Asia | China | North West | Tashkurgan – Tashkurgan
LP, Lets Go, and everyone I had met on the way had under-rated Tashkurgan. Part of the reason might be that most people stopped here for the night only to wait for the morning bus to either Sost or Kashgar, and didnt wander far enough to find the interesting part of town. Or it may just be that there werent any western establishments.
The strip near the bus station and the hotel was indeed unremarkable, but amazing mountains surrounded the town on all sides. With enough publicity it would no doubt be a trekking base. The ugly Chinese communist architecture ended abruptly at the eastern end of town, with the town hall overlooking the strip of Tajik village.
Tashkurgan natives are Tajiks according to the ethnographical classification in China, but the area around Tashkurgan was a kingdom of its own once upon a time, and still retains many distinct customs. The Tashkurgani language, spoken only by the 30,000 local residents, is actually quite different from the Tajiks living on the other side of the mountains in Tajikstan.
The vibrant colors that I was used to in Kashgar still remained, but the facial features of the Tashkurganis were sterner than the Uyghers with stronger foreheads and longer noses. Under the headscarves, women wore cylindrical hats reminiscent of the three fairy godmothers in Cinderella. People were a bit more reserved than the Uyghers, too. No one initiated any form of interactions, and the only response we got when greeting the villagers first would be a slight nod.
Standing on the meadow, I was excited after realizing our geographical location, even though I had never been a borderholic. Tajikstan was just over the other side of the mountains on our right, the border with Pakistan lay ahead by the snowy peaks to our left, and the valley between the mountains was where the pass to Afghanistan went through. This small green pasture, engulfed by barren peaks, was literally the intersection of south, central, and east Asia.
The ruins of the stone fortress between the town and the meadow had seen over 1000 years, and its stoic presence was a reminder of all the turmoil this area had experienced. We sat among the rubbles in the fortress, and savored the melancholy solitude until the trumpet in the army base at the southern end of town started playing, its sound faint but clear. The nomads, the Tajiks, the Russians, and now the Chinese who had successively ruled here had all played such lonely echoing tune, perhaps that was why the Tashkurganis faces became so solemn.
We stayed up last night watching Murder on the Orient Express on cable TV in the hotel room. The fact that an undubbed English movie was played here in Tashkurgan, out of all the cities weve visited on the way, was much more intriguing than the movie itself.