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Ten Must Try Uyghur Foods 十大不容错过的维吾尔食物

Here are ten mouth-watering foods from our travels through Xinjiang, all of them Uyghur foods. There are five savory and five sweet ones for your enjoyment!

1. Laghman 拉面

Hand-pulled noodles, Uyghur style, are rustic and delicious. The noodles are stretched, stretched, then stretched some more (you may be able to just see the young boy behind the old man, just starting out with a batch), boiled quickly then turned out onto a big enamel platter to cool a little before being portioned out by hand.
Laghman are usually topped with a rich rustic vegetable ragout simmered in the pot from peppers, eggplant, onion, garlic and tomato, with or without a few pieces of lamb. If there are extra vegetables in season (celery, spinach, beans) these often make their way in too. It’s a filling and very satisfying dish.
Want to make your own? Instructions here from my last visit to Kashgar.

2. Kawap 烤羊肉串

The smell of charcoal, spice and grilling meat is a vivid memory for travelers to Xinjiang, with outdoor barbecues smoking up a storm on every street. Lamb kawap (known to us as kebabs and to the Chinese as yang rou chuanr) are the quintessential street food of Xinjiang – succulent pieces of fatty lamb threaded onto long metal skewers, with a nice juicy chunk of lamb fat in the centre to keep the meat tender. Sometimes there’s a piece of lamb’s liver in there for variety, if you like.
The kawap are grilled to order over a long, narrow waist-high charcoal brazier, sprinkled as they cook with that magical mixture of spices that gives incredible flavour – usually cumin, white pepper, chili and salt – and when ready are served with nan bread. Grilled meat, soft bread – a perfect taste combination.
木炭,香料和烤肉的味道是来新疆旅游的人们最鲜活的记忆,街上到处洋溢着烤肉的烟味。羊肉串(对我们来说就是烤肉串,对中国人来说就是羊肉串)就是新疆街边小吃的 代表——鲜嫩多汁的肥羊肉块被穿在长长的金属棒上,在肉串的中间有一块多汁的羊肉脂肪。如果你喜欢,有时肉串上还会有一块羊肝。肉串被放在一个狭长的齐腰高的木炭架子上烧烤,辅以香料的混合物,散发着令人难以置信的香味——孜然,白辣椒,红辣椒和盐——肉串烤好后再配上馕一起吃。烤肉,松软的面包——一个完美地味道组合。

3. Carrot salad 胡萝卜色拉

If you order kawap in a restaurant rather than on the street, the other great accompaniment to them is this cold, spiced salad. It cuts through the fat in meat dishes perfectly. Western Xinjiang has both orange and bright yellow carrots, and both are shredded together with white radish and some fine rice vermicelli noodles in this salad, dressed with dark vinegar, salt and chili.  

4. Samsas 烤包子

There are constant food and linguistic reminders that Xinjiang shares much more in common with central Asia, including the name of these spiced lamb parcels wrapped in dough and cooked in the tall tonur outdoor pit oven. Known as samosa in India, sambosa in Afghanistan, sambusa in Iran, and samsa in Pakistan, they are perfect as a snack in their smaller version, while the larger ones, kumach, are a meal in themselves.
What I loved as I travelled through Xinjiang was the regional variations in shape – some like parcels, some like large balls, some like crescents, some flat and square like envelopes. All delicious.

5. Polo 手抓饭

Polo is a rich and satisfying rice pilaf, made in a large deep curved pot like a wok, with shreds of carrot that cook to a caramelised loveliness, pieces of onion that brown and crisp on the bottom, and mutton on the bone. The entire dish is all buttery rice, with the sweetness of the carrots and the saltiness of the tender, tender meat. In Xinjiang, whole restaurants are devoted to the perfection of polo, but you can also find slightly less perfect (but no less tasty) versions in markets and truckstops. 

6. Zongza 粽扎

I know what you’re thinking, those parcels being unwrapped in the picture below look mighty like zongzi – sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves – and hang on, isn’t that a Chinese dish? Well, you’d be right, up to a point.
In a marvelous Uyghur take on a Chinese classic, these zongza are made with a sticky red date in the tip. To serve, the zongza are unwrapped, pressed flat on a saucer, then covered in rich, creamy cold yoghurt curd and drizzled all over with brown sugar syrup and eaten with a tiny teaspoon. One word: divine. 

7. Matang 麻糖

Matang refers to a whole group of slightly different sweet treats made with locally grown nuts as one of the main ingredients – usually walnuts or almonds, made into a giant block of sweet, chewy nut brittle.
Some matang is very crunchy with a toffee base, and some is soft, chewy, and creamy, like nougat. You just tell the vendor how much you would like in weight, and he will slice off a hunk with a very sharp knife, chop it into bite-size pieces and weigh it on scales. 
For more details there’s a great description of the treat and how it’s made here

8. Fresh figs  新鲜无花果

It’s impossible to travel through Xinjiang during fig season (July to October) and not eat your own body weight in sweet, fresh figs – enjur. Just take a fig leaf, and choose your own from the pile to take away, usually 1 yuan each. The best and sweetest are reported to come from the town of Atash near Kashgar, and Beshkirem, but you will find fig vendors everywhere.

9. Summer Snow kar dogh 夏季刨冰

A street food miracle, this delightful summer treat is made from snow harvested in the depths of winter and kept frozen until the heat of summer arrives in underground rooms filled with blocks of ice. A pre-electric freezer. 
The vendors keep their own blocks of snow cold with blankets, and when you order a bowl of kar dogh he will scoop snow from the block and top it with freshly made yoghurt, brown sugar syrup and some rich, creamy yoghurt curd.  
I sat in the Hotan Bazaar next to a very ancient Uyghur man, both of us grinning and slurping on our bowls of kar dogh like kids tasting icecream for the first time. Fantastic.

10. Sweet Samsas 烤甜包

In a few restaurants, notably the wonderful Altun Orda restaurant in Kashgar, you can end your meal with a sweet samsa filled with a spiced mixture of sultanas and crushed nuts in crisp, flaky pastry. A perfect way to finish a round-up of sweet Uyghur treats!


Murder, Madness and Sacrifice: An Ordinary Day in Hotan 杀戮、疯狂和牺牲:和田的普通一天

“Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.” 
– Cesare Pavese, Italian writer. 

