Great Game Glamour
24.06.2007 34 °C
Kashgar, epicentre of the Great Game - the infamous 'cold' war between the British Empire and Tsarist Russia for domination of Central Asia - looks like any provincial Chinese city with a smattering of ossified Uigur backstreets. Having arrived through the parched foothills of the Pamirs, and energised by the tastiest plov (rice and meat) at the border, we were initially disappointed by the wide highways, shopping malls and encroaching Han (ethnic Chinese) colonisation. Nevertheless, we chose to stay right next to the old Russian consulate in a vain attempt to discover what Kashgar once was.
The warrens and back-alleys of the old town were genuinely atmospheric - once we delved deep enough behind the multitude of tacky tourist shops - as was the Id-Kah mosque overflowing with worshippers during Friday prayers. The Chinese presence can, however, be felt in the exorbitant ticket prices required simply to walk up some of the old streets, and less subtly with the giant statue of Chairman Mao (one, if not the, biggest in China)... We entertained ourselves by shopping around for the ubiquitous Uighur knives - which every man carries - and which are sharp enough to completely remove the hair on one's arm, as the stallholders were always happy to demonstrate!
The real highlight and purpose of our visit to Kashgar was the Sunday Market. Supposedly 50,000 people descend on Kashgar from all of Central Asia to trade horses, goats, sheep and cows as well as a multitude of goods - however since most of Central Asia lies hundreds of kilometres west of Kashgar beyond the Tian Shan and Pamir ranges, the crowd was almost exclusively Uighur and Chinese...
The next day we boarded the Kashgar-Urumqi train - a 23 hour, 1500km journey which turned out to be extremely comfortable despite being forced to eat a whole, raw cucumber for breakfast by a very generous fellow-passanger!