“Not Been to Kashgar, Not Seen in Xin Jiang”

The next morning we all piled into the bumpy van for the ride back to Kashgar. One thing that I noticed along the “highway” was that there were no rest stops.. or anywhere to stop for that matter. On our ten hour drives in Yunnan there were rest stops every mile or so. Not in Xinjiang! You’d think they would make some money charging truckers to use squatty potties that are never cleaned, but all we saw on the ride back was the vast expanse of desert with mountains in the distance. This was all good and fine except for when we decided that we had to pee so the driver pulled off the road into the Gobi Desert. I have to say peeing in the middle of a desert was definitely a first for me.

After a few hours we made it back to Kashgar. We dropped our things back off at our old hotel and ran back downstairs to the van to see a glacier. It took an hour or so to get to the glacier, driving through a mountain range of red mountains; and when I say red I mean red. The stone that made up the mountains was a red burgundy color, and this combined with grey and tan rock created patterned cliffs of all different colors. Eventually we made it to the mountain as it was starting to rain. We exited the van and with our little lunch bags and made the steep climb up to see the glacier. As we were walking up we ran into an old man with his donkey wearing a shower cap on his head. I guess that’s one way to protect yourself from the rain. Finally we neared the top, and had a perfect view of a giant glacier on the side of a mountain. It was extremely large even in the summer- I would love to see what it looked like in the winter! On the way down the rain stopped and the clouds cleared, leaving the scenery absolutely breathtaking. There were horses, sheep and goats milling about in this mountain valley. We also spotted some yurts through the trees.

We were exhausted on the ride home from a long day of travel, hiking and glacier sight seeing, but we still had a full day of activities. We stopped by the hotel to change and then hopped back in the van to visit the largest mosque in China. As we entered Margo and I tied our new scarves around our heads in the way that the woman in the market had taught us, and we continued inside. We walked through a long courtyard that led up to the mosque, where we silently entered inside. We took off our shoes in the entry, stepping on ancient red carpet with square outlines marking spot where people can pray. As Mamajan was explaining the mosque to us, a Han Chinese couple entered. The woman who entered was dressed inappropriately, wearing capris shorts above the knee, short sleeves and no headscarf. She was talking on the phone at a deafening volume while people in the mosque were trying to pray! It was probably one of the rudest things I have ever seen in my entire life. We quickly exited the mosque and found our shoes while Mamajan continued his information about the mosque outside. It’s not like we could hear him inside anyway.

When we were outside I noticed something interesting. While all of the Caucasian tourists, who seemed to be Russian or Eastern European, were dressed appropriately and wearing headscarves, all of the Chinese tourists were not wearing long pants or skirts and none of them had their heads covered. As we exited the mosque, we all burst into discussion, shocked by the behavior of the Chinese woman in the mosque. Mamajan told us that her behavior is extremely typical. Most Chinese people are not religious; therefore, it is difficult for them to understand respect for other religions. While many western tourists are not religious either, many of us have either been raised with religion or know people who are very religious; therefore we know how to act in a religious place. I hate to generalize because I know there are Chinese Buddhists, Daoists and Christians (as well as Chinese Muslims, obviously), but religion is definitely not as present as it is in the United States. Whatever the reason is, I was completely shocked by the behavior of the woman, as well as the disregard for appropriate attire in the mosque.

Eventually we made it to our destination: a small stand that grinds nuts and honey together to make a sticky, solid snack that can be eaten with a spoon. The first step was to pick our honey. We sampled all of the honey tubs with bees flying around our heads. The shopkeeper informed us that he had a new type of honey that was a little pricier, but much better. We followed him over to a tub on the other side of the stall. As soon as he opened the lid all of the bees from the other tubs flew over to this batch of light yellow honey. We all dipped in our sticks, and to my surprise, it was the best honey I’ve ever had! It was fresh and less sugary than most honey. We all agreed that we wanted the light yellow honey in our mixture, so the next stop was to choose what ingredients we wanted. Margo and I chose almonds, walnuts and apricot seeds (there’s a seed inside the pit) to go in our honey, while the boys chose almonds and cinnamon. We watched as they poured the honey on top of our chosen ingredients and put it through the grinder. Watching the process was so interesting I almost forgot how extremely hot it was outside! Almost.

