There are many streets in Kashgar, which still show old workshops and handicrafts. Strolling around and having a look into the shops is like diving into a time long ago. Copper basins are made by hand, musicalinstruments have been neatly decorated and men are sitting on the street talking. Just left of the big Id Kah Mosque there is one of those streets located. Only the first 100m or so are for the tourists. The further you go the more authentic life gets in this street.
Everyone raves about the Sunday Market, Kashgar's pride and joy of the tourist market. The market, however, runs every day of the week- it's just supposedly bigger on Sunday, and that's when most tourists go- historically market day here, or something like that. The market is many things, sprawling, hot... but not so much crowded as everyone says, though it is true that Kashgar has seen a downturn in the tourist trade this year, partially due to visa restrictions coming from Beijing.
Still, the men grabbing my arm to get my attention so I buy knives from them gets a bit wearing... it's not a light, friendly tap. These guys grab, which just about got them hurt. We know they're there... We know what they sell and if we don't enter their store it means we don't want whatever it is. Get over it.
Other than that, the vendors are friendly and some even speak a bit of English. There is food available, though cold drinks are more easily found in the front and back. Food, in this case, refers to the rather excellent samsa, langmen, manta and kebabs the street vendors sell. Watermelon and melon vendors wheel carts through, and the watermelon was good, I hear, but be a bit careful. There are also vendors who sell iced milk, it looks like, though they use and reuse common glasses.
Carpets are ridiculously priced, thanks, I would say, to a few tourists willing to pay the asking price. These guys, for the long history of bargaining, don't understand the haggle, and don't really come down. They start high as it is, and I guess assume that we tourists believe we absolutely MUST leave with a rug. Sorry again. The problem isn't just that the rugs are expensive. They are 7300 RMB for a 720 thread/knot count rug or so... and not even a square meter... maybe that one was less... but the prices start so high that it shows the vendors don't really know the tourists... young people won't be able to afford that much. Start lower. But they, like many of the other vendors, don't come down much at all, and expect you to do all the moving. That's not haggling.
Unless you must have a rug, begin pretty low so they see what we're wanting to pay and the prices will begin to go to a more reasonable level.
Moving on, the market, as I mentioned, does run every day- there are fewer tourists other days, but it's very much a local market as well, even on Sunday. It's not as wild (August 2008) as it's reputed to be, and it doesn't feel old at all. It feels like a giant Wal-Mart, with a bunch of vendors selling much the same thing, and without a lot of the excitement of Central Asians heatedly haggling over anything
When you walk in the entrance to the left of the main sign, start with a knife section, then cloth and scarves, then shoes...
There is no entrance fee (yet- August, 2008) and you can always come in through the back or the sides (for now) as the market spills out the back and sides and involves a lot of donkey carts out the back. A word of caution, the people here don't understand the concept of OTHER PEOPLE, netting them a unique ability to drive motorcycles and carts through crowds way too fast. Keep an eye out behind you.
It's easy to get lost in the market, but don't worry about it. You don't need to hire a guide. Just walk around, keeping an eye on your pockets. I expected it to be a lot more crowded that it was, and no one caused any problems for us, aside from the pushy knife salesmen. I'll get to knives and rugs under Shopping...
In short, the Sunday Market is well worth a visit, but it's not much more spectacular than many of the other markets in China. It is big, there's a lot to see, but it's not the splendidly amazing Central Asian experience I was looking for. Maybe I expected too much!
Worth a visit, aside from a 20 RMB/person entry fee (August 2008) the Mosque didn't seem to be overly crowded, is closed during prayer times and don't kneel on one knee to take a photo... for some reason... can someone explain that to me? I'm not sure what is wrong about it, so I would like an explaination if anyone knows.
Do dress in long sleeves and long pants; women, a head scarf would be appropriate, men might wear a hat... some sort of head covering. Women cover your feet... while it's not a vastly strict place, it's best to err on the side of conservative dress, even though you'll see Chinese in skimpy clothes around... especially if you don't really want the attention.
You can enter a section of the mosque, and you can take pictures (August 2008) even though the signs say you have to have a permit or permission.
It's worth a quick walk around, and most taxi drivers won't have a problem knowing where it is. Note the nice, giant TV that draws attention from the mosque...
