City of legend

Published : Sep 25, 2009 00:00 IST

KASHGAR, one of the most multi-ethnic cities in China, is under threat like very many Asian cities, not least in India. Michael Wines warned in International Herald Tribune, citing this book, that 900 families have already been moved from Kashgars Old City, the best-preserved example of a traditional Islamic city to be found anywhere in central Asia. Over the next few years, city officials say that they will demolish at least 85 per cent of this warren of picturesque, if random, homes and shops. Many of its 13,000 families, Muslims from the Turkic ethnic group called the Uighurs, will be moved. It was sacked centuries ago by Tamerlane and Genghis Khan.

A thousand years ago, the northern and southern branches of the Silk Road converged on this oasis town near the western edge of the Taklamakan desert. Traders from Delhi and Samarkand, wearied by frigid treks over 6,000-metre peaks, unloaded their pack horses here and sold saffron and lutes along the citys cramped streets. Chinese traders, their camels laden with silk and porcelain, did the same. Kashgar had a brief existence as an independent state under Yakoob Beg. Begs biography by Demetrius Charles Boulger (1878) is a collectors prize. He concluded treaties with Russia and Britain. After Chinas reconquest, eastern Turkistan or Kashgaria became New Dominions (Sinkiang), now Xinjiang.

This magnificent photographic essay is the work of the Kashgar Project Team of the Monash Asia Institute at Monash University, Melbourne, Australia. George Michell, an architect, won a Ph.D. in Indian Archaeology and carried out research on many historical sites in India, including Vijayanagar. Marika Vicziany is Professor of Archaeology at Monash University, while Tsui Yen Hu is Professor of Anthropology at Xinjiang Normal University in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang. John Gollings is one of Australias leading landscape photographers whose work has made this volume a feast for the eyes. A talented team of scholars assisted in the project, and each of them is at work on a monograph on Kashgar.

A lucidly written text on the history of the city, the Uighurs and their beliefs and practices, and the impact of urbanism and modernisation, this remarkable work has colour photographs of surpassing excellence.

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