We woke from our culvert and raced onto the road. It became increasingly obvious during the night that it had been used as a workers’ loo while the road had been being constructed; the odour did not entice a lie in. We reached Kashgar after the smoothest riding in a long time and went straight to a youth hostel which had rightly been recommended to us.
Located in the city centre with a terrific second floor view over the beating heart of the city, Id Kah mosque, it could not be better placed. Additionally, it was bursting full of travellers from all around the world, gathered a few days early for the Muslim New Year celebrations and all full of tips and enthusiasm for the road ahead.
We stayed three days in Kashgar, easily worth it for its historical and cultural significance. The streets brim full of Uyghurs, the local Muslim minority group, who are much like the Central Asians we have come to know and appreciate for their great generosity. Fortunately for us, they are all keen to display and advertise their culture which meant oodles of food to buy on every pavement!
A particular favourite was the night market. With about 50 different food stalls, all at prices one could gawp at, it is easy to be greatly satisfied. For fear of being called a food blog, we will keep it short, though Alex and I both agree that after weeks lacking variation in our nourishment, this was the best bit for us! We tasted kebabs, bread and doughnuts; devoured samsas, polo and mushroom sticks; drank beer, yoghurt and soup; tried sheep guts, brains and eyes… The list goes on!
The famous animal market , which we had rushed to see, was well worth the effort. Hundreds upon hundreds of livestock of all shapes and sizes, from goats to giant yaks and camels, were on display or all to see, and bargain for. The locals are so adept at rapid intense negotiations that they don’t even need two hands to count, they go up to ten on one! Go figure… The smell, sights and tastes were quite unlike anything we have ever seen.
Every parent will now surely think “it serves you right” on reading that both of us quickly became ill… But we had to try everything! I was hit particularly nastily by a home cooked dinner I was invited to by Chinese friends in the hostel and spent a large part of the next day and a half in bed and the unsanitary shared bathroom.
A great highlight of our time in Kashgar was witnessing the sacrifice of sheep performed as part of the Muslim New Year celebrations. The sales began on the high street days before the event producing interesting scenes of sheep in front of banks and bus stops. On the day itself, the scale of the operation became clear. One could not walk in the street without seeing a sheep head on a spike, some guts in a bowl, blood in the gutter, hooves on the grill, and vehicle sized piles of sheep skins. The occasional sacrificed cow (apparently satisfactory for 3-5 individuals) was also visible – all of this plain to see with the whole community taking part!
As a major crossing point of the old Silk Road and the new, Kashgar also introduced us to some great fellow travellers who we will miss!
I hope the photos give an idea of the crowds, the bazaars, the noise and the stark contrast to the Pamirs!