkurgan, the last town before the Pakistan border. It is way up in the mountains and kind of on the edge of the earth. The bus passengers were a few Westerners, but mostly Pakistanis. I sat with a man from Peshawar, Pakistan who is a hydrologist, but out of work. When I asked him if he thought Pakistan and India could settle their differences, he said it was doubtful as the Indian government was very corrupt and the Pakistani government was worse—totally corrupt. He was very proud of having worked on an irrigation project for USAID and desperately hoped to work for them again.
The scenery started with farming crops of corn and cotton, but soon changed to ‘Technicolor’ mountains and then snowcapped mountains. We stopped at Opal for lunch. I had some excellent noodles with veggies and mutton, and a slice of melon.
I also got acquainted with the other Westerners. There were two young Scotsmen (with shaved heads!) with two girls—one Australian and one Brit—that were going to stay overnight at Karakul Lake and then were going on to Pakistan and eventually into India. I told them that I thought that you couldn’t cross the India/Pakistan border, but they said that it had opened up in the Amritsar area in the last few weeks. Another man was an American who lived in Tashkurgan as well as Kashgar. He worked for a Singaporean pharmaceutical company and was investigating Tajik natural medicines. The remaining Westerner was a big young man from Slovenia whom I had visited with while waiting for the bus to leave. He had bicycled from Slovenia to China! It had taken him seven months. In a bit he intended to go to Australia to work and save up some money to travel some more.
We came to Karakul Lake, way up in the snowcapped mountains surrounded by grasslands and boodles of animals—sheep, goats, yaks, cattle, horses, and burros. There were little stone houses all over the grasslands where the Tajiks live while grazing their herds. Actually, I guess the houses weren’t so small but the surroundings were on such a
vast scale that they looked miniature.
The four (going to Pakistan) got off at Karakul Lake to stay overnight. It seemed rather forlorn with a totally quiet, vast space of not much, surrounded by those high, cold, white mountains. It was very cool there too, due to the elevation, and by this time, the sun was beginning to set.
We arrived in Tashkurgan about 9:00 PM. I got a hotel room in the hotel next door to the bus station. The Pakistanis all stayed there too. The American got off the bus near his home, and I didn’t see what happened to the Slovenian and his bicycle.
The next morning when I went to the next-door restaurant to have breakfast, there was the rude tour group. One man greeted me with “I see you made it!” but the others didn’t even look up. I was so glad that I had taken the bus particularly when I heard them all trading one-upmanship stories about traveling. There was one woman with them about my age who seemed to be doing most of this. (Let this be a lesson to you, Carol!) Yes, the bus seemed a much more authentic experience.
The white mountains overlooking Tashkurgan were breathtaking as the morning sun illuminated them with a bright blue sky and that crisp, clean air. Actually part of the ‘breathtaking’ was due to the altitude—12,000 feet. It was certainly noticeable and I walked slowly to compensate. Climbing the hotel stairs to the fourth floor left me panting.
I walked around town and then visited the ‘Stone City’, which is a huge mud brick and stone ruin. I climbed up on top of it and was treated to an amazing view of the vast grasslands around Tashkurgan crowned by the beautiful white mountains. I met a German on the ruin and asked him if he spoke English (“I try”) and asked him if he knew the history of the ruin. He said that it was a castle built in 200 AD by the Tajiks, but was later destroyed by the invading Persians.
scarf. Their skirts and tops were predominantly red or orange and often had spangles or metallic threads. Everyone was very hospitable to me.
I had lunch in a restaurant that turned out to be extra special. I had spotted this restaurant earlier with its big, red homemade canopy out in front, and its sign appealed to me. The sign had both Chinese characters and Tajik writing (kind of Arabic-looking) and then the English word, ‘Ritsurtent’ meaning restaurant—close enough, I say!
The dish that I pointed to that someone was eating was homemade wide, flat noodles with two pieces of duck, with a sauce of veggies and potatoes—but what a sauce. It had ginger, coriander, and who knows what, but it was Good! The custom in all these parts at homely cafes is to rinse your tea bowl with a little of the tea, swish it around and dump it out, usually in a pail beneath the table. But in this restaurant with its cement floor, people just dumped it directly on the floor near the wall.
The next morning the bus took me back to Kashgar over the same awful road over which we had come. Most of it was under construction so the bus had to constantly take little detours that were so steep and tiny with huge drop-offs that sometimes I couldn’t look. I just kept thinking that the driver does this every day and must be well skilled. It was also clear that he was careful and so in seven hours we did arrive safely back in Kashgar.
I checked back into my hotel, taking a dorm room again, and this time had a young man from Hong Kong as my roommate. (I had had Marcus, an American from Washington DC before I went to Tashkurgan,) It seems a little weird that they mix genders in these two and three bed dorms, since I had read on the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree about Chinese hotels being very fussy about unmarried couples traveling together (especially racially mixed couples) and not letting them stay together in the same room. This even happened to married couples that couldn’t produce a marriage certificate!
This morning I had a mushroom omelet sitting outside of John’s Information café and so I’ll continue to enjoy Kashgar.
I hope you’re all well and happy. Carol