Pulling into Kashgar, our driver had to ask directions several times to find the hotel listed on our itinerary. After the Khotan experience, our expectations were low – so when we pulled up in front of a four-star, luxury hotel, the Barony, we were amazed and disbelieving.
I immediately organized a laundry pile. When I tossed a fleece jacket over to Tom to put in the bag, a cloud of desert dust hung in the air between us!
This larger city had a different feel from Khotan, at once more Chinese – the main roads were lined with tall hotels and office buildings, all obviously very new – and more international, reflecting its centuries-old status as the end of the silk road and a major trading center. In a ten-yard space of a city block we could see snazzily-dressed Chinese ladies in short boots and bright jackets alongside shrouded Central Asian women and suit-clad Pakistani and Kazakh men.
We were greeted by our tour guide, Miss Wu, at the hotel, and the next morning, fueled by a reasonably American-style breakfast in the hotel lobby (though the only milk on offer was, to Miranda’s dismay, hot) we headed out to explore the city. Tom was excited – he had brought along some photos of his 1987 visit, and Miss Wu looked through them with him, noting where certain monuments and skylines had been torn down, built up or overwhelmed by new developments.
Any tourist’s first stop in Kashgar is its centerpiece, the Id Kah mosque overlooking the enormous Id Kah square, where the girls struck a pose:
The mosque, the largest in China when you include all of its courtyards, has been built, rebuilt, renovated and expanded continuously for over 500 years. The interior is very peaceful, filled with trees and fountains. We weren’t allowed to take photos, and the hour of prayer had passed, so we only saw a few dozen men sitting on their prayer rugs, meditating or quietly conversing.
Taking advantage of this “social studies moment,” we talked to the girls about Islam, one of the three “religions of the book.” Since their own heritage is half-Christian (from me, the lapsed Catholic) and Tom (the cultural Jew), they were very interested in the similarities & differences between the three religions. Not to mention the fantastic, almost unbelievable tale that is the life of Mohammed.
Tom later went back and bought some 20th century Chinese currency:
They also started to notice the completely-veiled women, whom we saw with increasing frequency:
And then, we passed into the heart of Kashgar’s
old, mud-walled city.