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!

Silk Road day 5: Kashgar – Yarkand

wow.. already day 5 of this little adventure! so much has happened and yet, we’re only halfway through the trip. It was really nice being back in Kashgar for the night after the frozen tundra that was Tashkurgan.. a decent hotel room and hot shower! Had quite a bit on our plate for the day including shipping a few things over to Beijing, getting spare batteries, finding breakfast and finally grabbing a bus to Yarkand (also known as Shache).

WE met Abdul for a final goodbye and to settle our bill then proceeded to move on. Shipped the hats, whip and my newly acquired jade tea-set over to the office then went for a quick breakfast at the Pakistan Cafe! It was still early by Kashgar standards, even though we’re talking 11:00 a.m. Beijing time. but there was a bit of action already and vendors chopping meat, cocking Nan etc.. just outside the Hotel. you can see the bed-looking thingies where customers sit to enjoy their tea and momo:

But no tea or Momo for us that day, the Pakistan cafe is where it’s at! Man, I so want to take this little place and move it over to my neighborhood in Beijing. 2 rmb coffee, 5 rmb omelette etc… K was a bit disappointed at the lack of chicken but it was just too early in the day and the only meaty dish available was a mutton kurma that was exquisite, at least to me.. still all smiles on board:

Believe it or not, after 3 days in Kashgar, we still didn’t a chance to go around the hotel or check it out in detail. We took advantage of the opportunity to look around and snap a few shots. The Seman Hotel used to be the Russian consulate in Kashgar and has been around for a while. It’s beautifully exotic:

The courtyard right outside our building:

I guess we’ve fulfilled the mission as spelled out by this billboard/add:

Front of our building.. it was just really amazing with all the falling leaves around:

Finally, it was time to bid Kashgar goodbye and head over to the bus station. We made it there quite quickly and were lucky enough to get on the next bus departing within the following 10mn.. I was hoping for a bit more of a comfortable trip there but we were face with a proper chicken bus (minus the poultry). At least, the collection of headgear was interesting:

As we exited Kasgar, we came across a giant body of water that I have yet to identify on a map. I’m assuming right now that it is somehow linked to the kunlun mountains but I can’t be sure yet!

The ride was a bumpy 4 hours through deserts and oasis alike, most of it looking desperate and torrid.. we crossed about 3 main towns and stopped countless times to take on new passengers and drop transiting ones. Finally we entered green Yarkand. It was a relief to see some color around after 4 hours of dust, sand and mud:

By the time we got to Yarkand, we were a bit hungry and worn out. Tempers were also getting a bit testy on all sides after 5 days of being stuck together. We realized that we would not make it to Khotan on that same day as the last bus was departing within 2 hours and that was not enough time to check anything out. So we headed over to the Wang Hou hotel on the advice of Abdul. Got rooms and decided to grab bite.
Yarkand turned out to be a strange animal in many ways! locals spoke almost no Mandarin and we found ourselves relying on the hotel’s bell boy for information as even taxi drivers had no idea.. I mean it was a full on failure to communicate. Luckily, everything was within walking distance of Wang Hou on one main street. We tried to make it to the Golden mosque which we did but it was around prayer time and too late to check anything out: I got to use my new tripod and got some amazing night time shots of the place:

At this point, we weren’t really sure of what was what because we were literally too busy being freaked out by locals following us everywhere… I’ve lived in China for almost 5 years now and can’t recall being stared at so much ever.. after about 30mn at the square, we walked back as I was starting to freeze and needed my jacket. K decided to take a break for the night and chill in the hotel room. S and myself soldiered on trying to find the Old Town ( Gu Cheng). Taxi drivers were pretty useless yet again and we found ourselves back at the hotel dealing with the bell boy who pointed us in the right direction, yet again within walking distance! after about 1/2 hour of wondering around, we found it! we strolled around the streets for a while taking in the sounds and colors then backtracked towards our temporary home.

I had read online about a lady spending a night in Yarkand that was dragged to a restaurant with live music, dancing and wine. I suggested to S that we try looking for it and she agreed. To make a long story short, with the help of a trio of local lovely ladies that were coming out of dinner, we managed to find one such place: The Caravan Cafe.

To say that this place was surreal after the 5 days we’ve been through would be an understatement. There had been no nightlife around other than the night market and UNO games at the hotel. There had also not been a single place that sold alcohol with meals and I was craving a glass of red wine outside of the hotel. This place offered it all.

The headliner tonights were the amazing tonganika trio with their famous tonganika hit titled nights of tonganika ( as if ou could tell the difference 😛 )

The place was jammed packed with customers seated around tables filled banquet style. With each song, they stood up, headed to the dance floor and did their thing then went back to their seats. After an intermission of 3mn or so, it started all over again. There was not a single song where the dance floor remained empty… and this was no disco! this was really a family affair with Children, wives, daughters and the such in the mix shaking what their mama gave them to the rhythms of Uighur music.

