KASHGAR (1,600 kilometers from Urumqi, 320 kilometers from Pakistan) is a famous Silk Road oasis situated between the Tien Shan, the Pamir Mountains, and the Taklimakan Desert. Also known as Kashi and more reminiscent of a town in Uzbekistan or Turkey than one in China, it features bazaars, narrow alleys, scull caps and mosques and is home to about 350,000 people.

Al lot of travelers are drawn to Kashgar as they are to Tibet. Part of the attraction is the adventure of getting there and part of it is the atmosphere and history of the place.

Water flows through canals along the main streets and nourish trees and garden plots with melons and vegetables. Back streets are lined by houses made from mud-brick. Women do chores while men sit around drinking tea, playing card games, getting a trim from a sidewalk barbers and shooting pool on outdoors billiard tables. The ochre-colored alleys and archways were so evocative of Old Kabul that the old city was used as the setting in 2007 for the filming of "The Kite Runner." Only a small section is left today for tourists. About 200,000 people, almost all Uighurs, are being relocated to bland, modern apartment buildings in the suburbs (See Below).

Until a decade ago, 90 percent of Kashgar's 355,000 permanent residents were Uighurs, but activists suspect that the Uighur population has dropped to 70 percent with the migration of about 150,000 Han Chinese to Kashgar.

Xinjiang map
Located at an elevation of 1309 meters, Kashgar remained a trading town similar to the one Marco Polo well into the 20th century. Even in the late 1990s donkey carts outnumbered taxis and most of the road were dirt. These days Kashgar is modernizing quick and has become a boom frontier town with new highways, an international airport and new rail line from Beijing that opened in 2004. The old wall that surrounded the city was torn down long ago and replaced with concrete buildings and replaced with “Liberation Road” and “People’s Square.”

Kashgar boasts a new international trading center has opened up. Trade with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan is booming. A new 600-mile pipeline from Kazakhstan opened in 2006. Thousands of tourists come from Pakistan take see the sights and but cheap Chinese goods. Western backpackers still have a strong presence.

Around 50 percent of Kashgar's 500,000 residents are Uygurs, a Muslim people who speak a Turkic language. The figure used to be higher but a lot of Han Chinese have moved in recently. Six of the eleven other minorities that live here are also Muslim They are allowed to worship in large mosques, which the government can monitor, but are discouraged from building of small mosques, which Beijing worries fuels discontent.

The old town and Uyghur area radiates out from Id Kah mosque and is full of men with thin beards, skull caps and sheathed daggers, women with their heads covered, donkeys pulling carts filled with melon and onions, vendors selling lamb, round bread and bowls of plum juice for 5 cents a bowl and young craftsmen that fashion bronze pots and Turkish-style, long-neck lutes on little stalls.

Market nutseller
Unfortunately the Old City in Kashgar is now being torn down under orders of the Chinese government and Uighurs are being forced to move into cinder block apartments on the outskirts of the city. The Chinese area radiates out from the train station, built in 1999, and looks like the central area of other Chinese cities. People’s Square contains a 59-foot-tall Mao statue. A theater that used to feature traditional Uyghur dance and music is being renovated into a hotel because it couldn’t make enough money.

Web Sites: Travel China Guide Travel China Guide Maps: Lonely Planet Lonely Planet Hotel Web Site: Sinohotel Sinohotel Budget Accommodation: Check Lonely Planet books; Travellerspoint (click China and place in China) Travellerspoint

Getting There: Kashgar is accessible by air and bus and connected to Urumqi and the rest of China by a new train that began operating in 2004. There are two daily trains between Kasghar and Urumqi that cover the 1,598 kilometer distance in about 24 hours, There are also flights on Xinjiang Airlines 757s every evening. Website: CNINFO.net Travel China Guide (click transportation) Travel China Guide Lonely Planet (click Getting There) Lonely Planet

Market animal parts

History of Kashgar: Kashgar was a major stop on the Silk Road. Over its long history it was controlled by Tibetans, Huns, Arabs and Chinese, and was fought over by Genghis Khan and Tamerlane. Marco Polo wrote: "The people are for the most part idolaters, but there are also some Nestorian Christians and Saracens...the inhabitants live by trade and industry. They have fine orchards and vineyards and flourishing estates. Cotton grows here in plenty, besides flax and hemp. The soil is fertile and productive of all the means of life. The country is the starting point from which many merchants set out to market their wares all over the world."

