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  • Day17

    Islamic influences

    June 1, 2019 in China ⋅ ☀️ 29 °C

    A large statue of Chairman Mao dominates Kashgar's physical city centre. However, it would seem that the Ida Kah Mosque provides it's spiritual centre. One of the largest mosques in China, it was probably built in 1738 but apparently stands on the site of a smaller, 15th century mosque. With a definite Central Asian, rather than Chinese, architectural style, the mosque was badly damaged during the Cultural Revolution. Our visit was a reminder to me of the tragedy in Christchurch. The denigration of such a tranquil and contemplative place belies belief.

    According to our guide book, Islam arrived in China around the 9th century, about 200 years after Arab sailors landed in southern China. There are now more than 13 million Muslims in China, concentrated in the Xinjiang province in north western China (including Uighur, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Tajiks, Tatars and Uzbeks), as well as Chinese speaking Hui, who are scattered around the country. Islam became dominant in the Xinjiang region by the 15th century and Kashgar became an important Islamic centre.

    It was here that we also learnt from our guide that the entrance price for tourist attractions in China generally reflects the age of said attraction (price increases with age)!

    The Aba Khoja Mausoleum is another must-see on the Kashgar tourist trail. Considered one of the best examples of Islamic architecture in China, the mausoleum is the burial place of the family of Aba Khoja, a celebrated Islamic missionary. Built in the 17th century it retains much of its original tiling. Exquisite colours - blue, green, orange - adorn the exterior. Inside, blue-glazed tiles decorate the cradle-shaped tombs of family members. Tiny tombs tell sad stories of young ones lost.

    The mausoleum is also known as Xiangfei's Tomb. Xiangfei (or Ikparhan as she was known) was a descendant of Aba Khoja and had been forced to become the concubine of the Chinese Emperor. Depending on which story you believe, she refused to submit to the dastardly fellow and was either murdered or committed suicide. Or she may have lived to old age. Regardless, the story goes that after she died she continued to smell as sweetly fragrant as she did when alive, and so became known as the Fragrant Concubine. Two coffins were used to transport her from Bejing to her home in Kashgar, with one being constantly filled with fresh roses to maintain her perfumed state. Apparently it took 3 years for the journey. I feel sorry for the poor fellows charged with refreshing the roses around her rotting body!

    A nearby Friday (or Juma) mosque offered more insight into the Muslim world. Individually carved pillars detailed beautiful floral emblems and are considered amongst the finest examples of Uighur wood culture.

    Kashgar is a city of old and new and we spent time exploring the older parts of town that had undergone restoration to enhance their old world charm. A short distance from the main street and you entered a world of children playing in shared courtyards, old men and women sharing stories perched on tiny chairs, colorful doorways and ornate detailing. A wonderful contrast to the constant noise, the dusty air and the human shuffle.
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