CHEN HONG Few visitors enjoy Kashgar’s delights
The weather in Kashgar was delightful in late October — cool enough in the morning and at night to require a thick coat but warm enough in the daytime for short sleeves to be suitable.
It should have been the final stage of the region’s tourist season, with winter approaching and snow expected to fall soon. However, the sightseeing treasures of Kashgar, the biggest city in the South Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, were quiet.
Standing in front of the splendid Id Kah Mosque, one of China’s largest mosques with a history of more than 500 years, I could see no visitors from other Chinese cities in the spacious square.
Some local Uygur people were entering the mosque to pray, while more were sitting under trees along the side of the square, chatting, smoking or drinking tea. The square was almost empty.
Just three months ago, Juma Tayier, the 74-year-old imam of the mosque, was attacked and killed by three religious terrorists after the sunrise prayer.
The lack of visitors was almost the same at a nearby grand bazaar, where fresh fruits, dried nuts, local handicrafts and wool products are sold.
Religious extremists have been responsible for four major bloody incidents in Xinjiang since the beginning of 2014, giving the region, especially the southern part, a reputation as being “unsafe”, which scares off potential visitors.
However, Song Zhen’gen, an official from Shenzhen who has worked as deputy director of the Kashgar tourism department since February, said he felt safe in the city.
“I often walk alone in the city. The local people are very nice and hospitable,” he said. “The terrorist action so far did not target any tourists or take place in any sightseeing places.”
I felt the same during my weeklong stay, as I and other reporters visited local companies and villagers, dined outside and joined popular square dancing in Markit county, about 160 km from Kashgar city, late at night.
One of the other problems affecting tourism is language difficulty. Many of the local Uygur populace cannot speak Mandarin, especially in rural areas, although the government has emphasized bilingual education. We had to take a translator with us when doing interviews.
Johann Angerbauer was one of fthe ew foreigners I could talk to in Kashgar. The Austrian, who is general manager of the Radisson Blu Kashgar, said he was fascinated by the local culture and customs.
Compared with his previous workplace in Sudan, where war broke out, Angerbauer said there is nothing to worry about in Kashgar.
His hotel, which was still at in a soft openingd at the time, is the first international five-star brand in the city.
Wedding services have been popular since the hotel opened. “It’s interesting to learn that the bride and bridegroom’s families sit separately at the wedding banquet,” he said. Contact the writer at chenhong@ chinadaily.com.cn
The Kashgar Airport, only 10 kilometers from the downtown area, has handled more than 1 million passgengers every year.