URUMQI -- At a cafe in Kashgar's renovated old town, a German family
of four sat in the morning sunshine debating which type of grape was the
tastiest or most succulent.
"We bought a hundred types of Turpan grapes to eat in the car. They
were all different, and each of us had our favorite," said Achim
Loeffler, director of a Shanghai-based chemical firm.
"But other than that, everyone was amazed by the deserts, the
mountains, the culture and the food. There was absolutely no
disagreement on how delicious the lamb, noodles or naan bread were," his
wife, Ute, added, while their son and daughter chuckled in the
After living in China for two and a half years, the Loefflers chose
northwest China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, the heartland of
both the ancient and modern Silk Roads, as the destination for the
family's last trip before moving back to Germany.
"I'm curious about the old Silk Road, and I like the idea of the
modern one linking the East with the West," Loeffler said, "On the trip,
we saw a lot of work going on, especially in new infrastructure."
"Kashgar, for example, is old, but also very new," he added.
The ancient oasis city of Kashgar, in the westernmost part of China
near the border with Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan,
was an important staging post on the original Silk Road and has been
revitalized as a bustling hub of business and different cultures.
From Kashgar to Pakistan's Gwadar Port, there will be new roads,
railways, and pipelines along the 3,000-km China-Pakistan Economic
Corridor that connects the northern and southern routes of the modern
A one-billion-dollar renovation project has transformed most of the
substandard housing in Kashgar's old town into sound, earthquake-proof
buildings, while retaining the area's traditional Uyghur charm.
The old town is now a mainstay of the local economy, a favorite among
young and old, locals and newcomers. Neither the mercantile culture nor
the entrepreneurial spirit has waned over time.
A kilometer away, inside the Id Kah Mosque, tourists stop to stare at
a wall-sized wool carpet as a tour guide explains that the 56
pomegranate flowers symbolize the unity of China's 56 ethnic groups, a
sentiment echoed by President Xi Jinping when he said that all ethnic
groups should hold together like pomegranate seeds to achieve national
The Belt and Road Initiative was proposed by Xi in 2013 to boost
world trade and connectivity through a land-based Silk Road Economic
Belt and an oceangoing 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.
Nowhere exemplifies the initiative better than Xinjiang, which accounts for a quarter of China's land boundary.
Home to dozens of ethnic groups, it occupies a sixth of China's
territory, although habitable oases only cover 9 percent of its area.
Despite the barren landscape, Xinjiang is a frontier of cultural
exchanges, transportation, and trade.