Some years ago, when my husband was relocated to China, he knew I might need some convincing to move our family from pristine and sparsely populated Australia to the world’s most populous nation. He sensed I needed a sweetener.
It came in the guise of a book about Kashgar, a trading oasis on China’s old Silk Road, where travelers broke the journey and rested their camel trains. Merchants bringing silks, tea and spices from China mingled with European traders. The book showed a China I never imagined existed, one of rich culture and history, of poetry and song, and glorious food. My husband suspected I just needed to look at China in a different way, to see it as a mosaic of cultures and ethnicities, and, well, he was right. We moved to China and stayed for four incredible and eye-opening years.
Kashgar became a place I returned to time and again. It’s a part of China that pulls me, whispering of places even further away – Tashkent, Samarkand, Islamabad. Most of them I’ll never see, but Kashgar promises all of them in its rich Central Asian heritage and culture. Populated by the Uyghur people, Turkic-speaking Muslims, modern-day Kashgar is just as vibrant now as during its Silk Road prime. The love of trade still runs strong, as you’ll see if you ever have the chance to visit the Sunday Bazaar, a vast labyrinth of stalls selling everything imaginable. Tea, curtains, carpets, dried fruits, traditional Uyghur musical instruments, rich brocades, farming supplies, long underwear, scarves, and spices. It’s all there under one roof, and although you can visit the bazaar on any day of the week, Sunday is the liveliest day.
I’ve come away before with a brass teapot with a perfect pouring spout, a pair of gold earrings, and a year’s supply of the local dried apricots, intensely sweet.
When you’ve become lost, and lost again, and you eventually give in to the maze of the bazaar’s interior, then it’s time for tea and something to eat. More on that next week.