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Kashgar city (northwest) with population about 200,000 is surely one of the most exotic cities of the world. Throughout recorded history, all branches of the Silk Road passed through Kashgar. This great oasis (elevation about 4000 ft) is bounded on the north, west and south by high mountains and on the east by the Taklamakan, one of the most desolate deserts in the world. More than 90% of the people in Kashgar are Uighurs, Turkish-speaking descendents of a great empire that extended throughout Mongolia and Chinese Turkestan during the 8th and 9th centuries. At that time the Uighurs were Buddhists, Nestorian Christians, and Manicheists. They became Muslims when conquered by the Karakhanids in the 10th century. The highlight of the city is the great Idkah Mosque in the center of the city. The medieval town behind the mosque is very colorful, with many street vendors, shops, old buildings, and cafes offering a tremendous variety of foods, fabrics, shoes, handicrafts. Bright colorful silks are hanging everywhere. Near the center of town is a colossal statue of Mao, an unwelcome reminder to the Uighurs that the Han Chinese are fully in control here. In fact, this region (the Tarim Basin, including Kashgar and the oasis towns of Yarkand and Khotan on the southern branch of the Silk Road and Kucha and Turfan on the northern branch) has not been Chinese for most of its history. Throughout centuries (and today), the religion, culture, and commerce were much closer to the Middle Asian kingdoms of Tashkent, Samarkand, and Bukhara. The area was independent of China from the fall of the Mongol (Yuan) dynasty in the 14th century until they were re-conquered by the Chinese Emperor Qianlong in the mid-18th century. If you have few extra hours and interest, drive outside of Kashgar city to see Abakh Hoja Mausoleum, a beautiful 17th century building containing many tombs of religious leaders and members of a rich Muslim family, which are very similar to tombs found in Konya, Turkey.