Kashgar: the Crossroads of the Silk Road

I was hungry for fastfood and desperately decaffeinated after the 3 weeks on Karakorum Highway. I needed a moderately big city and human commodities after having spent those weeks in the mountains. I loved the mountains and I loved the stunning landscapes of Northern Pakistan, but I missed civilization. I wanted Wi-Fi, a night of sleep on a proper bed, coffee and cake.

The summer was in its zenith, and these pink blossoms looked strikingly amazing with teh clear blue sky and sandy yellow architectural wonders of the city.
The summer was in its zenith, and these pink blossoms looked strikingly amazing against the clear blue sky and sandy yellow architecture.

2 days before I arrived to Tashkurgan, the border city with Pakistan. It was late, There were no exchange offices around, and some guys from Hunza Valley whom I met on the bus invited me to share their room at the local Traffic Hotel. It was really flashy outside and truly gross inside, like most of Chinese hotels. The guys from Hunza knew how to leave their imprint on the hotel room: they brought their own tea and made it right IN THE KETTLE. Not that it was not tasty. But the cleaning lady probably thought to herself out out in the morning: ‘Ta ma de! Not those guys again!’

Untitled

Untitled

Escaping Tashkurgan as fast as I could, I hitched a ride to Karakul lake with an Israeli couple I met on the road. We stayed in a yurt and did all that touristy stuff that everybody does.

Untitled

Karakul Lake is likely the most scenic lake I’ve ever seen. Walking along the shore, I thought I might even take a swim and ripple its glass-like waters.

Untitled

But then I saw some local families preparing for the music festival the next day. They had cut up three horses and were washing their intestines in the water.

Untitled

The festival featured a lot of traditional music and Chinese tourists with cameras.

Untitled

Untitled

The most brilliant thing about Karakul lake is that it looks more beautiful with every passing hour.

Kashgar had ATMs, Kashgar had paved roads and Kashgar had this awesome Pamir Youth hostel where I met some exceptional people. It felt like a cultural crossroads for the vagabonds: Dia and Yayoi were cycling from Japan to Greece, Steve just came from Pakistan like myself, Bob was spending his holidays and finishing his novel. I was even asked to cook borsch one evening.

557359_10151021473927444_193517418_n

Mimicry was quite easy for me over there.
Mimicry was quite easy for me over there.

For about 2,000 years Kashgar served as the global crossroads for merchants traveling from Europe to China along the Silk Route. As West as you can get in China, Kashgar is remarkable for its scarcity of Khan-Chinese population – which is always for the best, of course. It is still deemed, by the Chinese government, one of the main centers of Uyghur protests and resistance, and many people here do not speak Chinese at all. Uyghur is a Turkic language that uses Arabic writing system.

488306_10151021492632444_806422124_n

As much as the the Chinese government tries to fight off the local Uyghur population and devour their ethnical authenticity, the feel of Kashgar is exotic and much more Central Asian rather than Chinese.

420072_10151021501547444_140439075_n
Tajik pilau

The main action takes place every Sunday for the past 1000 years at the weekly Livestock Market.

People bring here every thing and every beast they want to sell or exchange for a different beast.
People bring here every thing and every beast they want to sell or exchange for a different beast.

If you like hanging out in old-man bars and bazaars full of bad teeth and women of large proportions, Kashgar Livestock market is the ultimate place to go.

And strange middle-aged men who try to tie the newly-acquired animals to their transport and take them home.
And strange middle-aged men who try to fix the newly acquired animals to their transport and take them home.
And stubborn mules and donkeys.
And stubborn mules and donkeys.

Beware of spitting camels, yelling donkeys and spiteful sheep.

But the most amazing event you can visit in the city is the Sunday livestock market that has been running in this place since forever.

You can see calm old ladies herding the sheep.

The Old Town of Kashgar might seem familiar. With all the rubbish lying around and old clay buildings crumbling at the corners, you know that you are in a highly livable place. It is here, not in Kabul, they filmed ‘The Kite Runner’. So Kashgar is like your cheap version of Kabul minus the guns.

On one of the days of my extended stay in Kashgar I met Tohsun, the only CouchSurfer in town who walked me all around Kashgar until we found a proper place to actually 'couchsurf'.
On one of the days of my extended stay in Kashgar I met Tohsun, the only CouchSurfer in town who walked me all around Kashgar until we found a proper place to actually ‘couchsurf’.
And this guy on the street selling millions of his clay pots, has probably never noticed.
And this guy on the street selling millions of his clay pots, has probably never noticed.

319321_10151021485647444_375182302_n

You must know (and for me it was a totally astonishing fact) that 90% of the film 'Kite runner' that shows us the spectacular thousand splendid suns of Kabul, was actually filmed here, among the narrow streets of Kashgar old town.
You must know (and for me it was a totally astonishing fact) that 90% of the film ‘The Kite Runner’ that shows us the spectacular thousand splendid suns of Kabul, was actually filmed here, among the narrow streets of Kashgar old town.
Unfortunately, most of it looks trashy nowadays.
Unfortunately, most of it looks trashy nowadays.
And well, it looks magical at night.
And well, it looks cheesy at night.
Except some brand new buildings in the 'old style'.
Except some brand new buildings in the ‘old style’.

480521_10151021478187444_707475002_n

People still live there, and serious old men look at me with a surprise: really, why am I behaving like I'm in a museum?
People still live there, and this guy is not amused.
The Old Town of Kashgar is a pile of yellow ancient buildings and a labyrinth of endless tangled streets.
The Old Town of Kashgar is a pile of yellow ancient buildings and a labyrinth of endless tangled streets.
... animals in the middle of the road...
… animals in the middle of the road…
... veils, carpets, scarves...
… veils, carpets, scarves…

Finally, after a few days spent under shower and in bed with my Macbook, I decided to get out of town for a stroll. The long stroll started with a ride on an extremely old motorbike with my CS buddy Tohsun, and ended up at Shipton’s Arch – a rock with a hole. Honestly, it is just a rock with a hole, but lurking bats and other strange animals turned our trip into a creepy evening adventure.

And this touristy rock formation called Shipton's Arch just outside the city. It was named after the guy who discovered it. I think he was killed by the dragon who lives in the cave under the arch.
And this touristy rock formation called Shipton’s Arch just outside the city. It was named after the guy who discovered it. I think he was killed by the dragon who lives in the cave under the arch.
Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Leave a Reply