Eventually some elderly ladies wandered over and took a seat on a bench under the shade of the stall, watching the process with us. The mixture tasted amazing, and we gobbled up the leftovers that didn’t fit in our jars. My favorite part of the experience was when they handed us our jars in a McDonalds bag. Yay globalization! We walked towards the van as the sun was starting to set. Next to our van was a billboard that said, “Not been to Kashgar, not seen in Xin Jiang”. Close enough right?

We drove to an area of the city with many restaurants and stalls preparing for the evening break fast. The area was packed with children eating and adults milling about waiting for the sun to set. We wove through the crowd, spotting Uighur bagels, noodles and an extraordinary amount of lamb. We finally made our way to a small chuar place where we ordered nan, lamb churar and large roles with lamb chunks baked inside.

The next morning we woke up, packed our things and went to visit a traditional Uighur medicine doctor. While walking to the shop we were attacked by a horde of children from the local daycare. Using our hands as guns, I got in a James bond-eque battle with one of the little boys. We all ran to the medicine shop, while the boys crowded around outside. We had to wait for the doctor for about forty-five minutes, so I spent my time making faces through the window with the kids. The shop was filled with powders, dried starfish and bottles with Uighur script. One-by-one the doctor took our pulse and told us things about our health, which Mamajan translated. Apparently my blood is too thick, which I should cure by eating red food such as dates. Dates are okay, but I asked if strawberries, raspberries and tomatoes count and he said yes! –not that I’ve seen much of any of them in Xinjiang.

After our health examination, we made our way to a bazar! This shopping area was a little different than Yarkent. It had more of a selection and it was all in a vast indoor building. I wish I had more time to wander around, but Margo and I tried to make the most of our hour. We found some fruit tea and I was able to buy some Uighur fabric to have a dress made for me back in Xi’an. The fabric was extremely cheap, only about $2.50 for enough fabric to make a dress! It wasn’t the best quality fabric but it wad pretty: pink and green with a diamond pattern.

I bought the fabric third from the right on the bottom

We then rushed back into the van and made our way to the Kashgar old town. The old town is a preserved area of the old way of living in Kashgar before the modernization of the CCP (much like the preserved hutongs in Beijing). All of the buildings were made out of stone and mud and they were packed in together, with the roads being the only space between buildings. To save space, there are also buildings that span over the alleyways. Most of the buildings didn’t look very structurally sound, and the government is in the process of tearing down any building that isn’t safe… aka about 1/3 of the buildings. There was rubble everywhere with piles of bricks. It looked as if the government tore down whole buildings and left the rubble there with no intention of removing it. It was a sad sight to see whole homes demolished in piles of brick and hay.

One thing that I did notice were that many doors were slightly open. Mamajan told us that there is an old custom in these towns were the position of your door lets neighbors know who is home. If both doors are shut no one is home, or the family does not want visitors, if one door is open there are females but no males present, if both doors are open then there is a male home. After wandering the old town for an hour or so, we went into a local home to have lunch. We were told that we would be asked to wash our hands, but it is disrespectful to shake the water off your hands. I never realized how hard it is not to shake water off your hands to dry them until that moment. I slowly removed them from the sink and pressed them against my (dirty) clothes in an attempt to dry them. We all removed our shoes and hopped up onto a platform where we ate a very interesting lunch of noodles, chuar, fruit and other snacks. I was very excited about the yogurt we were given, but it was so sour none of us could eat any of it. After lunch we walked inside the house to see a girl do a traditional dance for us. We pilled into the room with a few Chinese tourists, who were shocked that we spoke Chinese! I have to say it was nice to finally be able to communicate with people again.

After our long day we drove to the airport to fly back to Urumqi. I have to say, I was excited to see the Caucasian mummies, but a little sad to be leaving Uighur paradise. Like the billboard was attempting to say, if you haven’t seen Kashgar, you haven’t seen Xinjiang… just don’t go during Ramadan.




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.

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