Kashgar Livestock Market, Kashgar, China

It was Travis who was very keen on visiting Kashgar.  When faced with our dilemma leaving Kyrgyzstan, I suggested travelling straight to Urumqi and perhaps giving the inconveniently located Kashgar a miss (I’d heard the city was no longer quite the Silk Road trading hub it used to be due to massive Chinese development). That would have been a mistake, and I’m glad my stubborn significant other insisted, one of the reasons being the livestock market (the others being the most enjoyable Uighur street food and fascinating night market).

Any traveller wishing to visit Kashgar should make sure their trip runs over a Sunday, as it is early morning on this day each week the local Kashgari men bundle their most valued livestock and display it for sale. The massive market, located about ten minutes from town comprises of sections for cows, sheep, goats (including a particularly favourite billy goat area), donkeys and horses. There were animals everywhere. I tried to avoid thinking about their fate. It was smelly, dirty and overwhelming, yet wonderfully intriguing to watch the interactions – a local Uighur man inspecting a potential purchase by squeezing the udders of a goat and finally, when the sale was made – the respectful handshakes between buyer and seller.

The bustling Kashgar livestock market
Cow and calf at Kashgar livestock market
Plenty of Uyghur men and livestock
Cows ready to be sold at the Kashgar livestock market
A not so happy bull
Cattle at the livestock market
Uighur men chatting around a cow
Plenty of cows at the Kashgar livestock market
Cows being unloaded from a truck
A Uighur men and his two goats
A Uighur men and his goats
Goats lined up at the Kashgar livestock market
Goats lined up at the Kashgar livestock market
Two men with donkeys chatting
A Uighur man and his donkeys
A donkey at the Kashgar livestock market
A boy looking after a lively donkey
Two men bartering over a donkey
Donkeys tied up at the Kashgar livestock market
A young happy billy goat
A billy goat between men
A young billy goat
Men bartering around the goats
A Uyghur men inspecting a billy goat
Transporting a goat at the Kashgar livestock market
A ute full of goats at the Kashgar livestock market

Kashgar food and Uyghur cuisine, China

One of the nice changes was the change in cuisine, Kashgar has a large number of Uyghurn people which influences the cuisine. Uyghurs are an ethnic minority group with the majority living in the south-western part of China. During our stay in Kashgar we ate Uyghurn food at traditional restaurant Intizar of Shou La Mian (noodles topped with meat and vegetables) and tohu gangpan (spicy chicken, potatoes and rice). To drink was green tea with a hint of nutmeg. As we walked down the street we found Tangaza (sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves and served with syrup) for a mere one Yuan each.

At the large Sunday market (which sold everything from Uyghur hats and knives to all the usual Chinese goods) we also found street food – plates of noodles for three Yuan, chuchura (steamed dumplings) and samsas (samousas) for two Yuan each, watermelon slices for one to two Yuan depending on size, and our favourite, freshly fried fish served with seasoning for five Yuan.

That night we headed to Kashgar’s night market for dinner, featuring street food of Uyghur cuisine, there was more than one dish being sold that made us a little queasy.  This included stuffed intestines, trotters and tripe.  We started with some tame chickpeas and capsicum and then a plate of noodles with a vinegar sauce. We then went for some cheap one Yuan skewers which we thought were chicken. However, after eating them we think they may have been goat’s bottom, which explained the ridiculously cheap price. After passing the halved goats heads a number of times, I decided to try one for eight Yuan. The cook observed me trying to work out what to do with this goats head on my plate, and kindly helped me crack the skull and remove the “good bits”. It was mostly all tendons with a bit of meat, I couldn’t bring myself to eat the lips which still had the jagged texture.

We finished the night with Uighur dessert named durap (yogurt, shaved ice and lemon juice all sloshed together), quite tasty.

Tohu Gangpanb - spicy chicken, potatoes and rice
Shou La Mian - noodles topped with meat and vegetables
Tangaza - sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves and served with syrup
Tangaza - sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves and served with syrup
Uighur man slicing goat meat
Fried fish, doesn't get any fresher than this
Uighur man slicing fried fish at the night market
The night market in Kashi sells a variety of Uighur cuisine
Uighur man selling chickpeas and capsicum
Tripe skewers, don't get it confused with chicken
Steamed goats heads, Yum
Chuchura - steamed dumplings
Watermelon slices for a few Yuan each
Uighur man shaving ice for dessert durap

Kashgar (Kashi), China

Kashgar (or Kashi as we learnt when booking the airline tickets) is an important Silk Road city as it was the first major hub after travellers from China heading west had passed the hazardous Taklamakan Desert. Kashgar contains a mix of cultures, predominantly the Islamic Central Asian Uyghur people and more recently with new development in the Western China region, Han Chinese. Kashgar boasts one of the largest and liveliest livestock markets in the world.

We visited Id Kah Mosque, the largest mosque in China, a yellow exterior facade, the design was distinctly different to the mosques we had only recently seen in Iran and Central Asia. From the mosque we visited the Afaq Khoja Mausoleum, the holiest Muslim site in Xinjiang. The mausoleum featured colourful mosaics on the minarets and dome.

One of the interesting things was the time zone, in Kyrgyzstan the sun was setting around 8pm local time. Now even though Kashgar is a few hundred kilometres from Kyrgyzstan, all of China uses Beijing time, which is a further two hours ahead. This meant that the sun would be setting around 10pm, not something that we were used to.

The highlight though was the Uighur food.

Minaret of Id Kah Mosque
Id Kah Mosque, the largest mosque in China
Inside Id Kah Mosque
The old mud brick buildings of silk road city Kashgar
The old mud brick buildings of silk road city Kashi
Afaq Khoja Mausoleum, the holiest Muslim site in Xinjiang
Afaq Khoja Mausoleum, the holiest Muslim site in Xinjiang
Statues reflecting travellers on the old Silk Road

Karakol, Kyrgyzstan to Kashgar, China

We left Karakol intending to spend the day travelling to Sary Tash, a border town roughly 100km from the Kyrgyzstan/China border, a 950km route that we thought would take approximately twelve hours. We made a few poor judgments, first we left too late, at around 9am from Karakol, we then had trouble finding transport from Karakol, it was low-season, and nobody would go directly to Osh so we had to make do with hoping from one city to another.  Another thing was we planned to cross on the Friday, the border was closed on weekends, and we couldn’t afford to lose another two days waiting for it to reopen.

Our initial transport was a marshrutka (Russian for ‘Fixed Route’), a small slow bus, that stops many times and doesn’t go above 60km/h.  In three hours we reached the Barskoon junction, a measly 80kms from Karakol. We decided to hitchhike as there was no sign of public transport.  Fortunately within ten minutes, two friendly young Kyrgyz men picked us up, who were making pharmaceutical deliveries around Lake Issyk Kol and were then heading back to Bishkek.

The Lonely Planet recommended taking transport from Balykchy, and then towards Naryn and onto Osh.  However we further read that from October to June the Fergana Pass was closed, presumably due to snow cover, this meant we could no longer take the direct route through the centre of Kyrgyzstan and needed to go via Bishkek, an extra 200km journey.  Fortunately, our drivers were going that way.  We stopped for a lunch of traditional Kyrgyz dish beshbarmak (literally ‘five fingers’ as it is traditionally eaten by hand), it is a dish of noodles with lamb and a small slice of horse meat. It was the first time Sonya and I had eaten horse, the way it was cooked was quite spicy.

We reached Bishkek at around four o’clock and headed straight for a tour agency.  During the ride we also happened to read that during May 1st to May 10th the border was closed due to a number of national holidays, we wanted to confirm if it would be open, we were informed that it was, but also reality struck that there wasn’t enough time to reach Sary Tash. We had done the Osh to Bishkek route previously and knew it took around eight hours in daylight.  Osh to Sary Tash would a further three to four hours, then there was the time need to go from Sary Tash to the border, reaching for a planned 9am crossing. If we did attempt it, we would be cutting it extremely close, the driver would be driving all night and through two mountain passes, there was a lot of risk.

After much thought and great disappointment, we eventually decided to fly to Kashgar via Urumqi instead, it was a hard decision to make, but we believe we made the best choice for us. It was particularly painful knowing that if we had planned it a little better this may have worked out differently.