My Last Fortnight in China
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Final Chinese Flavour
Kashgar and southern Xinjiang
What I saw in Kuqa was the beginning of the new world - where the Han Chinese people really are the minority, and Mandarin is spoken little. In Kashgar, Karghilik, Yarkand and Yengisar I realized just how easy I had been having it up 'til then as a result of all those hours spent studying in Beijing. But this ceased, and I re-entered the world of 'communication by gesture' for my short week in southern Xinjiang. The food began to taste very different too - although I was still eating meat noodle, it now tasted more like spaghetti bolognaise than Lanzhou la mian. I did not visit much in the way of historical 'sights', but I had a very colourful few days in these towns. To walk along streets where most people travel by horse and cart felt as if I had gone back in time - and it certainly didn't feel like the rest of China! The people of course look different (in Karghilik I saw only TWO Han Chinese people) and speak a totally unrelated language - which written in Arabic script starkly contrasts Chinese characters on signs and notices! The architecture was different too: arched verandas on street buildings, and many buildings made of mud.
Kashgar is the crown of the Uighur world - and I made sure that I was there on a Sunday, the day of Kashgar's great bazaar. The bazaar is supposed to be a meeting point for Central Asia: since Kashgar is so close to so many other countries (Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Tibet) people come from all around to buy and sell. I saw Uighurs, by and large, but it was still very colourful indeed! On the approach to the main bazaar area, there are ranks of carts and donkeys or ponies, waiting to take tired shoppers and their goods home again. But inside the market area there are also 'car parks' - if you can get a space!
I have never been to an open market as crammed with people and activity as the one at Kashgar - The Tolkuchka bazaar outside Ashgabat in Turkmenistan compares in terms of geographical area, but not in terms of energy level and business transacted when compared to Sundays in Kashgar! Massive areas are given over to one class of goods. For example I walked into an area crammed with men, only men, and a few boys. What was for sale? Mostly second-hand (or third, or fourth, or...) TVs, tape recorders, and the occasional VCR. And row upon row of very bootleg videos. Round the corner I reached a huge mass of women - and the sounds here were not the blasts of stereos attempting to impress, instead there was an urgent murmur as the women bought and sold bits of square black cloth that they carried with them in wads or had stuffed in plastic bags. These were not just any old bits of cloth: they were all to be made into the stiff square embroidered Uighur skullcap, and were in various stages of the production process. Given that there are also several shops in Kashgar which sell nothing except that particular type of headgear, and that the vast majority of men I saw in Xinjiang in February were wearing either flatcaps or long-domed black velvet hats rimmed with brown fur, I am not sure that the market demand warrants the frenzied activity! How many of these skullcaps does each Uighur man and boy need? I suspect that a lot of the embroidery is done by hand, and a finished article is more embroidery than black cloth, so a lot of work must go into making these caps. Perhaps they all wear them in summertime, and get through each one very quickly!
All these shoppers and vendors need to be able to eat, of course, so there were great things for me to sample! I am not quite sure what it was I ate for 'lunch' - something mutton fat and rice related, anyway! I had had an appetizer of freshly made ice cream: made as I watched, getting some of the first batch of the day!
Also while in southern Xinjiang I spent a silly amount of time trying to find out about going over the Torugart Pass, and realized in the end that there is a conspiracy against independent travelers doing this: you have to have a permit, and the only way to get a permit once you have got all the way to Kashgar is to go through a travel agent with 'contacts', who also then provides your transport into the mountains in a jeep at an extortionate rate. You are handed at the border to a Kyrgyz travel agent (pre-arranged) who continues the rip-off (all the way to Bishkek for a further thousand dollars if you want!!). Too late I discovered that there is a bus to Bishkek from Kashgar once a week on a Monday for fifty dollars - but that still the foreigner needs the permit supposedly, and the permit has to be got in Ürümqi. Unfortunately my Kyrgyz visa did not start till Tuesday and my Chinese visa ended on Wednesday, or else I would have tried the bus without a permit. As it was, I decided not to spend six hundred dollars going a distance in jeeps that on a bus within China would cost about three dollars. Much as I don't like flying I therefore flew all the way back to Ürümqi (just wanting to GET THERE at this point) and there onto a service offered by Kyrgyzstan Airways to Bishkek. Total price around three hundred and fifty dollars, and it meant I could see Memet again, very briefly. The second plane was a bit shaky - not the most modern, and not stretching either to a magazine or (more importantly) to sick bags for me to take a sample of for my friend Yvette's collection! But the views of the Tian Shan range were stunning, so I do not even slightly regret giving the expensive jeep option a miss - and one day I will take the bus...
To return to Kyrgyzstan had been a plan for a year, so my excitement (and not the aeroplane) was turning me to jelly once I got to Bishkek.
To read the rest of the April 2001 News, please go to the second
|The tiles on this page are of fruit and nuts on sale in the heart of Kashgar's old town. |Click here to view the original photo||