It had been years since I started dreaming about visiting Kashgar. The city in the far west of China, and much closer to Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan and Kazakhstan than Beijing, had an exotic ring to its name for me. Once an important landmark in the Old Silk Road, I had images in my head of traditional, ancient houses, of donkeys riding narrow streets, of chaos, of noises, of people in traditional clothes gathering in the streets for a talk. But reality turned out to be different. A lot different. And, well, sad.
After a late night arrival in Kashgar, my first goal was to explore the old city early next morning. I arrived at a main bridge over the Tuman river, where I had a great view of the skyline of the old town reflected in the brown waters of the river. I crossed the bridge, walked around the high adobe city walls behind which I could see the traditional buildings, and enjoyed the view from below. I entered the old town from the northern side, and at once left the modern parts of the town behind me. Gone were the traffic, the space, the modern buildings that I could have seen almost anywhere in China. Now, I found myself in narrow alleys, with adobe houses around me, old, decorated, wooden beams, quiet, empty courtyards, where Uyghur men were driving their donkey carts through the narrow, shaded alleys of the old town of Kashgar. I found small shops, where Uyghurs were haggling over prices, workshops where artisans were working wood, and many other sights. This is what I had been looking for, this is what confirmed my vision.
Unfortunately, it did not last long. A woman cleaning the street asked me for my entrance ticket, and I did not know what she was talking about. I had heard that a preserved part of the old town could only be visited by purchasing a ticket, but I was in a different part. I continued walking, leaving the woman behind. But I started discovering more and more open spaces where bulldozers and trucks were at work. Gradually, I understood that the Chinese are in the process of taking the old town apart and replacing the beautiful, romantic old adobe houses with the Chinese apartment blocks that can be seen anywhere in the country. I even found old houses that were standing in the middle of rubble, or in an open space of sand and dust, people still living inside, and the more I saw, the more it made me feel sad. It might be true that the ancient houses are not earthquake resistant, but the ruthlessness and the speed with which the old town of Kashgar is being demolished still seems extreme. Will even Kashgar not be spared the fate of many other old places in China - leaving a small part of a traditional place in tact, and replacing most of it by modern Chinese buildings?
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Kashgar Old Town (China). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Kashgar Old Town. Read more about this site.