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December 26, 2009

old kashgar, renewed

On the road for over three months now and not a peep on this blog. Not to site any poor excuses, but Xinjiang had a communication blackout: no internet, no international phone calls and no text messages, and before that, my time in the rest of China wasn’t as productive as I’d hoped for it to be; some ideas and stories just fell through. But here I am now, after almost two weeks in Kashgar, then a month in Pakistan, with many photos and a whole lot of inspiration and travel stories at hand.

I refresh this blog starting in Kashgar, an old Silk Road city located on the western edges of the Taklamakan Desert in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region of China. Kashgar a thousand plus years ago was a bustling place, a trading hub, where  merchants brought their goods ranging from spices to silk. Walking through the Old City today, the streets are lined with hundreds of stores and artisans. It’s like being thrown right back to a time long past. The sound of clang clang clang, hammers coming down on copper and tin wares, fill the narrow streets; wood shavings spill out onto the sidewalks from the tiny shops selling candle holders, while hawkers push along donkey carts topped with vegetables and fruits.

Xinjiang province with a population of about 3.5 million people, is inhabited by a majority of ethnically Turkic people– Uighurs– though numbers of Han Chinese have steadily increased to over 40 percent in the last 60 years. The province’s abundance of rare earth, oil, and natural gas reserves have drawn many Han Chinese to the area for employment and has prompted the Chinese government to rapidly transform the region with modern facilities and residential areas. Kashgar is, in short, on its way to being a typical modern Chinese city. An estimated 85 percent of the Old City is planned to be demolished under the premise of creating more fire and earthquake-safe houses, while other less-mentioned reasons include the Chinese government’s fear of separatist movement activities, some of which the Chinese government claims to have ties with jihadists internationally. New brightly colored housing estates are shooting up all over the city, while the old two-storey houses are bulldozed over. Officials have claimed to have consulted Uighurs in residence there about new projects and continue to do so throughout their developments. From what I could see though, the mood there in Kasghar was one of helplessness and the feeling that the Uighurs themselves needed to concede to the changes, perhaps because of inevitability, or for fear of retribution if they don’t.

Here’s a look into the old, changing, and new Kasghar.

Kashgar – Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China

Doing homework in the Old City

The occasion of the 60th Anniversary of the PRC’s founding (October 1) made sure that no efforts were spared for celebration

at the Id Kah Mosque, China’s largest mosque


Old Kashgar

A scene in the Old City

A baker and his family

Children watch television outside a store

Women sit in a doorway talking and knitting

One of the hundreds of meat shops around Kashgar

A tailor shop in the Old City

A workshop making bamboo steaming baskets


Changing Kashgar

Old houses are torn down and then rebuilt. This one family was responsible for the construction of their new home.

more construction
A neighborhood mosque at sunset

Uighur men walk past boards displayed outside the main mosque in Kashgar. The boards show plans for the construction of new residential buildings, Uighurs fervently holding Chinese flags in ‘appreciation’ of the Chinese government’s efforts, as well as pictures of Chinese officials touring Kashgar’s Old City.

A Uighur man walks out of one of the hundreds of construction sites around the city

Boys play football in a pit where new residential buildings will be built

After-school football. Uighur children are now required to attend classes taught in Mandarin

A Uighur woman walks amidst the construction

A glimpse into the courtyard of a traditional uighur house

A Uighur worker pulls up dirt from a pit as new tunnel ways are made for pipes and other small infrastructure

A bridge connecting to the Old City under construction

Food stalls opened by Han Chinese serving up other fellow Han have become a common sight around Kasghar

The People’s Square with a statue of Chairman Mao standing at 59 ft. tall

The Old City by night


New Kashgar

PLA soldiers on duty in the People’s Square outside the Renmin Park (The People’s Park)

On the south east side of the city is Dong Lake, a place that has been transformed into a modern park, not short of neon lights at night, with a vast amount of recreational space

A part of the Old City, which is being preserved mostly for tourism, is lit up at night

The Last of the Kashgar tea houses

The rapid changes in Kashgar are sweeping both landmarks and pastimes away. One in particular is the habit of men sitting in teahouses, which fill up in the late afternoon with retired folks who sit and chat, sometimes in to the early evening sipping on flower tea. Nondescript from the outside, the moment you walk into this one teahouse I frequented, is like a moment of finding some treasure.


The Sunday Crush

Scenes from Kasghar’s livestock and Sunday markets.


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