There are days on this long journey filled with so many unusual and confronting experiences they leave my head spinning with seismic shifts of perception. The world as I know it seems to have so very little in common with the world in which I now find myself. 

We had travelled for hours through harsh and featureless desert to reach Hotan, a small city far from everywhere on the southern edge of the cruel, vast Taklamikan Desert. Hotan looms out of a dust storm haze like a true frontier town, a tumble of mid-size half-finished buildings and a mayhem of motorbikes, donkey carts and tray-back tricycle taxis, all covered in a fine layer of pale silt. 

We had come to see the weekly market, reported to be the biggest and best in Xinjiang, rivaling all others for colour and spectacle. But the days in Hotan bring a series of unexpected and unrelated happenings, at once disarming and thought-provoking, and the events smack me around the head for days afterwards with the question of what defines normal.

As off-balance as they make me feel, I try and bend and shape the experiences in my head until they fit – very poorly and uncomfortably – into my own view of the world. Normality is, of course, simply a construct with parameters defined according to your place of birth and your cultural background. We’re always trying to find the common in the uncommon as a way of minimising the distance of our human experiences. 

And it turns out that what is extraordinary for me is just another day in Hotan.



Murder 杀戮

Seeing a severed camel head on the ground, a small pool of blood forming around it, has never in my own experience been an event of ordinary measure. And yet here people were, walking around it carrying bags of shopping, a mere severed head a matter of no note.

I had been with the camels earlier in the day at the animal market on the edge of town, fifty or sixty of the magnificent beasts in a large outdoor yard waiting to be bought and sold. 
Every Sunday in Hotan farmers come from near and far with animals to sell – goats, sheep, yaks, cattle and donkeys. The streets leading in to the market are lined with livestock in makeshift pens, tied to fence posts or the undercarriage of parked trucks. Now and again a skittery animal escapes, careering and butting its way through dense crowds of people and other animals before being captured and tied up again.  

We work our way through the noise, crowds and dust to the inner part of the market. Here, all the sheep are being weighed one by one, bundled like babies into baskets made from old truck tyres resting on sets of industrial scales. The sheep’s weight is recorded in a small notebook by a heavy man sitting on the fence, and once the weight is known, deals are struck quickly and animals are passed from farmer to butcher. The sheep are bleating and panicky. Do they know it will soon be all over for them?

在和田,牲畜市场每天都热闹不已。我们整天都穿梭在市场中心熙熙攘攘的人群和漫天灰尘中。在这里,每只羊都被像婴儿一样绑好倒着称重,户外的秤一头是卡车轮胎做 的篮子,一头是一套工业用天平。旁边一个坐在栏杆上的男人把称好的数据记录在一个小笔记本上。

In another section are the donkeys, braying and kicking and making it very difficult for any potential buyers to get a good look at their teeth, as potential buyers like to do. Next to them is the yak pen, the well-behaved long-haired black beasts standing around quietly, occasionally shifting their feet slightly.

The camels are in the far corner, tall, silent and imposing. There are no bad-mannered rogues here – the fur of these camels is clean and sleek, their eyes shining, covered with long, curved eyelashes. A chocolate coloured mother and her nougat coloured calf watch me with big dark eyes. I could walk straight under the mother’s chin without stooping.

But there is no room for sentimentality here – these camels are being sold for their meat, as well as for farm work. Camel meat is readily available in these parts and when I return to the Sunday Bazaar that afternoon, there is a severed camel’s head in front of the butcher’s stall, with a severed horse’s head at the horse meat stall next door.  

They look violent and bloody, macabre and unwelcome. I berate myself for being soft – meat is meat, and why is a camel or horse more majestic than a yak or a cow?

But I see the eyelashes on the dead, cold eyes, and the butcher sits by, uncaring.



Madness 疯狂

Outside Hotan in the midst of desert lies a small mosque, all but swallowed by the dunes, and the thousand year old tomb of Islamic missionary Imam Asism, covered with flags. 

The mosque openly welcomes the poor, the weak, and the estranged without reservation, and is well known as a place of charity amongst local people. Although it is clearly not wealthy, those needing help are taken in – a situation no longer the case in many other holy places around the world.

Several homeless people are resting under bushes outside the mosque, their belongings tucked about them, waiting for lunch. I notice a young bearded man dressed in a winter coat, far too heavy for the desert heat, carrying prayer beads and speaking loudly to himself as he walks up and down beside one of the tombs.
Earlier someone had asked for a small donation for visiting, and invoked the wrath of the mosque’s Imam who made him return the tiny amount on the grounds that the mosque and tombs should be open and free for all, Muslim or not. 
The young coated man had watched it all happen and now walked back and forth repeating to himself over and over “The Imam said he shouldn’t do it, but he did, he did ask those people for money and the Imam said it wasn’t right. And you’re good Muslims, you’re bringing your daughters here to be good Muslims.” Over and over, with great emotion. Back and forth, in the hot sun, in his heavy coat.
Mental illness is hidden in China. Not spoken of, except obliquely, and not seen. Not acknowledged, not accepted. Yet here in this out of the way mosque were a small legion of men whose madness took the form of religious fervour, and who were accepted and cared for by the local Islamic community without question. 

Sacrifice 牺牲

Later in the day I’m seated at a busy restaurant stall in the shaded part of the bazaar when I see the most extraordinary sight – a small boy, perhaps two or three years old, completely naked except for his shoes, his back and buttocks smeared with fresh blood. He’s quite happy, and not apparently injured – teasing his older brother and behaving like any normal three year old boy.

I wonder if they are playing a joke with the blood from a nearby fish stall, when I see what’s happening. His older brother, maybe ten, is being told by his mother to take off his shirt. He doesn’t want to do it, but she’s making him. His grandfather is sitting nearby on a low stool in the open area outside the restaurant, a long, shining narrow knife in his hand. Besides his mother and grandfather there is an aunt and a small girl baby.

The boy is told to lie face down on the mat – he doesn’t want to do it, but his mother is pushing him down by his shoulders. His grandfather and the others are crowded around him, the glint of the knife visible between their bodies. I feel a rising sense of panic, but our guide tells us it’s alright. Don’t worry. Sit back down.

But I rise from my seat because I can’t push away the feeling of alarm – the knife, the blood, the unwillingness of the boy – even though we are in the middle of a busy bazaar in broad daylight on the busiest day of the week, and no one else but me seems to have noticed anything amiss. There are at least fifty people in the immediate vicinity, most of them eating, apparently oblivious.

