"The Silk Road" Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Province by jorgejuansanchez
Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Province Travel Guide: 760 reviews and 1,881 photos
The Silk Road was the great Tran Asian highway connecting China with far away Imperial Rome. Along it travelled precious cargoes of silk, gold, gems, ivory, plants, animals, art, and, the most important: Knowledge. (I advise you to read this report listening Kitaro “Silk Road”).
Xinjiang (or Sinkiang) is a world apart in China (well, Tibet and Inner Mongolia too, but the differences in Xinjiang are more patent). Most of its inhabitants, the Uygur, are muslims and belong to the Turcoman ethnical and linguistic group; they are related to the Uzbeks, Kyrgyz’s and Kazakhs. Xinjiang has the size of Spain, France, Germany and all the United Kingdom put together. Its Western side is surrounded by the high mountains of the Tien Shan range, and a significant part of its territory is dominated by the terrific desert Takla Makan (what literarily means in Uygur language: “you will go in but you will not go out”) with a surface similar to that of Italy, and inside its sand are buried many lost cities rich in treasures that were the leitmotiv of many Indiana Jones’ adventurers type in the XIX century to travel deeply into that inhospitable part of the world. The most famous Chinese travellers of the past, as Zhang Qian (the precursor of the Silk Road) and the monks Fa Xian and much later Xuan Zang (this one is my traveller hero together with the legendary Mullah Nasrudin) called at Kashi (or Kashgar) during their long and passionate journeys in search of knowledge, as well as the Chinese poets and travellers Li Bo and Du Fu, the wise Kumarajiva, and, of course, the most famous traveller of the world: Marco Polo. The goods leaving Chang’an (as was then known present Xian) travelled to the Eastern Mediterranean Sea though three ramifications. One of them traversed Xinjiang, and in Kashi one road crossed the Karakorum, another one the Pamir and the third one followed the Torugart Pass up in the Tien Shan. In Kashi you will admire the greatest Mosque in China, called Id Kah, in the centre of the town, which together to the annexed square has a capacity for 100.000 people. Its weekly bazaar (on Sundays) is one of the most exotic in Asia and one of the main tourist attractions.
Kashi played an important role when England and Russia were involved in a sort of “cold war” rivalry that the first denominated “Great Game” and the second “Tournament of Shadows” for their ascendancy over the territories in Central Asia. So important was that region for the Russians that Tsar Alexander II sold in 1867 Alaska to the Americans for a little bit more than 7 million dollars to finance its defence. The English sent explorers/spies to that area of such category as Alexander Burnes, Moorcroft, Curzon, or Younghusband (who was a specialist in Xinjiang and Kashgaria and later would invade Tibet), while the Russians dispatched Lithuanian polyglot Jan Vitkevich, and the Polish Bronislav Gromchevsky, expert in Kashi and the Takla Makan. The Great Game ended shortly after the defeat of Russia before Japan in the 1904-05 war, and both powers signed an entente. Tibet and Xinjiang were awarded to China. Turkestan entered in the Russian sphere. Afghanistan was granted to England, and Persia was shared between the two powers. Everybody was happy (except the natives).
One of the most didactic excursions that one can do in Xinjiang is to the caves with the rests of fantastic frescoes painted in the walls by Buddhist monks along the Silk Road that the Westerners did not have time to remove. The Europeans stripped many of these frescoes spoiling sometimes more than what they stole from the caves. Some of the perpetrators of these pilferages were the Swedish explorer Sven Hedin, German Albert von Le Coq (he was well educated and spoke Chinese), French Paul Pelliot, American Langdon Warner, and the Hungarian born Aureil Stein, nationalized British. Today there are more frescoes in the Indische Kunstabteilung of the Staatliche Museen in Berlin, or in Paris, in Saint Petersburg, in Tokyo, in London, in USA, Korea, and in private collections of Florence, than in Sinkiang. The most fabulous frescoes of all are those of the Mogao grottoes, near Dunhuang, in Gansu, but those of Bezeklik, near Turpan (called One Thousand Buddha’s) are also excellent, especially for its location in a kind of canyon in the second deepest depression of the planet.
A good alternative to eat in the hotels or in big restaurants is to stroll around the narrow streets of Kashi, near the Great Mosque, and eat in the stalls the typical kebabs with aromatic tea and fruits (watermelons in Kashi are enormous and delicious, especially those brought from the town of Hami). To drink I advise you the world famous Chinese beer TSINGTAO, which has a German formula! Beer in Chinese is “PI JOU” (the Kaiser Wilhelm II, after some incidents where a Chinese Secret Society killed two German christian missionaries in Shandong Peninsula, forced to the Chinese Government to sign a 99 years lease over the Jiaozhou Bay and the town of Tsingtao, also known as Qingdao). You should try the Chinese strong wine or rather sweet liquor (tasting like the Georgian wines), made on fermented rice, which is more enjoyable than Japanese sake. There is a popular and delicious canned drink called in English “Coconut Drink”, made in the lovely Island of Hainan.
Central market in Urumqi is very convenient to eat kebaps and bread very cheap. kebaps are prepared with good meat, and... more travel advice
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