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Two Years & Twice Around the World...  



June 3. YENGISAR (Xinjiang Province)  Jenny and James were going to begin moving down the southern silk road towards Hotan.  Rob and I joined them as far as Yengisar, the town know for knife making.  Our bus tickets ended up getting us a ride in a taxi to Yengisar since there apparently weren't any buses going right away.  The taxi tore along the highway, passing a flood of carts entering a small village from both directions.  Apparently their weekly market was on Tuesday.  The oddest sight was a huge camel pulling a cart normally reserved for donkeys.  The way the camel loped down the road looked like a cartoon.  

In only an hour and a half drive we found ourselves in the very nondescript little town of Yengisar.  The only attraction this place had to offer was its knife factory.  We got a tour of the knife factory where individuals were working on various stages of their knives.  Each knife was fashioned from beginning to end by one person which included hammering out the blade and designing the handle with various materials (silver, copper, inlaid bone, horn, plastic, etc.).  The shop had a good selection of knives and we were there a long while sorting through them all and negotiating a reasonable price.  It all took so long that we actually purchased some knives, went across the street for lunch, and then came back to negotiate for some more!

Rob and I were sorry to see Jenny and James move on to Yarkhand.  It had been a lot of fun to have travel companions for a while.  We also planned to move out along the southern Silk Road as well but wanted another day to catch our breath and work on our reading and journals.  If our plans all worked out we would meet up with Jenny and James in Hotan for the Sunday Market.      

June 4. KASHGAR (Xinjiang Province)  We had been in Kashgar for several days and still hadn't seen the large Id Kah Mosque that resided in a more traditional Uyghur part of town.  The yellow tiled mosque was originally built in 1442 and can house up to 20,000 people, making it the largest mosque in Xinjiang. Unfortunately, it suffered during the Cultural Revolution so the mosque you see today is not the original.  Still it is an important religious center for the Uyghur people.  We walked from the Seman Binguan and passed by Ali John's Carpet Shop. He waived from the door and we promised to come back when we had seen the mosque.  

Generally women aren't seen at the mosques but visitors are tolerated if you respect their custom of covering your arms and legs and wearing a scarf on your head.  When in Kasghar... so I dressed conservatively and wore the scarf that I had bought in Xining.  There were practically no people in the mosque and while the tree filled interior made a peaceful and cool place for prayer the interior of the mosque was rather simple.  The prayer areas pointed towards Mecca and with the exception of one small area inside the building the prayers areas were in the open air but covered with overhanging roofs.  Shoes must be removed to enter the prayer area since the carpets are used for people to kneel and say their prayers.  Only two worshippers were present when we looked around.  A few other Uyghur men were quietly strolling around the mosque as well.  A Chinese couple stood on the steps leading up to the main prayer area taking photos.  The woman didn't have her arms, legs or head covered which I thought was a pretty obnoxious display of ignorance or perhaps just disrespect towards the local customs. But, I guess the mosque would be hard pressed to deny entrance to a Chinese person.  To top it off she was standing on the main steps posing for a photo and talking on her cell phone.  On the notice to visitors the mosque didn't dictate a dress code but they did stated under item #6 that "breaking wind and speaking loudly is forbidden".  I think talking on your cell phone in the prayer area breaks that rule!  I couldn't hear if they had gas as well.....  

We stopped by Ali John's carpet shop on our way back and looked at a few carpets. His shop specialized in old carpets and with our limited knowledge of carpets we had no idea how much new, let alone old, carpets should cost.  He and the shop owner offered us some tea but we were already headed for the Caravan Cafe for some breakfast and politely declined until another time.

Much to our disappointment the Caravan Cafe had its day off on Wednesday so we ended up back at John's for breakfast.  I serious let down food wise.  But, we did end up having a nice chat with a German fellow and a Dutch couple, comparing travel stories.  The Dutch couple had come from Urumqi by bike across the Taklamakan Desert which sounded positively nuts.  However, they had safely navigated around the blood tests in Hotan which was encouraging.  They had also spent a month in Mongolia during their 9 months traveling and raved that it had been their favorite place.  That was something else to look forward to.

For the rest of the day I pounded out the journal while Rob did carpet research on the Internet.  If we planned to try to buy a carpet on the Silk Road one of us needed to know something about carpets.