I walk quickly over to the small group just in time to see a grey pigeon taken out of a cage on the ground and passed to the grandfather. He holds it over the boy’s back and quickly slits the bird’s throat,  the sticky dripping blood smeared over the skin of the boy’s back by the hands of his mother and aunt.

He stands now, his back dripping with blood, and comes to sit sullenly in a corner, back hunched over, elbows resting on knees, glaring at me as if to say “I didn’t want to take part in this stupid thing”.




With exquisite timing unique to small boys, his little brother walks over and stands with his legs slightly apart and urinates on the ground near his big brother’s feet, daring him to do something about it. He doesn’t.

I have absolutely no idea of the meaning behind what’s going on but I can see now that although the pigeons are in danger, the children are not. I can’t take my eyes away – the baby girl is next, undressed and held face down while the pigeon sacrifice is repeated, the blood smeared again. The dead pigeon joins a pile of its fellows on the mat.


The blood of the last pigeon is smeared on the legs of the mother and aunt, not a drop wasted. Then the mother picks up the four dead pigeons by the legs and takes them into the restaurant to be plucked.
Our guide Waheed says the blood adds heat to the body, and for children is especially protective against illness. He tells us some Uyghurs believe the blood is very warming but only when applied to the skin – the meat is ‘warming’ to the body internally when eaten. I find myself wondering if the same principle applies in traditional Chinese medicine, with the emphasis it places on warming and cooling foods.
Now the young boy is sitting on the ground next to our table playing with a toy car, and his older brother has begun peeling a sack of white onions for his grandmother, who stands cooking next to him on the outdoor wok. Ritual over, routine has returned and there is a restaurant to be run.

Except for me, of course – how can I be the same again after seeing an extraordinary sight like that? I struggle to make some sense of it all against my own feelings of revulsion, fascination, and intrigue. Is there something in my memory with which I can normalise what I’ve just seen?

I think of my great-grandmother, dosing us all with a toxic brown ‘tonic’ in the firm belief it would keep us healthy. Was this really so very different? 

Now the three year old is scratching at the itch made by the tightening of the drying blood, crescents of dark dried blood under his little fingernails. He gives me a long, searching look – as though noticing me for the very first time and realizing I’m not a normal part of his daily landscape. Perhaps he’ll later tell his father about the very strange-looking woman he saw at lunchtime, with her strangely dressed husband and children, and the odd way they sounded when they spoke. Normality is all relative.


“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes” – Proust

Xinjiang: Magnificent Land of Mountains and Deserts

Xinjiang, in China’s far west, is a place of adventure and jaw-dropping natural beauty. Our circular journey through China’s largest province traversed five thousand kilometres, taking us along the Silk Road across deserts, through mountain ranges, and alongside some of the world’s most stunning land formations. dotted throughout with green oasis towns full of colour and life and wonderful local Uyghur people.
I so often write about the food and people of a place, that it can be hard for you all to get a sense of the physical landscape we’re traveling through. I thought it was time to redress that with a series of photos, many taken from the passenger seat of our campervan, of the passing spectacle. I warn you – I’m not much of a landscape photographer, but the landscapes of Xinjiang are quite out of this world.
To put the area in context, Xinjiang borders Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Tibet. Silk Road travelers passed through Xinjiang in both directions, bypassing the central desert.

Here’s the path we followed, skirting around the barren Taklamakan Desert via Turpan, Kashgar and Hotan, following first the northern then the southern Silk Road. The green alphabetical tags refer to the locations of the photos below.
If you would like more details about traveling off the beaten path in this part of the world, a very recently published guidebook by Jeremy Tredinnick – Xinjiang, China’s Central Asia – gives a detailed detailed look at the province and would have been a great help for us but was published just as we arrived in Xinjiang. We’ll definitely be getting hold of it for next time!
A. Gansu/Xinjiang Border
After seeing no-one for miles, suddenly there were four men in a row erecting new wiring, like some extraordinary roadside circus act framed by the distant mountains.
B. The Turpan Basin                                        The Turpan Basin is the lowest, hottest place in China yet thanks to an ancient system of irrigation the area is home to China’s most abundant and tastiest grape varieties. In the arid plains on the basin’s edge, latticed brick sheds are used to dry the grapes in the hot, dry conditions.

C. Flaming Mountain

East of Turpan lies the legendary Flaming Mountain, where in the epic story ‘Journey to the West’ the Monkey King defeats the flames with the help of a Magic Fan.  ‘After the first shake, the flames of the mountain died out. After the second shake, a cool gentle breeze arose. After the third, gentle rain fell everywhere and the pilgrims proceeded on their journey in comfort.

D. Borto-Ula Pass                                             The G30 road from Turpan to Kashgar passes first through a steep north-south mountain valley, the winding road tracing the path of a dry riverbed between high, magnificent peaks. The midday sun struggles to reach the depths of the valley in places as you wind through bend after bend. 

E. Halik Mountains                                          Flat, salt-crusted plains suddenly heave themselves vertically into impressive corrugated folds. 

F. I still find it extraordinary that anyone could live in a landscape like this one. Treeless, almost devoid of plant life, and yet wild, rugged and magnificent.

G. Kalpinchol Tag  An awe-inspiring sight just east of Kashgar, these rows of multi-coloured mountains actually made me think of something very small, reminding me of the scenes made from layers of coloured sand in a tiny bottle. 

H. Ortagh Valley                                           You’ll see the turn-off to this alpine valley on the Karakoram Highway west of Kashgar. Its green fir trees, fertile meadows and glacial meltwaters are such a stark contrast to the arid cliffs of the Ghez Dariya Canyon nearby. At the head of the valley lies the black ice Ortagh Glacier  (below), cleaving a path between mountains covered with snow. 
I. Kumtagh                                                        The Ghez Dariya canyon climbs higher and higher, past a military checkpoint, until you arrive finally at this unexpected windswept sight. The mountains on the far side of the man-made lake are actually imposing sand dunes of silver-coloured sand rising from the aqua waters – soon to be the head waters of a hydroelectric scheme.

J. Lake Karakul                                             Worth every bump of the long ride from Kashgar and every bit of the high-altitude headache you’ll have when you arrive, Lake Karakul is simply magical. Reflecting the snowy peaks in its crystal clear waters and dotted around its edge by small Kyrgyz villages, it’s a place of clear, clean air, yurts and yaks. Breathtaking.

