Endangered spaces: Kashgar’s Old City

Kashgar is an ancient city in the western part of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China. It’s origins date back more than 2000 years, when it was an important trade stop on the Silk Road. Over the centuries it has been visited by the likes of Ghenghis Khan and Marco Polo, amongst many others, and it has a rich history as a trade outpost.

Today, Kashgar is no longer the focal point of a major trade route, but it is a fantastic tourist destination, with history around every corner and down every narrow street. More than 220,000 people live and work there, but according to this story, from the U.K. newspaper The Guardian, the Chinese government is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to demolish the historic Old City in Kashgar to make way for modern structures, which will take the place of centuries old buildings, many of which are still inhabited by artisans and craftsman.

When the demolition begins next year, more than 85% of Kashgar’s Old City will be destoryed, with thousands of inhabitants being relocated to newer, safer buildings. When the project is complete, Kashgar will practically be a completely new city, and the unique and intresting historical sections will be almost completely gone. The question is, when they are gone, is there any reason for travelers to still make the journey to the city?

If you’re an adventurous traveler who enjoys visiting unique, historical places, and you haven’t made it to Kashgar yet, you may want to book a trip in the next few months. The days are numbered for the Old City, and soon Kashgar will be just like so many other modern cities in China.

On Horseback From Beijing to London

Last weekend, a 65-year old retired British teacher named Megan Lewis, and her two Chinese companions, Li Jing and Peng Wenchao, climbed into the saddles of their horses, and set off on an epic ride. Over the next three years, they’ll cover more than 5000 miles, on two continents, as they travel from Beijing to London completely on horseback.

The plan is to deliver a message of good will from Beijing, the host of the 2008 Summer Olympics, to London, where the 2012 games are scheduled to take place. If everything goes according to plan, these long distance riders will arrive in the U.K. not long before the opening ceremonies. The trio are also riding to raise money for the charity Schoolchildren For Children, an organization whose sole purpose is to encourage the U.K.’s youth to get outside and exercise.

The long ride got under way at the China Children Charity Monument, near the Great Wall in Badling. Early on, Megan and her companions will follow the Wall itself, as it winds up and over the steppes, deserts, and mountains of China, on into Central Asia. From there, they’ll ride the remanents of the ancient Silk Road to the shores of the Caspian and Black Seas, before turning their mounts toward Europe, and their eventual destination across the English Channel.

You and read more about the Long Horse Ride, as they are calling the journey, at the official website, and you can read daily updates on Megan’s blog as well, where you’ll find that things are already off to an interesting, and challenging start.

History’s Most Famous Travel Adventures

There is no doubt that history has a level of influence on the places that many of us visit. We read about far off places and exotic adventures, and it fires our own imaginations, sometimes compelling us to take a journey of our own, and experience the things that we’ve dreamed about.

Forbes Traveler has put together an excellent list of the greatest travel adventures from history, not only putting them in historical context, but also explaining why they remain a great travel experience even to this day. Each of the journeys on this list include a link to a travel service than can help organize your own adventure, following in the footsteps of explorers and adventurers from the past.

Some of the famous journeys that make the list include the Lewis and Clarke Expedition’s exploration of the American West, which modern day travelers can experiencing for themselves by spending five days paddling more than 60 miles of the Missouri River. Prefer something a bit more exotic? Then how about a 34-day, 4850+ mile journey through South America, by motorcycle no less, that retraces the travels of Che Guevara. Want to go even further back in time? Then head to the Far East to travel the Silk Road, much the same way that Marco Polo did in the 13th century.

There is a little something for everyone on this list, from the physically demanding to the luxurious. But they all share one thing in common, they are some of the greatest journeys in history, and they are still inspiring travel years, and sometimes centuries, later.

Touring the Silk Road atop a motorcycle

One of those travel regrets I still look back on and wish I had done was when I was contemplating buying a Russian motorcycle and sidecar and hightailing it through Siberia.

And it is therefore with great regret that I came across a similar story of adventurous motorcyclists traveling across another rugged territory: the Silk Road of China.

In what has been one of the best travel articles in the LA Times this year, journalist Susan Carpenter joined an 11-day motorcycle tour of northeastern China that took her from the fabled city of Kashgar (another travel regret of mine, by the way) to the city of Turpan 1,700 miles away.

I’m not sure who I’m fooling because I don’t even know how to drive a motorcycle, but I’m not lying when I say that I would do anything it takes to plant my butt atop one of these things and cruise the Silk Road–although the perfect journey would start in Persia, naturally.

To give you a little taste of what to expect, check out Carpenter’s tantalizing summation of the journey:

“We encountered mostly foot traffic — women balancing buckets of water on sticks across their shoulders and men in embroidered caps herding sheep, goats and yaks — as we worked our way toward the military checkpoint that granted us access to the Karakoram Highway and scenery so spectacular I could have crashed.”


Oh, and incidentally, hat’s off to the LA Times for incorporating video onto their website. If the above description doesn’t get the travel bug biting, the video certainly will.

Word for the Travel Wise (09/06/06)

One of these days when I stash away enough money to travel and do it BIG I’m going to do a tour of countries that have some of my favorite gem stones and jewelry. While I don’t own a large collection of stones or jewelry, I do try to pick up at least one piece every time I travel abroad. My future list includes the Baltics for Amber, Dominican Republic for Larimar and Hotan, a city in southern Xinjiang, China, for Jade. Hotan was once the major transport center of the southern route of the Silk Road.

Today’s word is a Uyghur word used in China:

känt – village

Uyghur (pronounced ooygOOr) is spoken in China and Kazakhstan, but is the official language of China’s Xinjiang province. It is a language spoken by some 10 million people in all of Central Asia. China’s Uyghur people are one of the 56 official nationalities in the country. Start at the Wikipedia first and work your way to this Uyghur music and dance songs online page. New Uyghur films are also available for purchase if you like to learn by listening and watching. Try linking up with Uyghur speakers through MyLanguageExchange online. Lonely Planet’s Central Asia phrasebook has a decent Uyghur section worth purchasing the book for if going to this area of the Silk Road.

Past Mandarin / Cantonese words: zhu ni hao yun, guo nian ha, mu di di, hao, xiang zi, zai jian, léui yàu