In the 19th century Kashgar played a significant role in the Great Game which pitted spies and mercenaries from Russia and Britain against one another. At that time the town was filled with spies and conspiracies. One observer wrote: "You never know what to expect at a banquet in Kashgar and each of our official hosts had prudently brought his own bodyguard. Turkic and Chinese soldiers lounged everywhere; automatic rifles and executioner's swords were much in evidence, and the Mauser pistols of the waiters knocked ominously against the back of your chair as they knelt over you with the dishes."

Kashgar remained an important meeting place for Chinese, Indian and Persian merchants until the 1950s when it was sealed off by the Communists. Kashgar was open to travelers in 1983, and closed in 1990 briefly after an abortive rebellion a town 70 miles away.

Today, Kashgar is seen as the center of Xinjiang independence movement. From time to time in the 1990a bombs were set off and demonstrations were held, and the Chinese responded with brutal crackdowns. A bombing at hotel in June 1993 killed three local people. Things have been calm in recent year and the city is filled with tourists.

Market hatseller

In 2008, four days before the Olympics in Beijing began, 16 Chinese border police officers were killed in Kashgar in one of the deadliest terrorist attack in China ever. Two men---aged 28 and 33---rammed a dump truck into a group of 70 police officers jogging outside the Yiqan Hotel near their barracks. After the truck hit a roadside pole the two leapt out of the truck and began lunging at officers with knives. One tried to throw a home-made explosive at wounded policemen but the device detonated early and blew off his arm. Another threw a home-made bomb at the gate of a police station. Fourteen police officers were killed on the spot. Two more died of their wound on the way to the hospital. Sixteen others were injured. In 2009, citing fire hazards, danger posed by earthquakes and overcrowding, the Chinese government began a $500 million program to move 50,000 residents from the Old City to new modern apartments.

Tourism in Kashgar : The best time to visit is in the spring and autumn. The relatively high altitude makes it bearable in the summer. Winter can be very cold. Kebabs with hot nan bread, mutton-filled pastries and juicy watermelon are all real treats. Muslim restaurants don't serve pork but Chinese restaurants do.

Taxi will you take anywhere in the city for $2 or less. Most hotels rent bicycles for 35 cents an hour. Donkey carts are everywhere, They are cheap but uncomfortable. A taxi can be hired for $10 or less for several hours to visit sights outside the city.

Sights in Kashgar

Aidkah (Id Kah) Mosque is the largest mosque in China. Built in 1442, this yellow tile structure dominates the old town’s central square and encompasses a garden- and tree-filled courtyard. On Friday, 20,000 people sometimes fill the mosque with men and women praying together. In the back of the mosque is carpet-filled formal praying area. Radiators and thick carpets in the mosque have been paid for by the Chinese government.

The old town around the mosque is packed with mud-brick houses and shops, which sell things like jeweled daggers, copper goods, musical instruments, fur hats and korans. About a half kilometer to northeast is the main carpet shop areas. Many shops her sell Afghan-style carpets produced in Hotan that are more than 50 years old. Dozens of small mosques are scattered throughout the city. Near some of them are unusual beehive-shaped tombs, with little window.

Kashgar's most impressive sight is the Abak Hoja Tomb. Located just outside the city and built in 1640, it is one of the holiest sights in Xinjiang and Turkestan. Topped by an 80-foot dome covered by green tiles, this mausoleum is surrounded by gardens and flanked by four slender minarets. Pilgrims come to the tomb to pray for special things. Women who want a child place a red ribbon in a fragment of the wall

The tomb contains the remains of Abak Hoja a 17th century ruler, and many his relatives, the most famous of which is the Fragrant Concubine, an Uyghar princess who is said to have led a rebellion against the Chinese emperor Qinglong and committed suicide after the rebellion failed. A cart outside the mausoleum reportedly was used to carry her body from Beijing to Kashgar.