K. Taklamakan Desert                                    And then there’s this: although the Southern Silk Road doesn’t take you through the formidable Taklamakan Desert it does skirt its edges. West of the city of Hotan it’s about as bleak as it gets with dust hanging heavy in the air, blocking the sun, and dust storms flaring on every bend in the road. If you could see through the dust it would look just like the scene below – flat infinities of gravel and grit.

L. Washed-out Bridge                                         In the parched country south of Cherchen is a winding river bed, filled with smooth, rounded stones suggesting that at some point in the river’s past the water flowed hard and fierce. Not now. Now the river is completely bone dry, but some time recently a raging torrent passed through, tearing away part of this bridge. It was kind of worth driving all that way and having to turn back just to see this scene.

M. Astin Tag                                                        A mountain pass climbing to almost 4000m separates Xinjiang from neighbouring Qinghai Province. It’s spectacularly beautiful, with the colour of the sky and the mountains intensified by the rarified air. A fitting departure from the magnificent countryside of Xinjiang. I’ll miss it.

The Bakers of Kashgar 喀什的面包师

The first smell every morning in the streets of Kashgar is the smell of woodsmoke, followed a short time later by the comforting toasty smell of baking bread.

It’s six am and the bakers of Kashgar have already been at work for two hours, mixing and kneading dough, waiting for the first rising, and getting the waist-high outdoor tonur ovens ready.

Today I’m one of them. My apprenticeship begins at nine sharp and will be over by lunchtime, but today is the day I learn to make round crusty nan bread alongside Uyghur baker Abdrachma and his five fellow bakers. I’m unbelievably excited – my first job was in a bakery, and I feel very at home amongst the heat and the ovens, weaving between the banter and work rhythms of the bakers.

The Bayawan Bakery is down a long lane to the side of the Id Kah mosque, opposite a small Uyghur school. The lane is a busy with children walking to school hand in hand with their mothers, motorbikes ferrying boxes of goods and passengers, old men in embroidered green caps out for their morning stroll and young men and women rushing to work.

The laneway is lined with small businesses, the shops selling tea and medicines just beginning to open with sacks of spices, dried flowers, exotic plant resins and coiled dried snakes lining their entrances. As I walk past the sweet shop the plump shopkeeper is laying out deep rectangular tin buckets of rock crystal sugar and sweet biscuits, attracting small swarms of yellow wasps that he absent-mindedly bats away. Further down is a row of stalls selling dried figs, sultanas, almonds, walnuts and pistachios. Everywhere the air is faintly clouded with smoke from the bakery ovens.



Bread is the most important sustenance for Uyghur people, and eating bread marks each meal of the day. Bread is the first thing I noticed when I arrived in Xinjiang, bakeries on every street recognizable by the stacked rounds of bread on tables in front of the ovens. It’s very much part of life and cycle of each day.

There are round nan breads with beautiful patterns and raised edges, sprinkled with sweet dots of onion. There are smaller rounds of thicker bread, Turpan nan, with a thicker layer of onion and black nigella seeds on top. There are giant flat rounds, hemek nan, typical of Kashgar, and small fat bagels, gizhder, shining and sprinkled with sesame seeds.  The Uygher saying goes that ‘baking is a simple business, but you will never be out of work’ and bakers are considered as essential to Uyghur society as teachers and doctors.


Inside the Bayawan Bakery I meet Abdrachma, the owner, who will be my teacher for the morning, and I’m surprised to discover he is the younger of the two men standing in the doorway, rather than the older man next to him who turns out to be his father and also his newest apprentice.

Abdrachma is a childhood friend of our guide and translator Waheed, whose real talent is in Silk Road and mountaineering bespoke tours, but can arrange anything – last time I was in Kashgar he arranged for me to visit a local house and learn hand-pulled noodles, lady-style.

After spending three years as a baker’s apprentice learning the trade, Abdrachhma then worked for a succession of bakers before opening the Bayawan – his first bakery – only two months ago. He’s tall and lanky and has the same pale and sleepless look common to all the bakers I’ve ever made acquaintance with. It’s a tough profession working every day of the year from before sunrise until after sunset, and in Kashgar it’s probably tougher than most places – Abdrachhma and the other five bakers sleep in sets of bunk beds in the room at the back of the bakery.

He may be young but he has already developed a reputation amongst locals for the quality of his bread, each batch selling out before the next arrives. He makes six hundred loaves a day and rarely has any left over.


Making Uyghur Nan

Inside the bakery the smell of yeast is strong. The workroom has two long wooden benches, one on either side of the room. On one, curved rounds of dough are proving under a light cotton sheet, and on the other two bakers are kneading and weighing dough into pieces. Out back is a dough-mixing machine in the combined bedroom/workroom (‘we used to do it all by hand, but the machine makes it easier’) and sacks of Xinjiang flour stacked all the way to the ceiling.

I watch one of the younger bakers make a nan. He takes a ball of dough, flattens it with his palms first then with a narrow rolling pin, before picking it up to make a raised edge using the thumb and forefinger of both hands. It looks easy but I know it won’t be when I try it later.


Next he adds a pattern of concentric circles to the dough using a tukche – a doorknob-shaped device set with a circular pattern of blunt nails or chicken feather quills. The holes made by the tukche will allow the bread to cook more evenly without trapped bubbles of air.

Reaching behind me the young baker picks up the completed nan and spins it deftly through the air like a flying saucer, landing in exactly the right place on the oven workbench outside. The ovens, three beehive-shaped pits as high as a man’s waist, are set into a long tiled work counter. Heat shimmers above the narrow opening and an orange glow comes from deep within.

The oven baker takes the nan and smears the surface with juice from chopped white onions, then sprinkles a good handful of the onions mixed with tiny black nigella seeds and white sesame seeds. Then he spreads the nan on a curved cushion, upside down, and using the cushion reaches his arm in and sticks the nan to the side wall of the oven.

This rhythm cotinues for the whole batch – the inside baker presses and shapes the nan, then spins it to the outside baker who add toppings and bakes the bread.

Removing the bread ten minutes later is accomplished with long metal poles ending in small hooks. The baker fishes the bread out of the oven and onto the bench to cool.

