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Yarkand- Yarqant in Kashgar

Four hours by bus (about 26 RMB, 27 with PICC insurance... return cost about 20.75 RMB (unit of China money) with insurance...) takes you to Yarkand... if the bus has A/C it's bearable.

Yarkand has an old town, near the mosque... I recommend going to the mosque just after prayer on Friday... in the afternoon. It's hot, but quite the sight to see all the old, bearded Muslim men wandering about, buying meat rotting in the sun, seated in the shade pointing and staring at the strange pinkish things wandering around...

It's a hot place in early August, but there are lots of vendors with cold drinks. Wandering around the old town can be interesting, but for us it was a bit of a disappointment, though a lot less touristy than Kashgar (one destination for Silk Road travel).

The ride back was more crowded, on a full bus that thankfully didn't pick up any more people than the seats would hold. In both directions there are many police checkpoints, some will require your passport or ID if you're Chinese or local. The sun is beautiful setting over the vast expanses of desert, and the night, of course, cools to a quite comfortable level.

In our bus back, a lively conversation of laughter and some sort of poll or bet going on, with money passing to one of the men occupied some time... maybe they were taking bets on how long the American would last with a large backpack on his lap... For me, the trip back was almost unbearably long... seemed like time began moving counter clockwise... I don't know why, but Kashgar was a welcome sight.

I think part of it involved a lot of unwanted attention early on in the ride from the men... not threatening at all, but a bit disconcerting when you're surrounded by them and they're all traveling together... the mind can wander into uncomfortable places. Are they taking lots for my bag contents?

But you take solace in the fact that they aren't Chinese and you aren't Chinese and therefore they have no reason to dislike you. Then you try to think about what they're laughing about, enjoying the sounds of a bus full of local men having a good time for your best tours of China. You watch the desert growing dark, the bright lights of the cars and lightless donkey carts risking the night roads, motorcyclists darting into the beams as if the bus is but a ghost, or physics doesn't apply to them... kids running along the road... but, surprisingly, almost, the bus driver is very safe and consciencious of the people on the road... as have been all of our drivers to date.

In short, Yarkand didn't feel like it was worth the sweat and annoyance. In some ways it wasn't. Seeing the Mosque was worthwhile, but even more so, possibly, was walking through the graveyard with men knelt in prayer on the dusty earth to which we all return. The fine plumes that lifted off their "sandaled" feet at each step, wafted up to their praying hands, their murmurs of prayer unhalted at the sight of ill-dressed foreigners.

I don't want to recommend walking through the graveyard only because it's such a unique place and I'd hate to spoil the reflective natural environment, where the dead rest in the shade of what look like Eucalyptus. If it becomes too popular, the Chinese have a tendency to build a fence, pave the walkways and charge admission. So, if you go, keep the camera low. I took one or two shots, when no one was looking, to remember the place, but the feeling... it can't capture the motion, the peace and the people.

I'm not sure if they were happy we were there, though we walked quietly and with due respect. We just happened upon it, looking for something else. It was one of those finds, one of those times in travel where you don't go to a sight, but you find something truly unique. Had there been no people there, it would have felt like any other graveyard. Anyway, I digress.

Yarkand, in retrospect, was worth the trip. It's hard to say why, exactly, other than what I've written already, but it was worth the trip for China travel.

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