A Visual Tour of the Kashgar Old City (Prior to its destruction)

A Tour of Kashgar’s "Old City"

February 25, 2009 | 1 Comment

A mud wall in the Kashgar Old City

There’s a good reason why everybody tells you to visit the old portions of a Chinese town. You know, the Beijing hutongs, Pingyao’s walled city, or the ruins located near most any north western Chinese city.  Besides the fact that the modern parts of town can be repetitive and boring, the old sections – like the Kashgar Old City – are just so darn cool!

So when I found out during the planning phases of our trip to Kashgar that we’d be able to walk around an old city in the middle of town that is virtually untouched by modern society, I was more than a little intrigued.

The Kashgar Old City

Men walking in a Kashgar Market

There actually seem to be a couple of “Old Towns” within the northern part of Kashgar, some hidden behind large buildings, others jutting out in a proud show of defiance against the encroaching modern society.  You won’t find any Chinese influence in the architecture and the only occupants within the walls are of Uyghur decent.

They’ve been here for over 2000 years and I doubt they plan on moving any time soon.  In my search for a good souvenir to take back from Kashgar I found no better place to buy handmade crafts than with the locals who reside along the Kashgar Old City roads.

That is, if you want to call them “roads“.  Plenty of motorcycles, bicycles and wagons slowly meandered along the paths as we walked, but noticeably absent was the sound of many cars and car horns.  Most of the time we were walking on dirt but occasionally the more heavily used areas were laid with bricks, stone or tiles.  Any time we went inside someone’s house we had to take our shoes off, and it’s no wonder since any rain, scare though it is, would make for quite the muddy shoe.

A mud building in the Kashgar Old City

I looked closely at the walls and can’t believe they they’ve stood for so long.  It seems like a combination of hay, mud, clay and maybe some spit thrown in for good measure.  From the looks of it I could run straight through these walls leaving a cartoon-esque imprint of myself, but a solid hit with the fist told me I’d probably just end up with a broken nose if I tried.

The doors to these homes are absolutely beautiful, though – usually two hinged doors crafted out of wood with intricate designs and decorated with brass knobs or handles (see picture below).  According to someone we talked with in the city, a locked door means nobody is home or a woman is home alone, one open door signifies family is present and two open doors tells the world you have guests.

The China travel books we read told us to enter by certain gates, gates which are guarded by people with fancy looking booths, maps, and cash registers.  The truth is that you can just walk around the corner and enter the Kashgar Old City wherever you want.  Sure you won’t have a personal guide or a map but sometimes you don’t need those things in order to enjoy the beauty of an aged city.  One of my favorite memories of Kashgar was walking down those narrow roads, watching the children play and pretending that I was actually experiencing Kashgar life centuries earlier.

It’s an often used cliche, but it still applies: Like a fine wine, Kashgar Old City just seem to get better as the decades and centuries go by.

A mud house in Kashgar's Old City

It looks like it’s about to fall down, doesn’t it?  Hard as a rock, though.

A beautiful door in Kashgar's Old City

These Kashgar Old City doors are a beautiful contrast to the brown walls and each is unique in color and design.

A traditional Uyghur courtyard home in the Kashgar Old City

Once inside, these houses are no longer dull.  Alluring courtyards provide a cool gathering place for friends and family.

Women making pottery in Kashgar's Old City

Some residents still make a living selling crafts, like these women and their hand-painted jars. 5-30 RMB each for a small one…not bad.

Children smiling in Kashgar's Old City

Kids make great photo subjects no matter what kind of city you’re in.

Special thanks to Andrea and David for use of some of their pictures taken during our trip to Kashgar.

Update (03/08): Better get around to visiting this place soon!  According to news reports, the destruction of the Kashgar Old City has already begun and will be replaced with newer buildings.  Such a shame.

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About Josh Summers

Josh is a writer, musician and entrepreneur who currently resides in Urumqi, capital of China's western province of Xinjiang. He has been traveling and writing about this region since 2006 and has no plans to stop in the near future.

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