While it’s still way too hot we all have a taste – there is really nothing on earth that beats the taste of bread fresh from the oven, scented with smoke, and tasting of sweet little roasted pips of onion and salt. The salt, sometimes seen as dark flakes on the back of the bread, comes from the layer of salt used to seal and line the oven before every baking. It’s one of the other secrets of Uyghur bread.


And This is the Bread Fiona Baked….

Then it’s my turn to make nan. Abdrachhmed watches patiently as I flatten and roll the dough, then make a complete balls-up of the edge, once, twice, three times. It’s much harder than it looks and involves an awkward knuckling of the left index finger I just can’t seem to get. 

As the dough stretches a gaping hole threatens so I resort to laying it down and heaping up an edge with my fingers. Not correct technique, but it works well enough.

I take the tukche and press a circular pattern with a light girl’s touch. ‘Harder! Harder!’ the young bakers tell me, until I’m punching holes like a ticket conductor.

On go the onions, and then straight into the glowing oven. I make another while the first cooks, nervously waiting to see how it turns out.

Not bad! says Abdrachhmed, ignoring the uneven crust and bubbles in my bread. I’m already grinning like an idiot. Nan! Me! Who would’ve thought? 

In my daydreams I own my own bakery, basking in the meditations of kneading dough and making bread, forgetting all about the sweat, the burns, the early nights and earlier mornings, the complete lack of a life outside baking….

I’m never going to be a great baker, and it would take me another three years to get even close to Abdrachhmed’s skill. But when I’m making a succulent roast Xinjiang-style lamb and want some flat bread to go with it, I can have a crack at making my own. 

Here’s a recipe should you want to have a go at it too. I think in place of building your own tonur in the back garden, you could use a very hot oven and a pizza stone!


Uyghur Nan Bread – A Recipe

Uyghur nan is made using a simple yeast dough recipe. Abdrachhma insists that the secret to the best bread is in the flour – he uses only unbleached local wheat flour.

Makes 2 nan


3 cups unbleached plain flour
1 cup warm water
1 teaspoon dried yeast (Abdrachhma uses Turkish brand Pakmaya)
1 teaspoon salt
1 small white onion, very finely chopped
1 teaspoon nigella (kalonji) seeds
1 teaspoon white sesame seeds


Preheat oven to 200C 
Place a pizza stone place in oven to preheat

Add the yeast to warm water and allow to froth
Combine salt and flour in a bowl 
Add water and yeast to flour mixture, mix well
Turn onto a floured board to knead
Knead dough well (at least ten minutes) and separate into two balls
Cover dough balls with a dry cloth and leave to rise, about half an hour

Place finely chopped onion in a sieve over a bowl to collect onion juice
Set juice aside (there will only be a small amount)
Add nigella and sesame seeds to chopped onion, mix, set aside

Using a small rolling pin, roll balls of dough flat to a diameter of 20cm
Cover one round while you work on the other
Now lift dough by its edges and make the raised edge of the nan by grasping and pinch the edges, circling it round like passing a piece of rope through your hands. The nan will slowly stretch an increase in size to a diameter of 30cm

Using a tukche or fork, make concentric paterns of holes in the base of the nan, avoiding the edge
Be sure the holes go all the way through to the base

Spread the surface of the nan with fingers dipped in onion juice
Sprinkle over 3 teaspoons of onion mixture

Slide nan onto hot pizza stone and straight into oven
Bake for ten to fifteen minutes until nan is golden brown
Remove from oven and repeat for second nan

Completely and utterly delicious on its own, or serve with meat , soup or noodles.

If you would like to learn how to make Uyghur nan bread or other Uyghur foods while you are visiting Kashgar, contact Waheed at Silk Road Expedition for more information.


Kashgar Bazaar: A Dozen Temptations 喀什集市:诱惑连连

Need a mosque alarm clock that gives you a call to prayer? You can buy this and much, much more at Kashgar’s famed bazaar, otherwise known as the Sunday Market. Door hinges, goat bells, donkey harnesses, stockings, scarves, silks, tea, jewellery, dried fruits, carpets and spices, the bazaar sells the most extraordinary variety of interesting articles and covers a vast undercover area next to the old city.


Just when you think you have the measure of the place you discover an entirely new section with a labyrinth of alleys selling nothing but wheat sacks. Or perfumes. Or copper pots.


The bazaar is in fact open every day of the week, and although they no longer sell live animals there (the Sunday animal market having moved to a new home north of the city), everything else is fair game.

Here are a dozen things I couldn’t resist:

1.Tukche 门把手

After learning to make bread here in Kashgar I realized finally what these funny little turned wood doorknobs are – tukche. A small device used for making patterns on traditional Uyghur flatbread, I now own a whole set – should I ever decide to set up a Uyghur bakery (more on that idea in the next post).

Does anyone else out there have a kitchen full of essential equipment like this, purchased on holidays with the romantic notion that when you go back home you will make (insert name of foreign food here) every single day, thereby justifying the purchase?


2. Gold 金饰

Uyghur women wear small fortunes of gold, with elaborate gold earrings being part of normal daily dress. When a woman marries, her husband-to-be will provide for a whole set of gold jewellery – earrings, necklace and bracelet, which she will choose with the help of her female relatives.

I did have my heart set on a pair of real gold earrings, each filigree curl inset with one tiny rough turquiose stone, but when I went back to the store in the bazaar it was closed. Tragedy. Instead, I bought a handful of fake gold earrings, just as much fun and way, way cheaper than 370 yuan/gram (about $60/gram), which is the going price for gold in Kashgar.

维吾尔族妇女佩戴金饰,做工精美的金耳环已经成为她们日常服装的一部分。当一个女人结婚的时候, 她的未婚夫将提供一整套的黄金首饰,耳环、项链和手镯作为聘礼,而她会在家族女眷的帮助下挑选这些东西。

我真的很中意一对在它每个饰有金银丝细工的螺旋状耳环中嵌入一个小而坚硬的绿松石的纯金耳环, ,但当我再回到集市的商店时,它已经关门了。真可惜。取而代之,我买了一把假的黄金耳环,这些同样也很有趣,而且价格远比喀什现行370/(60美元/)的黄金价格便宜得多。

3. Traditional Uyghur Silk 传统维吾尔族丝绸

Vibrant colors and woven from the softest silk, this traditionaly patterned resist-dye silk known as khan atlas (the king’s silk) is sold either as small scarves, or in 6.4 metre lengths. 

