Monday, October 31, 2005

The Hotan Curse

From Urumqi I took the bus across the infamous Taklmakan Desert to Hotan. The road, which cuts straight through the desert, is an engineering marvel in itself as it is built upon huge tracts of shifting sands. Hotan is famous for its exquisite, and abundant, jade (all you have to do to pick up a piece is head down to the river where every other rock is jade).

But for me the main draw was Hotan's incredible Sunday market. I haven't seen such a mass of seething, jostling, bustling humanity since Carnaval in Rio, but Carnaval is once a year and the market is every week. This was by far the most thriving and exciting market I've seen on all my travels, and I've seen a fair number of them. There were thousands upon thousands of people pushing and shoving to get through the other thousands of people going in the other direction. Everything was on sale: carpets, sheep, thermal underwear, cool Uighur felt hats, cooking utensils, jackets, barber stalls and, of course, lots of jade. Though, typically enough, they didn't have the one thing that I really wanted: leather mitts. But the jade market was surely the most fun: every man and his dog had a little blanket spread in front of them with chunks of jade ranging from the minuscule to the impossible to lift. And plenty more people would sidle surreptitiously up to me showing me their little pebbles, as if they were hard drugs and it should be kept hush hush. How anybody could make a living from selling jade, when there are 1000 other people selling the exact same useless bits of rock, is beyond me. I developed a hilarious game whereby I'd show some interest in somebody's stone, take it of them to have a look, hand them a pen or other random object and then start to walk off. Often the sellers were too bewildered to realise what was happening until I was a fair distance away. I have to amuse myself somehow! My only quibble was that it is Ramadan and so eating in the market was a big no no, so I had to go back to my hotel (I use the term in the loosest possible sense of the term) early to gobble down some nosh in private.

Apropos of food, all the travellers I met in Hotan got ill whilst there, and I was no exception. I've had a really nasty case of the runs today and I've been yo-yoing in and out of the toilet most of the time. The strange thing is that my bowels seem to have a Tardis-like capacity for producing shit. I'm sure I've shat out more than I've eaten in the past 3 days, easily. Where does all that crap come from? Perhaps I've lost some not-so-vital internal organs in the process. Perhaps my appendix? Anyway, that's a little snapshot of the thoughts going through my head today. I think I may have gone slightly peculiar after all this time on the road.

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