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Kashgar: The Sunday Market, The Old City – A Dream Realized

I have a little story to tell you about Kashgar and how pivotal it was in my eventual move to China.

Kashgar, market town smack in the middle of the Silk Road, with hundreds of years of traveller and trader history. I don’t think I was even consciously aware that it was in China. Four years ago my husband began coming to China for work, visits that became more frequent and more prolonged. He could obviously see the writing on the wall that I couldn’t – our whole family was going to need to relocate to China within the year. I had listened with rapt attention to his stories about Shanghai, but China was a huge unknown quantity, and only the previous year I had turned down a trip to the Beijing Olympics on ‘ethical humanitarian grounds’. I was so full of shit.

Realising I may need a bit more convincing before a relocation was proposed, after one particular trip he bought a book for me called ‘Kashgar – Oasis City on China’s Old Silk Road’. It was full of incredible photographs of a city that had lived only in my imagination – dusty adobe houses, cool courtyards shaded by trellised grapevines, mosques, deserts, camels, brass and copper  (you can read an interview with the photographer John Gollings here).

In particular the images of the Sunday Market in Kashgar captured me completely. The men in embroidered caps, faces like oiled walnuts, surrounded by richly coloured carpets and donkey carts. The rows of brass teapots and oil lamps. It became a burning obsession.
“Kashgar’s in China you know” my husband said. “We might get to visit if we lived there.”
So there you have it. A promise to visit Kashgar became part of the decision to move to China, all based on a book of photographs of a place I’d never been but longed to see. Once here, I was in no rush – Kashgar wasn’t going anywhere. Then I heard about the attempted destruction of the Old City, narrow lanes full of traditional adobe houses, quiet and mysterious, and I knew the time had come to see before it was too late.

Kashgar didn’t disappoint. It’s all you imagine of an ancient silk road city and more. I think I won’t write any more, and let you see for yourself the beauty of fascination of the place. Smell the spices, taste the juicy pomegranates and the char-grilled meats, feel the smooth cool dusty adobe walls of the quiet alleys of the old city and hear the hawker cries of the busy, bustling Sunday Market. You must go.

  • NB Posse

    Great photos … but the question on everyone's lips is, of course, what did you buy??

  • Fiona

    Ha! The list…..
    1. Kashgar teapot
    2. handmade knife which had to go back to Shanghai by bus on its own wth a police declaration, thus costing way more than the knife itself
    3. Spices
    4. Dried fruit – figs, sultanas, apricots, mulberries.
    5. Large antique brass oil pot. Don't ask.
    6. Kashgar bread tin with decorative lid
    7. Large ladle
    8. Gold earrings

    Had a great time! Not the place for shoes or clothes, but kitchen equipment heaven.

  • christa @ mental foodie

    You hubby know you well 🙂 I had to laugh when you said "I was so full of…" 🙂

    Hey what camera/lenses do you use?

  • Fiona

    You know I'm so ashamed to admit what my attitudes were before I'd ever set foot in China. I was full of ….!! It's so much more complicated than I, as a ridiculous idealist, thought. I've learnt many things including never to make assumptions based on partial information, either from the western or the Chinese media.

    Kashgar another great case in point with the whole Uighur battle for independence….

    Back to cameras! I'm using a Canon 1000D with an 18-200mm lens. It's a basic set-up, which suits me well, because I'm too lazy to ever change lenses! (in fact, I don't have any other lenses – I'm a woefully inadequate gear-head)

  • Em

    Amazing shots! .. sell a few of these and I reckon you could treat yourself to a new camera and lenses!

  • Fiona

    Thanks Em! Might just do that – I dropped the camera on its head a few too many times on the trip and am just waiting for it to pack itself in so I can justify a new one!

  • The Muse of The Day

    Kashgar- now I must go there. Your photos and words have convinced me that it must be done. Fabulous, fantastic, I must go. Carolina

  • Ada

    Hi Fiona, I love your travelogues and photos, very impressive!

    May I ask if you and your husband travel alone or join a local tour? I'm so tempted to book a trip to the Silk Road now that I've seen your pics!


  • Fiona

    Hi Ada, the Silk Road is a must-see trip, absolutely!

    We travelled alone for the flexibility (well, as alone as a posse of myself, my husband, our two children, and my parents-in-law gets). In and around Kashgar we had a wonderful guide and driver and between us we arranged an itinerary, but booked our own flights and hotels through Ctrip, a reputable online agency. Waheed can arrange as much or as little for you as you like (from car, driver, hotels, everything – in my case, cooking classes and staying in a yurt) and has done many private Silk Road tours. He speaks excellent English.

    Alternately, there are many tour companies offering Silk Road adventures, I've heard very good reports about Country Holiday's tours and several friends have done them. They're all small group tours.

  • Beau Lotus 涟

    Hi Fiona, your photos were beautiful, they've brought much of your trip to life…

    I've always wanted to visit the Silk Road though 10 months in Shanghai I've only been to Hangzhou. There are always so many excuses one could come up with to not move around…

  • Ada

    Fiona, thanks a lot for your useful tip! ^^

  • Joseph

    I heard about the place and it's definitely full of history when it comes to trading and marketing. At first, I also didn't know that it's in China. After reading your blog, I was just amazed that the place is in that country.

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  • xinjiangtravel

    Thanks for your post, you've taken really great photos, great post, enjoyed it.
    Indeed many people heard of the name Kashgar or Silk Road but they haven't heard of the name Uyghur or Xinjiang at all, i hope the people who comes to Uyghur region for a visit, do little bit of promotion about the region, share their experience with others, bc i many times heard from foreigners that they first scared to come to visit Xinjiang, bc some people try to ruin the reputation of Uyghurs, but accidently it worked in some case. Little bit insights and experience will answer many questions. Thanks and cheers.

  • Fiona

    Thanks – so happy you enjoyed it!

    We had a wonderful time thanks both to the beauty of the area and also to the kindness and hospitality of many local Uyghurs and Tajiks, and we look forward to returning to Xinjiang again in 2012.