When I enquired why one might need 6.4 metres exactly (a turban?I  hadn’t seen any of those) I was shown a pattern book full of Uyghur women’s dress styles. So now you know how many metres it took to make this:


4. Glazed Earthenware 釉面陶器

Well OK, not the most practical or lightweight souvenir I’ve ever purchased, but I love my glazed green ewruk or water jug. The style is typical of Kashgar, with the earthy colours and simple designs perfect for serving hearty Uyghur food and drink. 

The shops selling earthenware goods lie between the old city and the western edge of the bazaar – just look for piles of jugs and pots on a long stretch of pavement.


5. Spices 香料

In every bazaar is a whole postcode dedicated to spices, the air thick with the smells of dried chili, cumin, saffron and cinnamon – it’s intoxicating. 

Visit any dora dermek shop selling spices and ask for a tetitku – a spice mixture. The vendor will take a little of this, a little of that, and hand you a small paper parcel inside which is a dynamite powder packed with flavour used for seasoning kebabs, roast lamb, chicken or vegetables.


6. Doppa 毡帽

Worn by Muslim men, the doppa is simple and beautiful – embroidered and decorated, there are no strict rules about who wears what kind, although older men favour the embroidered green hat of Uyghur muslims, and younger men the simpler ones shown above.

I love the simple white doppa – with designs of circles and inverted hearts woven into the fabric.


7. Tea 

Black tea is the staple drink of the Uyghur people, served at every meal and seemingly every other hour of the day too. Enter a Uyghur home and the first thing you will be offered is a shallow ceramic bowl of tea, drunk with the thumb hooked over the bowl’s rim.

The tea is also drunk flavoured with spices, rose petals, saffron and cinnamon.


8. Teapots 茶壶

You’ll need a teapot for making your tea in, and apparently, if you’re me and you have a large vehicle in which to store purchases from bazaars, you’ll need two.

Inexpensive but elegant, the brass teapots have a filter basket inside to stop you getting a mouthful of leaves, and to enable multiple steepings.



9. Brocades and Other Shiny Stuff 锦缎和其他闪亮的东西

As a lifelong sewer and hoarder of all things related to textiles and sewing, the Kashgar bazaar is a dangerous place to let me loose. These brocades are popular for furnishing fabrics, and not just a feature cushion or two either – imagine whole rooms decorated in this flamboyant brocade style, from wall coverings to quilts to the long, oblong cushions used for sitting on the floor. Every Uyghur house is a riot of colour, pattern and shine.

By the way, can you spot the camouflaged second woman in this shot?


10. Bounty of the Oasis 慷慨的绿洲

Last year in Kashgar I bought a small bag of the most exquisite tiny dried figs, about the size of a marble, sweet and chewy with the crunch of tiny, tiny seeds. The figs ran out  ten months ago, so I’m not making that mistake again – I stocked up on several kilograms of the world’s best dried foods – apricots, figs, dates, sultanas, raisins, walnuts and almonds. 

All of these fruit and nut trees thrive in the Kashgar oasis, along with melons, tomatoes, eggplant and the local yellow carrots. 


11. Door Hinges 门铰链

Yes, I am the kind of person who buys door hinges. Who wouldn’t want a set of stunning hand-made Uyghur hinges like these? No? How about a door knocker? 


12. Musical History 音乐历史

Uyghurs have a rich and proud musical history and at the bazaar you might be tempted to purchase one of these beautiful instruments – a stringed duttar made from patterned mulberry wood. Then you can practice singing the muqam, an ancient Uyghur song with 14,000 lines named by Unesco as an ‘intangible cultural heritage’


Kashgar Bazaar/Sunday Market 喀什集市/周日市场

Yengi Bazaar, Aizirete Lu
Open Daily from 8am to 6pm

Yengi集市, Aiziret

Food, Travel, Memories: Turpan 美食,旅游,回忆: 吐鲁番

Sometimes when travelling you eat a meal that is so deeply memorable you think about it for months or even years afterwards.
I can still taste the exact buttery flavour of fresh-fried fish sandwiched in a half loaf of crusty white bread, eaten on the banks of the Bosphorous in Istanbul on a frozen, blustery winter’s day. I can still hear the sizzle of oil as the fish hit the makeshift griddle on the back of an old wooden boat tied to the dock, and see the wind whipping the flames and sparks sidewards. That was twenty years ago now.
What makes such a meal so memorable? How does the experience of food in foreign places enhance the richness of our recollections of travel?

Surprisingly, when you break it down, it’s not just the food that forms a lasting memory, although the food should be superb. The food should reflect the place and the people, and be something you can’t reproduce elsewhere (although goodness knows you will try, and try and try).

It’s not just the place, although it helps to be outdoors where you can see and hear and smell the essence of everything around you that’s foreign and different.

It’s not just the people, although it helps if the guy on the back of the boat touts for business loudly and cheerfully as he cooks, or if your traveling companion turns out to be your future husband.
It’s the wonderful alchemy of all of these together – the atmosphere, the flavour, the company – that stays in your mind.


A year ago I visited Turpan, on the Silk Road, and mid-afternoon happened to walk past a rundown outdoor restaurant just as two men were lowering an entire saffron and yoghurt covered sheep into an outdoor charcoal oven. They threw in two saucepans of water after it for steam and moisture and then tightly sealed the heavy iron lid with cloths and blankets.

That lamb was going to be so tender and taste so good when it was cooked. I asked them what time it would be ready and came back two hours later, family in tow, with big appetites.

It’s not a place that might immediately catch your eye – an outdoor shanty wedged in the furthest corner of the Bazaar against the back wall of the mosque. In the front of the restaurant sit two large tandoors side by side, fuelled by a constantly glowing wood fire, enveloping the whole restaurant in a faint cloud of smoke. There are several raised platforms covered with patterned carpets, in Uyghur style, and several ordinary tables covered with coloured linoleum.


The ‘mother’ of the restaurant, in a long floral dress and headscarf, sits us down and pours tea from a tin pot into chipped cups. She is perhaps my age, with a young daughter nearby and two older sons helping, but she moves with the body of an old woman, slowly and tiredly. 

The tea, from such a humble pot, is fragrant with rosepetals and lavender, cinnamon and saffron.


She brings the only meal the restaurant serves – a tin platter of round, soft fresh nan bread, left whole or cut into triangles with a giant pair of scissors, piled high with chunks of tender, juicy lamb.

