Asia’s most interesting bazaar
Grand Bazaar, Kashgar, China
Things don’t get started until quite late in the morning in Kashgar. In this Chinese city, the clocks don’t match the sun… so they tend to get ignored. The people here use their own special version of time.
It’s all because of the rather bizarre insistence by the Chinese government that the entire country should use the same timezone. It’s supposed to make things better for industry and business because everyone should be at work at the same time, but it creates some strange effects.
The timezone that all of China uses is based around Beijing, naturally. But here in Kashgar, the most western city in the country, Beijing is 3,500 kilometres away. That’s about the same distance as Sydney to Perth, or New York to Los Angeles, both of which have time differences of 3 hours. It means that at 9am, for instance, the sun might be well and truly up in Beijing but it’s still pitch black in Kashgar.
So when I go to visit the main market in Kashgar at midday, it’s only just getting started.
I’ve been to a lot of markets around the world and I always enjoy seeing the different cultural expressions within them. But at the Grand Bazaar in Kashgar, I find something entirely new.
Kashgar was once one of the most important stops along the Silk Road – for geographic reasons, more than anything else. Different paths seemed to converge here and it was a natural resting place after the arduous journey over the mountains and deserts that you find in almost any direction. For these reasons, it became a centre for trade and one of the largest ancient markets in the world developed here.
Even though the Silk Road as an overland network has been left in history by modern technology, Kashgar has managed to stay an important destination for trade locally. It probably has something to do with the remoteness of this region of China – in some ways, this is the only place to go shopping for hundreds and hundreds of kilometres.
Kashgar’s Grand Bazaar is still one of the largest in Asia. It’s open every day but is the busiest on Sunday when more than 200,000 people will come through the gates. Inside, you can find almost anything you would want… and many things that you would think nobody would.
When I come through the gates, I am instantly lost. The market seems to go on with no clear end. When I’m in a covered section and see sunlight down the end of a corridor, I think I must be at one of the market’s edges. Instead, it turns out to be an outside area with stalls selling dates and men with pans of nuts and, on the other side, another covered section.
On and on I walk, through different areas focusing on their own specialty wares. The stalls selling suits are quiet at the moment but the section with kitchen goods seems busy. There are quite a few women haggling over cheap clothes and an area with scarves seems popular too. At a row of shops with musical instruments, I can see one of the vendors taking the time to play some kind of lute. In an outdoor courtyard, the men working at the series of spice stalls are all talking to each other.
It would be easy to spend hours here, walking through a bazaar that caters for the modern world but had its origins in a romantic ancient one, when East and West exchanged their culture as much as their goods. You see it in so many of the elements of the market here in Kashgar – the clothes, the snacks, the decorations on scarves, the hats.
You certainly very quickly forget you’re in China, just like I’ve previously written about in my post on Kashgar’s Old City.
We may be technically in China but the bazaar, like the city, is almost stateless. It is positioned within an era – that of the Silk Road – not within the borders of any one nation. It belongs to the world that shared ideas and traded history. Just like modern Kashgar uses the timezone it wants, it also lives in the period of time it feels most comfortable.
Before I finish, I’ll leave you with a few more of my photos from the Grand Bazaar in Kashgar.