June 5. KASHGAR (Xinjiang Province)  Well, we were going to move on towards Hotan on Thursday but had just gotten too comfortable in Kashgar.  We figured that one more day couldn't hurt.  The Caravan Cafe was open and we spent a long time there having breakfast and coffee while reading and writing postcards.  When we maxed out the amount of money we wanted to spend there we moved over to John's and had lunch.  We were the only ones there since the number of tourists had steadily dwindled since June 1st.  All of the people who had pooled up waiting for the Pakistan border to open on the 1st gave up and moved on or went to Urumqi to fly to Islamabad.  As we sat nibbling our food we spotted our Malaysian friend from Dunhuang approaching.  She had just arrived from Urumqi after going to Hansai Hu with Adrian, Idan and Tomoko.  Tomoko was flying on to Islamabad and she thought Adrian and Idan might be coming down to Kashgar. It was a very small tourist world in SARS China.  They had all been quarantined in Buerjin for two days because they couldn't prove that they had been in Xinjiang for two weeks. 

We spent the afternoon catching up on email and then I went back to pound out some more of the journal while Rob continued his Internet research on carpets.  The whole carpet world was becoming very complex.  We met at the Red Flower Cake Shop and Bakery for dinner.   The menus weren't in English but we were able to point to get what we wanted.  I was trying to describe the good cucumber salad we had eaten with Ali and the waiter materialized a plate so I figured that they spoke more English than they were willing to admit.  We ended up with some fresh squeezed pomegranate juice, the spicy cucumber salad, and a big plate of chicken dapanji (a whole chicken cut into chunks served with a deliciously flavorful sauce) with noodles.

June 6. KARGHILIK (Xinjiang Province)  We finally motivated ourselves to leave Kashgar.  The hotel was driving us nuts.  We only had intermittent hot water and the floor ladies were idiots, only rarely giving us clean towels and one time barging in unannounced.  We had also been the victims of another stupid SARS decision to put all of the high school students in a hotel so they could take their tests together.  There wasn't any real sound logic behind it but it meant that our floor became overrun with a bunch of loud obnoxious teenagers.  We tried to get them to quiet down the night before but they only retaliated by turning our Do Not Disturb sign over to Make Room so the floor ladies came knocking early in the morning.  We were more than happy to be getting out of the Seman Biguan. 

We had a final breakfast at John's before departing for the bus station.  The group of students staying at the Seman building above John's restaurant were all lingering outside and staring at us, pointing and giggling.  They must have been from the country side because they girls were dressed conservatively with the Mrs. Doubtfire tights (also used as a purse in lieu of a brassier).

I ran down to the Internet cafe for one last email check to see if Jenny and James had experienced any SARS problems further down the Silk Road.  There were no messages so we were feeling pretty confident that we would be okay.  After all we had been in Xinjiang nearly two weeks and hadn't been in a SARS infected region for many more weeks than that.

The bus ride was reasonable comfortable and seemed to go quickly.  We had to fill out the same old SARS form when leaving Kashgar that no ever seemed to look at anywhere else.  The SARS checkpoints along the way didn't hassle us and we arrived in Karghilik in early evening. 

The area by the bus station was bustling with small restaurants, food carts, donkey carts, horse carts, cars honking horns and the periodic bus speeding and honking its way into the station.  We found a room at the Traffic Hotel next to the station.  It wasn't a great place but convenient.  I was totally wiped out from the antibiotics that were treating yet another bout of intestinal infection and couldn't manage any sight seeing but Rob ventured out into the old Uyghur part of Karghilik which seemed to go on for ever.  He returned with meat dumplings and a fresh watermelon.  We went across the street for dinner and spotted two other tourists come into town.  We'd met the Aussie fellow at the Kashgar market and had heard about the Japanese guy with the guitar.  They were going to head across the desert and unfortunately had no new news about Hotan SARS checks.


CLASSIC CHINA Beijing April 23 April 24 April 25 April 26 April 27 April 28 April 29-30 May 1-2 May 3-4 May 5 Pinyao, Shanxi May 6 May 7 Xian, Shaanxi May 8 May 9-10

TIBETAN PLATEAU Xining, Qinghai May 11 May 12 Tongren, Qinghai May 13 May 14 Xiahe, Gansu May 15 May 16-17

THE SILK ROAD Lanzhou, Gansu May 18 Dunhuang, Gansu May 19-20 May 21-22 May 23 May 24-25 Turpan, Xinjiang May 26 May 27 Kashgar, Xinjiang May 28-29 May 30 May 31 June 1-2 June 3-6 Hotan, Xinjiang June 7 June 8-9 June 10-11 June 12-13 June 14-16 June 17-19

A LAST LOOK Shanghai June 20-29 Beijing June 30