Just meat, and bread, and tea.


Sitting in the early evening light, the smell of charcoal and roast meat in the air, watching men coming through a doorway from the next door mosque at the end of evening prayers and eating that delicious lamb alongside many of them remains one of my favourite food travel memories.

This week I had the chance to visit again. Mother was preparing small cuts of lamb this time, marinated first then hung on metal hooks before being dipped in vivid yellow saffron yoghurt then hung in the outdoor oven to cook.

Her daughter was at school, but her sons were there, busy as ever filling orders and skylarking with each other. The meat was succulent with a crisp outer and juicy layer of fat, and the nan bread soaked up any extra flavor. It was smoky, and salty, and sweet.

It’s not often as we roam across this big world that we get the chance to relive our best food memories more than once, but do you know – that bread, lamb and tea was just as good as it had been a year ago. I hope I can still recall the taste in twenty years’ time.


What are your best food memories from your travels? I’d love to know…

The Singing Sand Dunes and the Lost Library of Dunhuang, by Camel 在骆驼上穿越鸣沙山到达失落的敦煌宝库

The first thing you notice is the silence, the soft footfall of camel steps on the dark gold sand, and then Master Li the camel-herder begins to sing: low, long, meandering lullabies to the camels. The cadence of the lullaby is familiar, repetitive, but the tune and the words are lost to me, foreign and exotic.

We are travelling by camel through the Singing Sand Dunes of far western Gansu, to the fabled Lost Library of Dunhuang and more than seven hundred caves filled with Buddhist art treasure at Mogao Ku.


I watch the head of my camel, looking for signs that the singing soothes him but rogue that he is, he continues to wrench his head from side to side looking for an opportunity to present itself – some grass, a thorny bush, a piece of rope to chew on. He’s not the best behaved camel in our line, which is probably why he’s been relegated to the rear of the line.


We’re taking a meandering three-day trek on camel-back from the dunes just outside the ancient Silk Road trading oasis of Dunhuang, to the caves and back, camping amongst the sand dunes. This is the route wealthy merchants, traders and the locally devout would take to the Buddhist grottoes of Mogao, whose richly decorated caves date to the early 4th century, to pray and give offerings to the Buddhist monks.


We meet in the late afternoon outside Master Li’s farmhouse, where he assigns each of us a camel. Camels are contrary creatures, slow, obstinate and smelly, yet I can’t help but admire their stoicism, walking as they do for long dry days without food or drink carrying heavy loads, namely all of us.
Master Li gives the youngest camel, a white one, to my youngest daughter; the oldest and strongest camel – who will also lead the trek- to my husband; and the most handsome camel to my older daughter.


There is one camel left. I wish I could say he was handsome, but he’s a bandy-legged, smelly-breathed rogue with bulging eyes that point in completely different directions and a terrifically lopsided nose, pulled as it is to one side by his wooden nose-ring, giving him an overall goofy and gormless appearance. At this point I feel sorry for him, and move forward to give him a welcoming pat on the head which he offsets by sneering at me with horrible yellowed teeth and then drooling grass-coloured spit until it is just about to hit the ground, then shaking his head violently, sending green spit flying all over me. 
So, that would be my camel then.

The white camel, young and pretty. The old camel, strong and wise.
The handsome camel, with a velvet nose. And my camel. Enough said.
Our relationship is further cemented when  I have only half mounted the saddle before he decides to stand up.

Having a camel move from sitting to standing while you are on its back (let alone half on its back) is very disconcerting as you unexpectedly pitch violently forwards, then backwards and upwards at the same time. Once properly upright you can regain some sense of dignity until the camels start moving, a rolling, yawing, pitching sort of lumber.

We amble slowly from Master Li’s apple and jujube farm, four of us in a row, Master Li at the front and the Rogue and I at the rear, and head slowly westwards towards the dunes through a Muslim graveyard filled with conical tombs.


The sand dunes are unbelievably magnificent in the light of the setting sun, a deep gold, their shadows dark and crisp-edged. Every few minutes the view and colours of the dunes change, ever-shifting. There is not a sound to be heard but the swish of the sand under soft camel feet and the singing of Master Li.

Moon Rising 月升
Two hours later and we have reached our camp in a hollow nestled between two steep dunes, protecting it from desert winds that blow stinging sand and grit.

The camels rest while Master Li, barefoot now, makes camp. He won’t take any help from us to erect the tent and lay out the sleeping bags, and start a small fire, having his own method and order.

From his box of provisions comes a simple dinner of noodles, boiled eggs and bread, with apples and jujubes from his farm. Never has food tasted so good as it does here in the desert!

We have an extraordinary treat after dinner too – the sun is setting in the west and in the opposite direction the moon is rising over the dunes, pale yellow.
I’d love to tell you that sleeping in the desert is warm and soft, but in fact the opposite is true – it’s cold and hard, and very uncomfortable. Can I really be in this much pain after only two hours of camel-riding? We sleep in our clothes, huddled together for warmth, waiting for the dawn.


The Lost Library of Dunhuang & Mogao Caves 失落的敦煌宝库和莫高窟

Today we will see the Lost Library of Dunhuang inside the Mogao Caves. The story of the Lost Library sends tingles up your spine. The caves, rich with Buddhist art spanning a thousand years, were abandoned in the 13th century, and slowly became sealed off with sand from the dunes. In the early twentieth century the self-appointed Taoist caretaker, Wang Yuanlu, began removing sand drifts blocking many of the cave entrances.


In 1900 he was sweeping deep sand away from the entrance to Cave 16 when he noticed a crack in the cave wall. Tapping on it, he realized it was hollow and with much excitement removed part of the wall to find a small antechamber crammed with tens of thousands of scrolls and manuscripts, an astounding archeological treasure trove.


Hearing of the discovery, archeologists Auriel Stein and Paul Pelliot eventually convinced Wang to sell them thousands of manuscripts for paltry sums – 220 British pounds in all.

Many say the scrolls were stolen, many others say they were bought – regardless, they were taken out of China and are now spread amongst museums and private collections around the world.

