China’s Westernmost Town

Stone City

I sat on a large stone waiting. In the pre-dawn hour the air was cold and crisp. Below me on one side were the green grasslands and above me to the other side was a large snow caped mountain range. It was an ideal place for them to have built the city, whose ruins I sat among. It was so early that no one was there and I had the place to myself. I was there to take sun rise photos in the ruins of the “Stone City” in Tashkurgan Tajik Autonomous County, Xinjiang Province, People’s Republic of China. This is China’s westernmost town and it was the last stop on my 8 day tour of the ancient Silk Road.

Our tour began in Dunhuang, Gansu Province were we road camels in the desert to visit the Crescent Moon Lake, a lush green oasis. I took an ultralight heli glider over the oasis and got a fantastic view of the Mingshashan Mountain and Sand Dunes. Marco Polo referred to these as the “rumbling sands”. We also visited the Mogao Grottos that contain some of the finest examples of Buddhist art spanning a period of 1,000 years. From there we want to Turpan and toured the Jiaohe Ancient City, which was originally a Han garrison town. After visiting Turpan we drove the Urumqi the capital of Xinjiang Province where we took a plane to Kashgar. Kashgar or Kashi is an oasis county-level city with approximately 350,000 residents and is the one of the westernmost Chinese cities, located near the border with Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. It is the administrative center of Kashgar Prefecture of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, which has an area of 162,000 square kilometres (63,000 sq mi) and a population of approximately 3.5 million. The sights, sounds and smells were more Persian than Chinese. It was a 7 hour drive from Kashgar to Tashkurgan along the famous Karakoram Highway which is the highest paved international road in the world. It connects China and Pakistan across the Karakoram mountain range, through the Khunjerab Pass, at an elevation of 4,693 metres (15,397 ft). The views of the Karakoram mountain range were breathtaking.

It was there, alone in the ruins of the “Stone City” that I contemplated my own journey in China which began when I arrive in Hong Kong on January 25, 1997. My journey began 17 years ago, has it really been that long? When I lived in Hong Kong I made countless business trips into Mainland China and for the last 3 years that I have been living in Beijing I have visited many new places. I have travelled to Harbin in the northeast to see the ice festival; to the Hainan tropical Island in the southeast; to the Tibetan plateau in the southwest and now to Xinjiang in the northwest and the westernmost town in China. I had physically gone as far west as I could. I also had my ongoing journey into learning the Chinese language, culture and business practices.

I had seen and done so much in China and sitting on my stone I thought, “where do I go from here”? How can I learn more? Where does my journey into understanding China and Chinese culture take me next? I believe the answer is closer than I think. Now I must take all of my experiences and knowledge and journey inward to be able to think about things from the Chinese perspective and adapt myself accordingly while at the same time maintaining my own values and beliefs. No small task.

My journey continues anew.