Kashgar Overview

There are a few choice places where being in the middle of nowhere means, paradoxically, being in the middle of everything. Kashgar (Kāshí, 喀什) is one of them. Some 4,000 km (2, 485 mi) from Beijing, 24 hours overland from Urumqi and a relatively short, if exceedingly rugged, distance from Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan, this ancient Silk Road oasis town has long put the "central" in "Central Asia." Over the centuries, Kashgar has served as a vital point of contact between far-flung Asian cultures, with traders, missionaries and mercenaries mixing it up and making it happen.

Despite the highways and high-rises that have come with modernization and the influx of Han Chinese from the distant east, Kashgar remains a predominantly Muslim and Turkic city, due to it's large population of Uyghur people. The cultural prestige of the enormous Id Kah Mosque easily overshadows that of the giant Chairman Mao Zedong statue in Kashgar's People's Square (Rénmín Guǎngchǎng, 人民广场), and the scent of Uyghur lamb kebabs wafts through the city's colorful bazaars as it has for centuries.

And, despite the advent of rail and air links to the outside world, Kashgar is still in the middle of the Taklamakan Desert (Tǎkèlāmǎgān Shāmò, 塔克拉玛干沙漠), the name of which (not in Chinese) translates to "Who goes in does not come out," with the Tian Shan range to the east and the high mountain passes into Pakistan, Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan to the west. The natural surroundings—including specatular Lake Karakul (Kālā Hú, 喀拉湖)—make Kashgar not only a great city to visit, but also a great base for exploration of astonishingly beautiful landscapes.

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