Faces You Won't Forget

Update:17 Aug 2007

As the first rays of sunlight reach the maze of old houses in Kashgar, northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, the city gradually wakes up as the chanting of the Quran is heard from the mosque. Small alleys begin to pulse with merriment - vendors shouting, housewives chatting and children laughing. Local Muslim Uygurs who have lived in the city for generations start a new day as usual.

A major hub on the old Silk Road over 1,000 years ago, the oasis has become a magnet for tourists from home and abroad. But those who want to catch a closer look at the local people and their lives should take a stroll around the old town, Shule, located atop the northeastern mountain in Kashgar.

Shule, now home to 600 households, is a jumble of narrow stone streets and a dense web of multi-story earthen houses. Visitors could easily lose their way because it is riddled with twisting, turning streets that all look the same.

According to historic records, rulers of the Kalahan Kingdom began to build their palaces and fortresses in Kashgar during the Song Dynasty (960-1279). But most of the relics of the kingdom were devastated by a flood a few centuries ago. Only a small part of the relics, located atop the mountain, survived and it's now called Shule by locals.

Shule means "clay on the cliff" in the Uygur language and clay is the soul of the town. The houses are built with mud and wood and have withstood the test of time in spite of their fragile and shabby appearance. Some of them are about 600 years old.

Like many other cities in the country, Kashgar has witnessed rapid development over the past decade, as a large section of the city has been torn down and replaced by high-rise residential blocks and wide roads. But time seems to stand still in Shule with the old houses intact and the locals sticking to their traditional lifestyle.

Some of the houses were built by three generations: The father built the first floor, the son expanded it to a two-story house and then the grandson built another floor in the house.

Every house has a story and the owner is willing to share it with visitors. The residents have lived in the town for generations and few of them like to move into new apartment buildings.

Many of them still make a living with pottery and other handicrafts, a tradition they have carried on for many generations. Music and dance remain important in their lives and Uygurs seem to always have a song in their hearts and on their lips.

Source:China Daily

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