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Two Years & Twice Around the World...  



June 8. HOTAN (Xinjiang) "The Crazier Hotan Bazaar" The main reason for most people to visit Hotan is the lively Sunday Market.  It is more of an authentic experience than the already chaotic Kashgar bazaar and generally less touristy (when there are tourists that is). It didn't disappoint and made up for some of the hostile feelings we were having towards brainless government officials, dishonest taxi drivers, and our overpriced hotel.

Many of the same goods are sold at the Hotan market as are sold at the Kashgar market but market has a less centralized structure.  The Hotan market was more like a group of markets all butted up against one another, each with a different feel, making it a more interesting place to just explore.  The buildings near the busy streets housed the carpet, silk, clothing and doppi markets.  Another covered area at the back housed more clothing.  Stalls selling all sorts of stuff were squeezed in between the buildings.  As we moved away from these buildings and down the narrow dirt road that ran through the center of the market there more stalls were packed in and little restaurants on either side of the road.  Off shoots led to the livestock market, the yarn and pigment market, the cotton and wool market, the lumber market, and here and there were pockets of vendors selling knives, vegetables, more clothes, furniture, medicines, spices, horse bridles, shish kebab BBQs, and more. And, up and down these alleyways and off shoots there was a constant flow of donkey and horse carts pushing their way through.

While we had seen many of these goods at the Kashgar market, this market had a wider variety of goods and more raw goods within a smaller area. With the chaotic traffic and flurry of dust if was easy to imagine being in a different time.  Even the paved streets that ran along the outskirts of the market began to overflow with people and a variety of food carts as the day went on.   By late afternoon there was hardly room for one lane of traffic.  

My favorite spots in the Hotan market were the carpet and silk bazaars, the livestock market, the yarn and pigment vendors, and the open area at the back that was the least permanent section where they were selling a whole host of things and had their goods laid out every which way.

The carpet and silk section was housed in one of the front buildings and had carpets and silk hanging all over the place in a way that was more reminiscent of the old Silk Road than anything we had seen in Kashgar.  Rob and I were interested in buying a famous Hotan market and began looking here.  The vendors were assertive and persistent but rarely became aggressive and annoying.  One carpet vendor spoke English well and patiently went through his entire pile of homemade Hotan carpets, including one made by his mother and sister.   Rob's carpet research came in very handy as we were able to discern the genuine Hotan made carpets by some unique characteristics, namely the vase and pomegranate motifs.  Unfortunately, we didn't see one that we wanted to buy.

The livestock market was total craziness.  It had countless numbers of cows, donkeys and horses crammed into a tight space, all with their asses faced towards what little bit of walking area existed.  This was disconcerting for two reasons; these animals can kick and they were certainly fertilizing the area at will.  We soon learned to reverse quickly when a tail started to go up.  There were cows there that were bigger than I ever knew a cow could get.  It was a feast for the senses but given the inherent hazards we didn't spend much time looking around.

The yarn and pigment market was a quiet little haven in the midst of total chaos.  It had its own isolated area off of the dusty main street.  The vendors were lounging on their rolls of yarn, waiving to us as we walked past.  It wasn't a very busy place except for the pigment area.  Most of the yarn being sold was still in its raw color so people had to buy pigments ground from minerals to dye the yarn and create the elaborate designs found in the carpets.  One man was particularly busy filling orders, mixing the different powders together and rolling them in pieces of paper.  

The back area of the market had a steady flow of traffic but was away from most of the donkey carts and dust.  For only five jiao (units of a Yuan) one man gave us a ride on his donkey cart around the back of the bazaar.  Little kids approached us with their hands curled around their eyes.  This was a signal that they wanted us to take their picture.  They were even more thrilled to see the result on a digital camera.  At one point Rob had them going with Head, Shoulder, Knees & Toes but as soon as I shot a photo they ran to take a look. 

We did a fairly good job of exhausting the sights at the bazaar and feeling well covered in dust and grit we called it a day after about four hours.  We were all hungry and didn't feel like shish kebab and bread for lunch so Jenny and James took us to a Chinese restaurant they had been to before and we had a pretty descent Chinese meal.   

June 9. HOTAN (Xinjiang)  "A Whirlwind Tour Around Hotan" There were other sights to see in Hotan aside from the Sunday Bazaar so we got together with Jenny and James to organize a taxi tour for the day.  But, before setting off on our tour we went to the CITS to arrange for some camel trekking.  Jenny and James had researched it out and found that the CITS could put something together as quickly as the next day. Rob opted to stay in Hotan and try his skills at bargaining for some carpets and jade so I joined up with Jenny and James to go on a two day camel trek.  For a very reasonable price we set up two days of camel trekking with two nights of camping in the desert (all supplies provided). 

