Sorry, once again, for the out-of-order storytelling. I was in Kashgar for ten days just before Hotan. I rarely stay in one place for that long, but it was a mixture of being sick(-ish), needing to take it slow for a bit, and meeting truly wonderful friends.
I met five bicyclists (among other awesome people) there, and let’s just say, for the sake of brevity, they’re all on long journeys (10,000+ kilometers). I think I might hop on a bike myself next year, once the weather warms back up. There are three reasons why: first, I love bicycling (isn’t that reason enough?); second, I want to hit up some spots that aren’t otherwise easily accessible; third, and this one is a big one for me, I want to stop talking about reducing my carbon footprint and actually reduce my carbon footprint (it’s kind of ironic that talking about reducing your carbon footprint literally increases it!).
Oh, right, I went off on that tangent because I wanted to say that I almost bought a bike in Kashgar. I had my pick of routes and partners, all experienced and awesome people. In the end, however, it was a touch too much risk for me. You see, Kashgar is the westernmost metropolis in China. It would have taken me a month just to bike my way back out of Xīnjiāng (the province where Kashgar is located). By then, it would have been the end of the year (i.e. even colder!), and there wouldn’t have been many places along the way to change my mind about bicycling. Next year, for sure!
Kashgar, though, was amazing. It’s the center of Uyghur culture in China, and you can feel it. Your Mandarin isn’t going to do you much good here!
What remains of the real old city is absolutely stunning. I’ve never seen anything like it in the world. Clay bricks and mud fashioned into humble abodes haphazardly piled several stories high. Pure, beautiful, organic chaos!
You approach via an old-looking (more on this in a bit) bridge:
From up close, you don’t get as good a sense of how chaotically the residences and rooms are arranged inside. The picture below is quite pedestrian because I’m too low. The view from the bridge above is better, but it’s too far away (perhaps it’s finally time to start using a real camera; zoom would be awesome!).
The next photo, though, captures the character of these adobe abodes pretty well. Look how many stories there are! The doors and windows are so randomly placed! Why are there so many different types of bricks! You can feel the history spilling out of these walls!
Just fantastic! My enthusiasm, however, was quickly abated. As I walked back through the other parts of the “old town”, I realized they weren’t old at all. They’ve been rebuilt. So many of the actual old buildings are presently being torn down to make room for the new, old buildings.
And then there’s the People’s Square, an enormous concrete square with a giant statue of Mao. Nothing could be more out of place here, and you can’t help but think they “paved paradise and put up a parking lot”! It nearly brought me to tears to think what has been lost here.
I can’t say whether Uyghur culture is better than the Hàn’s, or vice versa, but it’s about respect. Each person ought to be able to live the life he or she desires; respect tempers that freedom ever so slightly. Respect means that your freedom can’t impinge on the freedom of others. I can live my life however I want, with the exception that I can’t tell you how to live your life.
That giant “parking lot” in the center of town? I don’t know, man.