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 the city with attention and money to boost the local economy and placate Kashgar's Uyghur population. There are still clashes, which has led to a heavy security presence, but the area is safe enough for foreigners.
Much of the city's Uyghur architecture has been demolished, but there are still some traditional houses with ornately painted balconies, as well as a few remaining sections of the Old City. Most visitors come to Kashgar for the amazing Sunday Market, the largest bazaar in Central Asia and one of the best photo ops in all of China.