Thursday, 16 June 2011

On the Silk Road in Kashgar

You never seem to arrive somewhere in China and think 'gosh this is smaller than I expected'. Kashgar is no exception. First impressions are the that famed Silk Road town has been unsympathetically cloned into a sprawling Chinese city, taking many historical buildings with it. The Chini Bagh hotel and former British Consulate is one of the victims. We had hoped to stay here, having read the fantastic In Xanadu by William Dalrymple, but we were met by a noisy, dusty building site, although it was still open for business. With a little effort however, Kashgar's unique hidden charms reveal themselves. Vast markets to lose yourself in, little mosques, intricately carved wooden buildings in the old town and rammed earth buildings hidden amongst skyscrapers. The food is also great. Everyday in Kashgar feels like a bank holiday as the BBQs are fired up for another day of mutton kebabs, with plov, lagman noodles or steamed dumplings.

We knew the border between China and Kyrgyzstan was closed at the weekend but we thought we'd just pop along to the PSB (visa) office to see if they could help us with the predicament we had found ourselves in. After several hours of waiting for the person on duty to turn up we went through the usual rigmarole of the fact that a Tibetan Permit could not be extended, although we were relieved to see that he did actually know what this bit of A4 paper was. He than said that the border was open. When we looked skeptical he phoned a friend and confirmed that the border would indeed be open the following day. This now left us with even more of a dilemma but after mulling over the options we went with our gut instinct. The border would be closed and he was talking shit. We'd stay in Kashgar to see the Sunday animal market and take our chances with the border on Monday.

BBQs being fired up in Kashgar old town

The Chini Bagh Hotel and former British Consulate, now a building site. We decided to find somewhere else to stay.

Pigeon street - dinner anyone?

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