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Kashgar
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There are a few choice places where being in the middle of nowhere means, paradoxically, being in the middle of everything. Kashgar (Kāshí, 喀什) is one of them. Some 4,000 km (2, 485 mi) from Beijing, 24 hours overland from Urumqi and a relatively short, if exceedingly rugged, distance from Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan, this ancient Silk Road oasis town has long put the "central" in "Central Asia." Over the centuries, Kashgar has served as a vital point of contact between far-flung Asian cultures, with traders, missionaries and mercenaries mixing it up and making it happen.

Despite the highways and high-rises that have come with modernization and the influx of Han Chinese from the distant east, Kashgar remains a predominantly Muslim and Turkic city, due to it's large population of Uyghur people. The cultural prestige of the enormous Id Kah Mosque easily overshadows that of the giant Chairman Mao Zedong statue in Kashgar's People's Square (Rénmín Guǎngchǎng, 人民广场), and the scent of Uyghur lamb kebabs wafts through the city's colorful bazaars as it has for centuries.

And, despite the advent of rail and air links to the outside world, Kashgar is still in the middle of the Taklamakan Desert (Tǎkèlāmǎgān Shāmò, 塔克拉玛干沙漠), the name of which (not in Chinese) translates to "Who goes in does not come out," with the Tian Shan range to the east and the high mountain passes into Pakistan, Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan to the west. The natural surroundings—including specatular Lake Karakul (Kālā Hú, 喀拉湖)—make Kashgar not only a great city to visit, but also a great base for exploration of astonishingly beautiful landscapes.

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History

Kashgar's geography has been its fate. Located between cultures and peoples, its identity has been in flux for much of its history, although it has been considered a part of greater China since the Han Dynasty. The city's importance to the China of that time was manifold. The primary reason for garrisoning an oasis town many weeks'  journey from the Han capitals of Chang'an (Xi'an) and Luoyang was economic: control of the Silk Road, which at the time connected the Han and Roman empires via a network of overland trade routes that converged in the vicinity of Kashgar. Soon, however, cultural influences grew in importance. Kashgar served as an early point of entry for new religions, including Persian Zoroastrianism, Nestorian Christianity and, far more significanty, Buddhism. Indeed, the famous Tang Dynasty Buddhist monk Xuanzang, responsible for bringing Indian sutras to China and translating them, passed through Kashgar in 644 on the return from his journey to the subcontinent. 

The abiding Chinese interest in the area led to a succession of military campaigns against various peoples who occupied the area today known as Xinjiang, with Kashgar at its westernmost edge. The Han chased the nomadic Xiongnu all the way to the Caspian Sea, and over subsequent centuries various Asian peoples contended for control over this vital crossroads—Xiongnu, Kushans, Mongols, Uyghurs, Arabs and others all had their moments, but Kashgar always returned to its Chinese orbit. Of the aforementioned, the Uyghurs had the most staying power—they're the majority population today—and were largely responsible for introducing Islam to China, along with Arab traders.

In more recent times, Kashgar and the area around it have been the scene of other rivalries. In the late nineteenth century, the Russians, British and Chinese all vied for influence and control over the strategic city. During the Chinese civil war between the Communists and Nationalists, the Soviet Union held sway over the region, but by the end of World War II, China resumed control. The years since 1949's establishment of the PRC have seen the city weather difficult economic and political times, as the Uyghur population of Xinjiang has periodically chafed under Beijing's rule and traditional Islamic culture has not always squared easily with party edicts. Nonetheless, the city has survived, even flourished, and today is a burgeoning tourist destination as well as a regional center of commerce.

Climate

Kashgar has a temperate continental climate, with long periods of sunshine and little rainfall. With a short warm winter and a long cool summer, temperatures in the city are relatively pleasant most of the year. The four seasons in Kashgar are distinct. The average temperature for the year is 12°C (54°F), the average temperature for January is -6°(21°F), and in the hottest month, July, the average temperature runs to 27°C (80°F). With little rain and a high rate of evaporation, Kashgar remains dry much of the year. The best time to travel is between August and September.

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