We enjoyed a decent little bottle of Suntime Manas dry red and some watermelons then proceeded to walk back to the hotel… just a great little evening and exactly what i had been seeking for a while. S and myself started appreciating Yarkand quite a bit more after our little trek to Karwan.

Silk Road day 4: tashkurgan – Karakul

talk about a hard morning! you’re in a frozen hotel room curled up under 3 quilts and feeling quite OK. Incentive to get up? near zero!!! Alas, after snoozing the alarm a few times in a row, it was time to face the harsh morning get going. The lure of a nice hot cup of 3-in-1 nescafe was also big part of the equation but I’m not really sure whether that one is a positive or a negative!

Plan for the day: drive around tashkurgan, visit the old stone fort, the bazaar and breakfast (not in that particular order) and then head back to Karakul lake to visit a Kyrgyz village and hike around then finally back to Kashgar.

The plan gets reshuffled around right away as our chosen breakfast destination is still closed (10:30 a.m. beijing time) so we head on to the Stone City right away:
day 4. tashkurgan and Kyrgyz village

day 4. tashkurgan and Kyrgyz village

Now for the history lesson: Tashkurgan actually means “Stone fort City” and this place has been around for a long time, something along the lines of 1300 years. It’s also the stronghold of the Tajik minority in the region! Chinese nationals need a special permit to go and visit the city.

day 4. tashkurgan and Kyrgyz village

It’s been an important part of the Silk Road all along as one of the last places to stop before setting for the Khunjerab crossing. It was pretty much impossible to conquer due to its location. Surrounded by mountains, they could see the enemy coming from a mile away.

day 4. tashkurgan and Kyrgyz village

day 4. tashkurgan and Kyrgyz village

One can just stand on top of the ruins and picture a time long gone when guards were standing atop the towers scouting the horizon for upcoming trouble or maybe simply drinking a cup of tea as they witnessed the sun rising/setting behind the mountains.
day 4. tashkurgan and Kyrgyz village

day 4. tashkurgan and Kyrgyz village

We spent about an hour just walking around the ruins and taking in the sights/sounds then it was time to head back to time for some food.
As I mentioned before, these breakfasts are a bit too stiff for someone who’s a firm believer in the diet of champions, aka cigarettes + coffee in the morning. This particular one consisted of momo (steamed bread) and 2 various beef (yak) stews that we washed with some tea and nescafe.
day 4. tashkurgan and Kyrgyz village

With full bellies, we rolled out of the restaurant to take a walk up the street and check out the bazaar side and take in some of Tashkurgan’s sights:

City Center, just next to the restaurant:

day 4. tashkurgan and Kyrgyz village

Locals enjoying a little street chat:
day 4. tashkurgan and Kyrgyz village

The mix of colors is fascinating to me:
day 4. tashkurgan and Kyrgyz village

a cow, an SUV, a dog and a tractor.. all downtown at the same time! gotta love it
day 4. tashkurgan and Kyrgyz village

and finally an overall view of the city before we set off towards Karakul and the Kyrgyz village:

day 4. tashkurgan and Kyrgyz village

after a bit of shopping, we hopped in the car and set off for Karakul. The lake was about 1.5 hours away and the Kyrgyz village right next to it. The plan was to go there, have a meal with a local family and do some hiking/exploring.

On the way over, we crossed a couple of Tajik burial sites in the middle of nowhere, right along the highway. Each tomb was mini-mausoleum of sorts:

day 4. tashkurgan and Kyrgyz village

The road to Karakul was full of small settlements, little houses in the prairie (Kyrgyz style) but the strangest of all was a Mosque standing all alone, without a thing around it for miles except livestock:

day 4. tashkurgan and Kyrgyz village

Finally, we made it to Karakul and the village. We had seen the lake on the previous day but from the other side. At that time, we didn’t even notice the village

day 4. tashkurgan and Kyrgyz village

and the village was not a small one. Thing is most houses literally blend in with the landscape to the point where form a few 100 meters, they’re practically invisible:
day 4. tashkurgan and Kyrgyz village

We were welcomed by a local family that treated us to some warm milk-tea and nan (flat bread) inside their home. From the outside, it was just a bunch of mud, hay and bricks put together in a shelter-fashion but that particular house had been lived in for over 50 years.
day 4. tashkurgan and Kyrgyz village

The inside, however, was quite cosy with an old fashioned stove/cheminee thingie that was dual purpose heating and cooking. The walls were lined-up with handmade tapestries.

