Situated on the westernmost part of China, Kashgar is unlike any other Chinese city in language, culture and ethnic makeup. Historically a major Silk Road trading post and the gateway between China and the West, I was intrigued by how little I knew of modern day Kashgar and the Xinjiang region besides the occasional headlines of protest and unrest.
On a two week trip to Xinjiang, we spent our days wandering through Kashgar’s Old City, much of which has now been demolished and replaced with new buildings in the style of the old. The demolition of the Old City began in 2009 as an initiative by the government to improve the safety of residents in the case of an earthquake or natural disaster. Their intentions have been questioned by many who argue that it’s really to increase security and surveillance measures. Residents have been moved out from disorganised maze-like alleys into apartment blocks to give the government greater control and break up supposed terrorist groups.
Despite this, I was enchanted by the replica buildings and the life and trade that carried on. It seemed a complex mix of traditional Uyghur culture and artificial tourist front. People we met were reluctant to talk about the government and the changes for fear of being overheard. Across the road from our hostel, the speakers blast the national anthem all throughout the morning. On the newer and more developed side of the city, a giant statue of Mao looms over as a constant reminder.
About 10 minutes drive west of the city, the Sunday Livestock Market occupies a huge dirt section just beside the Karakoram Highway. Here was a bustling scene of commerce unlike anything I had seen before. Trucks, rickshaws and carts were unloaded and various animals were dragged to their allocated spot while men huddled in groups and negotiations were conducted. Tour groups wove in and out, trailing the camels for photo opportunities. All around us there was so much happening and so much dust, and a high possibility of being trampled or pooped on.