Across the street from People’s Square, which is next to People’s Park, stands an 85-foot stone statue of Mao, said to be the tallest in China, set among outdoor pool tables and traditional houses.

Yekshenbe Bazari

Yekshenbe Bazari (Sunday bazaar in Kashgar) is reputed to be the largest market in Central Asia. Sometimes covering almost a square mile, it is filled with tents and stalls, and 100,000 people buying and selling a wide assortment of stuff. The market is organized so that people selling the same kinds of things are grouped together.

Among the items on sale are live chickens, caged songbirds, spices, tools, herbal medicines, colorful silk dresses, linen, parsnips, green peppers, scallions, tomatoes, sacks of grain, polished beans in a variety of shapes and colors, tools, gold necklaces, dyed silk clothes, dried reptile carcasses (used for medicine), multicolored piles of yarn, jeweled knives, firewood, boom boxes, camels, and snow leopard pelts. There are also sidewalk dentists, street barbers, donkey cart parking lots, bearded men in skullcaps and, tethered sheep, and merchants conducting horses auctions. Knife makers used old bicycles altered to spin grindstones to sharpen their knives.

Tearing down Kashgar’s Old Town

Ignoring protests from preservationists abroad, the Chinese government bulldozed most of Kashgar's historic old city 2009, destroying 85 percent of the labyrinthine alleys of mud-brick houses in the name of earthquake safety. About 200,000 people, almost all Uighurs, were being relocated to bland, modern apartment buildings in the suburbs. Entire Uighur neighborhoods of mud-brick homes, where Uighur shopkeepers have lived and worked for hundreds of years, were btorn down. Left behind were piles of brick and rubble, houses without roofs. Rows of brick-fronted shops were left on the main streets to hide the destruction behind them. About 220,000 people, or 42 percent of the city's residents, live in the old town. Houses marked for destruction were marked with an ominous-looking Chinese character written in red with a circle drawn around it. The character, pronounced chai in Chinese, means demolish.

Jane MaCartney wrote in the The Times of London, “Bulldozers are already crashing through the packed-mud walls of centuries-old homes. Yellow-helmeted workers toss bricks into wheelbarrows as they clear the rubble. Walls throughout the town are stencilled with signs exhorting residents to support the makeover to prevent the damage wrought by last year’s massive earthquake in southwestern Sichuan province that killed 90,000 people. [Source: Jane MaCartney, The Times, June 18, 2009]

Michael Wines wrote in the New York Times: “Some residents say they also prefer a more modern environment. The thousand-year-old design that gives the Old City its charm often precludes basics like garbage pickup, sewers and fire hydrants.” In the mayor’s view, “demolition will give the Uighurs a better life and spare them from disaster in one fell swoop. All that said, there is a certain aura of forcible eviction about the demolition, an urgency that fear of earthquakes does not completely explain. The city is offering cash bonuses to residents who move out early---about $30 for those who vacate within 20 days; $15 if they move in a month. Homes are razed as soon as they become empty, giving some alleys a gap-tooth look.”[Source: Michael Wines, New York Times, May 28, 2009]

From a cultural and historical perspective, this plan of theirs is stupid, Wu Lili, the managing director of the Beijing Cultural Protection Center, a nongovernmental group devoted to historic preservation, told the New York Times. From the perspective of the locals, it’s cruel. Efforts by preservationist and overseas Uighurs to halt the development have largely been ineffective. [Source: Michael Wines, New York Times, May 28, 2009] For more information See the article TEARING DOWN KASHGAR’S OLD TOWN Under Xinjiang Under Minorities

Redevelopment Plan for Kashgar’s Old Town

A $448 million plan to move about 50,000 residents out of the old city and into modern apartment buildings kicked off in February 2009 with the first 100 families moving into government housing. At that stage community service officers visited families one by one, urging them to come to their offices and discuss compensation plans for moving out.[Source: Maureen Fan, Washington Post, March 24, 2009]

