Tightly-packed, low-rise buildings form dusty runways that coral scurrying people from salon to Tabac, life partially hidden from view by a blanket of thick, bubbling wood-smoke pouring from every architectural orifice.
The Night Market
D4 / 70-200 f2.8 / Kashgar
As dusk falls over this archaic western outpost, a thriving night market erupts in a raucous entanglement of fat, dust, and sweat. The scene is pitched against such an inescapable medley of localized tongue that it’s enough to make one wished they’d studied the local dialect a little harder.
Trans-China National Highway
D4 / 70-200 f2.8 / Xinjiang
A sudden rush of noise from behind, the revving of an over-worked engine and a motorbike passes us at over ninety, stampeding the melting tarmac as if behind schedule. My Nikon leaps out the window with me closely behind, we’re hanging a full half-body out in mid-air with only the noise of roaring wind for company. Fighting against the ravaging onslaught I heave the heavy black camera up to eye level, it’s already focusing before I compose, eager to capture the majestic scene ahead.
Belle and Sebastian
D4 / 70-200 f2.8 / Pamir
A young girl sits on the side of a remote single track road passing through the Pamir’s, right at the border with Afghanistan. Hand washing a red dress, she works the material over, her best friend watching with hungry eyes. They converse together in sign-language, broken mandarin and the occasional woof.
Down Town Kashgar
D4 / 70-200 f2.8 / Kashgar
The western boarder lands of China contrast wildly with the eastern shanghai seaboard. Here, the indigenous population evidently belong on the other side of China’s vast western border. But that’s another story.
A Tolkien Landscape
D700 / 14 – 24 f2.8 / Khunjerab Pass
Travelling the Karakorum Highway from Kashgar up to the snowy peaks of the Pamir mountains, our clapped-out thirty year-old car sets a steady pace through the windy lowlands, ice-capped peaks in the distance promising stories and adventures in equal measure. This gateway to Pakistan resembles a landscape from Tolkien’s middle earth. We arrive at a deserted border, watched by a handful of bored Chinese guards as we pick our way around the farthest outpost on china’s western frontier. Nothing exists here except the occasional rhythmic chugging of an over-laden mini-bus heading for Pakistan.
D700 / 14 – 24 f2.8 / Lake Karakul
Early morning wind rasps through barren grasslands, wild horses drink at the edge of lake Karakul as sleepy shepherds trek the wild landscape with sheep in tow. Mount Muztagh Ata reflects on the still morning waters of the lake as the gentle wind lifts birds to flight. Outside this bubble of bliss the harsh martian landscape surrounds us like wolves baying at the door.
D4 / 70-200 f2.8 / Yarkant
Dawn brings a short bumpy ride to the Sunday cattle market. Pulling in the local farmers and domestic tourists alike, mutton adorns every menu, sweet, gritty teas spill from over-filled tea-pots, and long-deceased cattle rock gently in a calm breeze, strung-up on stall corners and slowly stripped of their meat until only their bare bleached bones remain.
Ejected roughly from a loosely air-conditioned cab, we spill out into Kashgar’s archaic sandstone market centre. Once a major gateway on the Silk route from the farthest reaches of western China through to snowy Pakistan and beyond, Kashgar now resembles a dusty set from 1970s Hong Kong cinema. It’s torn at the seams, a dilapidated mix of ancient brick work and modern concrete, glued together by the native Uighur population. Fumbling for a Nikon I steady my rudely awakened body against a less-than-adequate lamp post and begin to take in the sepia-infused locale.
Tightly-packed, low-rise, buildings form dusty runways that coral scurrying people below from salon to Tabac, life partially hidden from view by a blanket of thick, bubbling wood-smoke pouring from every architectural orifice. The viscous smoke stacks rise upwards, rallying together and aggressively suffocating the black crenellated shadow forming a biblical horizon. Momentarily poetic.
Our cab splutters and pulls away leaving us stranded outside the peeling green doors of an old youth hostel. Inside, dimly lit dormitories encircle a mosaiced open courtyard, currently home to a pack of motorcyclists from Beijing quietly fixing their metal steeds. Above, a European cyclist perches on a balcony watching the entourage below, occasionally stabbing at his notepad with random thoughts, pausing only to look wistfully at the bubbling horizon. We check in and pass by a time-worn computer moaning wearily as an earnest traveller attempts, unsuccessfully, to check the weather forecast, and somewhere behind closed doors a hardy fridge hums happily laden full of locally produced honey beer.
Stashing our gear underneath thin mattresses on springy frames, we momentary wrestle with an uncooperative stained-glass window. Begrudgingly the warped frame swings outwards, and through a sea of dust motes dancing in the heavy air, our first view of Kashgar’s hidden secrets streams through.