Karakoram Highway

It has been 11 days since my last post, and blogger had forgotten me. This will be the last post on the wonderful Xinjiang trip that was. Then to more dissertation related issues.

From Kashgar, we headed south. First were the amazing vistas on our way to some of the highest fresh water lakes in the world, Lake Karakul. Then we stayed in a yurt for awhile before continuing to Tashkurgan for the evening. Four of us continued all the way south to the Pakistan border at the Khunjerab Pass.

Here, courtesy of Google Earth, is what I’m talking about:

The map reflects more than simply geographic reality. Culturally, Kashgaria feels like Central Asia, or at least feels extremely non-Chinese. The fact that most of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are depicted but Urumqi is off to the northwest shows how remote (at least vis-a-vis China) we were.

The spatial placement of the Stans haven’t stuck into my head the way that Beijing’s roads or US States have. At one point on our way south to the border with Pakistan (which, as google helpfully notes with its red coloring, is disputed), an unmarked road heading west would have taken us to Afghanistan.

One final set of images is needed to make this very partial travel story both more political and more complete. Tashkurgan is home to a large military contingent. In fact, returning from the border, our bus took two soldiers (with one silver barreled rifle between them) back to the post half a kilometer away; we also took one soldier for the nearly three hour journey back from the post to Tashkurgan. Evidence of the sizable non-native population in Tashkurgan was the abundance of non-halal, pork-filled Chinese restaurants. There were representatives from Sichuan, Shandong, Shanxi, and Shaanxi. Not coincidentally, there is perhaps the most impressive middle school (combined middle and high school) that I have ever seen in my time in China.

Let’s get some detail on those characters in the center.

Why, yes, it does seem to be a Han boy and a Tajik girl in traditional ethnic dress together upholding a compass-like symbol of modernism. Is the school a show project to demonstrate to minorities how much the Chinese government cares about the them? Yes, definitely. Is that this school is built in a place where the soldiers dispatched here can see the generosity and benevolence of the People’s Liberation Army coincidence? Of course not. Killing two birds with one impressive middle school.

Xinjiang, China’s Wild West.

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