Kashgar: A Colorful Celebration of Life – Part 1


Koran sellers in Kashgar market. Xinjiang, China.
Qoran Sellers. Photo by Tina Su

Kashgar (or Kāshí 喀什) is near the western most edge of China bordering Kyrgyzstan and within driving distance to Pakistan. Its remote location, vastly diverse cultures (mixture of Uyghur, Han, Kyrgyz, Tajik and Uzbek ethnic groups), and intense colors spread throughout the city are what draw in the curious tourists.

It was a long journey to get there, four flights from Seattle. And this was the fastest option, with trains being another popular option from Beijing. However, one would need to take two different trains at 36 hours a piece, making it a total of around 4 days of land travel. Yikes! We ended up booking flights from Beijing via CTrip.com, since the Chinese airline websites were virtually unusable.

Top: Kabob seller making fresh lamb barbeque kabobs.
Middle: Running girls in old town. Kashgar, China.
Bottom: Butcher shop along the streets of old down Kashgar.

After we landed, we eagerly immersed ourselves into the streets. Lemme tell ya, there was so much action going on and things to see along the narrow streets: people eating freshly barbecued kabobs, butchers dividing up the “day’s kill”, street barbers with their wooden chair and shaving tools, identically dressed kids walking hand-in-hand, bread makers baking naan in traditional outdoor-underground furnaces, donkeys and horses, women walking in unison, etc.

Everything seemed ridiculously exotic and foreign – the smells, the faces, the sounds, people’s clothing. Initially, we walked slowly through the bustling streets in awe, a little bit shy to approach strangers, and paying careful attention as not to get knocked over by a scooter, taxi or donkey along the crowded streets.

With portraits being a point of interest for me, I was initially afraid to take pictures of people (for the first day or two), it felt as tho, someone would whack me over the head with a wrack of lamb if I stuck a camera in their face.

Eventually, I learned to communicate with the locals to allow me to take photos of them. As with most cultures within China, when you ask for permission, people will almost always automatically say “No”, even if they want to say “Yes”. It’s totally counter-intuitive. I’m in the habit of always getting permission before taking someone’s photo, so after being told “No” a few times, I realized that I needed another strategy.

My new photo strategy in Kashgar went something like this:

1. Approach the person as you look in another direction
2. Take a photo really quickly of them
3. They say “no”
4. Show them the photo from the camera’s LCD screen
5. They will shrug their shoulders and say “yes!” :)
6. Spend time to take a proper picture

It worked like magic.

I was suddenly reminded of the saying, “It is better to ask for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission.”

(Although, sometimes you can tell if someone really doesn’t want a picture, in which case I would leave them alone.)

Top: “Dave” the motor bus driver who would fit-in on wall street.
Middle: Taylor in old town after receiving him pictures I’ve taken of him.

The other striking thing about XinJiang in general and particularly in Kashgar, is how non-asian the locals look. Most people are of Turkish-Mongol descent and have those ridiculously good-looking central asian features. And some people were simply straight-up Caucasians of the Russian ethnic group (who consider themselves Chinese).

We saw so many Caucasian looking locals fully decked out in Borat-style suits that we started giving people names. Like the open air motor “bus” driver (3 pictures above), we named “Wall Street Dave”! Heck, since everyone is in a suit, the ones who are Caucasian, look like they would blend perfectly into any of the world’s business districts.

Local Ugyer Home in Kashgar XinJiang, China

Top: A local lady’s home. She surprised us with displays of food to be photographed.
Middle: Many ladies dress identically. Many also wears the brown head cover.

Local diets consist mainly of lamb meat and (stale) naan bread. The local palif (rice) dish and noodles are delicious, but everything contains lamb meat. I was at a locally frequented restaurant in the square, and ordering from the only waiter (out of eight waiters) who speaks mandarin. The conversation with him went something like this:

Tina: “I would like to have something without meat.”
Him: “Sure, we could arrange that.”
Tina: “Yes, how about the noodle with vegetables. I’m a vegetarian.”
Him: “How about chicken? Does that count?” (he was looking completely serious)
Tina: “Nope, chicken counts as meat.”
Him: “How about tomatoes?”

I take it that was the first time he’s heard of the term vegetarian and couldn’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t want to eat lamb.

True story.

(To Be Continued in Part 2 …)

Tina Su in Kashgar Carpet Shop, Xinjiang, China
Tina in front of a carpet shop. Kashgar, China.

Other Related Posts on Kashgar:

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14 Responses (11 Comments, 3 Trackbacks ):


  1. Kiran Denniz


    The pictures in your Kashgar posts are luscious. I’m drunk on color!

  2. 2

    I used to often read about North West China and Kashgar in the news, and then wonder about them. It’s amazing ’cause I can see such a blend of Asian, Chinese & Muslim cultures.

    I can see Persian and Arabic script in the photos and the first photograph looks like a Quran bookstore. Thanks Tina for sharing your experience and photos!

  3. 3

    Your pictures are stunning, I hope you had an amazing trip & I cannot wait to see more!

  4. 4

    Tina, the pictures are amazing! You’re inspiring me to go out and shoot more :)

  5. 5

    You’ve captured the charm of Kashgar in these images! Very nice photoset!

  6. 6

    Great photos you got there. I really love the photos .

    Personal Development Blogger

  7. 7

    Wow! Such an amazing adventure, what great photos!
    And equally impressed at your photo-taking “system”.
    Well done! Looking forward to the next post. : )

  8. 8

    Beautiful Pictures and great stories. Thanks for sharing. Kashgar is on my list of places to get to someday!

  9. 9

    Beautiful pictures you got there. Which camera did you use?

  10. 10

    Hi Asger,

    I use the Canon 40D. Fantastic camera.


  11. 11

    Thanks for sharing. Kashgar is on my list of places to get to someday!

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Trackbacks (3)

  1. Kashgar: In Pictures | Simply Tina » Kashgar: In Pictures - Nov 05 08
  2. Kashgar: A Colorful Celebration of Life - Part 2 | Simply Tina » Kashgar: A Colorful Celebration of Life - Part 2 - Nov 05 08
  3. Roadtrip: Karakul Lake via Karakoram Highway | Simply Tina » Roadtrip: Karakul Lake via Karakoram Highway - Nov 10 08
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