A large part of the excitement of Kashgar lies in the experience of reaching it. From eastern China it is fantastically remote; it's located more than 4000 kilometer from Beijing, of which the thousand-plus kilometer from Urumqi is for the most part sheer desert. As recently as the 1930s, the journey time to and from Beijing ran to a number of months. And yet Kashgar today, an oasis 1200 meter above sea level, is a remarkably prosperous and pleasant place, despite remaining, in part, an essentially medieval city.
Coming from the west, Kashgar is the first point of arrival on the ancient overland routes from Pakistan and Kirgyzistan.
More than any city in Xinjiang, Kashgar is a bastion of old Chinese Turkestan. The population is nearly 90% Muslim, a fact you can hardly fail to notice with the Uygur bazaars and tea shops, the smell of grilled lamb, and above all the great Id Kah Mosque dominating the central square.
Shakesimirzha, a ruler of Kashgar, had the first mosque built here in 1442 and it was extended to its present shape through renovation work. Being the largest in China, it attracts more than 10,000 worshipers for prayers on a Friday afternoon. The different buildings consist of Hall of Prayer, Doctrine-Teaching Hall, a gate tower, a pond and some auxiliary rooms.
The history of Kashgar is dominated by its strategic position, first as a critical junction on the Silk Road, and more recently as the meeting point of 3 empires; Chinese, Soviet and British. Both Britain and the Soviet Union maintained consulates in Kashgar until 1949: the British with an eye to their interests across the frontier in India, the Soviets (so everyone assumed) with the long-term intention of absorbing Xinjiang into their Central Asian orbit. The conspiracies of this period are brilliantly evoked in Peter Fleming's News from Tartary and Ella Maillart's Forbidden Journey. At the time of Fleming's visit, in 1935, the city was in effect run by the Soviets, who had brought their rail line to within two days of Kashgar. During WW II, however, Kashgar swung back under Chinese control; and with the break in Sino-Soviet relations in the early 1960s, the Soviet border (and influence) firmly closed. It is only now, in the wake of the break-up of the Soviet Union, that Kashgar seems set to resume its status as one of the great travel crossroads of Asia.
There are 1 or 2 monuments of note in Kashgar, but the main attractions of this city are its ordinary streets; principally the bazaars, the restaurants, the tea houses and the people in them. Roads radiate out from the centre of the original Uygur city which is focused on Id Kah Square, with its clock tower and huge mosque. A few hundred meter to the south is the modern, commercial centre of the city. The main post-liberation monument of Kashgar; the colossal statue of Mao Zedong, a towering reminder of the ultimate authority of China over the region, is just to the east of here, opposite Renmin Park. Finally, scattered around the fringes of the city, are a number of mausoleums to Uygur heroes of the past.
Once a week Kashgar's population swells by 50,000 as people stream into the Sunday Market, described as the most mind-boggling bazaar in Asia. It all takes place in a huge area to the east of town (30-minute walk from the town centre) and attracts thousands of villagers and nomads, all riding their donkey carts from the surrounding area into the city. For the sheer scale of the occasion, it's the number one sight in Kashgar, if not all Xinjiang. Considering the large numbers of minority peoples who come to trade here, all sporting their own particular headwear, it is also an anthropologist's delight.
Traffic jams of thousands of donkey carts compete with horsemen and herds of sheep for space in the chaotic dusty alleys. At the animal market, horses are test-driven, sheep are picked over and cattle are paraded before potential buyers. Animals, knives, hats, pots and pans, fresh fruit and vegetables, clothes and boots and every kind of domestic and agricultural appliance; often handmade in wood and tin, are all on sale. The market is all day and into the early evening and food and drinks are widely available. You can bargain for 60 to 70% off the stated price!
5 kilometer northeast of Kashgar, an ancient Islamic building nestles among poplar trees. With glazed tiles shining in the sun, its tower points to the azure sky. A masterpiece of Uygur architecture, this is Abakh Khoja Tomb, 17th Century family cemetery of the Kashgar area Islamic leader. It's admired as a well-preserved Islamic architectural complex not only in Xinjiang, but throughout Central Asia.
Id Kah means "a place of praying and celebrating in festivals". The Id Kah Mosque is located on the central square in Kashgar City. As the biggest mosque in China, it is a group of old Islamic constructions with strong ethnic style and religious features.
It is said that this place was once a cemetery. The present Id Kah Mosque was built in 1442 as a very small structure. Several renovations and enlargements have created it with today's scale and style.
The whole complex occupies 16,800 square meter and consists of the courtyard, the Hall of Prayer, and the gate tower and as well as some other attached structures. Every day (especially on Friday afternoon) thousands of worshippers come here to pray.
During religious festivals all the Muslims in Xinjiang come to this sacred place to celebrate. At prayer time, the mosque, the square, the streets and the roads all around are full of piously kneeling Muslims. Afterwards, all the people get together on the square in front of the Id Kah Mosque and dance to show their happiness, with no sign of exhaustion.
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