We arrived in Khotan around 11 PM. Our new guide, Gul, met us at the airport but we weren’t feeling too social just then. After a long bus ride through dark streets, we pulled up at the Khotan Hotel. Intent on finding our rooms and hitting the sack, we didn’t linger in the darkened, deserted lobby, but I noticed uneasily that the hotel plaque behind the lobby desk bore just TWO stars - not the three listed on our itinerary. The state of the rooms didn’t reassure me, but at that point we were too tired to care.
The next morning, we started to explore. The girls were entertained by the hotel’s kitschy air, abundant Chinglish, and the general foreignness of everything.
They showed off the hotel’s “grapery playground” and vamped around with a broom before we said a real hello to our Uighur guide, Gul, and learned that my suspicions about our hotel were in fact correct: we had originally been booked into the local three-star hotel, but when the provincial Party secretary decided to spend his October 1 holiday in Khotan and took over that hotel with his entourage, we lowly foreigners got bumped to the two-star place. Hmm. As Gul said fatalistically, “meiyou banfa,” the common Chinese expression for “nothin’ you can do about it.”
Beijing’s program of making Xinjiang more Chinese had brought many Han people to the bigger cities of Urumqi and Kashgar, but far fewer had found their way to Khotan. We noticed the difference immediately – while the streets of Urumqi reminded us very much of Beijing as we maneuvered through crowds of Chinese, the faces of Khotan’s people were unmistakably Central Asian:
Right after faces, we started noticing the wide variety of headgear sported by Uighur men. Gul could tell what region a man was from by his choice of hat. Every man wore one virtually all the time.
More on hats later. MUCH