The project began abruptly in 2009 soon after China’s central government said it would spend $584 billion on public works to combat the global financial crisis. It would complete a piecemeal dismantling of old Kashgar that began decades ago. The city wall, a 25-foot-thick earthen berm nearly 35 feet high, has largely been torn down. In the 1980s, the city paved the surrounding moat to create a ring highway. Then it opened a main street through the old town center. [Source: Michael Wines, New York Times, May 28, 2009]

According to the plan 66 percent to 85 percent of Kashgar’s Old City will be bulldozed. Alleys will be covered over. Narrow roads will be widened to 20 feet under the government's plan. In place of the old Old Old City will be a new Old City, a mix of midrise apartments, plazas, alleys widened into avenues and reproductions of ancient Islamic architecture to preserve the Uighur culture, Kashgar’s vice mayor, Xu Jianrong, told the New York Times. When the plan is complete Kashgar will look a lot more like a typical Chinese city or town.

There are also concerns about how people will earn a living once they are moved far from the center of tourism  the government plan apparently does not include any mention of job creation. The Uighur community already faces high unemployment rates. Shopowners moving to distant apartment will be forced to close their shops, their only source of income. [Ibid]

Kashgar’s New Old Town

The government said it would turn a small remaining area into a tourist center, where it would create an international heritage scenery to increase tourism. A recent statement by the Uyghur American Association said there was no indication yet as to who would benefit from a Chinese-managed Kashgar Old City. The association expressed a fear that the small remaining section will take on the characteristics of an open-air museum of Uighur culture, where once a vibrant community lived. [Ibid]

What will remain of old Kashgar is unclear. Kashgar’s mayor told the New York Times that important buildings and areas of the Old City have already been included in the country’s special preservation list and would not be disturbed. No archaeologists monitor the razings, he said, because the government already knows everything about old Kashgar.

The state official Wang Zhengrong, said the old city will be “protected, managed, and developed” with the aim of “creating international heritage scenery.” This will increase income from tourism, says Wang, who adds that under the plans tourists will still be able to view “minority lifestyle and architectural characteristics.” [Source:Henryk Szadziewski, Opendemocracy.net, April 03, 2009]

Henryk Szadziewski wrote in Opendemocracy.net, “In addition, the changes appear to involve new management of the old city. There have been rumors circulating online that the local government in Kashgar has offered a group of Han Chinese from Wenzhou the right to administer the area around the heart of the old city, the ancient Id-Kah mosque. In addition, oversight of the Appaq Khoja Mazar - a place of religious significance to Uighurs, though outside the old city itself - has it is said been offered to a Han Chinese company called Jinkun. Whether these rumors are true, there is a genuine concern as to who the real beneficiaries are from the “residents' resettlement project.” [Ibid]

New Housing for Residents of Kashgar’s Old Town

In the Old Town Michael Wines wrote in the New York Times, “Three of the Old City’s seven sectors are judged unfit for Uighur architecture and will be rebuilt with decidedly generic apartment buildings. Two thousand other homes will be razed to build public plazas and schools. Poor residents, who live in the smallest homes, already are being permanently moved to boxy, concrete public housing on Kashgar’s outskirts. [Source: Michael Wines, New York Times, May 28, 2009]

The old houses are being replaced with local-style brick buildings with steel reinforcement and concrete highrises. One Uighur resident old Reuters, “The thing is these buildings are what makes Kashgar unique. They are nowhere else in the world. So it’s a shame to tear them down and replace them with this.” [Source: Lucy Hornby, Reuters, July 2010]

Although the city offers the displaced residents the opportunity to build new homes on the sites of their old ones, some also complain that the proposed compensation does not pay for the cost of rebuilding.

