Ejected roughly from a loosely air-conditioned cab, we spill out into Kashgar’s archaic sandstone market centre, a dilapidated mix of ancient brick work and modern concrete glued together by the native Uighur population. 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, torn at the seams by ethnic disputes.
Trans-China National HighwayBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon D4 / 70 - 200 f2.8 / Pamir Mountain Range
The revving of an over-worked engine passes us at over ninety, stampeding the melting tarmac as if behind schedule.
An Open WindowBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon D4 / 70 - 200 f2.8 / Xinjiang
As dusk falls on kashgar, the rarer scenes, the ones that make it all seem worthwhile, quietly appear in doorways and open windows. Waiting, watching, wishing.
Fumbling for a camera, I steady my rudely awakened body against a less-than-adequate lamp post and begin to take in the sepia-infused locale.
Boy With BikeBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon D4 / 70 - 200 f2.8 / Xinjiang
A young boy sits on the family motorcycle, polishing a dusty fuel tank in the midst of a mild sand storm. Sitting a few metres away, his parents crouch on the road curb sorting through small pieces of Jade.
A fistful of kuaiBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon D4 / 70 - 200 f2.8 / Kashgar
Reservoir DogsBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon D4 / 70 - 200 f2.8 / Kunjerab Pass
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.
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 viscous smoke stacks rise upwards, rallying together, aggressively suffocating the black crenellated shadow of a biblical horizon. Momentarily poetic.
The Night MarketBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon 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.
A Tolkien LandscapeBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon D4 / 14 - 24 f2.8 / Kunjerab 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.
The Karakorum highwayBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon D4 / 14 - 24 f2.8 / Xinjiang
Once upon a time in the WestBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon D4 / 28 - 70 f2.8 / Xinjiang
A heavenly lake #1Barnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon D4 / 14 - 24 f2.8 / Tianshan
A heavenly lake #2Barnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon D4 / 14 - 24 f2.8 / Tianshan
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.
KashgarBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon D4 / 70 - 200 f2.8 / Xinjiang
The western border 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.
School's OutBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon D4 / 14 - 24 f2.8 / Xinjiang
Running through the centre of Kashgar, the main road becomes a hive of activity twice a day as local Uighur schools manage their student population.
The concrete mixerBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon D4 / 70 - 200 f2.8 / Kashgar
The AbattoirBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon D4 / 50 f1.4 / Xinjiang
Ascending MuztaghataBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon D4 / 14 - 24 f2.8 / Xinjiang
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.
Above the courtyard, a European cyclist perches on a balcony watching the entourage below, occasionally stabbing at his notepad with thoughts, pausing only to look wistfully at the bubbling horizon. We check in and pass 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.
Bella and SebastianBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon D4 / 70 - 200 f2.8 / Kashgar
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.