We’ll be leaving Kashgar after spending almost 2 days there and 2 days in Tashkurgan. Our next destination will be Turpan, where we will change train and head to Xi’an, our last stop for this adventure. There is no direct train from Kashgar to Xi’an. Our train to Turpan was scheduled at 2.00 p.m. (Beijing time). Since we have free time in the morning, we planned to spend our time roaming around the streets of the Kashgar’s Old City.
After a good night sleep, we woke up feeling refresh and ready for the next journey. We checked out from the hostel and decided to stop by at Id Kah Mosque, which was located nearby. It is the largest mosque in China and may occupy up to 20,000 worshipers at one time. To visit the mosque, visitors are required to pay CNY20 for the admission fee. But since we’re Muslims, we can enter the mosque for free. The mosque consists of praying hall, courtyard and gate tower. Usually, we will take the opportunity to pray in any mosques we visited while traveling. But since women here are not allowed to pray inside the mosque, we just walked around and took pictures.
We then walked back to the area we went during our first day in Kashgar. It was still early, but the locals had already up and about doing their daily chores. We stopped at a bread shop and bought breads that looked like big doughnuts for our breakfast. We walked further down the street and found a small park where several kids were running around and an old man was playing his flute. We sat on a bench and had our breakfast while enjoying the view and music.
After we finished our breakfast, we continued walking down the street. Once I saw a documentary about the Old City and it showed the houses that they lived in were half ruined, and I thought that was quite something. They built their houses and other buildings using the soil and after some times, it was eroded and damaged by the environmental factors such as wind and rain and even the natural disasters such as earthquake. But, when we were there, we couldn’t find any ruined buildings. Later we found out that the Old City is undergoing redevelopment phase. China government is spending millions of yuans to give ‘facelift’ to the city and promised a better living conditions to the local residents. But for me, I felt something is amiss despite the new look of the Old City.
One thing I found quite amusing here was the dental clinics. You could find it almost everywhere and even they opened it next to each other. What a competitive market, I might say, and of course, high in demand. When we walked around, I tried to take photos of the local residents doing their daily chores, but it was a bit disappointed as they were uncomfortable being photographed by strangers. I had to ask permission first or took their photos from afar. So, I hope you do understand on the quality of some of the photos, especially since it was taken by camera phone. Despite we roamed to almost every roads in the Old City, I was a bit bummed out for not being able to visit the locals’ houses. We couldn’t find anyone who was willing to open their doors for us. Sounds a bit sad, doesn’t it?
When it was time for us to go, we head back to the hostel to get our backpacks. To go to the railway station, we took No. 28 bus from the bus stop in front of Id Kah Mosque. The last stop will be the railway station. When we were in the bus, we were able to engage with the locals, the Uyghur men to be exact. They were excited when we told them we are Malaysians. Please bear in mind that our communication was done through body language. Within a short time, we were being taught of some basic Uyghur vocabs for shirts, pants, body parts, etc. by these men. In exchange, we also taught them the basic Malay vocabs. But sadly, I forgot what I learned now.
When we arrived at the railway station, there was already a very long queue towards the entrance. We quickly followed others to queue up. But of course there were some people cut the line unashamedly. In this situation, what we needed the most was a lot of patience to face these bad attitude people. And after a lot of pushing and blocking, we managed to get into the station in one piece. However, that was just the beginning. Since our long train journey previously was on hard sleepers, we thought we could handle the 24 hours journey on hard seats. What could be more worse than that, except that we couldn’t stretch our body to sleep. We were wrong… So wrong…
When we finally boarded the coach, it was already half filled with young soldiers and their luggage. We quickly went to our assigned seats and one of the soldiers helped us to store our backpacks at the overhead compartment. And then our nightmare began. It started with passengers kept coming into the coach even though all of the seats were already taken. What came into my mind was maybe they were in the wrong coach. But later, I found out that they were in the right coach, except with no assigned seats. They’ll be standing in the coach throughout the long journey. OMG!!! I was thinking maybe their destination will be the next station. But I was wrong again. They were not getting off the train, but even worst, people kept boarding the coach at the next stations.
Throughout our journey, we shared our seats with a middle-aged and a young Uyghur men. They looked friendly and because of that, we tried as hard as we could to talk to them, but it was disappointing. As soon as they heard we talked in different language, they immediately shook their head. So, we just used body language to converse with them. They offered us fruits and stuff and we accepted it with open arms. In the middle of chaotic surrounding, I saw them looking so relax, and I bet this situation was normal to them.
After passing few stations, the coach’s aisle was fully occupied with people and it seemed impossible for us to pass through or move around. The coach was so full that we felt hot and stuffy. I tried to open the window to get some cold air inside, but the coach’s officer in-charge scolded us. I quickly closed the window and only opened it once in a while when the officer was not around.
Along the journey, a question popped into our mind, what would happen if we left our seats for a while? The question was answered when we saw the seats in front of us were taken immediately by others when the 2 Uyghur men left their seats. When they came back, they couldn’t take their seats back and had to stand for quite a long time even though they had asked the occupiers to leave. We couldn’t afford to leave our seats, so we decided only to eat and drink just enough for us to survive throughout the 24 hours journey, so that we didn’t have to go anywhere. And I bet the toilet was also at its worst condition with so many people onboard. Luckily it was already night time, so we spent most of our time sleeping.
At first, a young soldier voluntarily cleaned up the coach. He went to every seats to collect trashes and sweep the aisle. But, after sometimes, he gave up as the numbers of trashes kept increasing and people couldn’t care less to clean it up themselves.
At midnight, the energy of the people inside the coach has decreased a bit even though some of them were still playing cards and chatting. At this moment, we could see passengers with no seats were trying to find ways to rest and sleep. Some of them were trying to sleep while standing, and others squatting at the aisle. We even saw an old lady slept soundly under the seats surrounded by the left-over instant noodle cups and plastics. Seriously, the view was memorable to me as it really hit me hard.
As for us, we were so grateful to have seats albeit it was uncomfortable to sleep on. I was so happy when the morning came and couldn’t wait for the train to reach our destination. The surrounding was still the same except most of the passengers were looking tired. Nevertheless, we’ve reached our destination at last after the long ride. Again, another episode happened to me before we got off from the train. My wrists almost “broke” when I tried to get my backpack from the overhead compartment. It was stuck in between large sacks. The upper sack was so heavy when I tried to remove it, it almost dropped and hit me. Instantly, I stopped it with both my hands. The sad thing was no one was trying to help me. They were only looking at me with expressionless face. I almost cried when suddenly a middle aged man came and helped me out. I was so thankful to him. But then I kept wondering what was inside the sack. I was hoping it was not something bad.
When we got off the train, the first place we went was the toilet to freshen and loosen ourselves up. Then we went out from the building to find something to fill our stomachs. We only had a couple of hours before the next train. Seriously, it was like a “train ride from hell”. A once in a lifetime experience. At that time, we kept telling each other there will be no more of this, and asked ourselves why did we do things others won’t do. But after sometimes, I kinda missed it. I missed being crazy for adventures and being in unexpected situation. But then again, I prefer to keep questioning myself for the crazy things I did rather than sit in a corner asking myself why didn’t I do it.
To be continued…