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The Comprehensive Guide To Exploring Kashgar, China
Why visit Kashgar?
For those looking for a piece of living history, Kashgar's old town offers a small snapshot of how life must have been living right on the Silk Road. From the well-preserved mud bricked houses to the lively bazaars that peak on Sundays, this is where history comes alive.
In this article, you'll find out what to see in Kashgar, and things to avoid doing especially in light of recent security restrictions. You'll also discover the various Uighur dishes that you simply must try, and learn why this part of China is culturally different from the motherland.
The Id Kah Mosque
The Uighurs of Xinjiang
Depending on which town or city you're in, the majority culture may be Han Chinese or Uighurs. The Uighurs are the original inhabitants in this part of China, and they are predominantly Muslim.
In recent years, the government has made a concerted effort to encourage Han Chinese to migrate to western China and settle there. This has led to rising tensions between Uighur and Han, which partially explains the heavy security presence in urban areas.
Getting to Kashgar
There are several ways to get into Kashgar. The fastest is to fly in from the provincial capital city of Urumqi, which clocks in at slightly over an hour.
If you have time to spare, try taking a train to Kashgar, which passes through the dramatic Tianshan mountain range and vast desert landscape, over the course of 18 to 23 hours.
Travel within Xinjiang is also served by a wide network of private buses, which are easily booked at bus stations in major towns and cities. Be aware that larger cities might have different stations serving different destinations, so ask a trusted local or tour agency to arrange for the tickets if you are unsure.
If you have some cash to spare, the most comfortable way to travel is by car. Many travel agencies can arrange for a guide and driver to run private tours that can extend up to a month.
What to see and do in Kashgar
The Id Kah Mosque
Kashgar's grand mosque is located right in the center of the city, fronted by an impressive town square where locals socialise and play. In a corner, you can pose for pictures while riding a camel or a horse for a small fee.
The Kashgar Old City
Reminiscent of the fictional city of Agrabah, with a strong Arabic influence and atmospheric streets filled with locals going about their daily chores, the old city that most travellers visit is actually pretty new! Back in 2009, the Chinese government had bulldozed a large part of the crumbling old city and rebuilt it, ostensibly for the safety of residents and tourists. The new paved streets are cleaner, and there is now plumbing and electricity in this part of town.
The 'Old' Kashgar Old City
A shirt 10 minutes away, you can still see the Kashgar old city the way it was for centuries. Seemingly built in a haphazard manner, the residents here are still proud of their homes and will welcome any curious tourist to take a look around their humble abode. Some also sell simple souvenirs which can make excellent gifts for the folks back home.
The Sunday Bazaar
Despite its name, the Sunday Bazaar runs everyday, but the crowds come in full force on Sunday when the traders and villagers from nearby towns make their way down to Kashgar as well. Here, you can find almost everything from fashion to household goods, and electronics to street food, across 150 thousand square meters of permanent and makeshift stalls.
The Livestock Market
This is a unique Kashgar experience that dates back to the earliest time when animals were traded in noisy, exciting markets. Animal lovers might balk at the way the livestock are handled, but this is still a way of life for the locals, and you might even see animals slaughtered and cooked right on site!
The Livestock Market
Getting the time right
Kashgar, along with the rest of Xinjiang, is supposed to follow Beijing time. But locals routinely use Xinjiang time, which is 2 hours hour behind Beijing, to schedule their day. For visitors, this is something to be careful of, especially when the guide says to meet early in the morning at '8am'. You might end up waiting 2 hours for him to arrive!
How much is it?
Duo Shao Tsien
Boo Khanchi Poo
Koot Koozung Lar
Bu Yao, Xie Xie
Where is the bathroom?
Che Shore Zai Na Li?
Ahjet Hana Kayarda?
Dumpling Vendor In A Food Bazaar
Try these dishes
Uighur cuisine is typically heavy with mutton, vegetables and carbohydrates like noodles or rice. It's nothing too exotic, and most travellers will find the dishes here comforting and delicious.
Uyghur Polo / Pilaf / 抓饭
Cheap and filling, this is a dish of rice cooked with carrots, lamb and pepper and served in oil. Hearty and very satisfying for a hungry traveller.
Kebabs / 烤肉
Barbecued lamb on skewers, this is not an unfamiliar sight in many Arabian or central Asian markets. Spiced with cumin and pepper and cooked over an open flame, the aroma of kebabs can easily be noticed a block away!
Lagman / 拉面
This is a plate of steaming hot noodles drained of the soup, and served with diced vegetables, lamb pieces and oil. You might find similarities to the la-mian served in eastern China. Just don't get into the debate of whether the Spaghetti or la-mian came first.
Comfort food especially in winter, dumplings can be served in soup or otherwise. Dumplings may contain minced lamb, vegetables or a mixture of both.
The security situation
Xinjiang is a politically sensitive part of China, and security presence is especially heavy in major towns like Kashgar and Hotan. Generally, soldiers and police will not bother travellers, and some might even ask a few friendly questions to learn more about you. But to avoid any trouble, avoid taking photos of them, especially during their operations, and have your passport and any security permits handy when approached by them.
The Sunday Bazaar
Getting out of Kashgar
From Kashgar, travellers can find their way to the frontier town of Tashkurgan and Pakistan, or continue down the ancient Silk Road to central Asia. Heading back towards China, you can visit Hotan, which is famed for its mutton-fat jade, or go north to the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi.
Tour agencies also run trekking tours in the nearby mountains, if you are inclined to get some heavy exercise done while travelling. Just be aware of mountain sickness and prepare yourself beforehand by acclimatising to the altitude gradually.