Last week I had the opportunity to travel to Kashgar, a city in China’s far far west. Kasghar is the major city in the southern part of the the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. In China, an autonomous region is a province where the majority of the population are a different ethnic group (as opposed to Han Chinese), in this case the Uighurs, a turkic people of Central Asia. Kashgar’s main historical claim to fame is being a major crossroads of the famed Silk Road trading route that ran from China to Europe and South Asia hundreds of years ago. From Kasghar’s location on the western edge of the Taklimakan Desert, traders with silk and tea from China could head west across Central Asia, or take the southern route over the Himalayas into South Asia (Pakistan, Afghanistan) and across Persia to the Middle East. Like all other towns in southern Xinjiang, it is an oasis town, situatated to catch snow melting off the mountains that lie to the north and west.
Even though Kashgar is a city in the People’s Republic of China, it gives the distinct impression of being in a foreign country. I grew up in Pakistan, and Kasghar to me feels much more like Pakistan than it does China. To be sure, there are distint reminders that it IS China (something the government is very keen on): signs are in Chinese; there are the ubiquitious white tile buildings with blue-tinted windows that have come to define Chinese urban architecture; all government and official functions run on Beijing time, in seemingly total denial of the fact that Kashgar is 2000 miles west of Beijing. Officially, it is not in a separate time zone, so there is no such thing as Kashgar time, but the locals know better and adjust their watches accordingly. Howver, you’d better know the difference because when your plane ticket says your plane takes off at 10:30AM, it means 10:30AM Beijing time, not local time.
I made the trip to Kashgar for business, so spent all day Friday and Monday in meetings. Saturday and Sunday were left open for adventure, the details of which follow in the next post!