Kashgar, also known as Kashi, is the most western city in China. The region is located between the borders of Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, and Tajikistan, as well as the Taklamakan desert. Its unique location positioned Kashgar as a strategical destination along the Silk Road, the Middle East, and Europe for over 2,000 years.
The city is in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, where Uighur Muslims are the main ethnic minority. Today Kashgar sees the influence of the Han, and modern buildings circling the old town. However, Kashgar managed to maintain part of their historical elements that are worth visiting.
After a two-month stay in Pakistan, we finally arrived in Kashgar in the Xinjiang. A comeback to a city we had visited two years ago when we planned to cross over to Pakistan and head to the Karakoram Highway. Our second visit to China this year, and the third in three years allows us to leverage the 10-year visa we got in the China Consulate in San Francisco.
Kashgar Old City
Though a large part of the Kashgar Old Town was leveled down a few years ago, several traditional streets are still standing and give a glimpse of what the Uighur city used to be. Another section of the old town has been rebuilt anew, a “new but aged” feel that reminded us of Universal Studios.
Uighur men wear traditional jacket and hat, Uighur women colorful dresses and shiny jewelry, as they stroll the old town as part of their daily routine. Street vendors sell bread fresh from the day, mutton skewers, the famous kebabs from Kashgar.
To learn more about the history and traditions, click here to book a private tour of the old town.
Kashgar Animal Market
One of the essential livestock markets in Central Asia, the Kashgar market is also one of the oldest as it dates back to more than 2,000 years ago. Though the market is open every day, the Sunday market is by far the most impressive.
Sheep, goats, cows, horses, donkeys, and even camels, are present in large number on that day. At the Kashgar Sunday market, you can watch the interaction between sellers and buyers, bargaining like their ancestors did thousands of years ago in the ancient Kashgar livestock market.
The animal market is outside of town. You can take a local bus but they tend to get busy, especially on the way back. A taxi or a car is the most convenient way to reach it. Click here to check how to organize your visit to the Sunday bazaar.
Located outside the walls of the old town under a corrugated roof, Kashgar bazaar carries on an ancestral tradition, where goods have been bought and sold since the time of the caravans along the Kashgar Silk Road. The perfect shopping opportunity, from spices to meat, clothes to shoes, fruits to kitchen pots, and more.
Similarly, the Kashgar Sunday bazaar is at its busiest. You can visit by yourself or get a guide to better understand some of these ancestral customs. Click here to see what tours are available to visit the Kashgar Bazaar.
Khoja Abakh Mausoleum
The Khoja Abakh Tomb features super ceramic tiles dating back to the 17th century. Located at about 5 km from Kashgar, the religious monument is one of the most sacred ones for the Muslims of Xinjiang. Khoja Abakh was a former king who controlled several different cities in the region and is considered to be a saint by many Uighurs in China.
Kashgar tours can be organized to include the Mausoleum.
- 2-Day Private Tour to Kashgar
- Price: $338.00
Id Kah Mosque
The famous Kashgar mosque of beautiful yellow tiles is the spiritual heard of Kashgar, in addition to being one of the largest in China. Built from 1442, its large plaza can host up to 20,000 people during prayer time. The square is a nice area for a walk and watching Uighurs going about their day.
The rose tea is a local specialty you should not miss, one of the must-do things to do in Kashgar. One of the best places to savor the hot drink is the « One Hundred Tea House,» though nowadays tourists are more present than the local Uighurs.
Lamb and mutton are amongst the most commonly served food in Uighuir cuisine, from the lamb skewers cooked on a grill (kebab), the stuffed buns (samsa), and more.
Make sure to sample this must-have Kashgar food: the bread (nan) hot from the open pit ovens (tonur), either with juicy kebabs, fresh yogurt, or even local honey.
Day Trips from Kashgar, China
The lake is about four hours from Kashgar, as you drive by stunning mountains and fantastic landscape. Here and there stand Tajik and Kirgiz villages separated from the road by barbed wire fences miles after miles.
The Karakul Lake, which means the black lake in Uighur sits at 3,600 meters. The view of the famous Muztagh Ata mountain (“father of the ice mountain“ in Uïghur) is incredible, its summit reaching over 7,500 mètres.
An organized Kashgar tour is the best way to reach Karakul Lake. Shared taxis would be the most affordable but can be hard to arrange. Click here to find the best deals for your Click here to find the best deals for your Karakul Lake tour from Kashgar.
Also known as the Heavenly Gate in Chinese, the Shipton Arch is northwest of Kashgar. After a short drive to the trailhead, a hike of a couple of hours leads to the foot of the Arch. Famous for its heigh of 370 meters, the view from there extends to over 30 km.
The most affordable way to reach Shipton Arch is with a shared car. Or organize your tour in advance with a Shipton Arch tour.
Tachkurgan is the last city in Xinjiang towards the border with Pakistan. Another major silk road city, the only remains of the former glory are the ruins of Stone Fort, a 2,000-year old fortress. The view from the ancient place reaches up to the mountains of the Karakoram range on one end, and the grasslands favored by the Tajik nomads in the time past.
The border pass between the Xinjiang region of Chine and the Gilgit-Baltistan region in Pakistan is famous for being the highest border crossing in the world, and the highest point of the Karakorum Highway at 4,693 meters. The scenery is just incredible, and even if you make a day trip from Kashgar by driving the 420 km one way, the long day is worth it.
How to Get to Kashgar
- By Plane: internal flights land at the Kashgar Airport, usually from connecting flights in Urumqi, but also Bejing, Shanghai
- By train: night trains connect Kashgar to Urumqi, and from there, to the rest of China
- Pakistan: By the Khunjerab Pass
- Tajikistan: By the Kulma Pass
- Kyrgyzstan: Via the Irkeshtam passes to Osh, and Torugart to Bishkek.
- Afghanistan: There is currently no open international border along the Wakhan corridor between Afghanistan and China
Different lodging styles are available in Kashgar, from the cheap travel hostel to the grand luxurious hotel. Some are in the old town, others in the new city while still a short distance from the old historic center.
For cheap accommodation, we recommend the KKH Breeze Hostel, which is 10 minutes from the old town. With dorms and private rooms, a nice garden, and prices for a small budget in the 50 RMB for a bed in a dormitory. Other favorite budget lodgings include Kashgar Old Town Youth Hostel.
All hotels in Kashgar do not necessarily accept foreigners, check before booking your room.
Kashgar Travel Tips
- Xinjiang, like the rest of China, is on Beijing time. This single timezone puts Kashgar time about two hours later than the current daylight hours. 8 o'clock in the morning Beijing time is 6 o'clock in the morning in Kashgar. This lag can be quite confusing with dark mornings, and evening meals that feel like afternoon teatime.
- You can withdraw money from ATMs at specific certain banks, for example at the ICBC Bank.
- Taste Uighur specialties, especially the juicy kebab skewers
- The local language is the Uighur, but most of the residents speak Mandarin Chinese. Download Google Translate as well as the offline Chinese pack - before arriving in China - to access a translation tool off the internet once in the country.
- Get a VPN if you want to access any social media as well as Western news.
- Keep your passport on you constantly. Checks by the local police are possible, especially at the various checkpoints set up against the Uyghurs on the edge of the old city. Foreigners are rarely questioned, but this remains possible.
- Do not drink tap water and remember to clean all fruits and vegetables with mineral water.
- Kashgar has changed considerably in the past two years, with more Han and foreign tourists. Fewer Uighur shops are open, with fewer traditional Uighur elements visible daily. The streets sometimes felt empty, less active. If you are thinking of visiting this part of China, do not delay.
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