As we were setting out to get a taxi for day Jenny and James were recalling a good taxi driver they'd used a couple of days before when, by a very odd coincidence, the same woman pulled up in front of us.  She wasn't familiar with how to get to the ancient Melikawat Ruins but asked around and we finally settled on Y100 for the day which would include the ruins, a carpet factory, and a silk dying factory.  Our first stop, however, was at her home so she could reconfirm with her husband how to get out to the ruins.  It was only 26 km but she hadn't done it before and even tried to get him to take over and drive us out.  So, it turned out to be a stop and go ride out to Melikawat.  I can't even remember how many times she stopped to ask for directions but they were often only 100 km apart.  It seemed preferable to have her asking for directions rather than driving in circles and just throwing up her hands in defeat like the other drivers in Hotan but it became a bit annoying with all of the extra time she was taking.  We still wanted to have time to get to the carpet and silk factories before they closed! But, in the end, she found her way.

These ruins weren't exactly of the same quality as the Jiaohe ruins we'd visited in Turpan and were a bit of a disappointment but the desert scenery and mountains on the horizon were beautiful.  After all, it was truly amazing that any structures remained at all of these ancient mud walled cities.  Melikawat only had a handful of large lumps left and we didn't walk around to all of them but one of the nearest structures still had evidence of doors and indentations in the walls where wood reinforcements once existed.  But, I think we were all more pleased with the souvenirs we had purchased from the locals.  Rob and James bought old Chinese coins with unpopular figures like Chiang Kaishek on them while Jenny and I bought fake jade bracelets that put us out Y5 each.

Once we had Melikawat out of the way the rest of our "tour" went pretty quickly.  The silk factory was out of power so the semi-automatic looms weren't working but we were able to get a sense of how the silk was dyed and laid out for weaving.  The carpet factory was a bit more interesting because it had a room full of busy weavers working away, some making massive carpets.  Several women would work on one carpet, side-by-side, each completing their own section.  Their hands moved very quickly inserting, tying and cutting the yarn.  Once they had completed a row they went back over it with long scissors to even it out.  The designs, however, were not the typical Hotan style.  Rob learned that when imports of Persian carpets were banned the Chinese took up making Sino-Persian carpets in Xinjiang which took skilled carpet makers from the traditional style to a more canned, made for Macy's, kind of carpet.  They were still beautifully made but a less interesting thing to purchase in Hotan.  

At the end of the day our taxi driver offered to take us to a good shish kebab restaurant for some dinner so we went along.  It was just outside of town and supposedly a famous place for kebabs but we weren't impressed - too much fat and bone.  That was fine but when she tried to get us to pay her an extra Y50 for the day because she took us to the kebab place and spent so much time with us we regretted that we had gone at all.  It really pissed us off because it was her getting lost every 5 minutes going to Melikawat that took so long and she never advised that she was taking us out of town again for the kebabs or that it would cost extra.  We had been pretty happy with her up to that point and were prepared to give her an extra Y10 tip but she wasn't get another Y40 out of us.  After a long time arguing with her we just started to walk away and she came scurrying after us to collect what we were willing to give but she wouldn't loose face by accepting the money in front of the other taxi drivers that had crowded around to watch the scene.

To celebrate Rob's birthday, and have a second dinner, we went out again with Jenny, James, and Erez to the sidewalk kebab place near our hotel.  Jenny and James had managed to find some cookies and cake for Rob and put together a cute birthday card for him.  It had a clever poem about our Silk Road travels together and a cheeky comment about how we showed them that life doesn't end at 25.  They may only be 21 now but will wake up one day and find out they are 33 and don't know how they got there.  It just happens that way.     


CLASSIC CHINA Beijing April 23 April 24 April 25 April 26 April 27 April 28 April 29-30 May 1-2 May 3-4 May 5 Pinyao, Shanxi May 6 May 7 Xian, Shaanxi May 8 May 9-10

TIBETAN PLATEAU Xining, Qinghai May 11 May 12 Tongren, Qinghai May 13 May 14 Xiahe, Gansu May 15 May 16-17

THE SILK ROAD Lanzhou, Gansu May 18 Dunhuang, Gansu May 19-20 May 21-22 May 23 May 24-25 Turpan, Xinjiang May 26 May 27 Kashgar, Xinjiang May 28-29 May 30 May 31 June 1-2 June 3-6 Hotan, Xinjiang June 7 June 8-9 June 10-11 June 12-13 June 14-16 June 17-19

A LAST LOOK Shanghai June 20-29 Beijing June 30