Ejected roughly from a loosely air-conditioned cab, we spill out into Kashgar’s archaic sandstone market centre; once a major gateway from the farthest reaches of western China through to snowy Pakistan, Kashgar now resembles an overused set from 1970s hong kong cinema. Fumbling for a Nikon I steady my rudely awakened body against a less-than-adequate lamp post, and begin to take in the dusty sepia-infused atmosphere.
Tightly-packed, low-rise, yellow-brick buildings form dusty runways that coral scurrying people below from salon to Tabac, life partially hidden from view by a blanket of thick grey bubbling wood-smoke pouring from every architectural orifice. As the viscous smoke rises upwards it rallies and aggressively suffocates the black crenelated shadow that forms a biblical horizon. Momentarily poetic.
The cab splutters and pulls away leaving us stranded outside the peeling green doors of an old youth hostel. Inside, dimmly lit dormatories encircle a dusty mosaiced open courtyard home to a pack of motorcyclists from Beijing quietly fixing their metal steeds. A European cyclist perches on a balcony above, watching the entouarge below he occasionally stabs at his notepad with random thoughts, pausing only to look wistfully at the horizon. We 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 dusty matresses there’s a momentary wrestle with an uncooperative stained-glass window. Begrudgingly the ancient warped metal frame swings outwards and through a sea of dust motes dancing in the heavy air our first view of Kashgar streams through. Rescuing a couple more cameras we leave our precious gear packed and vaguely hidden in a varity of obvious places and take our first steps out into the dense, smoky shadows.