Walking around Kashi is a hot item on most tourists' agendae and not just for the old town. Temperatures can get quite hot, today (August 1, 2008) it's a cozy 97, with bright, clear skies better suited for Infrared grilling than walking. Wear long, loose clothes and a big hat, and take comfort in the labyrinthine sidestreets with occasional covered areas and shade.
If you walk out of the Id Kah Mosque, straight out and across the street (use the underground walkway/mall) you begin the old town, where restaurants blow cold air in the stairwells and hot tea accompanies langmen and other local dishes. Enter the old town for souvenirs, these days, though you can also get hoe heads, pick axe heads and other hand-made metal objects from the local forge shops, hand turned wooden objects and hats.
Mostly, walking in the old town is for the sake of seeing, and being seen (and yelled "hallo!" to) by the local kids. The people are friendly enough, though a bit of hesitance with the camera might be appreciated by them. It is their home. I opted to wear long pants and a long shirt, just to blend as much as possible... while I'm blue-eyed, I've a beard, short on the sides, like theirs, and could be Muslim. Women should cover up a bit, but I'll get to this in Local Customs.
I highly recommend walking the old town. Get lost in it, it's not that big. Enjoy and appreciate.
Four hours by bus (about 26 RMB, 27 with PICC insurance... return cost about 20.75 RMB with insurance...) takes you to Yarkand... if the bus has A/C it's bearable.
Yarkand has an old town, near the mosque... I recommend going to the mosque just after prayer on Friday... in the afternoon. It's hot, but quite the sight to see all the old, bearded Muslim men wandering about, buying meat rotting in the sun, seated in the shade pointing and staring at the strange pinkish things wandering around...
It's a hot place in early August, but there are lots of vendors with cold drinks. Wandering around the old town can be interesting, but for us it was a bit of a disappointment, though a lot less touristy than Kashgar.
The ride back was more crowded, on a full bus that thankfully didn't pick up any more people than the seats would hold. In both directions there are many police checkpoints, some will require your passport or ID if you're Chinese or local. The sun is beautiful setting over the vast expanses of desert, and the night, of course, cools to a quite comfortable level.
In our bus back, a lively conversation of laughter and some sort of poll or bet going on, with money passing to one of the men occupied some time... maybe they were taking bets on how long the American would last with a large backpack on his lap... For me, the trip back was almost unbearably long... seemed like time began moving counter clockwise... I don't know why, but Kashgar was a welcome sight.
I think part of it involved a lot of unwanted attention early on in the ride from the men... not threatening at all, but a bit disconcerting when you're surrounded by them and they're all traveling together... the mind can wander into uncomfortable places. Are they taking lots for my bag contents?
But you take solace in the fact that they aren't Chinese and you aren't Chinese and therefore they have no reason to dislike you. Then you try to think about what they're laughing about, enjoying the sounds of a bus full of local men having a good time. You watch the desert growing dark, the bright lights of the cars and lightless donkey carts risking the night roads, motorcyclists darting into the beams as if the bus is but a ghost, or physics doesn't apply to them... kids running along the road... but, surprisingly, almost, the bus driver is very safe and consciencious of the people on the road... as have been all of our drivers to date.
In short, Yarkand didn't feel like it was worth the sweat and annoyance. In some ways it wasn't. Seeing the Mosque was worthwhile, but even more so, possibly, was walking through the graveyard with men knelt in prayer on the dusty earth to which we all return. The fine plumes that lifted off their "sandaled" feet at each step, wafted up to their praying hands, their murmurs of prayer unhalted at the sight of ill-dressed foreigners.
I don't want to recommend walking through the graveyard only because it's such a unique place and I'd hate to spoil the reflective natural environment, where the dead rest in the shade of what look like Eucalyptus. If it becomes too popular, the Chinese have a tendency to build a fence, pave the walkways and charge admission. So, if you go, keep the camera low. I took one or two shots, when no one was looking, to remember the place, but the feeling... it can't capture the motion, the peace and the people.
I'm not sure if they were happy we were there, though we walked quietly and with due respect. We just happened upon it, looking for something else. It was one of those finds, one of those times in travel where you don't go to a sight, but you find something truly unique. Had there been no people there, it would have felt like any other graveyard. Anyway, I digress.
Yarkand, in retrospect, was worth the trip. It's hard to say why, exactly, other than what I've written already, but it was worth the trip.
