November 2014: I flew into Kashgar, China for 3 days as part of a multi-week trip that started in Kashgar and ended in Pakistan via travel over the Karakoram Mountains with my friend Charlie. Charlie and I traveled independently. We spent our first night in kashgar, 2nd night in the mountain village of Yarkant and on our 3rd day we took a sleep bus across the Khunjerab pass, the world’s highest border crossing across the Karakoram Mountains at 15,396 feet.

 

Kashgar in the north, one of the most prominent Silk Road era cities in China

Kashar location in western China in Xinjiang Province was one of the most important Silk Road era cities in ancient China. Western China is a wild area near a vast sand sea and the dramatic Karakoram Mountain range. The majority of people are Uighur Muslims and in recent years there has been a separatist movement of the Uighurs to break-away from China much like the Buddhist Tibetans or at least to achieve more autonomy. As a result, China has increased its efforts to increase their control over the Uighurs and their religion and China has been accused of establishing concentration prison camps to re-educate the Uighurs into a more secular Chinese version of Islam. Chinese soldiers patrolling the streets and roadblocks were a common site that reminded me of my previous visit to Lhasa, Tibet. Beijing was also reshaping the ancient face of Kashgar and bulldozing the old traditional marketplaces and structures to replace them with modern buildings and apartments. Chinese monuments and murals depicting propaganda were also being erected around kashgar. Few if any people spoke English in this part of China and Chinese officials are suspicious of foreigners so it was a tremendous help to be able to travel with my friend Charlie, who was born in Taiwan and spoke mandarin.

Monument of General Mao

General Mao

Patrol of Chinese Soldiers in Kashgar

Like many of my trips, I tried to fit too much into short period of time and this trip was no exception. I could have easily of spent two weeks exploring just Western China but instead I only had 3 days before crossing into Northern Pakistan. The regions history, cultures and scenery are just stunning and deserving of far more than 3 days. Getting lost in the many bazaars and just wandering the streets and observing the daily lives of the locals and trying the street food was enough to keep me entertained for three days alone.

Street transport

Street transport

Bazaar

Bazaar

Bazaar

Bazaar

Bazaar

Bazaar

Uigher Man

Bazaar

Uigher man

Charlie and I hired a taxi to travel to Yarkant, a small freezing mountain village close to the Pakistan border where there were many Chinese military installations. Along the way we passed many families of nomads with their camel and yak caravans and some sleeping in yurts in high alpine pastures. Yarkant itself with a beautiful village with ancient castle ruins surrounded by towering peaks. Yarkant is the kind of place where you feel like the only foreigner that has ever visited. The locals are very curious, and the place feels so very remote. The highlight was when Charlie and I visited a ruined castle from ages ago and a battalion of Chinese border guards were taking a group photo on the castle wall. We asked if we could photograph them and they were not only excited to be photographed, but they also let Charlie pose with them in some of the photos.

Charlie at a Yarkant restaraunt 

Mighty karakoram Mountains

Mountain fortress

Chinese soldiers posing on the mountain fortress 

Chinese soldiers posing on the mountain fortress 

Chinese soldiers posing on the mountain fortress 

To get to the Khunerab Pass, foreigners required a special permit that we would have to apply for, and we discovered that we could be only applied for it in Kashgar but there was a convenient loophole. As long as we traveled to the Khunjerab pass in a public bus, we wouldn’t need the permit, so we booked a bus ticket in a sleeper bus and traveled the long road mostly under construction up to the world’s highest border pass.

Sleeper bus on the way to Pakistan

We departed the newly built Chinese immigration building, a large modern monster of a building and entered the Pakistani one, which was much smaller, less impressive and chaotic. See here for my Pakistan adventure: Kalash People, Descended from the Armies of Alexandar the Great, and Traveling the Karakoram Highway, Pakistan | Venture The Planet.

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