Hotan for ourselves

We took the day sleeper-bus to Hotan. It was decked like a carriage from 1001 nights, with crimson and plum carpets tassling the beds. A tv blared arabic music and indian films, and the passangers lounged in the heat, men dressed in stripey shirts and caps, women in patterned cloth with colourful headscarves. The Uyghur language buzzed and hacked from inside and outside the bus, the assistant driver occasionally standing up to yell “everyone get off for the police checkpoint”, or “shoes OFF in the bus”. Of course we didn’t understand, but after looking around in plaintative confusion, a friendly lady with a toddler helped translate.

We got talking after she spotted me sweating over my teach-yourself-uyghur books, and let me practice “what is that? that is a X/Y/Z!” with her hyperactive son. “I work for an IT company in Urumqi, I’m travelling to Hotan for my cousin’s wedding, would you girls like to come?” guttingly the dates didn’t match. “never mind, I hope you enjoy Hotan, it’s a nice place.” “Why is your Chinese so good?” I asked her. “I think speaking Chinese is very important for us. If you don’t speak Chinese, you can’t expect to get a top job or a university education. So many of our people only go to Uyghur school and never learn to speak or read Chinese. But I am sending my son to Chinese kindergarten. Come on Adeel, say ni hao!” “ni hao auntie” squeeled the boy, then grinned and threw my book onto the floor. Many of the Uyghur people I spoke to were keen supporters of  learning Chinese… but obviously there is some selection bias as I could only talk to the folk who spoke it already.

We arrived in Hotan as it was getting dark, and got the impression of a noisy, bustling and overwhelmingly Uyghur town. Donkey carts clattered up and down the streets, as well as motorbikecarts with passengers sitting sidesaddle and dangling their legs over the edge. Nowhere cheap would let us stay unless we registered with the police, and the police insisted they were all “unsafe” and we must say somewhere “suitable for foreigners”. Worried about the potential expense of a hotel I explained “we’re students, can’t pay more than 25 yuan each” (though we’d prefer to pay 10 or 15) so they bundled us into a fancy car and drove us to one of the only registered places in town. It later turned out we’d got a discount because the police insisted they were not to charge us more than 25! Here we also saw the first other foreigners since entering Xinjiang – some guys from Pakistan over to do business. I felt a wave of cultural affinity when one started to interrogate me about cricket!

Donkey cart in a market street.

Donkey cart in a market street.

The next day we went to the Friday market and I wish I had pictures because it was fantastic! A huge bazaar full of silks and carpets and cloths and spices and fruits and busy, skilled, beautiful things being produced. Didn’t spot any Chinese there and really felt I’d been transplanted to another world (I’ve never been to an Arabic country). I bought a long green skirt and we all got some headscarves for the heat. In the afternoon I tried out wearing a headscarf to see if I blended. Sure enough, I could walk around the streets without anyone batting an eyelid at me. Except some women who looked at me funny – I wonder if because they sussed me, or because the way I’d tied the headscarf was like so 1990’s or sth. There seem to be dozens of different ways and apparently the fashions are constantly changing. I decided to return to the comfortable Brit-abroad style and display my stylish sunburn.

I also visited the carpet factory which was laid out like a huge public museum but had 0 visitors, so I just wondered undisturbed in and out of the rooms and generally all over the place. They had every step from washing and dying the wool, through spinning and stretching and then tying it into carpets by hand. As well as the typical glorious-harmonious-fantabulous communist-vocab explanation signs. A whole row of parrot-scarved girls grinned and wove blankets on machines, reminding me of film of Sheffield factories in the 60’s. One grinned and waved me over, speaking happily at me in Uyghur for about 5 minutes apparently not the slightest bit bothered that I understood not a word.

Hotan was also super for food, especially the area around the mosque. Since it was friday the mosque filled up with men for prayers, and some women and kids hang around outside waiting. Before it started, food stalls selling kebabs or rice with eggs or cold egg noodles rocked up, with drink stalls of date juice or yoghurt water mixed with huge lumps of ice kept cool under a knitted cover. There also seemed to be a major industry in trading stones (well to me they just looked like stones, some of them huge and heavy looking) as well as Hotan jade, which is internationally famous.

Here’s a couple of food pics:




The pics are as before all courtesy of Joanne, and she’s got some really super ones of Southwestern Xinjiang and the area around Kashgar and Karakoul lake, so I’ll be nicking some of those later!

Btw the post title “Hotan for ourselves” is because apparently it’s usually full of tourists, but we didn’t see any. This is presumably because they were all scared away by the July 5th incident.


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