By Sandy Zimmerman
(Photos China Tourism)
I have previously written about visiting yurts and meeting the Kazakh tribes in Urumqi, and will continue the second part of our trip- from Urumqi to Kashgar or Kashi.
This is not your usual tourist destination! Isolated from most of the metropolitan cities of China and the rest of the world, this Taklamakan desert region gives you the feeling that you are traveling back in time.
Kashgar was settled during the second Millennium and does not seem to have changed much since then.
One famous Silk Road traveler, Marco Polo described Kashgar as “the biggest and most splendid city in Chinese Turkestan.” It took five days by camel caravan to reach the next village. At that time, Kashgar was prosperous and flourished as a city of trade and industry. They still ride camels, yet donkey carts, bicycles, and cars seem to be some of their few modern conveniences.
To really experience the flavor of this exotic region, schedule an afternoon at a wine orchard, just outside Kashgar.
First you take a romantic walk among rows of grapes, then sit on a rug sprawled on the ground under grape vine trellises. We enjoyed a Muslim Uighur feast complete with their ethnic music and dancing.
The musicians play ancient musical instruments.
Kashgar and all of the other towns in China’s entire Xinjiang province are like stepping into a Middle Eastern movie set. Muslim women do not wear veils, but a large dark cloth over the top of their heads which hangs down to their shoulders.
The Hui Muslim sect are thought to be descendants of the central Asian Muslims who migrated to China. The Uighur (pronounced Wee-gers) minority are the largest ethic group in Xinjiang.
The China Tourist Bureau arranged for us to have dinner in a wealthy Muslim families’ home. We were thrilled to meet the people, see the ornate art work, beautiful decorations, and experience how they live. We sat in a big dining room with the family and were served their traditional food.
Kashgar’s strategic location at the junction of the Southern and Northern Silk Road routes made it a major oasis town at the beginning of the Chinese Silk Road.
The Northern route ran West to India and the Southern to Persia. This town is in the far Western region of China along the Karakorum Highway to Pakistan (250 miles) and the Turgat Pass into the grasslands of Russia (80 miles).
Today Kashgar covers 37 square miles with a population of 300,000 people. Summer’s opening of the two mountain passes brings tours and visitors (May 1-October 30).
For information the China Tourist Bureau arranges tours and for visitors to “Meet the People” of the different regions.
Award winning Sandy Zimmerman is a syndicated columnist featuring Show and Dining reviews, travel, health, spas, luxury and more. Sandy is talk show host of the Las Vegas Today Show programs and Discover the Ultimate Vacation travel specials.
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