Kashgar & the Sunday Livestock Market

Part 6 of the Silk Road tour

Posted 25th May 2017 by David McGuinness

Kashgar is one of the most evocative city names from Silk Road lore. My train chugged along the edge of the infamous Taklamakan desert and pulled into Kashgar on Sunday morning, market day. My guide, Musa, met me at the station and we drove straight to the Kashgar Sunday livestock market on the edge of town. As we approached the market the road thickened with vehicles of all shapes and sizes, two wheelers, three wheelers, pick up trucks, tractors, each crammed with their wares – sheep, cows, goats, camels and yak.

We headed inside, where the market was arranged by animal type and groups of mostly men wearing various styles of traditional hats were busily haggling, arguing, drinking, smoking, manhandling and shearing. Animals were unceremoniously unloaded from vehicles and you needed to move quick when you heard “bosh bosh” so as not to be trampled by a man and his less-than-under-control beast passing through the narrow walkways.

Tea and food were available from a string of stalls along the side, with the head or entrails of the animal on sale strewn on the ground so you could recognise what was on the menu. Overall, the impression was of exotic and exhilarating chaos. And it was a photographers dream. I had to be dragged out of there.

From the livestock market we headed to the beautiful Apak Khoja tomb, built by the followers of this Sufi leader in 1640. Its exterior is decorated with beautiful multi-coloured tiles in a mishmash of designs. We continued to the Grand Bazaar to complete our Sunday market visits. Only a small section is of interest here with traditional cloth, carpets, instruments on sale as well as “Uighur medicine” including lizards, frogs, and snake skins. We walked through the small area of the old town that survived, as the Chinese government decided to tear down and rebuild the old town in 2008, and this part was only saved by Western pressure. Then again, the locals who lived in crumbling, dangerous apartments with no electricity or clean water and now live in fully functioning apartments with a steady trade from Chinese tourists do not lament the loss of their old homes in the way Westerners do.

As we walked through the rebuilt old town, in its incongruously wide streets I noticed a pattern every five minutes. A triumvirate of security men would appear and walk along the street in single file, scanning left and right, then stop on the corner, backs facing each other in an ever-watchful triangle. After a minute they would continue to the next corner in single file, eyes darting left and right. The people continued about their business. It certainly felt like overkill, and was likely to be counter-productive to its aims.

Over lunch, Musa told me that relations are actually improving between the two main communities and it is now possible, though not-yet-common to have Uighur-Han marriages. These would always be Han men with Uighur women, he explained. A lot of the investment in the region by the government has also been appreciated, Musa offered, and many Uighurs had become “more modern” as a result. This was a good thing, he felt.

We stopped into Idkah mosque, the largest mosque in China, and then headed to a 100 year old tea house, packed with Uighur men, taking a break to socialise and get refreshed. The welcome was friendly. After a late dinner we wandered around the picturesque night market, with its fruit vendors, swinging animal carcasses and freshly-made kebabs.

This blog is part of an Off-The-Beaten-Track Travel Diary. Click on the links below to navigate through this journey.

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