Silk Road day 6: Yarkand – Khotan

And on the sixth day, the adventurers had yet another early wake-up call to look forward to. It’s becoming a bit harder for me to deal with it as I’m getting back in touch with the inner insomniac in me! I’ve been getting to bed at 3 or 4 a.m. everyday and getting up at 9 which used to be my usual MO but i guess i’m a bit out of practice :p

We’re looking foward to yet another full day since basically we didn’t get to what we wanted to see the previous day/night. So we set up a list of targets and proceeded as per instructions: Golden Mosque, Amannishahan tomb and palace, graveyard of the Yarkand Kings and finally the Old Town.

We also needed to get it all done in fashionable time so that we could get on bus to Khotan early enough to enjoy the nightlife there and get an early start the next day. Mind you, the trip from Yarkand to Khotan was about supposed to take about 8 hours.

We immediately set out for breakfast (I’m knicknaming this trip ” tales and tribulations of K’s stomach” ) at a local little place. Had the usual tea, beef stew and dumplings (aye chihuahua):

After 7 days of that, I am soooo ready to get back to my breakfast of champions: a cup of fresh brewed coffee and cigarettes and maybe some of my organic yogurt. mid-breakfast impressions follow with S being all smiles and K deathly serious while staring at the meal :p

Full bellies ensued and we needed a little walk over to the main square again for the mosque, mausoleum and whatever else was in there. We were hoping that there would be less people around so that we didn’t feel like animals in a zoo which was what had happened the previous day.
Once we got to the square where we had been the previous night, we realized that all the stuff we were after was pretty much concentrated there in that tiny little area.. yippy!! no more walking around trying desperately to find someone that spoke mandarin (as I mentioned previously, they were far and in between).

First stop, Queen Ammanishahan tomb:

Again, we were faced with shades and scenes of the middle east/Islamic influence. The colors, the shapes, the rounded tops, crescent moons etc.. This particular one was quite old and befitting a well-loved and appreciated leader.

To be noted that we saw her statue displayed throughout most of southern xinjiang, including one outside our hotel building in Kashgar.

Next, we went over the the “graveyard of the Yarkand Kings”. The locals were and still are quite proud of their history and the power that this little town yielded in days of old. They gave their monarchs all due respect.

The graveyard was home to about 50 or so tombs in various states. Some quite well preserved and most likely refurbished a few times over while other were crumbling down under the weight of time.

The complex was in pretty good condition overall. We walked around for a bit and came down to the yard that had been used for the “death rituals” according to muslim tradition: Within 24 hours, the body had to be washed and burried underground. The bassin was nowhere to be found but they had 2 samples of the apparatus used to carry the body into it’s final home:

We glanced over at the mosque from outside but it was a bit too early to get in and visit so we shifted our attention towards the Queen’s palace which stood across the street from her tomb:

On that side of the street, the rmains of said palace just managed to inconspicuously blend in with the rest of the street. The locals seemed a bit blase about what we foreigners were seeing as a beautiful example of local craft/architecture that more or less withstood the test of time. We were ready to be amazed at the innards of said palace which I imagined containing a selection of musical instruments and tapestries befitting a queen of that magnitude..The amazement was there in the end, but not for the reasons we expected because as soon as we crossed the gate into the palace we were face with this:

ouch! ouch! words can’t really express the effects of that shocking sight… it was painful, tragic, comedic… all in one! Alas, there was not time to cry over spilled water and we had to keep going! The Yarkand old town was only a 10 mn walk from the area so we headed over.

S and myself had walked around the previous night but under the cover of darkness, the buildings, neighborhoods and colors managed to keep their mystery and depth hidden from us. Now that we were there in daylight, it was much more imposing:
Crafts of diverse colors, tables, hangers etc.

With locals going on about their business as they’ve done for years..

The street had a certain timelessness to it in the way folks went about conducting their business like baking the local bread (naan)

No part of the animal went to waste of course! The body would be hanging from a butcher’s stall being cut to pieces for Kebabs and right around the corner, the sheepskin is spread on the ground while the heads are looking on:

Even the non-descript parts of the Old Town had a certain amount of charm engrained into them through the mix of mostly old, some new and lots of dust:

Naturally, this being still Xinjiang, we had the mandatory fruit stalls and nut vendors setting shop at the edge of the last old building, as we transitioned back into modern Yarkand:

I love the exposure on this picture! The effect of lunchtime sunshine, red tarp and decor just appeals to me

Finally, we got set to hit the road and caught the next bus to Khotan. We were lucky to get the last remaining seat for the 2:00 p.m on a ahem… uh… I guess you can call it a luxury version of the chicken bus:

The right wasn’t too bad actually, it felt a bit smoother than that of the previous day from Kashgar mainly because the road was in better shape. We did have a curious stop in the middle of the desert in a rest area that was either under construction or under destruction if such an expression can be used. The bathrooms were in the back of the yard, about 300m from the road protected by a nice set of thorny bushes:

We arrived in Khotan around 8:30 pm and decided to head for the famous Khotan Hotel. The attendant took one look at us and sai “fully booked”! Yiqi Hotel said they didn’t have permission to let foreigners stay in which was weird considering the fact that they were reviewed and listed on a exclusively foreigner-centric website. There was a certain look of apprehension on everyone’s faces that was somewhat disturbing…. We took a cab and tried to go for the Zhejiang hotel but our taxi driver, who we came to know later as JiLi, said it wasn’t a good idea. He said that these were trying times for Khotan and we’d be much better off at the Kunlun Hotel located right next door to the army base. It was safer…. something about the sounds of that just didn’t ring well.
Everything I had read about Khotan was positively vibrant and we our experience there over the first few hours was decidedly not!!
Still, off to Kunlun we went, checked in and headed for a meal at the Technical cooking school which had also recieved quite a few positive reviews in the past. IT was about 10 p.m. Beijing time when we got there and the place was DEAD.. 2 tables in a room that could seat a good 40 tables with a singer trying her best to keep the light crown interested. The meal was overpriced, the atmosphere gloomy.. By then, S and myself were positively puzzled. We called JiLi to discuss terms for the following day’s trek and he came to pick us up so that we could go to the night market.. yet again, it was fairly empty and he wouldn’t let us there for more than 10mn.. We had a couple of melon slices there!

We called it a night and headed back for some UNO and rest as had become our tradition.

Tomorrow would be another day!