China 14 – Silk Road 11 – A Central Asian Crossroads

Full photoset @ Flickr

Kashgar was a major hub in the Silk Road days. To the south lies the Karakoram Highway to Pakistan, the west is Kyrgyzstan with Afghanistan and Tajikistan in between and Kazakhstan further north. More Stans than you can shake a stick at. Being at such a strategic crossroads surrounded by regions ruled over by competing factions and warlords, it’s changed hands more times than a hot potato at a hot potato changing hands competition:

754 Tibetan Empire
840 Karakhanid Khanate
1041 Eastern Karakhanid
1134 Karakhitai Khanate
1218 Mongol Empire
1225 Chagatai Khanate
1306 Moghulistan
1392 Timurid dynasty
1432 Chagatay
1466 Dughlats
1524 Yarkent Khanate
1697 Dzungar Khanate
1759 Qing dynasty
1867 Emirate of Kashgaria
1878 Qing dynasty
1913 Republic of China
1933 East Turkestan Republic
1934 Republic of China
1949 People’s Republic of China

The people here are mostly Uighur with Tajik, Kazakh and ancestors of a host of other peoples who came in its heyday and never left. In the last twenty years a significant number of Han Chinese have moved here as part of the government’s resettlement programme, the cynic might say to Sinicise the area, something that doesn’t go down well with the more traditional inhabitants who are strongly Muslim. There’s a strong feeling of control going on here including posters displaying what is considered appropriate Muslim dress and what is forbidden (including hijabs, niqabs, veils of any description and any beards considered excessively Islamic). It’s not a touristy town, in fact many Chinese stay away from the area believing it to be some kind of hotbed for terrorism. It’s safer than a lot of Western cities that I’ve been in.

“Is the meat fresh at this butchers?”
Meanwhile, at the “Rest Assured That The Meat Shop” …

I’ve missed seeing the original old town. The historic buildings were torn down a few years back and replaced with a new old town made from concrete and sprayed with a synthetic mud to give the appearance of the original style. If you don’t know that it’s surprisingly got a very historic feel to it, largely due to the streets being filled with people selling all kinds of wares as it probably once was – various bazaars cater for different specialities including metal work, spices, carpets, musical instruments and hats. Oddly, it seemed every few shops popped up a back street dentistry … maybe not.

Dentest surgeon anyone?

While not Turpan heat, it’s still hitting low 40’s and with clear skies the sun is packing some punch. Ramadan is on, meaning the Muslim population are fasting during daylight hours and have taken on a decidedly lethargic attitude to everything. It’s contagious and a few hours of wandering the streets is enough to fog the mind and call for a siesta followed by a cold beer or two. There’s a good crowd in at the hostel, this pattern seems to continue for the next few days. I’m happy to turn down the pace a little after the last 10 days or so of constantly being on the move in the heat.

Lethargy – there’s a lot of it about
Street bazaar near the grand mosque

Evening brings more respectable temperatures and the day’s end to the fast kicks off with the opening of the night market street food, which the locals descend on with the vigour of hungry locusts. There’s all sorts of food on offer here, some recognisable, some not. I’m game to try just about anything including the sheep’s head, but I draw the line at stomach (bad experience in Morocco) and the “Fountain of Dysentery” – a dubious hose firing white liquid of some sort into the air and back into an entirely unsanitary looking trough. Good call as it happens, I meet someone later who tried this one and ended up three days in bed. It’s a noisy bustling affair, you squeeze onto tables where you can and get shouted at if you linger too long. Sensory overload.

The Fountain of Dysentery with special ameoba
The best meal $2 can buy …

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