My last destination on the Southern route of the silk road around the Takla Makan desert was the town of Hotan. Hotan is primarily known for its Sunday Market, Jade and carpet and silk factories, the latter especially to the tourists. I visited some of the attractions and had my first encounter with the topic of looking for accomodation in a Chinese city.
The bus from Yarkand arrived right on time at the bus station in Hotan, such that I could start my search for a place to stay for the following two nights quite early. I had memorized the city map and where the preferred hotels where, such that I could walk off immediately. Just too bad if there are minor details which you remember incorrectly… It thus happened that I turned right instead of left at the third intersection. As I walked up the street no hotel was to be seen anywhere. I ended up taking another right to arrive back at the bus station where I had started. I double checked the city map and realized my mistake and set off again, only to realize that the hotel did not exist anymore. A friendly local told me that there were several hotels in the area, but apparently they were either full or not allowed to accomodate foreigners. I finally arrived at the Yu Du Hotel near the main square, but the receptionist informed me, that the only rooms they currently had available cost 238RMB. This price was above my intended budget, such that I continued looking once again, this time again back to the bus station, where there is the Traffic Hotel.
In the Traffic Hotel they still had rooms available and offered two of them to me, one for 250RMB and the other one for 160RMB. Since I didn’t feel like continuing my search, I asked to see the two rooms. Of course I was first shown the room for 250RMB, which actually was a nice suite including living and sleeping room. I thus reckoned that the cheaper room had to be alright too and thus asked to see the cheaper room. It was just fine and thus I immediately moved in. The advantage of this long search for a room was, that I had gotten a first glance at the center of Hotan and thus knew where things were.
In the evening I did some further exploring of the city, visiting an Internet Café to update the blog with the post from Kashgar and organizing something to eat.
On Tuesday morning I got up in no hurry and wrote down the destinations for the day on a small piece of paper. I definitely wanted to see the carpet factory and if everything should work out fine, I would also visit the silk factory in a small town outside of Hotan. The former worked out really well thanks to the help of the local people. At the bus station they showed me which bus to take and once inside the bus, a passenger took care of me. He showed me where to get off and then we jointly walked across the bridge of the Jade Dragon Kashgar River only to leave me at a bus station there with another local who told me on which bus to get and where to get off. This behavior really had role model character. If we are asked we certainly help a stranger to manage the next step in his endeavour, but that we relay that person to someone else is rather rare.
At the carpet factory I experienced my next surprise. I expected at least a guard at the gate. Nobody was present and thus I merily walked onto the factory grounds. Fortunately there were signs in Mandarin and English indicating where the different buildings of the factory were. I first entered the hall where about three dozen ladys where knotting the carpets. They did not really care that there was a foreigner present and continued their work.
Seeing the amount of work and the speed of progress during carpet manufacturing, I developed a different valuation of hand-made carpets. Above the women the wool was hanging of which they cut off small pieces which the knotted onto vertical threads, similar to what one is used to in weaving. Depending on the width of the carpet the number of women working on the carpet increases. The work thus also has a social component. I wonder if in all factories the working conditions are that good that the workers have a heated room. I also wonder what the temperatres are like in the hall in summer.
Further buildings which could be visited were the washing room, the carpet ironing, the water boiler, the dying room and finally the exhibition hall, which seemed more like a factory shop. Almost all of these rooms were deserted, except for the ironing where a man set adding additional knots to an otherwise finished carpet and of course in the shop.
I left the carpet factory hoping to go to the small town of Jiyaxiang. I went back to the bus station where I had gotten of the bus and asked a lady whether I could take the bus to this town. She nodded and I was happy to be able to take the bus. A little later the bus arrived, I boarded and was brought back to Hotan. This is how communication in Mandarin works…
I did the best from my situation and got off the bus near the bridge across the Jade Dragen Kashgar River. The reason were all the people out in the riverbed. When crossing the river the first time, I had asked my helper, whether that was a bazaar on the other side of the river. He nodded, pulling a few small pieces of Jade from his pocket. I then understood what all the people where doing in the riverbed: the were looking for the valuable stones whereever possible. All over Hotan one can find shops selling processed Jade and jewelry made out of it.
To get yet a better impression of the city I decided to walk back to the city center. After a while I stumbled upon the Sunday Market, which was quite lively also on a Tuesday. I criss-crossed through the market and the market hall, to pick up the atmosphere of the market. I can imagine that the place is really crowded on a Sunday. I was still glad having decided to spend Sunday in Yarkand on the much smaller but more rural market. Once again I realized the M&M fact: mosques and markets. Around the market and even in the center of it, there were mosques, which sometimes even were rendered inaccessible my the vendors fighting for the best positions.
After a delicious Saoman, remotely related to dumplings with meat and vegetables, my next goal was once again an Internet Café. This time I intended to upload the blog post from Yarkand with the corresponding photos. I tried my luck in an Internet Café I had seen in the morning near the bus station. Upon entering the place I immediately met Tim, the American I had met in Kashgar. He told me he was leaving the same night for Kuqa (Kuche) by bus and would arrive there early next morning. We agreed on sharing a twin room in one of the hotels there to split the price. If this was going to work out, I would be really glad, since I was only supposed to arrive in Kuqa late at night.
Since the Internet Café, where Tim had spent his past four hours, had no Internet connectivity, I headed to the Internet Café, where I was the previous day. There everything was perfectly fine and thus I could update my blog. Due to the fact that the most recent web browser was Internet Explorer 6, this was however quite a challenge. This proves that the local people don’t use the Internet Cafés for research or reading, but only for gaming.
During a further walk I enjoyed the heavy snow fall which had set in again. During the whole day again and again there was quite heavy snow fall. Some of the locals seemed to enjoy the snow as well, since they were running around outside taking pictures with their smartphones. The snow did not change the routine of all the sales people, whether goods or food.
On Wednesday morning I packed my stuff and went next door to the bus station to check whether I could already put my backpack in the bus, because I wanted to be prepared for a long ride and still buy some food and drinks. Unfortunately the us was not there yet such that I had to leave the backpack in the left-luggage rroom. It was quite a surprise to meet Tim there once again. He had not taken the bus the night before as planned, since he had met a local who invited him to his place. The real adventure for Tim started when police showed, which finally made Tim spend the night at the Internet Café. Together we went shopping for food for the bus ride, before we could board the bus at noon local time.
When we saw the bus there were the next surprises: first it was going to be a sleeper bus. This means there were no regular seats, but only three rows of very narrow and short bunk beds. The second surprise was that the night bus the night before had been cancelled and there was no reassignment of the beds. Thus people were competing for the same bed. I had booked a more expensive bed, which was located at the bottom. But the Chinese lady was defending the bed for her husband furiously, which is why I ended up taking the top bed. After all that was not that bad, since there was a much better view from the top bunk.
Since the bus was not completely booked out, the driver waited for another half hour for additional passenger until we finally left. Stowing away shoes, food and oneself was quite a challenge, but finally it worked out without losing any extremities.