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Kashgar, the westernmost city in China, is closer to Baghdad than Beijing. More than 3,400 km (2,100 miles) west of the capital, the city has been a center of trade between China and the outside world for at least 2,000 years. Today Kashgar is a hub for merchants coming in over the Khunjerab Pass from Pakistan and the Torugart Pass from Kyrgyzstan. When these two treacherous mountain passes
are open from May to October, Kashgar becomes a particularly colorful city, abuzz not only with curious Western tourists but also with visitors from every corner of Central Asia.
Despite an increasing Han presence in central Kashgar (symbolized by one of the largest Mao statues in the country), the city is still overwhelmingly Uyghur. A great deal of modernization has taken place here since the railway from Ürümqi arrived in 1999. Beijing is showering attention and money to boost the local economy and placate Kashgar's Uyghur population. There are still occasional clashes, and in 2008 Uyghurs killed more than a dozen police officers. This led to a heavy security presence that remains today.
Turpan, which means "the lowest place" in Uyghur, lies in a desert basin at the southern foot of the Heavenly Mountains. Part of the basin lies...