Oct 20

Kashgar… the lady with the red apron…. then on to Kyrgyzstan

Poached quince in a yellow bucket was being squished in the dark hands which reveal a tough life. The lady wearing a red apron and dust coloured headscarf reassured me with her smile that it was ok to eat… and all my sensibilities left me.

Into the pulp on the plastic bag covered plate she sprinkled walnuts, chickpeas and sultanas; and then big dollop of thickened kefir yoghurt which was scooped from a nearly empty plastic jar under the table on the dirt; and then finished with a drizzle of honey which was scooped out of the honey pot with the yoghurt spoon! Big breath.

At this point I was praying to every higher authority …Jesus, God, Buddha, Allah… that I wouldn’t get sick. I had been so diligent for the whole journey, and until now had not once been affected by errant bacteria..so this was it… do I… or don’t I????

I decided to dive in and try… and to top it off ALSO try a rice parcel which was wrapped in leaves and steamed… thinking that it was wrapped and hot it had a better chance of being safe to eat… but I didn’t count on the lady in the red apron and dust coloured scarf unwrapping it and scooping the hot rice with her hands.. LOL.

Both were absolutely delicious!!!! And NO tummy issues!!! Yay… and I’m so glad for the experience.

We continued to have such fun at the Livestock Market in Kashgar. It’s dusty and rowdy. The Uyghur farmers and herders make the trek on Sunday mornings from nearby villages to the bazaar. It can be a little disconcerting seeing the animals restrained by their necks with the interwoven rope…but I felt that it’s important for me not to make judgments; but rather observe how others live their lives.

Fat tailed sheep. I have never seen these breeds before and it soon became apparent that this was a very important variety of sheep in this region. Although this particular variety in fact has no tail…the fat area on the buttocks region is vital for cooking; the breed is sturdy with a lot of muscle for meat; the wool is perfect for both garments and rugs; the skins ideal for coats for protection from the extreme cold here; and the sheep seem to have a really lovely temperament.

They all stood calmly whilst their shoulder and hind-quarter region was pressed down to ascertain density… and they were embraced around their shins and lifted to ascertain their weight. A length of white rope was loosely looped around the neck of those who had been successfully purchased. The buying process was fascinating.

The owner of the sheep usually wore a cross shoulder leather bag in which neatly stacked notes were held. There was a ritual of flamboyant handshakes and secret finger gestures to negotiate the price.


Sheep, goats, donkeys, cows were all being moved from trucks to pens and lines and then to different trucks and vehicles for their journey home. They are not going to a new home to be pets. Food is scarce and life is harsh here.

We were fortunate position to enjoy really yummy food here. Max enjoyed freshly baked bread which had been stuck on to the earthen walls of a tandoor oven. We savored fresh mutton on sticks… literally twig sticks which were hand whittled; freshly cooked riced with sweet yellow carrots… and yes… the poached quince with nuts, honey and home made kefir yoghurt from the lady with the red apron and dust coloured scarf.

The Livestock market was perhaps a highlight for me here in Kashgar in the Uyger Autonomous Region of Xinjiang. It was exactly what I was expecting as a city along the Silk Road; but in the main, the rest of Kashgar was not.

Kashgar has over the centuries has been the convergence point of widely varying cultures and empires.  Over the millennia it has been under the rule of the Chinese, Turkic, Mongol, and Tibetan empires. It is presently under the strict administration of China.

Much of the Old Town has been demolished and rebuilt as it was deemed that the old buildings were unsafe. The locals mood here seemed somber. A recent resurgence in Chinese National tourism to this area has meant that the streets are packed with cameras with long lenses. I personally found it distressing to have these lenses within a foot of my own face; and cannot begin to imagine how it must feel for the people who live here to have this all day, every day of their lives.

Having a big camera and lens seems to prevent the understanding of ‘NO’; as often Max and I would say “NO” to being personally harassed continually in our face, and it made absolutely no difference. Their camera would lower momentarily and after a few steps be raised again to quickly grab a photo of the white tourists. Permission was rarely sought for portrait photographs.

Penny also has been a source of curiosity along our travels throughout China and so many want their photograph taken alongside her.. and also ON her. It’s been a bit of a problem at times through China trying to remove men who think it’s ok to hang on to the mirror and pull themselves up on to the running board to have their photograph taken there. Some men also think its ok to grab me harshly and pull me in to have their photograph taken alongside me. A stern “NO” from me has brought with it laughter from them rather than an apology.