Right now the Chinese Government has imposed travel restrictions on access for foreigners to Lake Karakul. This means that currently, July 28, 2008, you need to get a permit for travel to the lake. You have to hire a driver to get there, as foreigners aren't allowed on buses to the lake. Now, foreigners, supposedly, can get buses BACK to Kashgar, but we'll see. This is in place due to concerns about violence and problems leading up to and during the Olympic Games and I would assume will go back to normal post Games.
It's annoying for those of us that want to appreciate the place as a travel destination, but it's something to contend with, and, as usual, there's very little information about it.
So again, currently, you need a permit (with your passport information and all) and stamped by a travel agent (CITS works, I guess) to go to Lake Karakul. We're negotiating this latest obstacle to enjoying China currently, so I'll give all the information on getting permits and all as soon as I can. Try the CITS office at the Chini Bagh Hotel (where there's a John's Information Cafe- never hugely useful or resourceful, I've found) as well as the CITS office.
Normally you can get a bus there, but these are special times. Keep that phrase in mind.
If you are in Kashgar and you did not come from Pakistan oder go to Pakistan, an excursion to Karakul Lake and Karakorum Highway is an absolute must! I was lucky enoght to see this spectacular landscpae two time in my life: In 1992, when I came from Pakistan going all the way from Islamabad to Beijing. And again in 2007, when I was on a group tour through Central Asia.
I enjoyed my trip this june 2007 very much, as I now had the opportunity to take all the pics, that I did not in 1992, when I was on the road with public transport.
When you do this tour starting in Kashgar, the frist about 20 - 30 km are on a highway through some oasis. Then you come to a wide valley with red mountain walls right and left. In the middle is a river, which can be like a lake (June 1992) or like a small river with not much water (June 2007). After a while the road goes up into a gorge with bright red mountains. When you reach the top, the valley opens and gives way to a spectacular view of a lake and high snowcapped mountains. There sanddunes from the sand, that the wind brought from Taklamakan Desert to the Mountains. The mountains you can see here belong to Pamir, Kunjherab, Karakorum and Tianshan. Make a stop here to enjoy the fresh air and the quietness of the mountains. The road is very good an donly sometimes a truck passes.
After that the road winds it way up into the mountains. With every curve you find more overwhelming views: green gras, white mountains, blue sky. The high mountain you can see now dominating the landscape is Muztag Ata, the "Father of all Snow Mountains". Muztag Ata is 7.546m high.
At the foot of Muztag Ata Karakul Lake, the Black Lake, is shining in the sun (hopefully). There is a place, where there are jurts, catering for the needs of tourists. There are even toilets. Some nomads offer souvenirs or a ride on a camel or horse. The lake is about 3.700 m high. So there maybe a bit of short breath. Do not walk too fast and do not do any exhausting long walks, if you are not used to this high altitude!
Abakh Hodscha, the ruler over Kashgar, Kucha, Korla, Aksu and Khotan in 17th century had this Mausoleum build for his father Mohammed Yusuf. Abakh Hodscha was also a religious leader and respected by his people as a prophet. When he died, he was buried in the Mausoleum and the name was changed in Abakh Hodscha Mausoleum.
The architecture of this beautiful building reminds of the famous Taj Mahal. It was build in 1640 almost at the same time as the Taj Mahal.
The Mausoleum contains 58 tombs. Five generations of the family of Hodscha are burried here. The most famous is the tomb of the socalled "Scented Concubine".
Iparhan (born 1734) was a concubine of famous emperor Qianlong. She was called "Scented Concubine (Xiang Fei) because it was said, that her skin had a fine scent. Iperhan did not want to be the concubine of Qianlong, who had conquered her home town Kashgar, and resisted him many years. At the age of 29 she was forced by his mother to commit suicide. 3 years later her body and sarcophag was transported to her hometown Kashgar. For Uygur people the Scented Concubine is a symbol of resistance against the Chinese rulers. But: Chinese scientists have now found out, that Xiang Fei is the same person as the concubine Rong Fei, who agreed to the politics of Emperor Qianlong concerning the Western Provinces. She is said to have died at the age of 55 and is buried in the Eathern Qing Tombs at Zunhua. This news caused some irritation and today most Uygurs do not worship the Scented Concubine anymore.
The buildings of the Mausoleum and the surrounding Mosque and gardens are a pleasant and quiet place.
I loved the many different and impressive faces of people in Kashgar. Sit down in a small teahouse and watch the people pass by. What stories could they tell? For more see my travelogue!
2007: This certainly has not changed! There are so many interesting people to watch!
