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The ancient city takes a new route along the Silk Road

Updated: 2015-09-18 07:42
By Liu Jing (China Daily)

The ancient city takes a new route along the Silk Road

Uygur children play during Ramadan on the streets of the old city of Kashgar in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region. [Photo by Yao Tong / China Daily]

Kashgar, an old trading post in China and a major settlement in the days of the camel trains, is undergoing a renovation program that aims to preserve history while reaching out to the present, as Liu Jing reports.

The old city of Kashgar is a living testament to the ancient Silk Road - Uygur craftsmen and artisans hammer and file away at copper vessels of different shapes and sizes, traders haggle over deals in the world's biggest Sunday bazaar, and donkeys and camels with tinkling bells tied around their necks thread their way through the narrow lanes that wind between the cramped buildings.

Kashgar's 2,000-year-old spirit is still in evidence as the city undergoes a massive renovation project. It was launched in 2009 to strengthen the old houses and make them more resistant to earthquakes while preserving the city's original appearance as much as possible.

Having lived in the city for five generations, Arep Aji's family has seen it all, from the splendor of the old days to the new city growing up around them.

"My family has been here since the generation of my grandfather's grandfather, but they never lived in a house as good as mine," the 31-year-old shopkeeper said.

A pearl in the desert

The ancient city, in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, is located in the westernmost corner of China and connects the country with Central Asia and Europe. Known as a "pearl on the Silk Road", it has been the center of regional trade and cultural exchange for more than two millennia.

Zhang Qian, an envoy sent by the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 24) to explore China's western expanses, arrived in the city in about 128 BC and was amazed by its stores and well-maintained roads, as well as the various commodities imported from Rome and Central Asia.

Kashgar still displays many traces of its old splendor, and about 220,000 people from 13 ethnic groups still live in the old city, which covers about 8 square kilometers. More than 100 lanes of various widths form a labyrinth that leads visitors straight into the lives of the locals.

Like Arep's pottery shop, many of the stores in the city have been in operation for generations. The Sunday market, the world's largest outdoor bazaar, sees the city teeming with vendors hawking spices, handmade blankets, headscarves and spices, while customers bargain for sheepskin hats, replica daggers and copper kettles.

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