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Iíve only been once to China, for three months, as part of a journey of half a year, from Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong, and China to Pakistan.
From Urumqi (in Chinese called Wurumushi) I had to fly to Kashgar, the Chinese capital of the silk road from Xiían to Istanbul. Due to local uprising, some two hundred Chinese were killed. No one knows how may Muslims died. The tourists in the plane were treated like a pack, and we got our own Han guide. His job was to make sure that we stayed together, and did not start any conversation with the locals. The latter went all by itself, as long a he was in the neighborhood. He was absolutely the only Chinese with Rayban sunglasses, and a nice fur coat, whilst it was about 40 degrees centigrade. Locals crossed the street to walk on the other side as soon as they spotted him. His assistant was some kind of nerd who would even got lost when asked to fetch the waiter in a restaurant.
I donít like to be part of a pack of tourists, and secretly agreed with the others that we would all go in different directions at the market. The ďguideĒ soon gave up. That evening we met him again, and he told one of us that an important fax arrived from Holland. How could he have known that, how did he recognize it as dutch, and how did he knew about the contents that all was fine? Weird guy.
Besides, he also had his own little tourist office, and sold maps of Kasghar. Much later, in Pakistan, I met the maker of that map. He immediately recognized his piece, but never got any royalties.
Kashgar is a very beautiful Turkish city. They speak some kind of Turkish as well, and it appears that modern turks are descendants from people from this part of Asia, that is known as Turkmenistan. Years ago I traveled through Turkey for months, and picked up some basic Turkish, like counting and essential words like bread and beer. Locals were amazed by this, as they could understand me.
Kashgar consists of two cities: the original one and the Chinese one, also called Kashi. Lotís of concrete buildings in Kashi, lots of wooden buildings in Kashgar. At Sundays thereís the big market. That is an explosion of colors and smells, you wonít believe it. Breathtaking. Whilst Han Chinese wear dull blue uniforms, the locals wear colorful clothes from silk. The scarfs that women wear are made of the finest silk in beautiful colors. Sometimes they wear batik-like clothes in yellow and black, with flames of red and blue. I think these are Uygurs, but there are also Turkmenish, Tsjetsjenes and some Kyrgies. Kashgar, as capital of the silk road, has always been a commercial center and thus visited by many local cultures, but time never got grip on it. Horse carts, mules, unpaved roads, a chair near the road appears to be the barber shop, a street filled with smog because of a kebab shop, in short a real delight. Very friendly people, and I feel like being in a remote part of Turkey.
I went to a book shop, to buy a Koran for a friend of mine. That can only be done below the counter, as Han tolerance of Islam is minimal. I also bought an old Arabic manuscript. The only thing I could read was the date, and after calculating back it turned out to be 1920. Zahra, the Iranian ex of my friend, knew how to decipher the book as partly Arabic, parlt Pharsi (a main language from Iran) and partly in another language. It was an astrological treat, for example on how to calculate the most preferred day to do purchases.
After Kashgar we all went to Pakistan, in an expensive bus arranged by our guide. Kashgar is an oasis in the taklamakan desert (meaning: you can go in, but you canít get out), but in the distance we could see the Himalayas. We entered the mountains, and spent the night in Taxgurkan. This used to be a stronghold, with a village around it, in a green and fertile valley, very idyllic. From a distance the castle looked very impressive, but it turned out to be in a really bad shape. As the village is that small, the guide knew how to keep us together, and away from the locals. No fun at all.
The next day we went further to the borders with Pakistan. The Chinese customs are located about 200 kilometers before the actual frontiers. As I had some renminbi left, I bought two bottles of Chinese hard liquor, what else can you do with this currency. Maybe booze wasnít a good choice, as Pakistan is made dry, as in no alcohol whatsoever.
After the customs we really entered the Himalayas. The Karakoram highway path was curving up, following rivers and streams. The mountains became bigger and bigger, covered with bright snow, and the summit is the Khunjerab pass, at 4780 meters the highest frontiers in the world, to Pakistan.