The caves themselves are spectacular, but every visitor must be attended by a guide and in the interests of preservation is permitted to spend five minutes only in each cave, and see only eight of the seven hundred caves. It’s a tantalising glimpse of the treasures within.
All carved by human hands out of the cliffs, some of the caves are small and intimate temples filled with statues of Buddha and his attendants, the walls adorned with a thousand painted Buddhas. Some are enormous and awe-inspiring, shaped like the inside of a pyramid, richly decorated with gold leaf and carvings.


But it’s the library cave I most want to see. I stand in the dim light and quietness staring through the rough doorway into the tiny room, the actual Lost Library. It is barely large enough to hold a table and chairs, let alone one of the greatest collections of historical writings known to man. 

On the wall is a faded painting of two Bodhi trees, side by side, their rounded leaves still green despite a thousand years passing since they were painted. It was worth every lurch of last four hours on the back of The Rogue to see this wonder of an ancient world.



Camel Ride 骑骆驼

All too soon we have rejoined Master Li and the camels.

My camel’s personality hasn’t improved one bit by not seeing me for several hours – Master Li tells him ‘Zuo! Zuo! ZUO!’ “Sit! Sit! SIT!!’ over and over again, so I can get on. 

He never, ever sits until he’s been told seven, or eight, or nine times, and then only after complaining in a loud hee-hawing sort of whine and snorting spit all over Master Li.

I ask Master Li if The Rogue has a problem with his legs (although it hasn’t seemed evident).  No, he says, his shoulders slumping slightly in resignation – it’s just his xing ge – temperament.

The Rogue wrenches his head around to look at me with his more bulging eye, as if to say ‘Difficult? Moi?’

We have a long ride ahead – about four hours – to get back to camp, this time taking a route up through the dunes to their highest point.

So the camels can feed, Master Li unties them from one another, letting them roam free. The other three choose the greenest, freshest looking shrubs to eat but The Rogue stands off to the side eating dead thorny stuff and takes a nip at anyone who comes close. Friendly fellow he is, sociable as could be.

All of a sudden he takes a wrenching bite of some dead grass and with it a whole corsage of faded fabric funeral flowers, blown all the way from the desert graveyard. I try to stop him but they’re gone in a second, every last one.
The other camels, stoic as ever, don’t complain and tread softly, softly, sometimes sinking up to their knees in sand, sometimes walking over rocky patches to get us home to camp. If they seem tired, Master Li starts to sing to lull them onwards.

I’m in agony with every step, but my two daughters have taken to camel riding like they had previous lives as Bedouin princesses, tossing their long flowing scarves behind them and balancing perfectly as the camels run down the dunes. Sigh.




Increasing the Agony: Second Night in the Dunes 沙丘上的第二晚

Our camp is ready for us, which is just as well because after more than eight hours of camel-riding and awe-inspiring ancient caves I need sleep badly. My whole body is aching and sore and my saddle, in reality just two sticks either side of the camel’s humps and a blanket, has come badly awry, meaning that I list to the side and have to balance by sticking the opposite leg out for traction. In my previous life I think I was possibly a peg-legged sailor.

A beautiful camel saddle, belonging to someone else, and my saddle.
There are instant noodles for dinner again, and bread, now a little stale. I make a weak coffee with the last of my instant coffee powder and go and sit on the crest of the dune to see the moon rise. Every time I move a groan seems to escape my lips.

As I lie on the sand on this, our final night, my body in a new world of pain, I look up at the stars and imagine all the explorers, wanderers, pilgrims and traders who have gone before me through these dunes. This really is the magic of the ancient  Silk Road – the chance to take a little of its spirit of romance and adventure and make it your own.



Camel Treks 
3 Day Camel Treks can be arranged through Charley Zhong’s cafe in Dunhuang at a cost of 800 yuan per person including food and water but not including entry to Mogao Caves.

位于敦煌的查理·钟咖啡馆(Charley Zhong’s café)可以安排3天的骆驼游,费用为每人800元包括食物和水,不包括莫高窟的门票。

Mogao Caves, and the Lost Library of Dunhuang
Open 7 days
Entrance to a selection of eight caves 180 yuan per person, includes an English speaking guide (compulsory). Photographs and cameras forbidden.

The Horse’s Hoof Temple: Mati Si 马蹄寺

After three days of trekking in the desert on the back of a camel and sleeping on sand dunes (not as soft, warm or comfortable as it sounds, but more on that adventure in the next post) I can barely move, such are the depths of my camel-riding agonies, so forgive me, today’s post is light on words but instead lush with pictures of one of the best places we’ve yet visited in our first 10,000km around China. 

Intriguing, extraordinary and quite magical, the Horse’s Hoof Temple is a place that should be a massively popular attraction, but thankfully isn’t. This is the sort of place you want to enjoy all by yourself.
Mati Si (literally Horse’s Hoof Temple, named for the imprint left by the hoof of a Chinese pegasus) is an ancient Buddhist temple complex dating back some 1500 years. A series of temples spread over several miles on a long, undulating sandstone cliff face, the temples face the stunning snow-peaked Qilian mountain range and look out over a fertile, lush alpine meadow filled with wildflowers. 


In contrast to the impressively and precariously cantilevered Hanging Temple in northern Shanxi, reached by rickety outer wooden stairs and walkways, Mati Si is hollowed directly into the cliff itself. The labyrinthine collection of some several hundred temple shaped caves and caverns are all reached by a spellbinding and dizzying series of vertical, horizontal and diagonal tunnels and stairs carved directly into the rock. 

More than a little decrepit compared with the World Heritage-listed caves of Yaodong and Dunhuang, Mati Si is refreshingly free of crowds, free of guides, and free of souvenir sellers. I just enjoyed exploring the site, unrushed and unhindered, each dark tunnel leading to a Buddha niche filled with a riot of colour and pattern.

Sometimes the opportunity to be alone with your thoughts, seeing the immense beauty of nature and the ingenuity of man, is a much more powerful experience than a hundred famous temples.


Mati Si – the main temple, set into a cliff

The outdoor stairs, for the truly devoted. I took the tunnel instead.
Horse’s Hoof Temple: Mati Si 马蹄寺
Gansu Province 
About 65km south-south-west of Zhangye township at the foot of the Qilian mountain range
Co-ordinates:  Lat: 38.486396° Long: 100.417540°
Admission: 35 yuan per person to the lower (Thousand Buddha) temple and nature reserve, additional 35 yuan per person for entrance to the main temple. Students half-price, under 1.3m free.
Open 7 days
For information on getting there from Zhangye this website has useful information