AsiaChinaKashgar

Day 102: Plan B

Kashgar Travel Blog

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Tuovists toilet? I must be in China #1

OK, so here I was, comfortable room, Internet, drinks, guidebooks... time to figure out what I was going to do. When planning my Silk Road trip I got the idea to try and visit Kashgar as a weekend-trip from Kyrgyzstan. I am planning to visit part of China later on this trip, so I figured I'd request a 6-month, multi-entry visa. Well, Chinese authorities thought differently and they gave me a 30-day, single entry visa instead. A visa which expires... 20 July. So it would be a waste of a perfectly good visa not to come to China, now was it? Hey, I'm Dutch, I don't like wasting money on something I don't use.

So the original plan had been to visit Kashgar for a few days and then go back the same way to Sary-Tash and then on to Osh and the rest of Kyrgyzstan.

Ladies outside the mosque before Friday prayer
Well, that was before the ethnic cleansing took place in Osh. Even though Kyrgyzstan might seem safe to travel again, what I understood from Tadej, the Slovenian guy in Sary-Tash, was that Osh is still best avoided.

Besides, there used to be a direct sleeper bus from Kashgar to Osh, but that is not running at the moment, so if I'd go back the way I came I would have to hitch-hike and take taxis all the way.

So I had two options: travel to Kyrgyzstan via the other, less used, more expensive, Torugart pass, or bypass Kyrgyzstan completely and travel around the country to the Chinese city of Urumqi and take a train to Kazakhstan from there. The latter sounded pretty cool as well, though it would mean a minimum of 65 hours in the train (in about a week's time, if I wanted to have enough time for Kazakhstan) and from what I heard and read Urumqi itself is not all that interesting.
The Kashgar mosque at the start of Friday prayer


No, I wanted to try the Torugart option first, but this is not without difficulty either. The Torugart is a bit of a cash-cow for the Chinese. It is seen as a secondary border crossing, which can only be used by Chinese or Kyrgyz nationals. Tourists require a special permit to travel across the pass, a permit, which needs to be obtained from... Urumqi!
Then to make matters worse, the Chinese do not allow tourists to travel across the pass by themselves, but they need to transport via a travel agency. So no hitch-hiking this time. Or the bus that does this trip twice-weekly, for that matter. Then on the Kyrgyz side it is the same, transportation on the Kyrgyz side has to be pre-arranged as well as a special border permit to travel through the south-western province is needed.
Women in the streets of Kashgar


Sounds expensive? Well, it is. Was I going to go through with it? Hell, yeah! As I said, my trip in Tajikistan had turned out much cheaper than budgeted, thanks to travelling with Tim and Wim, so I was happy enough to splurge some of that spare budget on this trip. As I have said before, I don't like backtracking, and this route gave me the option to see a whole new part of the country.

Arranging the trip turned out to be surprisingly easy. Several travel agents in Kashgar can arrange for the permits, as well as the transportation on the Kyrgyz side of the border, and after shopping around for a few hours I had found a fairly reasonable deal.
With that out of the way, I could now go venture into Kashgar for some sightseeing.

Kashgar used to be a major stop on the Silk Road and has been a major trading post for over 1500 years.
The streets of Kashgar old town
While today this oasis town is a modern, booming city, the people here are an interesting mix of Uighur (Muslim Chinese), Kyrgyz, Tajik, Kazakh and, more recently, Han Chinese.
This mix is immediately evident when you walk the streets: street stalls are selling roasted kebab as well as dumplings, carpet shops are located next to stores selling traditional Chinese medicine. Men wear Muslim skull caps or Kyrgyz felt hats, while many women are hidden behind a brown veil, yet others walk around in short skirts (well, not above the knee) and faces uncovered.

There isn't a whole lot left of the 'old' city and what is left isn't overly scenic either. The government is demolishing the old mud brick buildings, to make way for modern, earthquake proof housing. China has been hit by two major devastating earthquakes in the past two years, so the government is taking measures.
Kashgar old town
It is a pity the historic centre disappears, yet it is hard to disagree with this decision. When I visited Bam in Iran I was told that more than two thirds of the people who died had died of suffocation. By building houses of a different material than adobe this risk can be greatly reduced. Apparently the 'new' old city will be built in traditional style. Much like the hutongs in Beijing which have been restored/rebuilt for the Olympics in 2008. It might all turn out a bit too Disney land, but let's see. It can't be worse than the concrete office blocks that characterise the new Kashgar.

But as I said, the old centre isn't all that interesting anyway. Just a few streets of decrepit buildings.
Old man in Kashgar old town
What is worse, while this is a residential area tourists need to pay in order to walk around in these streets. Well, being as naïve as I am, I never noticed the signs until I was leaving the area, so I didn't pay. Glad I didn't. Stupid rule anyway.

But historic centre or no, I loved being in a Chinese city again. Food in Central Asia isn't overly varied, so it was great being in a country renowned for its cuisine again. The street food was terrific and all day long I was buying all kinds of interesting fried and steamed snacks. Also, the breakfast in my hotel had been terrific. Chinese breakfast - what a change from the bread with marmalade and the occasional porridge I'd been having over the past weeks/months.

For dinner I wanted to go to the night market. Having fond memories of the Dong Cheng night market in Beijing, I was hoping for all kinds of Chinese delicacies (as well as some deep fried creepy crawlies), but this was a disappointment.
Kashgar night market
I love trying out new food when travelling, but there is a point where even I draw a line. This is usually when the mammals served become too 'recognisable'. The specialities at the night market were braised sheep's head and cooked cow's feet. I'm sure it's delicious, but the sight and the smell certainly weren't, so I chickened out and went for some 'safe' dumplings in a nearby restaurant instead.

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Tuovists toilet? I must be in Chin…
Tuovists toilet? I must be in Chi…
Ladies outside the mosque before F…
Ladies outside the mosque before …
The Kashgar mosque at the start of…
The Kashgar mosque at the start o…
Women in the streets of Kashgar
Women in the streets of Kashgar
The streets of Kashgar old town
The streets of Kashgar old town
Kashgar old town
Kashgar old town
Old man in Kashgar old town
Old man in Kashgar old town
Kashgar night market
Kashgar night market
Wonderful spices in street stalls
Wonderful spices in street stalls
Dried snake, a cure for many ailme…
Dried snake, a cure for many ailm…
Local street vendor
Local street vendor
Local street vendor
Local street vendor
Old city centre is being demolishe…
Old city centre is being demolish…
Must be a Chinese tourist from a b…
Must be a Chinese tourist from a …
At least 15 dentists in a single s…
At least 15 dentists in a single …
Kashgar old town
Kashgar old town
Mosque in Kashgar old town
Mosque in Kashgar old town
The streets of Kashgar old town
The streets of Kashgar old town
Part of the old town that is being…
Part of the old town that is bein…
Kid at a local school
Kid at a local school
part of the old town that is being…
part of the old town that is bein…
Streets of Kashgar
Streets of Kashgar
Map of the Silk Road routes - now …
Map of the Silk Road routes - now…
Streets of Kashgar
Streets of Kashgar
Kashgar night market
Kashgar night market
Kashgar
Kashgar
Billboard with Windows Error - I m…
Billboard with Windows Error - I …
Yummie! Boiled sheeps head - I mus…
Yummie! Boiled sheeps head - I mu…
Kashgar night market
Kashgar night market
Kashgar Hotels & Accommodations review
Truly the best value in Kashgar
This is the place I ended up at the Qinibagh disaster. Better rooms, cheaper price, nicer staff, better value all round! I will review it as a 18 … read entire review
Kashgar
photo by: Biedjee