With over 50,000 people selling and buying, the Sunday Market in Kasghar is the biggest in China. Its origin goes back to the golden age of the Silk Route when delegations from all different empires came here to trade. Today guidebooks highlight the market as one of northwest China’s ‘must-sees’. Our expectations were high.
Expectations versus Reality
Never have high expectations, at least not in travel. You’re bound to be disappointed. As, initially, we were in this market.
- The Sunday Market was the same market that was held every day, only it was larger.
- For years the livestock market – thé highlight, according to those guidebooks – has been separated from the general market downtown.
It took a while to figure this out. The first hour we walked around with a, ‘Yeah, right, this is it? We saw this yesterday,’ kind of idea and felt somewhat lost. We walked among the hundreds of stalls but the exotic magic we had expected eluded us.
Strolling through the Sunday Market in Kasghar
That doesn’t mean the Sunday Market isn’t a fascinating place. Markets often are, and so is the one In Kashgar. Market stalls were not necessarily stalls. People displayed their wares on the ground as well: vegetables and fruits on a blanket or on a sheet of plastic, jute bags filled with dried fruits, nuts and colorful spices on sidewalks or streets that had been cordoned off for the market.
Women sat on the pavement next to their baskets with eggs or garlic, peeling the latter on the spot. New wares were constantly brought in by merchants who pushed their way through the mass with pushcarts. “Boish-boish!”, Coming through! they warned.
Row after row was filled with household appliances, clothes, shoes, carpets, sheepskins, hats, dried lizards and other creatures, potions, toys, plants and flowers, shampoos and other toiletries, and anything else you generally you find on markets. Only in Kashgar everything comes in hundred-fold. You can walk around for hours and not have seen it all.
Eating at Kashgar’s Market
Food always works wonders when feeling a bit down or disappointed, doesn’t it? Fortunately, the food in Xinjiang is glorious. Popular are the bread rolls, which are so good that you don’t want cheese or even butter on them. There are snacks called mantas: a fried turnover filled with (greasy) meat. The courageous could try opke, the local Uyghur delicacy which is a broth of goats’ heads and coiled, stuffed intestines. We left the honor to others.
There are numerous other snacks and freshly cooked meals but for now we bought some bread filled with a sugary substance and settled on the sidewalk to eat it while people watching. We watched the older men with their typical goatees, quite a few of whom had shaven heads, and the majority of men wore a cap or hat. Since many Uyghur are Muslim, many women have their heads covered with a headscarf.
On a side note: I recently found an interesting detail about the Uyghur region: according to the newworldencyclopedia.org, the Uyghur region has the highest longevity rate in China. “25 percent of the people who live to be more than a hundred years old in China live there. In October1985, the area was designated The World Longevity Area by the International Natural Medical Science Committee in Tokyo, Japan.”
Kashgar’s Livestock Market
When done people watching we took a bus, got off at the livestock market and found ourselves in the middle of a lively gathering of buyers, sellers and animals. There were hairdressers here who did nothing but shave men’s heads – with straight razors, mind you. Why amidst a livestock market? Since nobody spoke English we couldn’t get an answer to this intriguing question.
This is a market for large animals like sheep, goats, and cows. There were no birds or other poultry but since those are generally crammed in too-small cages at such markets, I didn’t mind at all not seeing them.
This market was ruled by men, whereas the general market was run by men and women. As we walked around we concluded once more how sedate the Chinese are. We had already noticed this during every-day life on the street, but at the market it was more conspicuous as markets are often noisy affairs.
No yelling to attract buyers but vendors quietly waiting with their cattle until the right person passed by. Buyers and sellers found each other, struck a deal with onlookers participating in the negotiations as well, and the animals swapped owners.
The sheep stood huddled together. The lambs stole my heart and when I caressed one, it tried to eat my shirt. The caressing of animals is only done by tourists, I think, and was looked upon by the locals with something between a smirk and a smile.
I don’t think there exists a market without a food section and Kashgar’s livestock market didn’t disappoint in that respect. There were various stalls where cooks were preparing fresh noodles in dishes called lamian or suoman, which were stir-fried with vegetables and tiny pieces of meat. It was a great place to finish a morning that started with feelings of expectation, which dwindled to disappointment but that ended with our having smiles on our faces.
Bring a point-it language book or a dictionary, or at least humor and patience; don’t expect English to be widely spoken.