Donkey Haggling and Concubines

After we dropped our things off at the hotel, we hopped on the bus to the animal market! We drove for about a half hour to a road lined with tall poplar trees with fields on either side. While the road sounds serene, it was anything but. This small road was filled with donkey carts, mopeds and every farm animal imaginable (except pigs… definitely no pigs). People were screaming, moped driven carts were blaring their horns and the stubborn animals were loudly protesting being pulled by rope and thrown on carts. We parked a good distance away and slid our way through the crowd. Thank god there were so few of us or this excursion might have been impossible. As we were wandering through the crowd, for once I noticed I didn’t quite stand out so much ethnically. While most people looked somewhat Middle Eastern, there was definitely a good amount of people that looked Russian or Eastern European. I even saw a couple people who were blonde with blue eyes, and a man with red hair! Fitting in ethnically didn’t help us that much though, our clothing made us stand out, and we got a lot of stares just because it is probably extremely rare that any tourists, especially western tourists, ever come to this market.

Partially deaf, we finally made it to the end of the road where there were entrances to two markets: the animal market and the goods market. We decided to explore the animal market first, and walked down a steep hill, dodging animal carts and trucks of donkeys into a large dirt arena with animals divided into sections: birds, sheep, goats, donkeys and cows. It was loud and crazy with animals and people everywhere! Wherever we went, there was a crowd of people following us, looking at whatever we stopped to ponder. At one point we stopped to look at one of the largest cows I had ever seen in my entire life. A few minutes later I realized that there were about 40 men standing behind us, staring at the cow… and us.

The awesomely large cow

After wandering around the animal market for a while, we crossed the street into the goods market. It was about 4:00, the sun was right overhead and it was HOT. We opted to leave our water bottles in the van out of respect for those fasting, but it was definitely a struggle, walking around in long pants with no water for a couple hours. Fortunately, the goods market was mostly shaded with red cloth tents. The goods market was huge, with row upon row of scarves, clothing, household supplies and food. Margo and I wandered down the isles of clothing along rocky dirt paths. No item in particular interested us, but the scene of the bustling market was enough to hold our attention. Eventually we stumbled upon the meat section: a few rows of hanging carcasses and… dismembered body parts. I almost vomited when I saw a pile of goat heads and limbs, stinking in the hot sun. At first I thought they were discarded body parts until I saw women haggling over a few goat heads. Yum. While I definitely eat meat, the sight of headless goats is enough to make me consider vegetarianism. Who eats goats anyway?! But I have to say, I admire China’s philosophy: no part of the animal goes to waste, and that I respect.

Goat heads and limbs

After a few hours the heat and dehydration were enough to force us back to the van, however, it was almost impossible to make it down the road due to the mass exodus of the animal market. There were hundreds of people loading sheep onto donkey carts, pulling stubborn goats by a rope leash and waiting along the side of the road for someone to pull the donkey cart around. The honking of the electric carts was almost deafening. Coming from a place where people only honk if someone is going to hit you, I never understood the purpose of leaning on the horn for solid minutes- it’s not going to get you out of there any faster. Eventually we made it to the van and chugged a full bottle of water each. As we were pulling away, guess what we saw? A camel. I love Xinjiang.

Thank god none of us were hungry right away because we had to wait until 10pm for dinner. We killed time by walking around the town plaza, sitting in the setting sun. Eventually the restaurant opened up and we were able to eat dinner. Mamajan ordered an extremely large amount of food for us: fruit, bread, lamb pita pockets, and dapanji- a large dish with chicken, peppers and a heaping pile of noodles. I have to say the best part of the meal was the fruit! People in Xi’an had been raving about Xinjiang’s fruit and I was not disappointed. There was a green melon that was so juicy, I had to lay out piles of paper napkins to keep the juice from getting all over the table. They call it a watermelon in Uighur. Now that makes sense. After a full meal we walked back to the hotel and had a good night’s sleep.

The next morning we packed our things and headed downstairs for a full day of sightseeing in Yarkent. Like always, Margo and I were the first ones downstairs. Mamajan thought it was hilarious that it was ALWAYS the girls who were right on time. I guess we can attribute that to Margo’s military schooling and my Russian ballet teacher who used to scream at me if I was 5 minutes late… when I was eight. We piled into the van with our backpacks and headed back to the town center we had spent the evening wandering around the day before. On the way, Mamajan told us a story about the Uighur concubine, Amannishahan, from the 1500’s. She was renowned throughout the Yarkent area for having a beautiful singing voice and a talent with instruments. The king married her when she was fourteen (yikes), and she spent her twenty years in the palace compiling the Twelve Muqam, an encyclopedia of Uighur songs, dances, literature and poetry. Unfortunately, she died at the age of 34, and was unable to complete her work, forcing her to stop at twelve. Amannishahan was originally buried next to her husband, but more recently a mausoleum was built in her honor.

The mausoleum

This mausoleum is a beautiful pillared building in the main square, near the ancient mosque that houses all of the original tombs.  After exploring her mausoleum, we entered the mosque grounds to view all of the royal tombs- beautifully decorated engraved white stone domes cover where each person was buried.

One of the most fascinating things that I learned while listening to the history, was the fact that Yarkent, a small Uighur town now, used to be a thriving kingdom and the center of the Uighur civilization. It was a pivotal stop on the Silk Road, and was often called the “Silk Capital”. Now Yarkent is a small city thriving off agriculture and the few tourists that make the four-hour drive from Kashgar to see this ancient kingdom.