day 4. tashkurgan and Kyrgyz village

The family consisted of the grandpa, grandma, son, daughter-in-lay and 3 kids. Grandpa had one of those “aged” faces that tell a story on their own and a beard that helped it tell that story every inch of the way. Heck, the beard had its own comb:

day 4. tashkurgan and Kyrgyz village

After a few bits of conversation where adbulatif served as a translator, they presented us with a bit of handicrafts that hey hoped we would be interested in. S ended up getting 3 tapestries and I got a genuine Kyrgyz hat and we set out.
day 4. tashkurgan and Kyrgyz village

we took a bit of time to stroll around the village and the surrounding mountains just to get a better idea as far as their living conditions go. We came across the local chapter of Hell’s Angels:

day 4. tashkurgan and Kyrgyz village

As a reminder of the desert’s proximity, one of the mountains surrounding the village was covered in sand. Basically a dune that was somehow transposed from its natural habitat to this rocky mountainous section of the world. I just had to roll in it..
day 4. tashkurgan and Kyrgyz village

The villagers live more or less at the edge of civilization in one of the roughest areas i can think of and they have adapted quite well to it. It had to be the case otherwise they would have left for greener pastures i guess. They also had their own solution to the lack of wood/coal for heating: Manure! Nothing went to waste as they collected the livestock excrement, packed it in stacks and dried it up to use for heating/cooking purposes:
day 4. tashkurgan and Kyrgyz village

Eventually, it was time to leave! The lovely day almost got ruined by the daughter in law who tried to go back on the deal S got for her tapestries. they deemed the price she paid too law and insisted on getting more moolah which we were not about to give into! a deal was a deal! after much argument, we won and headed back towards Kashgar!

The was back was filled with gorgeous landscapes as diverse as could be. The mountains took turns at being black, red, green, white, sandy etc…

day 4. tashkurgan and Kyrgyz village

day 4. tashkurgan and Kyrgyz village

as we came closer to Kashgar, we got reminded of why the city was there in the first place: It was an oasis… in more ways than one! It was definitely nice seeing some trees and plants again:
day 4. tashkurgan and Kyrgyz village

We checked in the hotel, went for some food and called it a night after planning the next day’s program.
A special shout goes out to the Pakistan Cafe across the street from Seman hotel. Their food was amazing and the price could not be beat. It’s a hole in the wall in every sense of the way but man was it good!!!!

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.

Silk Road day 1: Beijing- Urumqi – Kashgar

After months of planning, it’s all coming together nicely and we are at D day! The trip of a lifetime and an adventure i’ve been looking forward to for quite some time.
the fun started early at starbucks in terminal 1 with tasty taste hot hot chocolate, runny nose and right eye and 3 sleepy people… it was only gonna get better after that.

finally, we landed in good ol’ Urumqi! Uighur, the local language uses arabic script so it’s quite fun looking at it and being able to read it.

we were picked up at the airport by K’s cousin and her husband who drove us into town and took us for a nice “welcome to xinjiang” lunch in some hidden corner of the city. The menu included chuan’r (kebobs) , lamb ribs, yogurt, pickled veggies and xinjiang-style rice cooked with lamb, raisins and carrots. we literally pigged out and left the restaurant stuffed… those freaking chuan’r were just out of this world both in taste and size

Overall, a great first meal to begin the journey (the crap they served on the plane can’t begin to be called food). The biggest surprise for me was that the place did NOT have chopsticks!!! yes sir!!! forks and spoons were the preferred tools for this particular trade. After lunch, we went through the customary fight for the bill and that one almost turned into a WWE wrestling contest.. when brute force didn’t help, we did it the sneaky way and left money on the back seat.. K’s cousin was not amused and she got a nice call once the trickery was discovered… didn’t matter, we won.

Overall, I can’t say there was much to Urumqi. The city is fairly non-descript with small spots of wonder scattered throughout the area. between a high rise and another high rise stands a high rise, however, every so often, another building that just doesn’t fit the overall theme shows up.

We wanted to do the museum but it turned out to be closed for lunch so we headed over to the bazaar instead.

The fruits are just amazing in this side of the world! the grenadines or pomegranates are the redest I’ve ever seen with vendor stands on every corner peddling freshly squeezed juice. we had to give t a shot and chat around with the little Uighur vendors.

Inside the Bazaar, we stood facing a cacophony of colors and smells: dry fruits, fresh lavender, Henna, knives, carpets, leather and the list goes on. Vendors were amazingly restrained with no calling or grabbing for the most part.

This little sign was all over the city with the cheesy mustache guy advertising a China Mobile subscription:

My two favorite parts of Urumqi came next. RendezVous, an American coffee house run by 2 yanks which felt like an oasis of welcome after we roamed the streets for a few hour. a up of coffee with a free refill: 8 rmb!! Slice of homemade chocolate cake 15rmb.. Beijing should take notice!

We then headed over to Hong Shan which is smack down in the middle of the city:

you’d think they could spell the name of their own city :p

They obviously had issues with the letter N:

After a day of walking, sneezing, eating, drinking and arguing with airline employees, we made it onto a flight from Urumqi to Kashgar where we were picked up by our local guide and brought to our home for the next 2 days: the Seman hotel, formerly soviet embassy in the city: