We began today’s travel west at 10:30am, with every intention of making this a cycle-drive day, but poor road conditions off the expressway, and the hot, dusty desert weather wound up making this not an enjoyable option. We had planned to take the expressway out of Korla and stop at Lintau for lunch, and then begin biking, but when we took the expressway exit, we were faced with 20 km of rough gravel roadbed that felt like driving on a washboard! It just didn’t feel worth it, to then be able to cycle out of Lintau.
So we decided to continue on to Kuqa on the expressway, another 100km, then stop for lunch on the outskirts of town. We arrived about 3:30pm, and after lunch, checked into our hotel, which was also a bit on the outskirts of town, but was a comfortable and pleasant choice. We will stay in Kuqa for two nights before continuing on to Aksu, so we immediately set out to explore the Moslem Old Town.
Kuqa has two distinct sections, divided by a large, mostly dry riverbed – the New Town is primarily Han Chinese, and looks like a typical modern Chinese town, with its utilitarian row buildings and anonymous residential skyscrapers. The Old Town is Uygur, with an incredible covered and outdoor street market sprawling out on both sides of the bridge spanning the riverbed. Leading to and from the market area are narrow alleys and cobblestone streets separating adobe and brick houses and small businesses. It’s the most exciting street market I’ve ever seen, anywhere in Asia…and the most welcoming to a couple of picture-taking foreigners, as well!
The Old Town is vibrant, alive, and exhilarating to be in, with mule-drawn open wooden carts serving as taxis for the shoppers…once they have made all their purchases, and have many bags to carry, they hop on a passing cart and get a ride back to their homes! Every imaginable trade is open for business at the market – seamstresses, tailors, shoe repairers, tinkers, dentists, barbers, bread makers, cooks, makers of saddles and other horse riding accessories, all one on top of another, all plying their trades, creating a cacophony of calls for attention – come, look at my goods, taste my food, and buy!
The outdoor food stalls catered to the locals’ diet, which means that there were barbecued meat kebabs, skewered roasted chickens, great hunks of chicken fat and offal, and fresh flat breads everywhere! Not a vegetable to be seen, except for the fresh vegetables and fruits sold in abundance by the local farmers…Throughout Xinjiang Province, we have found that the favorite dining-out food is invariably mutton kebabs cooked on a specially-made wood fired grill, with chicken or fish grilled in a similar way the second and third choices.
I tried to buy one of the colorful four-cornered hats that all the men wear, since I love to wear hats…but it was hard to find one big enough to comfortably fit my head! Tali bought two pairs of black pants, one embroidered with colored thread and bright metal buttons, and the other trimmed with lace, made to be worn under a dress or with a long shirt. And we took lots of photos of the Uygur people of Kuqa, invariably friendly and curious about these Western visitors to their market!