August 19, 2007


We boarded the plane to Kashgar at dusk to the tunes, in my ears anyhow, of the Black Hawk Down soundtrack. One of the tarmac safety officers rode past my window on a bicycle as we pulled out of the gate. An hour and a half later my flight arrived at around midnight Beijing time, which is officially the same thing as Xinjiang time, even though Xinjiang is actually two hours behind Beijing. The taxi drivers demanded 40 yuan for a ride to the hotel that should've been 10 by the meter. I split the cost with a backpacking girl from Columbia studying Chinese in Shanghai. The hotel, the Chingi Bagh, has cheap dorms in various states of disrepair. My roomates include an Orthodox Jewish couple from Israel and a guy from Michigan who's currently 10 weeks into a trip all over China. Kind of puts my trek to shame, but then he is fluent in Chinese. Last night we were joined by a guy from Switzerland. There's a sitcom pitch in here somewhere.

Kashgar is a much nicer city than Urumqi. Less overdeveloped, less polluted, less sprawl. Uyghurs outnumber Chinese and not the other way around, although a giant statue of Mao still looms over the People's Park square (the People's Park has a entry fee to get inside). Much of the old city is in the process of being torn down but there are still plenty of back alleys, kebab street vendors, men with sun-creased faces and white skullcaps sitting in the shade of trees and noon, and women in headscarves and veils to give the city a Central Asian, rather than a Chinese, feel. The sights -- the Id Khah mosque, the Abakh Khoja tomb, and the Sunday Market -- do have a well-worn tourist trail running through them though; French and Chinese tour groups nearly outnumbered the Uyghur men and their sons herding in their cows, fat-bottomed goats, donkey carts and even one or two camels at the livestock market this morning. It's rather sad to see, though of course I'm a tourist here as well.

I successfully managed to wedge my way to the front of the queue at the bus station so tomorrow I will be heading west up the Karakorum Highway to Lake Karakul, where I will probably be spending the night in a Kyrgyz yurt. I've managed to catch a bad sinus headache / head cold in the past day or so but copious amounts of water, Emergen-C powder, and garlicky Szechuan noodles from the traveler's cafe at the base of our hotel will hopefully be enough to hold it at bay. Gastro-intestinal status is currently rated at 75% of optimum levels, and hopefully holding.

Will check back again either when I get back into Kashgar, or otherwise from Hotan, my next stop along the Southern Silk road.

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