After exploring the tombs, we hopped back in the van and drove to visit yet another market. This market, however, was larger and was mainly a goods market, not an animal market. Mamajan wanted to pick up some fresh, locally grown honey, so we decided to follow along with him and get our own. We squeezed our way down a death-trap of a dirt road with donkey carts and people everywhere. We followed Mamajan towards the small animal market until we found a man sitting with his son and three giant tubs of honey. He let us taste the honey with little sticks (note: he only gave us one stick each so we double dipped… it’s China). Our favorite honey was so fresh that… there was a layer of bee carcasses coating the honey. The man told us he hadn’t had time to filter the bees out of the honey- it was that fresh! I had no idea collecting honey killed hundreds of bees in the process, but we stood there as he took a ladle and scooped the bees out of the honey.

Sifting out the last of the dead bees

After standing there for a few minutes I felt people standing extremely close to me. I looked around and we were surrounded by about forty onlookers. It was a little annoying to have tons of people breathing down my neck because it was SO HOT outside and we didn’t have any water, but it was a different kind of staring than in the rest of China. Instead of staring at us, everyone was looking at the honey. It was the same thing with the cow! People noticed us standing around something and thought, “wow, I wonder what all those Westerners are looking at?!”- and by “all those”, I mean four. We decided to come back and bargain on our honey in an hour because we knew we wouldn’t get a good deal in front of the huge crowd, so we wandered into the main part of the market.

As we were walking through the front gates we saw a woman whose skin was melting off her legs. It was probably one of the most upsetting things I have ever seen in my life: pretty much on par with the man whose bone was sticking out of his leg in Chongqing and the girl in Sanlitun, Beijing who has legs that are completely flattened nubs that almost look like wooden gingerbread man legs. The only thing that made me feel better about the situation was that people were giving the woman money. For once, the idea that every beggar is cheating you was thrown out of the window. In the sprit of Ramadan, people were contributing so that maybe this woman could save up enough to see a doctor.

The market was very similar to the goods market we had visited the day before, but larger with a better selection. Margo and I decided to visit a long row with scarf after scarf display. After a few minutes of looking at scarves, we noticed we had an audience- about twenty people were following us around! We had to step up onto a platform to look at the scarves, but down below there were a large crowd of people observing us. Eventually we were able to find a woman (in the crowd) who spoke Chinese and could translate for us. Margo and I bartered on headscarves to wear to the mosque the next day while the crowd looked on. Afterwards, I asked the girl if she could show me how to wear it properly. Embarrassed by the crowd, she declined, but after a few minutes of begging she showed me how to wear it. YES.

Her finished work!

For the next hour Margo and I wandered around, looking at prayer hats, earrings, and costumes. All too soon it was time to meet Mamajan at the honey stand. He had already bargained a price for us by the time we arrived, and we all got large, sticky, plastic jars of the bee carcass honey. Mmmm FRESH.

After we bought out honey well all piled into the van to head to (Indiana Jones voice) the Tomb of the Kings of Shache. Shache is the Chinese name for Yarkent (shaw-cheh). This tomb holds the entire extended royal family of Yarkent (Shache). It is a beautiful building with high pillars and lined with ornate tiles. Inside we were given a history lesson of who is related to who (all of which I forgot, sorry). I wasn’t allowed to take any pictures of the inside of the tomb, but the inside was very similar to the mosque near Amannishahan’s mausoleum, except the domed stones were all covered in ornate velvet coverings just like Amannishahan’s ACTUAL burial place. After our history lesson, we walked to the mosque. There was a giant sign saying not to pass because it was under construction, but we followed Mamajan anyway through clouds of sawdust.

The Tomb of the Kings of Shache

After our tour of yet, another ancient cemetery we all piled back into the van to head to Kashgar. However, we quickly noticed there was an issue. Joe, our program director, was on the phone arguing in rapid Chinese. It turns out that our lovely hotel (you know, the international student dorm hotel that’s supposed to ONLY house international students) wanted Clayton and a CLS student to move to a different floor even though we only had about thee weeks left on the program so that they could move some important guests onto that floor. What?! This hotel is supposed to be for only international students, but the new manager is trying to make extra money by hosting conferences. This would be fine, except for that it is always at the expense of the international students. We met an Australian direct enroll student who was forced to move four times in one year. Maybe someday the owner will learn the hard way that she’s running the place into the ground.

That night when we arrived in Kashgar, we all walked to a beautiful restaurant and feasted on noodles, a nan pizza with lamb inside and…. Pigeon kabobs! While we view pigeons as the rats of the sky, apparently the word for pigeon and dove in Uighur and Chinese is the same thing. Pigeons are a delicacy and I have to say mine was good! There’s wasn’t too much meat on it, but it was tasty nonetheless. On the way home we saw a carnival-esque ballroom shooting game. Gabe played Mamajan, and I was impressed, they are both extremely sharp shooters!

Pigeon Kabob!

Well, that’s all for now! This post has gotten way too long, but definitely stay tuned for Kashgar, our hike to a glacier and the Caucasian mummies!



About Richelle

Expat, traveler, and spicy food lover, I've spent the last few years living in China and traveling around Asia. In my spare time I enjoy salsa dancing, exploring night markets and stuffing my face with street food.

3 comments on “Donkey Haggling and Concubines

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