As we agreed in our “plea bargain” with the area security chief last night, we will have breakfast at 9:00am in this lovely village that is unfortunately a restricted area for westerners, then immediately hit the road for Kashgar. The security chief came by this morning, I think to make sure we were living up to our end of the deal, by leaving on time!
But first, she showed us where to eat breakfast, which, even though this is a small town, would still have been hard to find on our own. We ate a delicious meal of vegetable dumplings, along with a creamy tofu in vegetable broth with hot chili oil, and then it was time to leave. We really enjoyed the friendly people we met in Akqi, and the beautiful scenery, even though we were not allowed to spend much time here!
The road from Akqi west continues to parallel the river for another fifty kilometers or so, through beautiful high grasslands. Some of the shepherds have built small adobe houses in the dry areas of the riverbed, that blend perfectly with their surroundings – they are modest in size, not overwhelming the surrounding landscape, as with so many U.S. homes that obstruct views of the natural beauty around them. Their adobe colors also blend very well with the palette of this area – of ochre, gray, and white snow-capped mountains, riverbeds and wildflowers. These grasslands were full of grazing goats, cattle, donkeys, and the occasional wild camels!
The road then turns southwest and climbs through high mountain passes, with almost no cars or trucks traveling in either direction. The scenery was absolutely breathtaking, some of the most beautiful we’ve seen during our entire trip of some 6,000 km so far, and made us want to visit Kyrgyzstan, so close, just over the border to the road we’re on now!
We made it to Kashgar in the early evening, and after checking into our hotel, we decided to go out and explore the outdoor part of the Market which is just behind the Idkah Mosque, within a few blocks of where we are staying. The Kashgar Sunday Market is the most famous as a tourist destination, but we discovered that the Market actually runs every day, with many local customers, until about 10pm, and that the evening times are the busiest, since the oppressive heat eases after about 7pm or so.
The Market felt like the Kuqa Old Town Market, with lots of food stalls offering fresh-baked breads (including something which looked just like a bagel, but was about five times heavier!), mutton kebabs, fruit juices, flavored shaved ices, just harvested vegetables, freshly cut melons, mulberries, cherries, and tart apricots. There are also stalls offering silk scarves, worn by Uyghur women to cover their heads, long skirts and dresses, hats of all kinds, including Tajik, Kazakh, and Krygyz ethnic styles, knives, an area specialty…I could go on and on! I don’t want to forget beautiful stringed musical instruments, nor the man asking me where I was from, then offering me old Iraqi currency, with Sadam’s picture on it!
This outdoor market is chaotic, loud, incredibly crowded with walkers, motorcyclists, cars, and donkey carts, all demanding a little room where there is hardly any at all available. There is also smoke and ashes from the charcoal fires cooking the kebabs blowing in everyone’s face, the winds from the Taklamakan Desert unpredictably kicking up and creating sandstorms in seconds…sellers and children all saying “Hallo!!” every few seconds to get your attention…Wild! And lots of fun!
We had a great time walking around for a few hours, and we did buy some wonderful, delightful sheep’s wool hats that we will use for ski season, and some scarves for gifts. A bit before 10pm, as the Market was starting to wind down, we went into a wonderful cafe we had discovered for a late dinner.
We have planned a day of more Kashgar Market and Old Kashgar exploration for tomorrow…should be another great day!