Kashgar

Day 7 and 8 and 9: Tash Rabat – Kashgar (China): A long day to reach first the Torugart Pass into China’s western-most province – the autonomous Xinjiang region. The top of the 3900-m-high Torugart Pass marks the border between Kyrgyzstan and China. There we remained on the Kyrgyzstan side of the border for over an hour whilst we waited for our Chinese bus to get to he other side of the gate to pick us up - rules being what they are, one cannot cross the actual border until your transport gets there. It was cold and windy. Again in common with other borders here, no photographing was allowed.

Eventually the bus arrived - their excuse being that the Chinese border guards had been at lunch, and did not process passengers during this period. The said bus took us down to Kashgar, via various border control points along the way. Our hotel was a strange old communist building - Yambu Grand Hotel. This hotel may have been grand once but is now past its sell by and need refurbished. It has an excellent position, you can walk to most of the sites in Kashgar from here. However the rooms are tired, although they still have the trappings of pretension to grandeur. You do need to be careful of the "extras" charged in the room. In the bathroom, the things to the left of the sink are not free and you get charged if you open them, things the other side like shampoo are free - but there is no indication of this, nor is there any indication of what they will charge for items taken. They go and actually check your room when you leave to see if you have taken anything. In common with other Chinese hotels, you need to do a check of your room as soon as you arrive, and immediately report any things that are broken to reception - to avoid the risk of being charged for these!

Kashgar probably is better in the abstract than in the reality, and I would not advise spending much time in the city. Our guide told us absolutely nothing about the recent history of the town, preferring to give us a load of garbage about mythological stories. To be fair, this was, without exception, what all our guides did in all the countries we visited - I felt it was an insult to my intelligence, and that we could have happily dispensed with the guides! The old city is being demolished piecemeal. The bazaar is certainly worth a visit and it was an eye-opener to see all the locally produced crafts actually been made in the shop. The things to see here are

Kashgar continued to have importance after the Silk Route was no longer important to trade. By the late 19th century it was crucial to the "Great Game", as Britain and Russia tussled for supremacy in Central Asia. Both opened consulates in Kashgar; the Russian Consulate still stands, converted into a hotel - the British Consulate we found, still standing but somewhat run down..

In 1933 Uighur and Kyrgyz forces, led by the Bughra brothers and Tawfiq Bay, attempted to take the Kashgar from Chinese Muslim troops under General Ma Zhancang. They were defeated. Han chinese troops commanded by Brigadier Yang were absorbed into Ma Zhancang's army. A number of Han Chinese officers were spotted wearing the green uniforms of Ma Zhancang's unit of the 36th division, presumably they had converted to Islam.

In 1934 the 36th division under General Ma Fuyuan led a Chinese Muslim army to storm Kashgar. He freed Ma Zhancang, who had been trapped with his Chinese Muslim and Han Chinese troops in Kashgar by the Uighurs and Kyrgyzs since May 1933. Several British citizens at the British consulate were killed by the 36th division.

In 2009 the American magazine Time wrote:-

Kashgar, a city of 3.4 million surrounded by mountains and desert, is at Xinjiang's westernmost tip, closer to Baghdad than to Beijing. And while its history is rich — most agree at least 2,000 years old — many Uighurs in Kashgar see their culture and heritage as under attack by the Chinese government. In the latest move, authorities have started to demolish Kashgar's old town — an atmospheric, mud-brick maze of courtyard homes, winding cobblestone streets plied by donkey carts, and dozens of centuries-old mosques. By some accounts, at least 85% of Old Kashgar will be knocked down. Many expect the ancient quarter, considered one of Central Asia's best preserved sites of Islamic architecture, to disappear almost entirely before the end of the year. "This is the Uighurs' Jerusalem," says Henryk Szadziewski of the Washington-based Uighurs Human Rights Project. "By destroying it, you rip the soul out of a people."

The decision to raze Old Kashgar was made before anti-Chinese riots in Xinjiang's capital of Urumqi broke out earlier this month. That violence, in which at least 197 people died, was largely perpetrated by Uighurs against local Han Chinese, according to Beijing. Uighur-rights groups say that the Uighur death toll after a police crackdown and Chinese counterattacks has gone unreported and that the riots were an outgrowth of long-standing frustrations with Beijing's policies, which, they say, discriminate against Uighurs, depriving them of jobs in their own land while curbing the teaching of the Uighurs' language and their ability to freely practice Islam.

