Our Trip to XinJiang: Part 8 of Many 14

Day 9:
We woke up for breakfast in Kashgar and went on our way.  Today was a travel day for us as we had to cover a distance of 519km to get to Hotan (和田) for the night.  Google estimated our trip would take 11.5 hours, so it's a good thing that the sun doesn't set in XinJiang until at least 9:30pm.    Throughout the day we only made stops for lunch, gas and bathroom breaks.  For lunch, we stopped at Yecheng (叶城) for beef noodles.  Beef noodles has become one of our staples on this trip and the noodles we had here were definitely the best we've had!  It was so good that Kel and I decided to order a second noodle to share.  However when the noodle came, Kel seemed to have forgotten that we were sharing.. and almost ate the entire bowl!  It wasn't until I finally got his attention that he remembered! Grr!  This became our running joke throughout the trip.

It wasn't until we got to another restaurant later on, that we learnt the rules/criteria of what is considered a good beef noodle.  The five criteria it must meet are known as "one red, two green, three white, four yellow, five clear" (一紅、二綠、三白、四黃、五清).  What this means is the redness of the chili oil, the fresh green colour of cilantro and green onions floating in the soup, the thin white slices of turnip, the gleaming yellow of the noodles, and the clearness of the secret recipe beef soup with it's many spices.

Below: The beef noodle pictured below was unanimously voted as the most delicious ever!

It was this night in Hotan where we finalized our change of agenda.  We will be extending our stay in XinJiang for an extra day in order to cover Dunhuang (敦煌) and Jiayuguan (嘉峪關) in the neighbouring Gansu (甘肅省) province.  In exchange, we will be forgoing some sites in Turpan (吐魯番) as well as the towns and sites north of Urumqi.  We had not considered going to Dunhuang and Jiayuguan before as they weren't in XinJiang province, but Siubo recommended those cities because they were in a corner of the Gansu province where it was closer to other XinJiang travel spots and far from any Gansu travel spots.  Siubo informed us that because of the distance, most people travelling through XinJiang would also go to Dunhuang and Jiayuguan, but people travelling through Gansu would likely skip them.  Furthermore, Annie told us that there were more to visit in northern XinJiang than we were able to fit into our current schedule, so we could always come back another year specifically for the northern region.  Siubo helped us call the airline to push our flights for a day as well as borrow his friend's credit card to put the change fee on.  (They only accepted China issued credit cards, and apparently credit limits are quite low in China.  Siubo had maxed out his own card already. :P)

Below: The stove contraption at the restaurant reminds me of the pioneers. :)

Below: I couldn't help but take a picture of this.  Next to our hotel was a "MFC", Muslim Fried Chicken!

Day 10:
After a quick breakfast, Siubo showed us one of the characteristics of Hotan (和田): the tree lined roads.  He brought us to one he considered prettier than most for the trees were bigger in size, and the road was of good condition.  Siubo informed us that these trees were planted to increase the visibility and therefore safety for the drivers as we were at the southern rim of the Taklamakan Desert and sandstorms are frequent.  Similarly, it protects the road from sand erosion.  To us, it was simply picturesque like it was straight from a picture book.

Next, we headed over to see the king of all walnut trees.  They've built a park around the tree and a plaque by the tree indicates it's been around since 1362!  That means the tree is 649 years old!  Its said the tree is over 20 meters tall and yields close to six thousand walnuts a year.  We later learnt that Hotan walnuts are different from the ones we get back home in that they are especially thin shelled and can be easily cracked open by hand.

Below: some interesting seating areas at the park

We headed to the Hotan bazaar for lunch afterwards, where we bargained for red dates the size of golf balls.

Left: Squashes (?) for sale
Right: Street food; a big wok of fried rice with chicken legs and thighs on top

Left: a mule dressed up for the market
Right: a street vendor performing his cooking skills in an open flame; he saw us with our cameras and purposely smiled and made the flame bigger for us :)

 Left: their communal water fountain; we watched them walk over and pick up one of the many plastic mugs attached to a string, filled it with water and proceed to drink from it... huh
Right: a local butcher stand at the market.  We wondered how they could just leave the meat hanging out all day like that in such hot weather...

 Below: yummy yummy pineapples, skillfully skinned with a special tool to get rid of the spikes and looking so pretty with the spirals.  We were very tempted to try, but wasn't brave enough to take the risk of having raw fruit at the side of the street.  Afterall, where did the water they use to wash and soak it come from?

Siubo picked us up from a corner to take us away from the bazaar when we were done.  He bought us these very yummy lamb buns for lunch.  We ate them in the car as he drove us to our next destination.  However, before we got there, we were stuck in a traffic jam trying to get through the Sunday livestock market.  As Siubo skillfully maneuvered the car around, we welcomed the gridlock as we took many pictures of the lambs and sheeps being bargained off.

The next stop Siubo took us to was a traditional silk factory.  Kel and I found it quite interesting as just the year before we had a tour at a modernized silk factory in Suzhou.  Here, instead of seeing the many cocoons floating down a metallic channel to be sorted, we watched a lady manually going through the cocoons in a tub of water and feeding the loose ends to a giant wheel as an old man spun it.  They also showed us the old machines used to "knit" the silk into the many different patterns.

We continued on our way after visiting the silk factory and ended our day in Minfeng (民豐) where we had our first "big pan chicken" (大盤雞).  This was one of the many famous local dishes in the region and we all regretted not having gotten a bigger order. Mmmmm.. :)  From Hotan to Minfeng, we traveled 6.5 hours for 298km.

Tallying our first ten days of travel, we've already gone approximately 2,452km not including inner city travelling and sites less than an hour away.  Nine more days to go!

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