Kashgar Travel Guide
Stepping into Kashgar is like being transported into one of the thousand and one nights of The Arabian Tales.
This far-flung city in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region is a must-see for its beautiful scenery and intoxicating culture. Miraculously, modern China peels away to reveal the arresting sights, sounds, fragrance and atmosphere of a 2,000-year-old Middle Eastern town. Open air markets hum with squawking livestock and the buzz of locals. Every so often, old mosques peep out from a labyrinth of well-worn, humble homes and rouse the neighborhood with calls to prayer. Perched on the western rim of the world's largest inland basin, the Tarim Basin, and nestled beside the desolate Taklamakan Desert, which ominously means: "those going in never return", Kashgar is an oasis carved of sand and stone.
Located in a little cul-de-sac, framed by desert dunes, and rolling mountains, Kashgar was once a last stop outfitting station and trading post for travelers and merchants plying the ancient Silk Road that linked China, India, Pakistan and the great Roman Empire. Today, trade continues to weave its timeless magic.
In the ancient enclave called the Old Town, sinuous dirt paths barely two-mules wide are lined with age-old shops. Generous legs of lamb, succulent mutton strips, leather, pots of all shapes and sizes or caps for every occasion hang from rickety wooden beams the same as it's been for centuries. Newer shops announce their service on signboards in three languages: Uyghur, Chinese and English for the adventurous foreigner.
This mesmerizing Muslim city tucked away in China's westernmost frontier brims with color and contrasts. Fridays and Saturdays may be quiet prayer days but when Sunday comes around, watch the city thrive with life. The entire community and visitors by the thousands throng Kashgar's famed Sunday Market.
Kashgar is miles from nowhere, but the items that turn up at its markets are varied. At the weekly Animal Bazaar, fowl and various four-legged animals are scrutinized, prodded and traded. One or two donkeys may even be taken for a test drive.
Observe the traders closely for their bargaining is an ancient art form; the sellers and buyers indicate their asking price and counter-price by scripting it into each other's palms all the while shaking each other's hand.
The people of the region give Kashgar its unique vitality and charm. Over a dozen of China's ethnic groups live in Xinjiang and the majority can be found in Kashgar, several belong to nomadic tribes from nearby mountain villages. Uyghurs, mostly Sunni Muslims, form the largest ethnic group. Be prepared for a melting pot of Central Asian faces that mingle harmoniously in street corners and in the maze of roadside stalls and teahouses.
An extremely relaxed bunch, the locals spend the sizzling summers lounging in ubiquitous snack shops. They chat, smoke and sip salty milk tea. Attire is comfortable and diverse. The older men sport Abraham Lincoln beards and doppi (skullcaps), which are fur lined in winter. The younger men wear neat shirts, with sleeves rolled to the elbows and long pants. Women's fashion is more varied, a few are in head-to-toe burkhas and some sport head scarves; many are in rainbow-hued dresses and long skirts. Sandals are very popular in summer and children can be seen pattering about barefoot.
Chilling out with ice-blended dohare freshing concoction of shaved ice, rich vanilla ice cream and thick syrup served in a big soup bowl.
An impromptu bike tour with youths Mohamed Yassin and Ali John, who enthusiastically translated Kashgar's mysterious charms into English.
Learning more about the old town's history from retiree Arenhan, who used to work as a Uyghur-Chinese translator.
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