Bus number 1
Yarkand Travel Blog› entry 8 of 24 › view all entries
...took me to Yarkand, along the southern Silk Road. A six hour trip, but not too bad at all, apart from the constant checkpoints.
In Yarkand, only one hotel is allowed to take foreigners. It's a constant problem here, and is preventing me from staying in more characterful and cheap places. In less stable areas, the PSB likes to corral foreigners into just a few licensed hotels. Staying anywhere else results in a big fine for the owners. Anyway, as I got off the bus, an old man on a bike/trailer combo shouted out the name of the hotel, and started putting my pack in his trailer. He was asking twice the price of a taxi, but I couldn't reallly be bothered arguing. Then he chivalrously wiped the edge of the trailer for me to sit on, and off we went.
Yarkand, or at least the half of it I explored, seems 100% Uighur, unlike Kashgar, which has a sizeable Han population, thanks to the Chinese govt's 'Develop the West' programme. Here I got stared at (in the nicest possible way) and didn't see another westerner in the whole time I was there. I have a light scarf tied to my bag, for mosque visiting purposes (you never know when you might come across one). I put it on initially to keep off the sun for five minutes, but I ended up keeping it on. Every other woman was scarved, and it just felt like a good idea.
I bought a bowl of polo (rice, yellow peppers, raisins etc, toppped with cucumber and chillies) at one of the street food stalls, and sat at one of its tables.
After resting a while, I walked down to the bus station to find out about buses to Hotan tomorrow. Everything in this town is written in three languages - with three different scripts. It's a pity none of them are mine. I think she said there's a bus at 12 and another at two. I think she said that was Beijing time. Xinjiang runs on two different times. - 'official' Beijing time (for buses, trains, bank and PO opening times, etc) and unofficial Xinjiang time, which is two hours behind, and accounts for the fact that we're thousands of miles from Beijing, and more in line with countries two time zones away. Consequently whenever one asks about times, one has to follow it up with "which time?".
The Rough Guide calls the backstreets of this place "The closest you'll come in China to the Central Asia of 100 years ago". To be honest, it's hard to imagine that I am in China. The faces, the buildings, the food...this feels like a whole different country, which explains the problems the government is having with the region. It's far more ethnically and physically related to its neighbours, Kyrgystan and Tajikistan.
I'd been initially under the impression that Yarkand was less 'armied up' than Kashgar had been, but maybe not. There was a whole bunch of soldiers posted slightly to the left of the old fort. I wanted to take a picture of the fort, but obviously, getting the soldiers in the picture would be a no no, and result in my camera's memory card being confiscated, at best. A policeman seeing me holding the camera, gestured to the right, and then stood behind me to check the LED screen. He saw that only the fort filled the screen, heard the click of the camera, then said "OK" and waved me on.
As I was walking through the oldest part of town this evening, there was the all too familiar, but in this case, incongruous sight, of a jeep followed by a truck convoy of riot armed soldiers. Squeezing up those narrow streets of baked mud was some achievement. While I'd been pretty much ignored in Kashgar, in this case, as I stood back to let them pass, I got a good staring at. It was a bit disconcerting. I have a little notebook to jot things down in, as an aide-memoire. I've not felt able to use it in public in Xinjiang. Here in particular, I stand out like a sore thumb.
It's odd to be in a place where a digital camera still has the 'wow' factor. A couple of girls, maybe 11 or 12 years old, followed me, giggling, for a little while. Eventually they asked my name and made the camera clicking gesture. They wanted me to take their picture (for which they whisked off their scarves!) and then each wanted to take a picture of the other, with me. Even 11-12 yer olds aren't too cool to preen and giggle at their images!
P.S As if 'In the Night Garden' wasn't already the weirdest programme that children's TV has produced, I've just watched it in Mandarin with Uighur subtitles. Bizarre.