According to observers, the bulldozing of Old Kashgar has only accelerated in the riots' aftermath. The old town's warrens and alleyways are home to a tightly knit Uighur community and present, in Beijing's eyes, a potential haven for antistate activities. "Uighurs may see the area as a space of refuge," says Szadziewski. "Moving them out makes the situation much easier for China to control." As many as 220,000 residents (almost half the urban center's population) will be relocated to "modern" housing estates almost 8 km from their original homes, which have been passed down within families over generations. The project has been reportedly executed with little to no consultation with those to be displaced. A sliver of Old Kashgar will remain as a sanitized tourist site, with a staff of actors enacting traditional Uighur culture.

The Chinese government has justified its actions by saying the relocation will improve residents' quality of life and that the old quarter was vulnerable to potential fires and earthquakes — a dubious claim considering how long many of Old Kashgar's structures have survived. Most conspicuously, Old Kashgar was not included on a list of Silk Road sites that Beijing recently submitted to UNESCO for World Heritage Status, though it is still a top tourist draw in the region. Suggestions voiced in the international press by a few Chinese city planners to reinforce and refurbish the buildings of the old town — rather than reducing them to rubble — have gone unnoticed in Beijing. A coalition of international heritage organizations is petitioning UNESCO to intervene, but it's questionable how much the U.N. agency can do to circumvent China's development policies.

The mood in Kashgar, according to observers, is one of defeat and resignation. Since the violence in Urumqi, foreign reporters in the area have been tightly controlled by government minders and often prevented from taking pictures. Locals fear speaking out; a recent government propaganda campaign sternly warned against those "creating a negative impression." The demolition of the city's historic core fits lockstep with what many consider a concerted effort on Beijing's part to bring Xinjiang firmly under its grasp and dilute Uighur identity. More and more Han Chinese migrants are flooding into Xinjiang's cities, including Kashgar. It's a process that led Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan to controversially brand China's policy a "kind of genocide."

In Turkey — now the home of the scholar Kashgari's original manuscript — the Uighurs' plight strikes an emotional chord. And for most outsiders, dusty, remote Kashgar still holds a powerful romantic mystique. Enduring beside billowing sands and beneath glacial peaks, it has charmed and thrilled travelers from Marco Polo to the modern backpacker clutching a Lonely Planet guide. Its knife smiths and livestock bazaars drip with exoticism, exuding a living history at the edge of the world. But as Chinese authorities begin to smash Kashgar's ancient heart, its fabled allure may end up as just that — a fable.

In 2009, development of Kashgar's old town accelerated. Many of the old houses in the old town were built without regulation, and as a result, officials found them to be overcrowded and non-compliant with fire and earthquake codes. When the plan started, 42% of the city's residents lived in the old town. The European Parliament issued a resolution in 2011 calling for "culture-sensitive methods of renovation." In 2011, a spate of violence over two days killed dozens of people. By May 2012 two-thirds of the old city had been demolished, fulfilling "political as well as economic goals."

Click on any of the thumbnail images to get a larger photo

The pass we climbed by horse Chairman Mao watches over. Clean clothes from this laundry The large indoor market
The mausoleum of Abakh Khoja and (they say) the Fragrant Concubine, with a graveyard as well The old city is being demolished
The old houses are being pulled down, and the people moved some 8 kms away, and their houses are being replaced by new.
The Old British Consulate is in a sad way, but the interior is fine. On to a walk round the street market, fascinating to watch bread
being made, meat being butchered, spices and dried fruit of all varieties being sold loose from small shops
You could buy anything from a carpet .. .. to a hat, custom made on the premises
Maybe you need a zither, here is the man to make it for you. These copper pots are made on the premises.
A wooden crib .. This man makes knives .. Burnishing pots ... Selling their own copper plates.
This old ferris wheel gave us a good view over the old city, showing how little of it is actually left.
The huge Id Kah Mosque, the largest mosque in China, is located on a large square in the centre of the city.
The farmer's market is on the edge of the city. A serious business selling livestock, and we saw many animated scenes as debate took place to thrash out deals and finally agree them. Not unnaturally most of the people doing the trading were men.
Once the deal was concluded, then the next problem was to get one's purchases home on the limited transport available.
Lunch in this restaurant gave us the chance to try kebabs, a treat after the last week of central Asian cuisine with the nomads
 
Lunch in a home in Kashgar - really more of a small restaurant as they process punters with practiced ease.
 
Peking Duck was the treat at this restaurant. You can see that the Chinese take this dish very seriously

On to Lenin Peak Camp

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