Kashgar

We were previously in Kashgar in 2012 .

Kashgar is an oasis city in Xinjiang and is the westernmost Chinese city, located near the border with Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. With a population of over 500,000, Kashgar has a rich history of over 2,000 years and served as a trading post and strategically important city on the Silk Road between China, the Middle East, and Europe.

Kashgar is predominately peopled by Muslim Uyghurs. Compared to Ürümqi, Xinjiang's capital and largest city, Kashgar is less industrial and has significantly fewer Han Chinese residents. In 1998, the urban population of Kashgar was recorded as 311,141, with 81% Uyghurs, and 18% Han Chinese.

Kashgar was incorporated into the People's Republic of China in 1949. During the Cultural Revolution, one of the largest statues of Mao in China was built in Kashgar, near People's Square. In 1986, the Chinese government designated Kashgar a "city of historical and cultural significance". Kashgar and surrounding regions have been the site of Uyghur unrest since the 1990s.

In 2008, two Uyghur men carried out a vehicular, IED and knife attack against police officers. In 2009, development of Kashgar's old town accelerated after the revelations of the deadly role of faulty architecture during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. 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. With compensation, residents of faulty buildings are being counseled to move to newer, safer buildings that will replace the historic structures in the $448 million plan, including high-rise apartments, plazas, and reproductions of ancient Islamic architecture. The European Parliament issued a resolution in 2011 calling for "culture-sensitive methods of renovation." The International Scientific Committee on Earthen Architectural Heritage (ISCEAH) has expressed concern over the demolition and reconstruction of historic buildings.

Following the July 2009 Urumqi riots, the government focused on local economic development in an attempt to ameliorate ethnic tensions in the greater Xinjiang region. Kashgar was made into a Special Economic Zone in 2010, the first such zone in China's far west. 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."

In May 2014 at least 31 people were killed when two cars crashed through an Urumqi market and explosives were thrown. In March, a mass stabbing at Kunming railway station killed 29 people. In response Chinese authorities have launched a year-long security campaign which includes increased police and troop presence in key cities and towns in Xinjiang. Scores of people have been arrested, and some sentenced to lengthy jail terms or death.

In July 2014, the Imam of the Id Kah Mosque, Juma Tahir, was assassinated in Kashgar. He was reportedly stabbed after he led early morning prayers at the Id Kah mosque. His killing came two days after dozens of people were reportedly killed or injured in clashes with police in Yarkant county, in the same prefecture. The reasons for his death remain unclear. But the BBC's Damian Grammaticas in Beijing says Mr Tahir, who was from Xinjiang's mainly Muslim Uighur ethnic minority, was a vocal and public supporter of Chinese policies in the region. Some say he was deeply unpopular among many Uighurs who disliked the fact that he praised Communist Party policies while preaching in his mosque. He had also echoed the official government line that blamed the rising level of violence in Xinjiang on Uighur separatists and extremists, says our correspondent.

 

Kashi Tianyuan International Hotel.

The position in central Kashgar is perfect, right beside the Peoples Park, and our front facing room looked down on the large statue of Chairman Mao. The night market and the shopping area are within an easy walk. You will see large numbers of riot police on standby in the park area. They did not really impinge on us, although they were intimidating, and walking in the city appeared to be completely safe.

We did have problems with "security" at the hotel You have to appreciate that Kashgar can be on high security alert, depending on local politics. To enter the hotel they scanned all luggage, and confiscated everyone's scissors. Also when you returned from the town all your purchases were scanned, and they used that as an excuse to try to withhold your alcohol purchases. As nobody spoke English, this was a bit fraught.

Our room was OK, a standard sort of hotel room, a little tired, and the bathroom even more so. You cannot really complain about the beds, as that is what the Chinese want. Breakfast was nothing especial: Chris thought it really poor!. My feeling is that, in spite of its obvious drawbacks, this hotel is worth booking because of its position, and you just grin and bear the downside. With a rating on Booking.com of 7.2 one knows that the place is pretty dowdy.

