And so Benoît and I arrived before the weekend to Kashgar, definitely one of the highlights of my Silk Road journey.
The inmense region of Xinjiang is the homeland of the Uyghur, a Turkic ethnic group. They look more like Central Asian, a completely different race to the (Han) Chinese; they speak Uyghur, a language related to Turkish and written on an Arabic-based calligraphy; they are Muslims and eat very different food. In short, being among the Uyghurs, you don’t feel like being in China at all. However, the Chinese Government is encouraging more and more Chinese people to migrate into Xinjiang to consolidate the region, and therefore the population is now split: two utterly different worlds share the same cities. They generally don’t mingle, it is uncommon to see a group of friends with Chinese and Uyghur, nor do they eat in the same restaurants.
Kashgar is still a good place to appreciate the traditional Uyghur lifestyle. The old town, with traditional family homes, stands in stark contrast to the new Kashgar, with enormous Chinese buildings, broad avenues and a big Mao statue. In the centre of the old part lies the main mosque, and around it food bazaars and Uyghur shops, which according to Benoît, felt like the Middle East.
Kashgar is well-known for the Sunday Market. This colourful market is held every day, but Sunday is the big day. It is like taking a step back in time. Everything can be bought in this enormous bazaar: meat, spices, knives, jade, second-hand utensils, etc. (or a haircut!). No Chinese in sight, bar a few tourists camera in hand. Awesome, a true Silk Road experience!
Only on Sundays, another beautiful market takes place: the livestock market. Thousands of animals are taken to the venue for sale. There are separate areas for cattle, sheep, horses, donkeys and so on. The potential buyers inspect the animals and negotiate directly with the owners. Again, 100% of the merchants were Uyghur. And again, I found the place truly fascinating.
I will finish this post with another curiosity about Xinjiang, regarding the time. Officially, this region shares the same time zone with the rest of China (Beijing time). But as it is thousands of kilometres west of Beijing, the official time is ridiculously at odds with actual solar time. Locals unofficially use Xinjiang time (mostly used by Uyghurs), which is 2 hours ahead of Beijing time (mostly used by the Chinese). Therefore, you not only have to ask “What time is it?” but also “Which time?” 🙂