Day 1: (Re-)Exploring Kashgar

Having met the rest of the tour group in the hotel lobby over breakfast, we set out to sightsee around Kashgar for the day. I was curious to see what had changed since I was last here in 2006 on my epic Silk Road trip across the region. I was expecting the worst, as even back then relentless “progress” and modernization was destroying large swathes of the old town and taking away from the character of the place – making it just another dull, ubiquitous Chinese city rather than the crossroads of Central Asia.

The first surprise was a pleasant one, as I was expecting from reports that I’d see a lot less Uighur and a lot more Han Chinese – a la Tibet these days, another mislabeled “autonomous region”. I was pleased to see a lot of Uighur men and women throughout the city with their colored headscarves, boxy sequined hats (for the men) and jovial, smiley demeanor.

Highlight for the day was, as it was back in 2006, the livestock market – although it has since been moved to another location well out of town. Dusty, noisy and vibrant, it’s a photographers dream. Farmers and peasants come from all around in all sorts of vehicles with whatever animals they have to sell – goats, sheep, cows, yaks, horses and camels (the ungainly ones with two humps). They groom the animals, tie them together in neat rows and then haggle over prices with prospective buyers. Great fun to spectate!

Other sights/highlights for the day include the bazaar (now unfortunately stocked with more crap from the east of China than treasures from Central Asia) and a brief walk through what’s left of the old town with its mud brick buildings, city walls and narrow lanes. We ate like emperors through the day as well, lunch was Peking Duck (a long way from Peking!) and dinner was a veritable feast at a Uighur’s home complete with traditional music which showed its Turkish roots.

While it was fun to explore Kashgar again, it felt like a strange way to start the trip. The real adventure begins tomorrow when we head south down to Karakoram Highway into the mountains, and that’s what we’re really here for!

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