Traveling from the edges of Kyrgyzstan to the western frontier of China is for those looking for beautiful scenery and unique experiences. Flying is just too easy. But, be aware. There is a mental and physical price to pay. Many foreign passport holders are still required to hire a private escort to take them through the area south of the border and then on to Kashgar, The journey usually requires a long wait at the top of a chilly mountain and a possibility that a truck full of uranium could be sitting next to your car the whole time. Start the journey from Naryn before dawn, bring some snacks, maybe a face mask and a whole lot of patience. Border guards usually have no knowledge about what’s going on and take a large break at lunch time. Remember, this border is primarily used for shipping goods back and forth between the two countries. No warm welcome here.
Of course, there are rewards to all the aches and pains. Endless views of barren pastures featuring packs of wandering wild horses, playful yaks, remains of ancient Caravanserai’s and occasional sightings of a local family packing up their yurt as the sun comes up. This is probably one of the best ways to experience this part of the ancient Silk Road. Now, it’s really all about the journey.
Kashgar’s Sunday Livestock Market experience is equivalent to going back in time. Horses waiting for a test drive and Bactrian Camels seemingly striking a pose for the cameras are a couple of highlights for curious visitors. This place is all business, so in the very least try to stay clear of the path of galloping horses, what they and their four-legged friends leave behind and try take tons of great photos without any accidents.
Take a close look at this picture. Observe the hindu symbols and how the Arabic script and short phases do not flow from tile to tile. They must not make any sense for those who can read them. The how ironic is this wall of tiles? The site is a beautiful and mysterious place to see how the Chinese of the wild west used to live. The sleepy camel and the colorful walls all make a great backdrop for souvenir pictures.
The Apak Khoja mausoleum is where five generations of the Apak Khoja family lay to rest. One of them is the subject of two very different folktales. The Han cast her as a romantic Uyghur princess and she is known as the “Fragrant Concubine” who is a loving companion of a Han Emperor who united a once divided nation. In the Uyghur version, she is known as Iparhan, granddaughter of Apak Khola. Locals say she died in Beijing after being taken there by force by a victorious and greedy Han Emperor. It is thought that she either committed suicide or a her jealous mother-in-law ordered a eunuch to murder her. Iparhan is a nationalist hero of the Uyghur people who symbolizes the resistance against the Han.
People from both camps come here to see where this mythical princess lays to rest. The tomb is possible empty because both tales are pure fiction. The government has decided to keep the dream of the “Fragrant Concubine” alive and charges visitors to see what used to be a Sufi pilgrimage site. It’s upkeep and renovations are not cheap. Camel rides are not included.
There’s only one road to get to the Afaq Khola Mausoleum after getting off bus no. 20 and it’s a dusty one. Walking would be pleasant if it wasn’t for the all the dust made by vehicles operated by senseless drivers. Getting a ride in a horse and buggy can be a good but budget busting alternative.
A large pomegranate fruit sits in the middle of Kashgar’s Old City just behind the refurbished Id Kah Mosque. The Chinese have long believed that this fruit symbolizes fertility and those consuming it will have a long life and possibly chance at immortality. In ancient Egypt, the fruit represented ambition and prosperity. The consumption of these fruity seeds by Persian warrior made him invincible. The pomegranate will hopefully offer such gifts and more to the Uighurs here in Kashgar.
Animals usually travel to and from Kashgar’s Livestock Market on the backs of trucks, inside the trunks and back seats of cars, or packed inside trailers pulled either by a motor bike, horse or donkey. Sheep and lamb are usually tossed in and out like bails of hay, while agitated cows, camels, horses and donkeys get pulled and lifted into and out of the backs of trucks. Visitors will find it hard not to marvel at a group of men collectively pushing a few stressed out cows up and on to a truck bed by using all means necessary. The best maneuver that afternoon was something that can only be described as the tail twister. Check out this video by stefhoffer on YouTube for a better look.
Scenes from Kashgar’s Sunday Livestock Market in China’s Xinjiang Province are more typical of neighboring Kyrgyzstan or Kazakhstan then of the Motherland itself. How big your flock is, how well they cared for and their appearance is a reflection on the owner and his family. A respectfully dressed sheep and a nice knife are a sign of wealth and taste here in Kashgar.
Sunday Livestock Market remains unfazed by political skirmishes, religious clashes and regional social shifts. At this point, regional disruptions pass through town like dust storms through the Karakorum desert. Most deals and negotiations being made each Sunday, whether it be an addition to the flock or more horse power, usually involve the parties acting in a courteous and respectful fashion. The canteen is where these satisfied businessmen stop and enjoy kebab and chat after a long morning of wheeling and dealing.
The sites of all over China are slowly being torn down, added on to or just demolished into a more appealing and high ticket worthy site. The desert town of Turpan or Tulupan is no exception. Despite this, some sites in the area still attractive enough to justify an uncomfortable day of riding in a van over pot filled roads without air conditioning. Visitors also need to learn to look beyond the cluttered with junk stalls, dressed up camels and buzzing two-seater planes that obstructed the view and take it for what it is fast becoming which is a genuine tourist trap.
Here are a few sights worth seeing:
The Xianjiang Regional Museum
The Xiajiang Regional Museum here is most travelers first stop before heading out of the city. The free museum offers great overview of the history of the area. This is the best way to help visualize how the area could have once looked like, and make a plan of what to see before heading out. The museum also is a great way to take a break from the mid day heat in the summer months.
The Ancient City of Jiaohe
The Jiaohe Ancient City is mostly ruins but the scale of it and the surrounding landscape make it well worth the trek out. It was tour bus free the day we arrived. It was later in the day so the views were spectacular and the vendors were too tired by then to even bother with us.
The Flaming Mountains
The mountains are along the highway that leads to the Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves making it an easy stop along the way. The subterranean museum/gift shop isn’t really that interesting, but the mountains beyond the entrance, the paragliders and dressed up camels are a beautiful especially at the end of the day.
The Emir Minaret
The Minaret itself is worth a visit, but don’t worry if it’s too late the enter the mosque area. It closes around 4:30pm and in the summer the sun doesn’t even set here until around 10pm. The Mosque and Minerat is fenced in and it’s surrounded by fields of grape vines and an older muslem neighborhood. It’s a surprise to see that it remains untouched by the authorities. Many of the homes contain second stories which are essentially large windcatchers which help cool traditional desert homes during the hot summer months. It’s easy to get lost here so it’s good to carry a good map or a GPS device if you got it.