Kashgar and the Western Imagination

Much is written in guidebooks and travelogues about Kashgar Sunday Market.

"Vibrant" is the term often used. Or "joyously vibrant". Or "joyously, vibrantly alive".

Orally, too, European and American visitors are exultant.

"The Sunday Market is fresh and vital, with a kaleidoscope of colours. There is a wonderful profusion of ethnicities," says one tourist.

"The Market is vibrant, pulsing, almost unbearably joyous. In the West we have lost the heart to do this," says another.

"I want to have an orgasm over the Kashgar Sunday Market. I want to have an orgasm over the whole world," says a third.

The inhabitants of this part of Xinjiang may be poor, but their poverty is rather picturesque.

A farmer travelling to the Sunday Market on a horse and cart with a bundle of straw, for instance. This has authenticity and is of great cultural interest.

The same farmer driving a pick-up truck, transporting a fridge and a washing machine home to his wife and family: that would be most unwelcome scene, revealing how consumerist materialism has run wild, leaving precious local traditions behind.

Those responsible for administering the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and helping it develop - those who build roads and railways, improve sanitation, open hospitals and schools, maintain civil order, defend borders - are seen as slightly suspect.

Encouraging the people of Xinjiang to aspire to the living standards enjoyed in coastal China is regarded as somehow reprehensible.

Travel tips

It is advisable to access Kashgar by train, both for the considerable cash savings, and for the magnificent views.

However, there is no direct train from Shanghai to Kashgar. Passengers must change at Turpan.

To get to Turpan, take the T52, which leaves Shanghai at 6:20pm and arrives in Turpan a little under 49 hours later at 7:01pm (hard sleeper 675 yuan).

An overnight stay at Turpan is required.

The next day, take the K887, which departs Turpan at 3:04pm and arrives in Kashgar at noon the following day (hard sleeper 319 yuan).

It is well worth setting aside the four nights/five days needed to accomplish this train journey, if only for the mountain views during the latter part.

Those with limited time may prefer to take the daily flight to Urumqi. They must stay a night there, and connect with the early morning flight to Kashgar the following day.

( Shanghai Star Augsut 15, 2002)