The Beginning Of The End

17th September 2017

Have I got moos for youWild Frontier’s original itinerary for this trip had us going to Kashgar’s Sunday market – on a Saturday. They then had to shuffle the whole itinerary forward a day but by that time we had already booked our flight out of Kashgar. Fortunately, our flight isn’t until the afternoon and that means that we do have time to visit the market which, unlike other markets we’ve visited is a livestock market. Indeed this is the market that Johnny Bealby, Wild Frontier’s founder, bought a horse with the intention of riding it to the Caspian Sea and which, in turn, gave him the inspiration to set up the company.

Minimum transaction is one animalThe market is a little way outside of town and so we head off in our coach as normal. As we get closer then more of the traffic becomes lorries or vans (or load carrying tuk-tuks) loaded up with animals. Whether you have a flock of sheep or just a single donkey to sell, this seems to be the place to come. We’re curious as to how this market compares with the big market in Ashgabad – and the answer is not much. For one thing, this is only a livestock market whereas in Turkmenistan, not only was the market over a much bigger area only a quarter was dedicated to animals. What Kashgar’s market lacks in style though, it very much makes up for in local colour.What's it to ewe?

Before and afterThe market is roughly segregated by type of animal. Yes, there is a section for horses but there are only a few of them (and I wouldn’t know how to start to buy one that had any sort of chance of getting me to the Caspian Sea). The biggest sections are for sheep and for cattle (cows and yaks) in the middle of the market and then on either wing are donkeys and camels. It all seems to be very free form – drive up with your animals on the back of your truck; find an empty pen or tether; push them out; and wait for a buyer to come along. At last, we understand one advantage of the ‘counting with hand signs’ that we were taught back in Yunnan – you can hide your hands while you haggle in secret and the selling price is kept confidential.

Yakkity yakWe’ve been allowed a couple of hours to wander round and at first we think it is far too generous and expect to be looking for ways to fill half the time. But the market is fascinating both for people watching and for photography. In some ways, it is a shame that we only have one camera but equally we’d then just end up with twice as many photos to process. We’re able to walk around freely – almost the first time that there is no visible security presence – watching where we put our feet and being careful to stay out of biting or kicking range of the animals. All the while, we (and the other 2 or 3 groups of western tourists) are ignored by the locals who just get on with their business. By the clothing and facial features of the locals, we could easily be in one of the ‘Stans rather than China.

Not the most modern kitchenBefore we head off to the airport for our flight, there is just time for lunch – and of course, it has to be the freshly cooked samsas. While, initially we were a bit dubious about eating food at a livestock market we realised that at least the meat would be fresh and the food piping hot straight out of the oven at a zillion degrees. And then it was time to say goodbye to everyone from the Wild Frontiers trip – it was a real pleasure to spend time with you, and we have picked up plenty of ideas for future trips. (Wild camping in Botswana, in particular sounds like a great thing to do – even if the lions will walk right past your tent).

Not everyone did a roaring tradeThe security at Kashi (Kashgar) airport reminded us that we were still in China. X-ray machines for all bags before entering the terminal building, checked luggage X-rayed again at check in (and I had my aerosol of insect repellent confiscated), and then the usual screening to go through to the departure lounge. We did provide some amusement for the locals, though, as we didn’t realise that the two lines for this last screening were segregated – and us both being in the same line was the wrong answer!

Not necessarily their better sideIts only at check-in that we realise our China Eastern flight to Urumqi then goes on to Shanghai (where we really want to get to). Should we have booked to stay on and have cut Urumqi out of our itinerary? We’re only there for one night. Its a moot question as it is too late to change our booking and we console ourselves that we’d be late into Shanghai if we kept on this flight. In any case, we got a deal on business class tickets for tomorrow’s flight and so we’ll be better looked after. At Urumqi, the queue for the taxis is longer than expected and we are almost tempted by the unlicensed drivers touting for customers. You hear too many horror stories though and so we wait for the official taxis to trickle through.

Would you like a lift to the airport?After all of the weeks of very cautious Chinese drivers, our white-knuckle taxi ride was a bit of a shock as we went hurtling through the streets of Urumqi. We booked to stay in the Sheraton thinking that it would be a bit of a treat after all of the budget hotels on the Silk Road. But actually, the hotels Wild Frontiers chose were OK (good in some cases) and the Sheraton was the usual soulless multinational chain hotel. Still, it was nice to have a large room with a good view. And there was burger & chips on the restaurant menu! There was much confusion over the beer though – we saw that people on other tables had tins of local beer. But we were told that we couldn’t order those and instead had to have bottles of Tsing Tao. Oh well, it was still beer and we were able to drink a toast of thanks to the folk on the Wild Frontiers trip.

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