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Kashgar, home to mosques, bazaars I

by fangrace

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It's a city of hidden histories, and a fusion of ancient and modern. It is also a place of light, as strong sunshine and long daylight hours make it difficult to feel like resting. 

It was my first time in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (an indispensable site for Silk Road tour), as well as to the very western end of China. Having lived over 20 years in the eastern coastal area, I had little idea about the place except for the sweet fruits, vast deserts, and pretty Uyghur girls who can sing and dance that are often seen on posters and on TV.

When I landed at the Kashgar airport, it did not feel like I had just traveled over 5,000 kilometers. I didn't realize the city has a history of over 2,000 years. Small as it is, the airport is modern, and has simple, plain colors, with few uniquely Uyghur features.

The feeling of a blend of many cultures came when I arrived at the city center.

There are numerous shops, selling everything from wooden tools to DVDs, new apartment buildings, and a giant sky wheel on one side of the city. Not far away is the Old Town.

Most people in the streets wore traditional costumes, with the younger generation dressed in T-shirts and jeans. Unlike women in the Middle East, Uyghur women are more open about showing their faces and wearing shorter dresses.

The Old Town and its people

Kashgar, which was called Shule in ancient times, was on the ancient Silk Road (Silk Road tours). One of the earliest mentions of this city dates back to the Western Han Dynasty (206BC-25AD), in Sima Qian's Records of the Great Historian (Shiji) when envoy Zhang Qian was sent by Emperor Hanwu to explore land to the west.

Now after thousands of years, most parts of the city have been replaced by buildings made of brick and armored concrete, except for the residential area on the High Platform, which is said by travelers to be a living museum of Uyghur folk art.

Having a history of over 600 years, all the houses in that area were built on a 40-meter-high yellow earth platform. Most of the houses were formed with similar yellow earth and wood.

It is said that the platform has existed for over 2,000 years. Because of a flood from Pamir Plateau hundreds of years ago, it was separated in the middle, and has become two platforms, one to the north and the other to the south. The residential area is on the southern platform.

According to tradition, Uyghur families add a floor to a home when a new generation arrives. With no regulations on building style, all the houses have been built casually, making it easy for a stranger to get lost.

A friend advised me to look at the bricks underfoot. If they are hexagonal, you are about to walk into a dead end. There are also no standard beds in these houses. People either sleep on a carpet placed on the floor or on earthen beds connected to the wall.

Uyghurs are fond of chromatic colors and plants, as they use a lot of red and green colors in their carpets and keep plants in their homes. Besides the loccal China tourism, Kasher also use carpets to develop economy.

It seems that during the daytime, men work while women stay at home and take care of the kids. The city was much safer than we imagined. Though we were not able to communicate well in the local language, we were welcomed by the people, who invited us into their homes, showed us around and treated us with fruits.

The local people liked having their picture taken and were interested in seeing how they looked in the photos.

Not many local people speak good Putonghua, but they seem to be very curious about the outside world. I kept meeting people who asked me questions about my profession, my salary, and what life is like in Beijing.

But there is one thing you need to remember when talking to Uyghurs - avoid talking about pig or pork, as most of them are Muslims. Strict believers pray five times a day, from morning to night. Don't be surprised when you see someone suddenly stop something important, no matter where they are, and begin a solemn prayer.

So if you plan to visit the west China, you can coniser Kashgar in your China tour packages.

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