The relocated areas are eight or nie kilometers form the Old Town, Some of the new apartments there sitting in the desert are not so popular. These include square stone buildings marked “earthquake resistant housing” that sit empty among planted poplars. Not all are opposed to moving on. One elderly Muslim merchant in an embroidered skullcap told the Times of London “The new houses are much cleaner. They have a bathroom and a kitchen. It’s good to have proper sanitation.” He said will still come down to the Old Town to gossip with friends around the main Id Kah Mosque. His son shrugs about the prospect of life in a block of flats. What can you do? What can you do? We have no choice. [Source: Jane MaCartney, The Times, June 18, 2009]


Kashgar to Become a Special Economic Zone

Kashgar is slated to become a special economic zone. The economic zone, like its inspiration, Shenzhen, will feature tax breaks, investment incentives and easing of regulatory requirements for new businesses. Along with the central government, the city of Shenzhen is sponsoring the Kashgar project, transferring $1.5 billion this year alone to support the new zone. [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, November 17, 2010]

Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Chinese officials hope the economic zone status will do for Kashgar what it did for Shenzhen, the South China Sea fishing village that 30 years ago launched China's transformation into a manufacturing superpower. Whereas Shenzhen's wares head by sea to Korea, Japan, Australia, Europe and the United States, Kashgar is viewed increasingly as the launch pad into Pakistan and India, as well as some of the former Soviet republics in Central Asia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.” [Ibid]

"We want to restore Kashgar to the position it had in the days of the Silk Road," Wang Ning, an economist with the government-run Academy of Social Sciences in Xinjiang, told the Los Angeles Times. "The plan is that by 2020 we should close the gap between east and west and allow the west to share in the prosperity of the east." [Ibid]

“The signs of change are already visible,” Demick wrote. “Developers from China's east coast are snapping up land in the area, residents say. Concealed behind a row of graceful poplar trees along the main road to the airport, newly erected green wire fences delineate plots of land slated for development: a factory that makes instant ramen noodles for export to Pakistan and Tajikistan, a warehouse for wheat also headed for central Asia. Tents for construction workers are pitched near empty lots behind the Kashgar Central and Southern Asia Industrial Park, which according to the state press, is being expanded from two square miles to 60. Even on a Sunday afternoon, crews were leveling an access road. "This land used to be desert. Nobody was interested in it," said a 35-year-old local businessman. "Now rich people from the east are coming and buying everything they can.... They buy the land. They put in roads. Then they put a wall around it." [Ibid]

For China, Kashgar is a modern-day version of the wild west, a remote and exotic destination far closer to Afghanistan (160 miles) than to Beijing (2,100 miles),” Demick wrote. The first direct flights were introduced only in September 2010. “The city is a convenient shopping hub for Central Asian businessmen, who arrive on tour buses and leave with vinyl shopping bags stuffed with Chinese-made wristwatches, DVD players, cellphones and athletic shoes to sell back home. With the exception of some artisanal knives and rugs, almost all the merchandise today is manufactured on China's east coast, something that should change with the economic zone status. However, the Shenzhen phenomenon won't be easily replicated. The routes to western border crossings out of China run through harsh desert and wind-swept mountain passes frequently closed by weather and political turmoil. [Ibid]

Outside Kashgar The region are Kashgar is primarily agricultural. Snow melt from nearby mountains provides plenty of water for irrigation and the soil is fertile so even without mechanization people don't work too hard.

Shipton's Arch (40 kilometers west of Kashgar) is the largest natural arch in the world. Located in the mountains near the border of Kyrgzstan and Tajikstan, spectacular 10,394-foot-high natural arch named after the British explorer Eric Shipton. It can be reached from the Uighar-Kyrgz village of Mingyol. In his book Mountains of Tartary Shipton described the "scores of bold pinnacles...pierced by a hole...below its summit almost down to its base."

Shipton's Arch is difficult to get to. Around it are a maze of slot canyons and conglomerate rock mountains. Shipton needed months to reach it. In 2000, a team led by Jeremy Schmidi became the first to climb it. They measured the arch as being 1,500 feet high with a 1,200 hole, making it far and away the largest arch in the world. Few people have ever laid eyes on it. It is very easy to get lost in slot canyons and never find a way out. [Source: Jeremy Schmidi, National Geographic, December 2000]


Torugart Pass

Torugart Pass (3,672 meter, 12,100 feet) is regarded as one of the sorriest, most problematic and adventurous border crossings in the world, complete with a howling wind, chilly temperatures, excruciatingly long waits, patrol dogs and the meanest and most difficult border guards you are ever going to meet. Even so many travelers jump at the opportunity because of scenery along the way, its association with the Silk Road, the stories they can tell afterwards and the sheer adventure of doing it.

