Xinjiang: Uygur Autonomous Region
The People's Republic of China

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Xinjiang used to be Eastern Turkestan and has a history similar to Tibet's in that China had always viewed the region covetously and the PRC took it over bodily after WW II. It has historically been peopled by Uygurs who look like and are related to Tajiks and other Central Asiatic peoples; Turks, not Han Chinese at all, and Moslem, to boot: Urumqi ("oo roo moo chi"), the capital of the region, is the largest Moslem city outside of Indonesia and most Westerners have never heard of it.

Kashgar was an important stopping point on the Silk Road. The Silk Road was an enormously-active trade route between China, India, Central Asia and Eastern Europe from before the time of Christ to the Renaissance. The Moslems cut trade along this route post Genghis Khan and helped precipitate Europe's search for an alternative route to the Indies ... Christopher Columbus and all that.

The Silk Road began, roughly, in Xi'an (also known as Chang'an), the city of the rows of hundreds of terracotta soldiers that were buried along with the short-lived Chinese Emperor Qin (or Ch'in, whence China) in 200 BC or so. Xi'an was also the capital of China during the Tang Dynasty (618 -  907 AD; the dynasty in which gunpowder was invented), which was the height of the Silk Road's importance and referred to by some as China's Golden Era. [Interestingly, the Taiwanese exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art a few years ago of Chinese art pilfered from the Forbidden City featured pieces from almost every period from antiquity to modern and omitted the Tang Dynasty entirely.]

Xi'an Terracotta Warriors

From Xi'an, the road wended north-westward until it came to Dunhuang (of Singing Sands fame) at the furthest western end of the Great Wall and the beginning the the vast deserts that comprise most of modern China.

China is roughly oblong with lush farming along the Eastern seaboard and an enormous wasteland to the west of that, in many ways reminiscent of the western United States. This desert is ringed with huge mountains: to the North, the Tien Shan or Heavenly Mountains; to the south by the Kun Lun (translation uncertain) Shan that comprise the northern end of the Tibetan plateau; and to the West by the Pamirs which are on Afghanistan's eastern border.

At Dunhuang, the Silk Road forked and took two routes, one north and one south along the inner edge of the Tien Shan and Kun Lun Shan (mountains), respectively. They first skirted the the Gobi Desert and then the dreaded Taklimakan (Uygur for "Goes in but doesn't come out" or some such).

These two routes came together again in Kashgar, the city that is said to be geographically further from an ocean than any other place on earth.

Kashgar sits just a few miles east of the Pamir mountains at the junction not only of the two branches of the Silk Road but also the road up from India and Pakistan. This route has been replaced with the Karakoram Highway, built at an enormous cost of human life, estimated to exceed that even of the Great Pyramids of Egypt, over which in 1993 was said to have been carried a grand total of $4,000,000 worth of trade (locals are enormously proud of such a large number).

Kashgar is an amazingly lively and Medieval town where, every Sunday, the Uygur farmers and tradesmen gather from the surrounding countryside, leaving their yurts and bringing their families and livestock on two-wheeled donkey-pulled carts, shouting "POSH! POSH!" which basically means, "Get the hell out of my way or I'll run you down!". True Believer or infidel, it doesn't matter; you'd better hop.

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Rug Weaving

Xinjiang has its own
rug pattern

They really do live in yurts

What CC was looking for

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Along the Karakoram
Highway into Pakistan

Silk on the Silk Road

POSH!

The real thing

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Along the Golden Road to Samarkand,
one finds other places ... like Kashgar

Urchins urching

Tien Shan from an Aeroflot TU-54

Vegetable Stand

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Man on the street

... and another

Motel, Karakoram style:
Caravansari

The surrounding mountainside is bleak: Mustagh Ata

 


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George Fisher 1994-2004