On the way to Kashgar: Prince, Buddhism, Canyon and watermelons15 august 2014, 22:45
Overcoming more than 1,500 kilometers from Urumqi, the Kazakhstani scientific and research expedition Following Shoqan Walikhanov’s Caravan Route has finally reached the ancient and mysterious city of Kashgar.
The road to this city was quite thrilling. Tengrinews correspondent is among the participants of the project. On their way to Kashgar the expedition participants told him stories and helped him understand the history of this region of China.
The project participants spent a few days in the ancient city of Kuchar, or Kucha as written by Walkhanov, who cited merchants in his writings. "This is a huge city, consisting of 10 thousand homes, in which Muslims live, the Chinese troops here number 600 people," the Kazakh historiographer wrote.
The city is now much larger with new districts and modern buildings. Sites in the old town are under state protection as cultural heritage. Like in the ancient times, this city has a large bazaar, where one can find a variety of products, including local food, including fresh fruit and berries, souvenirs reflecting the local culture, and clothing.
The locals prefer to use electrically powered mopeds to move around town, so the sounds of roaring engines are uncommon in the streets of Kushar unlike in most other cities.
The expedition managed to meet the honorable prince of the city, a descendant of the Kuchan Khanate rulers Davut Maksut. However, due to illness, the meeting with the 87-year-old prince was short. Nevertheless, the Kazakhs had time to congratulate him on Eid Al-Fitr and take several pictures.
The group also visited a settlement called Subash that used to be inhabited by Buddhists. There is a large temple that has many caves, where the locals pray and praise the Buddha. The city flourished in the V to VII centuries AD. Many pilgrims, monks and Buddhist teachers came here. Its decline began around IX-X centuries AD, and after the arrival of Islam to the region, the Buddhists were forced to flee to the mountains.
After leaving Kuchar, the expedition visited Tianshan Grand Canyon (Keziliya Grand Canyon).
Kadyr Musa, Ph.D. in Geography, says that this unique geological structure has acquired its present form due to high temperatures, sunlight and strong wind, creating the reddish-orange mountains that are millions of years old.
The group make their next stop in another Buddhist temple. It is called "Myn uy" (translated as ‘thousand houses" from Uighur). It is also called the Thousand Buddha Caves. It is a site of great many caves carved right into the mountain. The construction began in the III-IV centuries AD and lasted for about 500-600 years. To date, 339 caves have been discovered. Each of them has a separate entrance and a minimum of two rooms. There are remains of frescoes depicting Buddha’s life as a hermit and his discourse on the walls.
The expedition stopped 150 kilometers away from Kashgar in the village of Shikyar, which translates as “sweet” from Uighur. Indeed, the village is famous for its delicious melons and watermelons. After tasting the goodies, the group continued covering last kilometers to reach the ultimate goal of the expedition – Kashgar.
"We have come a long and difficult way. We have seen many things and learned the history of the region. This knowledge is necessary for our future work. We believe that tourists will be interested in our route "Great Silk Road in Central Asia.” Now, we can go on to explore and see the very places that the great Kazakh scholar and traveler Shoqan Walikhanov once trod," the expedition leader Ordenbek Mazbayev said in an uplifted mood.
Reporting and photos by Vladimir Prokopenko
Writing by Dinara Urazova