If you come from Pakistan (Karakorum Highway) to Kashgar you will find, that Kashgar is a very Chinese city with Mao Statues and the grey modern buildings. But if you come from the East you'll think, that Kashgar does not look very Chinese but mainly Centralasian.
I found the big Mao statue still standing in 2007. But the surroundings were completely different. Still I think Kashgar is a great mixture of Uygur and Chinese culture. This time (2007) I thought, Kashgar was a very oriental and Uygur city.
Today you won't find a store like the one in the 3rd pic anymore.
Even though the Sunday Bazaar as I saw it in 1992 does not exist anymore, there is still a lively Cattle Market on every sunday. The market has moved to the outskirts of Kashgar.
The nomads of the Kashgar area bring their sheep, cattle, horses and donkeys to the market. It is great place to watch people and get an impression of the trade a long the Silkroad.
I found it also very interesting, that around the cattle market there are a lot of other open air markets: cars, wood, building materials and much more. For every kind of stuff there is a special area.
Things have changed since 1992 a lot!!
The socalled Sunday Bazaar is now a big oriental bazaar, which is open every day. It is still a very lively place where the local people come from near and far to buy all their daily stuff. It is really interesting specially when you explore the more remote areas of the bazaar. I bought a piece of fabric there and I was quite astonished, that people did ot even speak Mandarin!
Near the main entrance is a nice tourist shop, where can you enjoy a rest in an airconditioned room. You can have a cup of tea, even if you do not buy anything there, and used the clean toilet.
Well, I should not forget to mention, that the Sunday Cattle Market still exists. It has moved to the outskirts of Kashgar. For more please see my next tip!
This is what I wrote about my visit of the Sunday Bazaar in 1992:
Since ancient times Kashgar has been on the cross roads between Central Asia and China:
- Tibet-Xinjiang Highway crossing the Kunlun Mountains with a total length of 1,184 kilometers.
- Xinjiang-Qinhai Highway (go along the southern Silk Road)
- Famous Karakoram highway(KKH)
- Highway to Kyrgyzstan via Torugart Pass and Erkashtam Pass
- Kashgar-Urumqi Highway
Kahsgar has been THE place to exchange goods and news. Its importance in trading can still be experienced during the famous Sunday Bazaar (Sunday Market), when people come from far to trade and meet on the Kashgar Market.
Today they do not trade camels on every sunday. So unfortunately I did not see any camels on the market.
For more pics please see my travelogue!
For informations on present day's Sunday Bazaar (2007) please see my next tip!
The Id Kah Mosque (Uygur: Square of Festival) is the biggest mosque in town. Construction started as early as the 9th century. The building was many times restaurated. Now the big gate dominates the square in the center of Kashgar.
History and discription of the mosque as written under www.silkroadcn.com:
Shakesimirza, the ruler of Kashgar at that time, had the mosque built here in 1442, in the aim to build a place where he would say prayers to the souls of his deceased relatives. Extended and renovated several times but keep the style, size,painting, it has finally reached its present size. The Mosque, 140 meters long from south to north and 120 meters from east to west, covers an area of 16,800 sq,uare meters and consists of the Hall of Prayer, the Doctrine-Teaching Hall, the gate tower, a pond and some other auxiliary structures.
The gate of the mosque, built of yellow bricks with the joints of the brick work pointed with gysum, has distinct lines. On both side of the gate are eighteen-meter high round brick columns half embedded in the wall. On the top of the columns stands a minaret. The hall's ceiling, with fine wooden carvings and colorful flower-and-plant painting patterns, is suppourted by one hundred carved wooden columns.
2007: Id Kah Mosque is a very pleasant place with old trees and old men watching critically the modern tourists admiring their mosque.
Only the first pic is from 1992. If you want to see, how the mosque looks like in 2007 please see the other on this tip.
The Old Town is full of little shops and teahouses and small workshops. It is most fascinating to stroll around and watch the people working and living. I wrote that after my trip in 1992. Well in a way that is still true in 2007. There are still many small roads with lots of small and old shops and teahouses left.
But there is a part of Kashgar, which is officially called the "Old Town". This area is loacted on a small hill and you have to pay an entrance fee to have the opportunity to stroll around in the narrow streets, where no cars can go in. Maybe I should put this under "Tourist Traps" as I think it is a ripp off. There is no need to see just this area as there are many other nice and old streets in Kashgar..