The Torugart Pass was a pass used by Silk Road caravans but was not the most heavily used one. Irkeshtam Pass (100 kilometers south of Torugart Pass) was the primary one because it linked Kashgar with the fertile and bountiful Fergana Valley in present-day Uzbekistan . Traveling over Torugart Pass and the mountains on the what is now the Kyrgyzstan side required much more work.

Traveling Across Torugart Pass: Backpackers and Western travelers are generally not allowed to take the weekly bus between Kashgar and Bishkek. Those who try to do it independently are often turned back at the border.


The only way to realistically make the journey is with the help of a tour operator that specializes in the trip. There are several such tour companies in Bishkek and Kashgar. The cost for the trip is generally between $50 and $150 per head, depending on how many people are doing the trip (the more people doing the cheaper the trip is). Don’t deal with a fly-by-night operations. Go with a reputable company that is guaranteed to get you there. Make sure all the necessary paper work is provided and there are no hidden costs.

Make sure you have a Chinese visa and you registered in Kyrgyzstan if you are going to Kashgar, or have a Kyrgyzstan visa if you are traveling to Bishkek. If you make arrangements with a Kyrgyz travel company make sure they have an agreement with a Chinese company to supply transportation on the Chinese side. If you make arrangements with a Chinese travel company make sure they have an agreement with a Kyrgyz company to supply transportation on the Kyrgyzstan side.

The distance between Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan and Kashgar , China is about 440 miles and takes between 15 hours and two days depending on the vehicles you take, the stops you make and your luck clearing customs and immigration on the Chinese side of Torugart Pass. The pass itself can be quite cold and some people get stuck waiting there for a long time so make sure you have enough warm clothes and food. Cigarettes come in handy as bribes.

Generally a vehicle leaving from Bishkek stops a the Kyrgyzstan-China border and travelers cross the border on foot and board another vehicle that will take them to Kashgar. Those leaving from Kashgar do the same thing in reverse. The vehicles that do the Kyrgyzstan part of the journey can be minibuses, Ladas or converted military transports that looked like a cross between a tank, a jeep and a cabin cruiser boat. Minibuses or small buses usually do the job on the Chinese side.

At the border itself there is a monument that is reminiscent of the Arc de Triumph with the letter C.C.C.P. on it. The Kyrgyzstan border control is about four miles from the border on the Kyrgyzstan side. The Chinese border control is about four miles from the border on the Chinese side.

Torugart Pass is often closed for this reason and that. During the winter is often closed due to snow. The remainder of the year it is closed from weekends of Chinese, Russian and Kyrgyzstan holidays and for maintenance and some other reason. It is worthwhile to e-mail the tour companies that do the trips to find out when they are going. They are pretty well informed as to when the border is open and when it is closed.

Tien Shan mountains

From Bishkek to Kashgar: People going from Kyrgyzstan to China, generally begin their trip in Bishkek or a picked up along the route from Bishkek to Torugart Pass. For the first eight to 10 hours of the trip, the journey is routine and uneventful. The road is paved most of the way and cross a couple of 3000 meter passes.

After the town of Naryn the traffic thins out. About 40 kilometers later you reach At-Bashy. About 40 kilometers after that paved road becomes a gravel. About 70 kilometers from there reach the outer checkpoint. If your paperwork is not in order or there is some other problem you usually get turned back here. From here it another 60 kilometers to main customs station. The road is in bad condition and passes over 3574-meter-high Tuz Bell Pass, where you can see Chatry Kol, a highland lake.

