26 May 07
We had a bit of a later start this morning, not having to leave until about 10:30. This was actually a bit longer because one of the elevators was out of service, and being on the 14th floor made for a long wait as we watched it go up and down until it finally hit on us to hit the up button. This worked, and though we had to ride a while longer, we ended up on the ground floor.
We drove about an hour and a half to the Heavenly Lake, situated about 2000 meters up into the Tien Shan (Heavenly Mountains). It was a gorgeous blue surrounded by soaring mountains capped with snow. If it wasn't for all the really loud Kazakh music blaring at the different shops around the area, it would have been pretty peaceful.
Jackie, our local guide for the past few days took some of the group around, but I just took off to the quiet side for a look around.
We ate a quick lunch up there on the lake before heading back to Urumqi to go to the Xinjiang museum. It was a great place, but unfortunately, we got there close to the end of the day for them. We had a good look at the different exhibits showing the major ethnic groups of the region, but got sidetracked by the usual "here, look at this carpet" place and missed one of the other halls. As we found out, this (and a few other things that happened earlier) got Gary pretty ticked off.
We drove to the airport following our tour, and Gary gave Jackie his tip. When we first got together 2 weeks ago, we all contributed to the tipping kitty, and Gary has doled out the tips as he has seen fit Most of this has been transparent to us. Jackie didn't really meet up to his expectations, though, and so got a smaller tip. What was shocking was that he had the audacity to come back, argue with Gary in front of us, and then tell us that Gary stiffed him. It was extremely unprofessional, and awkward for us all. After he left, Gary explained what had transpired, and indeed, it was more than just missing the last exhibit hall at the museum.
After the dustup, we chilled out by the gate, or tried to, as that part of the departure hall was really hot. The plane was delayed in arriving by 30 minutes or so, and once people were allowed to board, it was like a rugby scrum. A little Chinese lady ran over my leg with her suitcase on her way to the gate. Somehow, though we all made it on board. The flight was about an hour and 40 minutes, and I alternately read and dozed until we got there. Landing was interesting, because off to the left side of the plane, it was pitch black. Not a light to be seen for miles. It's a pretty small airport where you get off the plane and walk to the terminal and its one baggage claim. After we collected our stuff, we met up with our local guide, Abdul and driver, Shan, and drove into town.
Got into Kashgar about 1130 or so. Checked into the Qinibagh (Chin-ee-bah) hotel which is on the grounds of the former British consulate back in the days when the Great Game was being played here in Central Asia. It's nice...one of the nicest we've stayed in.
27 May 07
Today, we first went to the livestock market. Lots and lots of cows and goats and donkeys and horses and one camel. Didn't buy anything, thought the goats were pretty cute. Next stop was at a mausoleum built in about 1640. There were some beautiful examples of Muslim architecture on the grounds with a couple of mosques and a madrassa. Some of the buildings are off limits, though, because they're falling apart.
After the mausoleum, we hit the famous Kashgar Sunday Bazaar. People from all over Central Asia come to the market, and it was incredible. Bustling, busy, bursting at the seams with people and every kind of thing for sale that you could imagine. I bought some apricots and mangoes and a small Uighur knife for the collection. I bargained about 10 bucks off the initial price and was happy with it. The best part though was the variety of people. I took over 100 pictures just in the time that I was walking around. Amazing...lots of really character filled faces. Old men with wispy beards, old women with gold teeth, kids of all shapes and sizes, Han Chinese, Uighur, Tajik, Kazakh...it really seemed like all of Central Asia was here. This was my main reason for coming on this trip, and my Central Asian Travel Ya-Yas (as Melody calls them) have definitely been fulfilled.
We've a few other places to go this afternoon, but tomorrow we head back to Beijing. We'll spend the night there, and then head back to Japan on Tuesday. It will be sad to say gooodbye to everyone, but it's been a great trip, and we've made a lot of great memories, and some new friends as well.
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