An interesting addition that the hotel had installed (but were not working on our visit) were sort of "Oyster Card" machines- photo below) to scan punters in and out of breakfast. I hope I never have the misfortune to see that again

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A walk through the market area. The Night Market is basically a street food market

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A pause at a 100 year old Tea House

A two-story tea house in the downtown area is the only one in Kashgar with a history dating back over 100 years. The outer wall of the establishment is painted green, with Uygur-style decorations adorning its door and windows. Inside the building, about a dozen elderly Uygur men sit leisurely on carpets drinking tea and talking slowly in hushed tones. The yellow-and-green curtains on the balcony of the second floor flutter in the wind, adding a strong ethnic atmosphere to the building. Because of its quintessentially Muslim nature, the tea house was selected as one of the shooting locations for the 2007 Hollywood film The Kite Runner.

The tea served in the tea house is relatively inexpensive—the lowest price being 1.5 yuan ($0.24) for one pot, which is more than affordable for local residents. "I maintain this business mainly to provide local people with a place to meet and communicate with each other, and money is not the major consideration," said Mamat Osman, owner of the tea house.

Ablat, 70, a retired public servant, is a regular of the establishment. "I come here every day, and these days because of the summer heat, I might even come twice a day," he said. Ablat enjoys meeting and chatting with his old friends here and considers it a good way to spend his retirement.

From the tea house, visitor can see Id Kah Mosque. The mosque is the most important in Xinjiang and is also the largest one in China. Nearly 3,000 Muslims pray here every day, and on Friday the number of worshippers may exceed 5,000. During Eid al-Adha, one of the important festivals on the Islamic calendar, tens of thousands of Muslims will routinely gather here to pray.

We enjoyed tea and bread here sitting cross legged on the floor. The place was popular with the local Uygar men and there were some real characters around

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Sunday Farmers Market

The city has a very important Sunday market. Thousands of farmers from the surrounding fertile lands come into the market to see an impressive array of live animals. There is also a small amount of fruit and vegetables sold.

This extraordinary market dates back to Roman times. Until the sea route around Africa opened up in the 15th century, all trade between China and the west took place overland, along the Silk Route. Kashgar, a key oasis staging post between the desert and the mountains, was one of the most important towns on this route. In terms of international trade, this place was once of giant significance.

Then, suddenly, the Silk Route was superseded and Kashgar's prosperity ended. Four hundred or so years later, Kashgar had another brief moment in the geopolitical sun, finding itself at the crossroads of the Chinese, Russian and British empires, each of which were deeply suspicious of the other two. The so-called 'Great Game' of Russo-British spying in the 19th century (a proto-Cold War) was centred on Kashgar, which found itself playing host to two large embassies. The former Russian and British embassies are now hotels.

Today, every Sunday, they say up to 100,000 people make their way to the, now out of town, animal market. The animals are all here - horses, cows, donkeys, yaks, camels, sheep, goats. Everywhere here are Uygar men with wads of high value bank notes, bargaining over animals. If a bargain is struck, sometimes the purchaser will remove his new camel in a motorbike sidecar. And of course there is local food on tap.

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Kashgar Old Town

The original old town continues to be bulldozed, on the grounds that the houses are "unsafe" and so it becomes possible for the government to replace Uygars with Han in the city centre. The process started about 12 years ago, and is still continuing today.

We had lunch in a Uygar home. Such meals in these homes are part of the tourist trail today, but none the less is a very worthwhile experience

And this in turn led to the main bazaar, where food for sale is piled high, and you can buy a rich variety of local hand made goods like the various hat styles below.

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So now our sojourn in China was over, and it was on to the delights of crossing the Chinese-Uzbeck border the next day

 

On to next town - Sary Tash

Back to Overall Itinerary for Silk Road Trip 2016