Monday, October 17, 2011

Kashgar - the tea house.

A short walk from our Hostel brought us to the centre of Old Town’s activity, and you cannot find a better place in all of Kashgar to just sit and people watch. And there is no better place from which to do so, than the old tea house. It feels almost European, to sit up on the second floor of the tea house and just watch the people living their lives. Except there is absolutely nothing European about our circumstances. Nothing at all. I mean, technically we’re in China, not that it looks or feels anything like it... 

Over the few days we spent in Kashgar, we got to sip here and view the procession in all times of the day. As a photographer, the second story also made for a perfect vantage point from which to capture images I would normally feel too intrusive to. I have a wonderful set of birds-eye images to document the local lives of Kashgar Uyghurs, and I have the tea house to thank.

The tea itself is quite Turkish, a strong blend of black and floral teas. It’s rich without being at all bitter, and sometimes the brew can have strong blends of cinnamon and spice. Before you drink, you pour a little of the tea out and into your cup, swish it around a bit, then pour it into the big bowls of old tea on the table. I like to think that the tea cups have been washed before they’re brought to the tables again, but I’ve been travelling long enough not to trust that kind of ideal. I’d be lying if I said this place was clean (it was genuinely filthy) but I like to think that the grime added to the charm. I don’t want to sound like a ‘pro-traveller douche’, but after everything I’ve seen, bread crusts and cigarette butts are totally manageable.


Another remarkable thing about this tea house, is that the other people just sitting and sipping are actually just as interesting as what is going on down on the streets below us. There are no women at this place. Ever. At all. It’s not a rule of the establishment, but it’s a pretty big rule of the Uyghur culture. I’m not really sure why it is the way it is, but what I do know is that it results in a very interesting dynamic. This tea house is kind of the Uyghur equivalent of ‘the boys getting together at the pub for a couple of drinks’ except without the alcohol. They chat and ramble and gossip, waiting for the tea to cool a little. They rip into their fresh bread (a bagel kind of thing that I’ll talk about later) and dip it into the hot tea to soften it before plopping the massive chunks into their laughing mouths. Sometimes a man will arrive by himself, and just sit, looking out at his hometown and ponder. Sometimes big groups of men arrive in all their rascality, just enjoying this ancient hangout. There are some very poor men who bring their own bread, and there are some rich men who seem to just appreciate the simplicity. 

The best thing about the place, though, was the owner. A lovely old man who gave me some tea to take away when I told him how much I liked it. His kitchen is incredibly humble, and the water comes not from kettles, but from a big tank kind of thing which billows steam when opened. This little corner of his world was so simple and lovely, just like the rest of his tea house, and just like the rest of the people we met in Kashgar.

Without a doubt, if I ever return to Kashgar, this tea house is the first place I will go to. I hope he remembers me!


  1. Wow. Thanks for taking me with you. What an wonderful place.

  2. I'm sipping my tea now! I'm digging the hats on the gentlemen. Fantastic photos. My personal favourite is one of the arms of the man holding the tea pots on the tray :)

  3. This is amazing - it sounds like a great place


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