The main immigration and customs station on the Kyrgyzstan side is 7 kilometers from the border. Processing is time consuming but fairly straight forward if your visas and registration are in order and you are traveling with a reliable travel agency that has taken care of other paperwork for you. If your driver has the correct paperwork the guards call to see if your transportation for the Chinese leg is ready. Sometime there is long wait until confirmation comes and you can go. The wait can be cold.

If everything is alright you proceed the 7 kilometers at the border. Then change vehicles and continue you on to the Chinese border station five kilometers on. Here your have bags searched and X-rayed. The landscape is much drier and desolate on the Chinese side.

The road between the border and the Chinese immigration post is poorly maintained and dotted with by washed out sections. The road is sometimes closed from landslides. The journey is bone-jarring. Often the driver has too drive on a dry stream bed or mountain slopes to avoid bad sections of road.

The immigration post is 65 miles after the border. Travelers generally endure about five hours of waiting, having their luggage X-rayed, passport checks, money changing and various kinds paperwork. Sometimes the Chinese official can be very surly and create problems and give people a hard time. In the end usually every thing works out. After that you are home free and it a one and half hours downhill drive to Kashgar.

From Kashgar to Bishkek: Coming from Kashgar, the buses usually leave around 7:30 in the morning and take about two hours to reach the Chinese immigration, where there are more hassle than if you the other direction. It is not usual for someone the guards to pick through baggage with a fine tooth comb, accuse some with a valid passport of having a fake one and threaten to lock up someone for taking a leak. The border crossing is easy enough if your vehicle is waiting for you on the other side. Afterwards it is all down hill. Kyrgyzstan immigration is much quicker and hassle free than the Chinese immigration.

Irkeshtam Pass (100 kilometers south of Torugart Pass) was one of the main passes used by Silk Road caravan traveling between China and Central Asia linking up Kashgar with the Fergana Valley. It is strictly off limits to foreign travelers.

Between Urumqi and Kashgar

Scenery near Korla

Korla (250 kilometers south of Urumqi) is a center of oil exploration in Xinjiang. It is home to 300,000 people and is surrounded by fruit orchards and vegetable fields. Near Korla there is 45-foot-high Han-era earth tower. Web Sites: Travel China Guide Travel China Guide Hotel Web Site: Sinohotel Sinohotel Budget Accommodation: Check Lonely Planet books; Getting There: is accessible by train from Urumqi and Kashgar.

Kuche is the at the center an area with some of China’s largest deposits or oil and natural gas. A pipeline carries gas 3,200 miles across China to Shanghai. Outside the town is a network of refineries that produce gasoline,

Yili (65 kilometers south of Korla) has been dubbed “China’s Kuwait” because of the discoveries of large amounts of natural gas, oil and coal in the region.

Kuqa (about halfway between Urumqi and Kashgar) is popular with foreign tourist who come to view Buddhist caves in the outskirt of the city. It also has a big bustling market, a large mosque with a green onion dome on its roof and minarets as well the ancient Resten mosque, which has mud walls and attracts a small but loyal group for daily prayers. It is a government sanctioned mosque. Web Site: Lonely Planet Lonely Planet

South East of Kashgar

Yarkand tomb

Yarkand(three hours from Kasghar) was a famous Silk Road oasis town. It isn’t very exciting now. Web Site: Lonely Planet Lonely Planet

Hotan (500 kilometers southeast of Kashgar) was an important stop on the Silk Road. Located Between the Kunlun Shan and the Taklimakan Desert and also called Khotan, it is where Europe-bound caravans recouped after the deserts and China-bound caravans picked up jade. It has an interesting market and production facilities for silk and jade. Many people say it has more of a Silk Road feel than Kashgar.

Hotan was part of the chain of oases that caravans utilized crossing the Taklamakan Desert. oasis. Six miles to the west is the large ruined city of Yoktan (Yutian), an important Buddhist trading center on the Silk Road. Most of what remains are foundations, piles of mud bricks and sand dunes.

Hotan is 70 miles downstream from the famous "jade mountains," Asia's main source of jade for thousands of years. At the jade buying station in Hotan Uyghur tribesmen deposit their jade boulders onto carpets covered by an inch of dust, the traditional method of displaying the stones. People are often seen by the river look for stones. See Jade.

