Silk Road day 2: Kashgar

Lordy lord, what a day!!! I love the hell out of this city!

After a well deserved night of rest and some decent sleep, we all woke up more or less around 10:00 but i’m not sure anymore if that was 10 local time or Beijing time. See, in Xinjiang, the clock is officially the same as in the rest of China but in reality, everything is 2 hours behind and that is grounds for major confusion, especially when you got 3 people with a flexible notion of time traveling together.

So, with the customary 30mn delay, we went to the lobby to meet Abdul who then introduced us to our guide and driver for the day. We went over the program a bit and hopped in the car en route for the Tomb of Apak Hoja. This little piece of history has been around for a while and most of it is actually authentic except for a few pieces that had been damaged during an earthquake not too long ago and had to be fixed up. In many ways, this little archeological relic was headquarters for the spread of Islam in the region with a far-reaching influence that was felt all the way to Beijing with family members of Apak Hoja being regulars within the confines of the forbidden city, mainly the one known as “the fragrant concubine”. This first visit was also an opportunity to see a real graveyard in china for the first time.
Mosque outside the tomb compound:

The mausoleum building that houses all the family tombs. It’s mostly the original structure except for the roof that had to be rebuilt following an earthquake:

The school where Apak Hoja and his family spend their days educating locals about Islam. It’s actually the same as it was 300 years ago according to the guides

The old Juma mosque (friday mosque) also within the complex.

Abdulrahman, our guide, was quite into discussions about culture, religion and what now; being at the tomb of one of Islam’s forefathers in in the region made for a perfect arena that could accommodate and inspire said discussions, especially those relative to Islam.
myself, S, the driver and our guide after the visit… a shop around the corner sold coffee and we just needed a cup o joe:

Every sunday, Kashgar is home to one of the biggest livestock markets in central Asia and this being November, it was livelier than usual due to farming season being over. “whatcha looking for?” asks the middle man, we got sheep, camels, donkeys, yaks, cows, horses and if we don’t got it, we can get it at least as far as livestock goes:

The next stop was the Grand bazaar of Kashgar, one that is famous worldwide for the sheer quantity and multitude of products on display. A market that in theory inspires thoughts of flying carpets and alibaba but i can’t say that was the case for me. Maybe I had really high expectations on this one but I could help this little underwhelming feeling from walking alongside the crowded alleys with me. Granted, there was a multitude of shops selling nuts, fruits, fabric and just about everything else known to mankind but it wasn’t impressive at all! too clean and structured which i guess is not necessarily a bad thing. As our guide explained when pressed on the matter, the bazaar is mainly a touristy thing nowdays. to get a real feel for the real deal, one should trek over to Hetian and check it out there.

The next step ( after getting a new SIM card to replace my dead Beijing one), we headed over to one of the old parts of the city for a little walkthrough on the way to the Idgar mosque.

Kashgar’s old town is a maze of small alleys and cacophony of old/new building mixing brick with mud construction.

It has been recently given a special status to try and save it from being utterrly destroyed and replaced with high rises. as we walked through the mix of buildings, one thing stood out: the children!!!

they were amazingly friendly and kept asking to have their pictures taken. it was refreshing at first as one walks around thinking they’ve stumbled across an oasis of friendliness and hospitality that is engrained in the psyche of the locals. but soon enough, reality smacks you like a baseball bat and you realize that you’re walking the path often travelled by countless tour groups in that swarm Kashgar for most of the year and bring presents and what not. Still, the experience is definitely one for the ages… As we exited the confines of the old town, we found ourselves amidst what i consider the real bazaar.

a street lined up with shops for crafts, music instruments, bread, kebabs etc… bursting with life and activity in that chaotic yet enjoyable way that i expected to find in the proper “official” bazaar.

the streets curved and swerved around for a few kilometer and led us to the Idgar Mosque which at that particular time was closed to tourists as they were readying for mid-afternoon prayer. We roamed around the the night market (in daytime) munching on various street foods while waiting for the right time to go back and visit.

Fianlly, we were able to go in. The mosque is the biggest in China and one of the biggest in the world surface-wise. It’s been around for quite some time and had seen it share of visitors through the years including one president khumeini.

We walked inside the main prayer hall where some tourists were busy disrespecting the hollyness of the venue by taking and posing for pictures inside. Abdulrahman, who had been all but courteous so far starting mumbling in his chin and cussing about the flagrant misbehaviour. finally they left and we were able to appreciate the surrounding and had a lovely discussion about the origins of Islam, The Prophet Mohammed and his journey from Medina to Mecca. Abdul proved quite knowledgeable and we argued about some of the finer details stemming from difference in learning the Islamic folklore.

finally, on a full day and full stomach, we went back to the hotel for a little break. After finalizing the details for tuesday’s trip to karakul , tashkurgan and khunjarib, S and myself decided it was time to seek out some red wine. We roamed the neighboring streets in search for a wine shop somewhere along the way to the night market we had previously been to that afternoon.

we found a few shops in on the way and finally settled on a bottle of suntime dry red wine and a strange one claiming French heritage. I wasn’t too impressed with some of the other labels available, especially one called “GREET WINE”.. it just didn’t inspire any trust or whatsoever. finally, armed with 2 bottles, we started making our way over to the food side of things. while asking for directions to the night market, we were given a slight reminder of the racial tensions that are mostly hidden but nevertheless ever-present between Han and Uighurs. A lady did her best trying to re-route us to a different place because the one we wnated to go to was full of Uighurs and it wasn’t safe. we followed the advice out of curiosity to see where we’d end up….. and where we ended up was a slice of Beijing inside a hidden street in Kashgar with local Han folks cooking Beijing style street food and predominantly Han customers. It wasn’t quite what we were looking for so we backtracked and made our way to the original destination.

unfortunatly, it was impossible to find a spot where we could sit down, order some grub and pop open one of the bottles.. we tried quite a few areas of town after an elusive chase for lambsoup that K decided she wanted for dinner.

Eventually, we ended up at the restaurant where we had lunch ordering yet more roasted meat… the peculiarity of this one was that before hte meal even arrived, the restaurant turned off all the lights and handed out a few candles… it was just a surreal experience and by then, fatigue or whatever was setting in with all 3 of us laughing at the most absurd things… I think we must have been there for a good hour and spent more than 40mn just laughing our asses off about anything and everything… being medicated, overdosing on rose tea and god know what else.. there is just something about this motley crue that brings out the laughs.. I mean come on: a morococcan, a sicilian and a beijing-ren enter a room… ‘nuf said.

alas, we made it to the hotel room, popped open the suntime and had a few rounds of UNO… one hell of a full day, one hell of a good day!

Kashgar is indeed a strange animal.