The Grand Bazaar in Kashgar was less ‘touristy’ and was a really interesting insight into what commodities are being sold in this region. If no other stock is brought in… I think there is a decade’s supply of everyone shoes here! Sooooo many shoes and slip ons!!!

Melons, grapes, apples, honey, nuts, dried fruits, clothes, old clocks, jewellery. watches, …. Everything. All packed into small square stalls.. spilling at times into another’s space.

Ostrich cream on large yellow buckets was sold in small clear plastic containers filled in front of your eyes to ensure you were getting the ‘real deal’…was apparently the cure for wrinkles.

I was really interested in the mounds of green tobacco. Lucerne. Yes… tobacco mixed with lucerne to be smoked in a roll-your-own. I love the smell of lucerne…. and in a comforting way this tobacco mix was rather homely and reminded me of my granddad.

Max and I became regulars at a local stand where the best mutton kababs were cooked.. the smoke from the coal added to the yumminess!!! The meat was fresh and was stored on metal sticks on the street inside a glass cabinet … keeping the flies out… AND in. They served the most delicious rose tea.

The man who cooked our kababs gave us such a heartwarming smile as he saw us approach him every day; as did the melon merchant and the ice-cream merchant a little further down the street.

It was time to say goodbye to Mr Goo and Danzeng who had been our guides and companions for the past month. Navo Tours have done an exceptional job of making our journey through China possible by organising all the official paperwork and permits; and our Guide Danzeng and his Driver, Mr Goo have been exemplary. They both went to extraordinary efforts to really care for us and I am so grateful to have been privileged to have them as our companions.

Driving west from Kashgar the Mountainous region was spectacular. Dry. Rough. There was a beauty though in the colour of the earth in the mountains. I would have liked to have spent some time around these mountains because there was something quite beautiful about them…. but that was not possible so I had to just be satisfied with looking as much as I could as we drove directly to the border.

After a few days of re-group in Kashgsar we were assisted by a local guide with the administrative formalities to exit China at the Port of Irkeshtam. The due processes all went smoothly. Max and I were both quiet as we drove from the border crossing in to Kyrgyzstan. I think we were both reflecting on our experiences in China.

It wasn’t long before we were climbing into the snow-covered mountains and we were both buoyant and excited for the next adventure of our journey.

The landscape continued to be arid with pockets of agriculture on the flats. Hay has been harvested and was already being dried in huge mounds on the top of buildings. I find it fascinating as we travel how the methods for drying and storing hay differ slightly. Caravans from the Soviet era speckled the roadsides and fields. These are stores or summer homes for the nomadic people. Sheep and goats were being moved to the lower winter fields. I’m not so sure of the significance of the rainbow on the main road… but it made me smile.

Coal is the main source of fuel here and all afternoon the laden coal trucks marched amongst the mountains toward Osh where it was sold and stored ready for the upcoming harsh winters. 

A spectacular drive for the afternoon from the mountains to the traffic! Oh my Gosh!!! What traffic congestion in Osh in Tajikistan. Max may have forgotten to put a pin on the map for the hotel and without Day Pass roaming or internet – finding our hotel was going to be a bit of a challenge.

Max did a quick search and took a screen shot and we carefully picked our way through narrow dirt tracks. “This isn’t right. I picked the best hotel in town and it shouldn’t be on this track”. Oooops.

We navigated a narrow street to about-face… and asked a local in the dark street where the “Classic Hotel” was. After some discussion the man gestured to ask if he could leap on to the running board and then gestured for us to continue. For two kms he indicated left or right… and flicked his hand to continue… and then we saw the sign ahead “Classic Hotel”… and in that split second the man leapt off as adeptly as he leapt on Penny and vanished into the darkness without us even being able to thank him.

We stopped in Osh to collect our reserve tyres… and then on to the Pamir Highway and our adventure around the ‘Stans.

Until next journal entry,

About the Author:
I am a Journeywoman. I live my life as an explorer. An adventurer. An Observer. An Artist. There is no differentiation between how I live my life and the art that is an expression of it. It is through my experience adventuring the unknown, that I learn more about myself. My aim through this connection is to live where my expression is fully in alignment with the essence of who I am. “In the field of Fine-Art Photography, Julie stands apart from others with the way she sees the world and expresses her connection within it. Julie Stephenson’s photographs are sublime. Her work is an expression of her deep connection; and a gift to the world.”

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