Abakh Hoja Mausoleum

Tomb in Kashgar

On the northeastern outskirts of town is the Abakh Hoja Mausoleum, a 3-hectare complex built by the Khoja family who ruled the region in the 17th and 18th centuries. Widely considered the holiest Muslim site in Xīnjiāng, it's a major pilgrimage destination and a beautiful piece of Islamic architecture well worth a visit.

Founded as a religious school by Yusuf Khoja, the mausoleum was built in 1640 with further halls and mosques being added over the next three centuries. In addition to housing the remains of Yusuf, dozens of Khoja family members are interned here. These include Yusuf's son Abakh Hoja, a famed 17th-century Sufi and political leader (and after whom the mausoleum is named), and according to legend, Iparhan, Abakh Hoja's granddaughter.

Known to the Chinese as Xiang Fei, the 'Fragrant Concubine' of the Emperor Qianlong, Iparhan remains a potent symbol of the Chinese–Uyghur divide. To the Han, she was the beloved but homesick concubine of the Emperor and thus a symbol of national unity. To the Uyghur she was a resistance leader (or the wife of one) who was captured and taken to Beijing where she died (and was likely buried) broken-hearted, or was killed by the Emperor's mother.

The mausoleum complex has an irregular design so all the mosques face Mecca at a slightly different angle. South are the main stone gate, with its striking blue tiles, and the High and Low Mosques. These mosques form a typical pairing in Uyghur religious architecture and are known as summer and winter mosques: their open-sided and closed structures, respectively, allow for prayer during the different seasons. Note the wooden and painted columns here, carved in 1926, with their muqarnas capitals (a traditional Persian design likened to hanging stalactites).

The Great Mosque is in the west of the complex, while the small Green Mosque (which also has summer and winter halls) is in the north. The domed mausoleum, the tallest structure in the complex, is east, and is surrounded by a graveyard wall with four colourful towers in the corners. The most striking feature, however, is the exterior of mismatched tiles, the result of piecemeal repairs over the years.

A taxi here is ¥10 to ¥15.