Proper Coffee!

16th September 2017

Chairman MaoAfter a week of moving on westward every day through the desert, it is good to finally stay in a city hotel for a few nights. Kashgar is a place we had heard of on the Silk Road and we were looking forward to exploring the markets which had made it famous. We are also close enough to the town centre to walk around between the various sights and are grateful not to be spending long periods of time sat on the bus.

Swastika and lotus leavesAfter admiring Chairman Mao’s statue we head to Abakh Hoja Mausoleum. This is on the outskirts of town and is an important pilgrimage destination in Xinjiang. The whole site is larger than the entrance suggests so we take our time to explore.

We are told that the small mosque at the entrance has Islam, Turkish and Buddhist architecture and our attention is drawn to the swastika and lotus leaf carvings on the wooden pillars. We also see mismatching tiles from the various restorations over the years, so quite a mix of influences.

Abakh Hoja MausoleumThe actual mausoleum built in 1640 has the largest dome in Xinjiang and it is rammed full of 72 tombs covering five generations of the Abakh Hoja families. The mausoleum has been added to over the years. A granddaughter of Abakh Hoja was Iparhan also known as the “Fragrant Imperial Concubine” of Emperor Qianlong who is commemorated here, but as she was taken to Beijing by the Emperor and subsequently died there, no one knows for sure.

Inside a summer mosqueThe cemetery outside is still in use, as is the main Friday Mosque. The various buildings appear to be in an irregular pattern throughout the site, possibly so they all face Mecca. There are open sided mosques for summer and enclosed ones for winter. We now recognise the familiar designs with carved wooden pillars and colourful carpets.

Dried snake anyone?Arriving in the Sunday or Grand Bazaar, we find it is neither. It is open everyday but slightly less busy during the week and as we are early it is devoid of customers and many stalls are just setting up. As we love markets we are keen to explore, however it was quite a disappointment, very regimented and no fruit and veg. Once over the shock of no fresh produce we were distracted by the spices and dried snacks, including the odd dried snake. The rest of the market was full of hats, shoes, fabrics and all the usual everyday items, including rolls of the single use Morrisons plastic bags. Did they over order in the UK maybe?

Did I buy too much??After we had admired everyone else’s purchases of hats, jewellery etc we headed outside and back into town. The old town is now derelict and in parts falling down. A few hardy still live there but the intention is that out of town modern high rise apartments are being built to rehouse the local Uyghur population and to introduce more Han from the east by promoting the properties with a discount.

Old town from the outsideHowever, after being turned away at three of the entrances, including cutting across a car park and going through hole in the wall we had to be content with viewing from outside. There was a sign saying the authorities were sorry but it was deemed unsafe for tourists to enter. Although we did see some allowed to enter we decided on discretion and moved on.

Bending bamboo to make steamersAnother change in itinerary and so extra time in the new town to look at the tourist shops. There were many tradesmen willing to sell their wares and also busy making more items to stock up their shops including local pottery, musical instruments and even bamboo steamers. One shop was packed full of every shape and size of guitars and local Uyghur stringed instruments made out of many different products including snakeskin, luckily none would fit in Dave’s backpack.

A welcome coffee menuThe sight of a proper looking coffee shop was too much to resist and the coffee was properly made by an espresso machine. Oh joy, the first decent coffee we’ve had in a long time. And so we whiled away a happy half hour. Not too long though, as there was another mosque waiting to be explored and off we went. We follow the rules and before entering don our scarves, put our belongings in a locker an head inside, to look but not photograph.

Eating with the localsIt was quite frustrating to see other tourists flaunting the rules and even Asian tourists sitting on the rug inside the mosque for photos with a bored guard looking on. It is even beginning to get to us hardened travellers, who want to respect local customs and be ecotouristic, the way the rules change from day to day, not knowing what we will be allowed to do or see. We cannot imagine what it is like for the locals who have this to contend with every day going about their daily lives.

British EmbassyThe last two sights of the day are the old Russian and British Embassies. The Russian one is now only recognisable by the plaque on the door. The Seman Hotel next door is just as tired and its reputation is failing, just like the building with its tired furnishings. The British Embassy has not faired much better now home to a Chinese restaurant. Those in our group who were here a few years ago remember dining here in style under the chandeliers in the high ceilinged opulent décor. The interior is still worth a look and it is good to see that it has been well maintained in parts.

Music and dance to end our tourIt was the busiest day we have had in a while but there was more to come, joining the locals for a Saturday night out. We were wined and dined in a popular local place with music and dancing (professional, not a free for all). It was time to say goodbye to Laura, our Wild Frontier guide as well as Saddiq our Uyghur guide and our failed camping hosts too. What a brilliant few weeks we have had seeing inside China and especially the Silk Road sights, only the Sunday market tomorrow is left to see before we all head our separate ways.

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