Kashgar is an oasis town in China’s northwest province of Xinjiang. The city is home to photogenic Uyghurs (the indigenous population of the region), fat-tailed sheep, one of the best markets in Asia (the Sunday livestock market) and decent kebabs. Kashgar’s strategic location, close to Pakistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, means it also has a rich and varied association with the Silk Route, plus the city played a significant role in The Great Game (*).
(*) The Great Game is an absorbing period in recent history (circa 1813 until 1907). It was the term coined to describe the political rivalry and military conflict between the two superpowers at the time – Great Britain and Russia. The Russians were expanding their empire south through Central Asia whilst the British were pushing north from their base in the Indian subcontinent and Kashgar happened to be in the middle. Indeed the Seman Hotel in Kashgar was the Russian Consulate at the height of The Great Game whilst the Chini Bagh Hotel used to be the British Consulate. The two buildings are located on the same road, a mere 600 metres apart. I find this totally fascinating and The Great Game has been dubbed the first Cold War because there was plenty of spying, double agents, secret notes, stalemates, honey traps and similar shenanigans going on but not a whole lot of fighting considering how long it lasted.
For a great take on the whole period, Peter Hopkirk’s 1992 publication; The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia is a superb read. For a lighter read, try George MacDonald Fraser’s 1975 novel; Flashman in the Great Game.
Kashgar in 1992
And one more thing. When I first visited Kashgar in 1992, I spent much of my time in the Old Town. This, plus the Sunday livestock market, were the highlights of my visit. The alleyways were narrow and full of Uyghurs going about their daily business and the whole area oozed atmosphere. So imagine my disappointment when Kirsty and I returned twenty years later in 2012. We went to find the Old Town and although we found the odd street that was still reminiscent of what I remembered, we predominately found scenes like the one in the photo.
Kashgar in 2012
I am aware of the rift between the Uyghurs and the Han Chinese authorities and keep up to date with current affairs in the region but ultimately, I have to side with the Uyghurs. The authorities always have an answer for their actions but you just can’t go around bulldozing century-old buildings and destroying communities all in the name of so-called progress. It’s simply not right, in my opinion, and it’s no wonder the Uyghurs are angry. I would be if I was in their shoes.