This trip was the furthest west I’ve ever been in China, and it was absolutely my favorite stop on the Silk Road. In a way, Kashgar felt like it actually was not a part of China because the culture, language, religion and cuisine are all so different from China’s big cities on the east coast. While most eastern cities feel like they are mainly full of Han-ethnicity people, traveling further west in China leads to a much more diverse population.
Kashgar is located in Xinjiang Province, China’s most northwestern province, and is inhabited by a mixture of Uyghurs, Han Chinese, Kyrgyz, Tajiks, and Uzbeks. All of these groups of people bring their own customs. This amazing mix of ethnicities is what makes the city it is, and we just didn’t take enough time in the city to explore fully as we only had two and a half days.
A man selling traditional Xinjiang bread: naan (馕)
To get here, we took the train from Urumqi, which took about 24 hours. Thankfully we had some snacks because the food on the train was abysmal, but we had some nice conversations with our fellow train passengers. The journey would have been really hard if we hadn’t had beds though, which were hard but perfect to nap on nonetheless. Especially since the train staff forcibly switched off the lights during the night, it would’ve been torturous to have seats on this train instead of beds (regardless of the fact that the seats would have been a lot cheaper).
A man selling garlic from his bicycle
We purposely planned to come in on a Saturday, so that we could go straight to one of the biggest and most well-known attractions in the city on Sunday: the livestock market. We got a cab here, as the livestock market is a little bit out of the city. The ride probably took about half an hour, and our driver was extremely excited to point out other sites along the way. He also seemed confused as to why we were looking to buy livestock. We actually asked him to wait for us too, because we weren’t sure whether we were going to be able to find a different taxi on the way back, and we liked him. We gave him another 50 RMB while he waited for us to explore the market, which took about 1 to 1.5 hours.
A donkey seller presents his goods at the Kashgar livestock market
The livestock market was this incredible buzzing meeting place where farmers and herders from the entire region come to sell sheep, camels, horses, cows, donkeys, and more. It was so busy and everyone was extremely friendly, but definitely had business on their mind. Taking photos around the market was great as people were focusing much more on business than us, although I wasn’t too keen on the way that some animals looked really skinny and dirty. I did learn some Uygher while I was there though: ‘bosh-bosh’, which someone will shout when they want you to get out of the way because they’re trying to come through with five donkeys. This was learned the hard way…
A truck with livestock arrives at the livestock market early on a Sunday morning
After the market, we had some time to wander around in the afternoons. We decided to walk around near the Id Kah Mosque (艾提尕尔清真寺), a beautiful structure with an awesome atmosphere around it. Children are playing and people are relaxing, it was a great place to wander around and soak up the day-to-day life of the city, and we got some awesome pictures too.
The famous Kashgar Id Kah Mosque stands out
The snack food was amazing at the night market too. Not far from our hostel, we found all these stands with traditional food and tried a lot of different snacks, as well as some fresh watermelon. All the melon in this area was awesome though, and my favorite part of my time in this city was just to wander around and take photos of the people and what they were doing, even though we went in November and it was a little bit cold. Throughout the streets too, there are vendors everywhere selling snacks.
The snack market was a hub of night-time activity
Carts selling different types of snacks at one of the several night snack markets in Kashgar – never a hungry moment!
The second day we decided to go visit Apak Hoja Mazar (香妃墓), the tomb of the ‘Fragrant Concubine’ along with 71 other persons from her family. The Hoja family ruled southern Xinjiang between the 17th and mid-18th century, and the building really shows the strength they once had through its beautiful architecture and rich history. The building was first built in 1604 AD by Yusuf Hoja, as a tomb for the father of Apak Khoja, and the grandfather of the fragrant concubine, and the ruler of the empire.
The gorgeous Apak Hoja Mazar is an amazing example of Islamic architecture
Apak Hoja Mazar
Just like the mosque, this building is a stellar example of Islamic architecture in the region, colorful tiles covering the entire building. The architecture here surprised me with how different it was from the rest of China – this is thus a great place to visit to get a taste of Central Asia too.
Ultimately, it would have been better if we had had an extra day to visit some of the other sites the city has to offer, but because we wanted to spend time in Urumqi on the way here, and because we wanted to pass by Hotan and Turpan on the way too, we didn’t allocate more time to Kashgar. There’s always a next time!
Margaux Schreurs is a translator, editor and writer living in Beijing. She was born in the Netherlands, and became interested in China and Chinese culture after her first Chinese language class while living in Singapore. She holds an MSc in the anthropology of China from the London School of Economics, and since then has written for several publications throughout the world about her travels and about current affairs, in print and digital media.