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Published: March 5th 2018
This was yesterday, a Sunday, so to be leisurely. We strolled to the neighbouring open People's plaza, passing about 30 employees of a neighbouring shop, limbering up on the pavement outside to lively music and working on the corporate bonding and zeal for a day's trading. The very large plaza was colourful with bright lights and a fringe of floats, many of which had been sponsored by local businesses; the area was dominated by a large statue of Chairman Mao and a local Uighir male (with full beard and moustache), holding hands. The symbolism reminded one of a recent re-enactment between USA and a representative of the UK. Beyond the plaza we indulged in coffee and cakes, explored some more and then set out to find the bus station. We had carefully armed ourselves with a marked map and the necessary written request, together with a mobile phone on which our destination and route were indicated (using Maps.Me a brilliant free app that works worldwide without wifi). Hotan is almost 95% Uighir and most people do not speak Chinese in daily life, indeed many cannot read Chinese characters, so we were not surprised when our taxi driver consulted further with a
policeman. Nonetheless, since we were tracking his route on the phone, we were surprised to find that he clearly could not even read or understand a map of his own town, produced locally and clearly relating to the simple grid-layout - eventually we abandoned the unequal struggle a walked the rest of the way.
The bus station was pretty lively and a helpful local person kindly interpreted for us, so as to establish that tomorrow's bus to Minfeng (Niya) leaves at 11.00 and we can only buy tickets on the day. The weather was pleasant and one could dimly see the outline of the sun, but the air was heavily clouded by very fine dust - one could taste it, and it covered every surface. Despite this, persons were peoplefully (or more correctly womenfully) fighting against it - ladies with twig sticks were moving it around on the road, on the pavements and presumably indoors. Others, with tiny teapots, were sprinkling water on the streets and pathways. We reached the famous Sunday Market and entered - a vast area, with all the stalls one might expect but majoring on street-food. Kevin was especially struck by the neat stands that
contained cylinders full of cooking eggs - the operator kept dipping long sticks into each cylinder until the magic moment when the eggs had cooked sufficiently to form a sausage-like shape, 2" in diameter and about 10" long; the skewer was then removed, rolled in spices of some sort and sold to the eager customer. Very neat, would be good to see in UK.
This whole area was extraordinarily interesting. Certain posters on the walls exhorted a sense of civic pride and national cohesion, the market had clearly enjoyed an enormous but unsuccessful capital investment - cavernous three storied buildings were partially occupied on the ground floor, less so on the first floor and abandoned on the upper floor. Long stretches of fake marble tiling were smashed, broken and dark, distant stretches were clearly visited by nobody except perhaps intrepid explorers; the numerous escalators had not been operative for many, many months. Despite this, the surviving outdoor areas were busy and traditional vendors sold the spices, foods, staples and designer rip-offs that one might expect, whilst the crowds thronging the place included many young people. Incidentally, we are now on Day 9 of our visit, and have yet to
see any other westerners; we are told that visitors arrive from May onwards and numbers peak in September.
We met some especially friendly officials at this point - three very attractive and beautifully presented young ladies who indicated that an identity check was in order surprised us by turning it into a group selfie! An excellent morning, and a fine lunch, grazing amongst to stalls, before heading off to see the justly-famed museum. It exhibits some very nice artifacts from the various desert excavations, including a magnificent wooden coffin of epic proportions and upon which the painted motifs are surprisingly fresh after 1500 years in this (luckily) arid environment. There were also two mummified persons, whose clothes and other possessions survive intact. Some of textiles that have been recovered were also on display - this was a first-class exhibition, very well presented and (fortunately) labelled in English as well as Chinese and (we assume) Uighir, an Arabic script.
Another public statue at a large intersection depicted a noble Uighir individual equipped with a large shovel; moustache but no beard, clearly a male. Hotan is a very liberal place, although of course Islamic; we therefore made a point of
having dinner at Eversun Moslem Restaurant, described as being a local rendezvous for the well-heeled folk about town. We arrived about 8.30pm Beijing time (6.30pm by local usage) and there were very evident signs that the establishment had been busy earlier - those unwashed dishes in heaps did not get there without help, and the bucket and mop in front of the bar were encouraging signs of good intent, perhaps for the morrow. As it happened, one couple were just finishing their meal so we had the place to ourselves, together with the undivided attention of two waiters and a barman, to say nothing of staff behind the scenes. We settled for deep-fried beans and chili, fried rice, chili beef, and a few bottles of local beer, all of which was very good indeed if unable to match the outstanding experiences that have been such a consistent feature to date (about £15 a head). Lunch, by the way, was brilliant in the street market and perhaps cost about £3 a head although lashings of fine tea stood in for the beer. We finished the day with a midnight party in one of the rooms - another perfect day.
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