Khotan also has a hand-made silk industry that was reportedly began by a Han Dynasty princess who married a local prince and was told if she wanted to wear silk she would have to make her own because there wasn’t any in the area,

Khotan is very dusty and everything seems to covered by a film of brown dirt. Despite this local people like to dress in bright reds, yellow and blues. A new 430-kilometer road is being built between Khotan and the town of Alaer. It is being built to transport out oil found in the area. Hotan has one of the biggest markets in western China and Central Asia, attracting 100,000 shoppers ever day. Merchants sell everything from sides of mutton to threads if saffron.

Web Sites: Travel China Guide Travel China Guide Budget Accommodation: Check Lonely Planet books; Getting There: is accessible by air and bus. The buses from Kashgar take a day or two. The ones from Urumqi can take up to five days. Lonely Planet (click Getting There) Lonely Planet


Hotan and Jade : Some of the highest quality jade in China---most notably the whitish mutton fat jade---comes from an area along the banks of the Yulong Kashgar River near Hotan. Two-thousand-year-old historical records refer to a Jade Road from the area.

In imperial times, Hotan jades were sent as tributes to Chinese emperors and carved into exquisite works of art and made into chops used to seal official documents. The price of Hotan nephrite soared in the mid-2000s, quadrupling in value in 2007 alone to 10,000 yuan ($1,347) a gram for the best-quality stone, or 40 times the value of gold. One piece of Hotan mutton fat jade weighed 11,795 pounds was carved into an image of an ancient emperor leading flood control efforts. It now resides in the Forbidden City.

Today Hotan jade accounts for about 10 percent of the annual $1.2 billion jade trade in China. Much of it is mined by small-time prospectors with sieves who hope for a big strike but get by mostly with relatively small pieces of white, green and brown jade that they can sell for a few cents a day,

Nephrite found in western China has traditionally been collected by "jade pickers" who wander the shores of dry river beds picking up stones washed down from the nearby Jade Mountains during the spring floods.

In recent years the Hotan area has become flooded with jade prospectors, so many in fact that some people worry that the area could suffer environmental damage that could last a long time and the resource that have kept the region going for millennia could be used up. Most worrisome is the damage caused by big mining operations. According to some reports 80 percent of Hotan “s jade has been exploited as of 2006 and there is only enough to last for three to five more years.

A ban has been placed on mining along the Yulong Kashgar River but the ban has had little effect and mining has pretty much continued as before because local officials have been bribed by the big miners. As many a s 20,000 people and 2,000 pieces of heavy equipment continue to work the area, leaving behind strip-mine-like gashes as deep as 30 feet.


Lop Nor Wild Camel National Nature Reserve is a West-Virginia-size reserve in the Gobi Desert with some of the last populations of wild Bactrian camels, Tibetan asses and argali sheep. Founded in 2000, the reserve contains a remote valley with a spring, where many of animals drink. In the mid 2000s, illegal gold miners invaded the area and left behind barrels of cyanide and other toxic chemicals that fouled the water in the spring and have since been removed. Animals have returned to the spring. Lop Nor is where China tested its first nuclear weapons.

Dandan-Uyliq (southwestern Xinjiang) is where some lovely Tang-era Buddhist murals were discovered. The 45-by-30-centimeter masterpieces have been described as the “Mona Lisa” of Buddhist art because of the way he glances off to one side with unusual expression. Dandan-Uyliq is believed to have been a Buddhist center in the 7th and 8th centuries. Traces f more than 20 temples have been found there,

Image Sources: Province maps from the Nolls China Web site. Photographs of places from 1) CNTO (China National Tourist Organization; 2) Nolls China Web site; 3) Perrochon photo site; 4) Beifan.com; 5) tourist and government offices linked with the place shown; 6) Mongabey.com; 7) University of Washington, Purdue University, Ohio State University; 8) UNESCO; 9) Wikipedia; 10) Julie Chao photo site ; Wiki Commons

Text Sources: CNTO, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2009 Jeffrey Hays

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