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Introducing Kashgar

Kashgar (Kāshí) is the end of China’s New Frontier, itself the end of China. The first intrepid Chinese traders and emissaries must have envisioned themselves at the end of the earth as they approached this readymade oasis for the first time, millennia ago. (Considering it’s 1000km through a desert furnace and its varmint brigands from the site of modern Ürümqi, they were some brave souls.) Its strategic crossroads location has seen it at the epicentre of cultural conflict and cooperation for over two millennia.

But modernity has swept in like a sandstorm. A paved Silk Road preceded an airport and in 1999 the Iron Rooster arrived, along with a ton of Han Chinese. Donkeys have mostly given way to taxis and motorbikes, and sadly, much of the old architecture is giving way to new.

Then again, Kashgar has seen it all before and despite the tutting from some about the ‘death’ of ‘traditional’ Kashgar, in many ways it is the same as it ever was. The great (times five) grandsons of craftsmen and artisans still hammer and chisel away in side alleys in the old quarter; everything sellable is hawked and haggled over boisterously; and the donkey to taxi ratio is still equal parts furry in some areas. And that Sunday market – now that’s a blast from the past, no matter how many tour buses roll up.

Kashgar was globalised before globalised was grammatical. A Babel of negotiation – Kazakh, Urdu, Tajik and more mixed with Uighur in a business stew – still goes on in shops and in hotel lobbies. Jets and buses have replaced camels (usually), but Kashgar is the nexus of a Central Asian high-tech Silk Road. Kashgar redux.

So soak it in for a few days, eat a few kebab, chat with a local medicine man in the back alley, and prepare your trip along the Southern Silk Road to Hotan, over the Torugart or Irkeshtam Passes to Kyrgyzstan or south up the stunning Karakoram Hwy to Pakistan.