The ancient stone-made castle in the Taxkorgan Tajik Autonomous County Photo: Wu Jie/Sino-US.com
A completed BRT system, a proposed metro network and traffic jams at rush hours have nearly made life in the capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region the same as that in modern Beijing and other huge provincial cities. But the old town of Kashgar, a western city of Xinjiang, has preserved the pure minority ethnic essence.
You will never be able to grasp the vastness of China's territory if you do not visit Xinjiang, and you will never experience a real Xinjiang if you do not pay a visit to Kashgar, goes an old saying, which is used to describe Kashgar, which borders Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan and is 1,500 kilometers away from Xinjiang's capital Urumqi.
Kashgar was historically considered as the gateway and hub for the transfer of goods across the Eurasian continent along the ancient Silk Road.
Kashgar in Tursun's eyes
The brightly lit new city zone of Kashgar is set apart by a bridge from the old town which is fraught with traditional Uyghur elements. "Kashgar seems like Shanghai's Pudong at nighttime, and the Middle East at daytime," said Muhammad Tursun, head of the office of foreign and overseas Chinese affairs of Kashgar Prefecture.
As Tursun said, the coexistence of the traditional old town and the modern new city zone in one city always gives people a sense of timeless travel.
Covering an area of eight square meters in the central part of Kashgar, the old town has a history of more than 2,000 years and is built around the Id Kah Mosque, the largest mosque in China.
The town has a population of more than 200,000, 75 percent of which are Uyghur people and the rest are constituted by Han people and other ethnic minority groups.
In 2009, the local government launched a housing renovation project to enhance the seismic capacity of the old town's houses, many of which were built with clay, wood and brick over six decades ago. Currently, the housing renovation project is nearly completed.
Houses in the old town of Kashgar Photo: Wu Jie/Sino-US.com
Tursun said that the housing price of the old town has surged to 3000 yuan per square meter from 400-600 yuan per square meter due to the housing renovation project, which was done with due attention to retaining the originality and authenticity of the area.
One part of the old town is used as a scenic spot where six households run travel business. Rehanguli, a Uyghur woman with a four-year-old daughter attending a bilingual kindergarten, said that there are about 10,000 residents, all Uyghur people, live in the scenic area, adding that most of the residents go out to work in bigger cities.
"Compared with previous years, fewer tourists came here this year because of the terrorist attacks," said the mother, stressing that the security is good now and that the locals live a relatively stress-free life.
Typical Tajik family
It took an 8-hour ride to arrive in the Taxkorgan Tajik Autonomous County, which lies south of Kashgar and is at an average altitude of more than 3,000 meters.
It is not until entering the village that one can fully understand the real and rustic life of the Tajik people.
Taxkorgan, which means the "stone town" in Uyghur language, is named because an ancient stone-made castle was located in the northern part of the county. The county is famous for diverse geography, which includes icy mountain, hot spring, grassland and wetland. It boasts the world's highest border port, Khunjerab, which is China's highest trading port connecting Xinjiang and the region's neighboring countries and where the film, "The Visitors on the Icy Mountain", was shot.
The Afiyat family lives in a village of the county. The courtyard of the family's residence is characterized by typical Tajik architecture and the spacious living room is decorated with Tajik-flavored carpet and fabric. In the living room, the five wooden pillars with each featuring different carved patterns show the faith of the family: the Shia sect of the Islam.
Afiyat and his family members Photo: Wu Jie/Sino-US.com
Afiyat spent 80,000 yuan to build a big house for family gathering in 2006, said the 61-year-old owner, whose youngest 9-year-old son can speak fluent Chinese. The hospitable man also said that his family raised 30 sheep and four cattle and planted wheat and pea.
The biggest spending of the family comes from wedding and funeral, said Afiyat, adding that a traditional wedding, which must be attended by all the relatives and villagers, basically lasts for several days.
The 100 households of the village have had access to cable TV and radio broadcasting and each villager can earn over 3,000 yuan per year mainly from animal husbandry, according to Zhou Shaoming, a foreign affairs officer of the county, who added that in recent years the local government led the villagers to grow maca, a plant that is specially cultivated on plateau and has therapeutic effects of enhancing immunity and preventing cancer.
By virtue of the advantageous natural resources, every village of the Taxkorgan Tajik Autonomous County usually has one or two home-run inns.
Imenjian, a 63-year-old man who cannot speak Chinese, runs a private hotel, which contributes to 80 percent of his family's annual income. The Communist Party member, who has strong loyalty to Mao Zedong, said that his idea of operating the hotel stemmed from the call of the Party to grow Xinjiang's economy by developing tourism.
The house of Imenjian Photo: Wu Jie/Sino-US.com
The local government has allocated 5 million yuan to finance 26 households in the autonomous county to operate home-run hotels, said the county's second-in-command, Liu Qingwen, adding that his government is also vigorously supporting the development of biotechnology industry and the establishment of a cross-border trade zone.
"We now use the tax reduction policy to encourage young people to start up their own companies," said Liu, who was born in western China's Sichuan Province and moved to the autonomous county when he was young.
"In order to develop our tourism, the most important task is to keep the natural landscapes intact," said the official, citing the 2,200-year-old well-preserved stone-made castle situated in the northern part of the autonomous county.
"Chemical enterprises are not allowed to be built on the mountain for the purpose of protecting the environment," said Liu, adding that Shenzhen, an affluent city in southern China's Guangdong Province, has just injected 10 million yuan which will be used to help protect the environment in his second hometown.
(The article is translated and edited by Ding Yi)