Owner of Kashgar's Pamir Youth Hostel shares her love for Xinjiang with guests

By Xie Wenting in Kashgar Source:Global Times Published: 2016/9/7 18:43:39

Pamir youth hostel the social hub of Xinjiang


Two foreign guests bathe in the sunshine at the Pamir Youth Hotel in Kashgar, Northwest China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Photo: Cui Meng/GT

With a clear view of the buzzing Idkah square - where stands one of China's largest ancient mosques, the Idkah Mosque - a group of people from different countries bathe in the sunshine on the outdoor terrace of the Pamir Youth Hostel in Kashgar, Northwest China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

Opened in Kashgar's old town in 2012, the hostel receives tourists from all around the world. According to Zhao Fei, the manager of the hostel, during peak season half of the guests are foreigners.

"Even in China's biggest metropolises, including Beijing and Shanghai, you won't see so many foreign guests in a youth hostel," Zhao told the Global Times.

"There are entrance and exit ports in Kashgar. Many foreign tourists who travel through Central Asian come to Kashgar via the entrance port," she said.

Zhao and her boyfriend took over the hostel at the end of 2014, after a deadly terrorist attack in Kashgar's Shache county on July 28 of that year. The attack left 37 civilians dead and 13 people injured, according to the Xinhua News Agency.

"Business was so bleak that year after the attack. But now it is recovering," she said.

Zhao has never visited Xinjiang before 2014. It's out of love that the 25-year-old quit her job in Hubei Province and followed her boyfriend's step to Kashgar.

"Now I'm deeply attached to the life and culture here. After spending these years in Kashgar, I feel this place is safe and worth visiting… People who say the place isn't safe are those who haven't set foot in it," she said.

A melting pot

It's common to see strangers at the hostel drinking beer together, sharing fruit and talking and exchanging information. While some people barely speak English, this doesn't prevent them from engaging in discussions with foreigners with the help of body language.

Mai Jing-jing, 43, from Taiwan, said that she was particularly fond of youth hostels.

"I personally like the atmosphere at youth hostels. In the Chinese mainland, youth hostels are often run by experienced travelers, and they can provide you with useful travel information. Besides, it's a place where you can meet strangers and share information," she said, adding that Taiwan lacks such a mature youth hostel culture.

Mai first visited Kashgar a decade ago, back when there were no youth hostels in the city. Fortunately, she was able to fulfill her dream of spending a lazy afternoon in a youth hostel this time.

"The view from this youth hostel is so good. I just want to sit here and do nothing," she said.

While there are five youth hostels in Kashgar, Mai said that Pamir has a special edge over the others due to its "good location."

Before coming to Kashgar, Mai and her friends had toured other places in southern Xinjiang.

"In other southern Xinjiang cities like Hotan, it's still hard to find a youth hostel," she said.

Compared with the beautiful landscapes in northern Xinjiang, Mai said that the rich "Uyghur folk culture" in southern Xinjiang appealed to her more. 

"It's almost like a foreign land," Mai said.

Despite the hostel's view, many foreigners staying in Pamir said that they chose the youth hostel because it's cheap, comfortable and serves as a good venue to make new friends.

Marie Leroy, a traveler from France, added that the merits of the Pamir Youth Hostel for foreigners also include the fact that the owner can speak English.

Leroy originally had chosen to stay in another youth hostel with her husband and her mother but the staff members there couldn't speak English very well. So they later changed to this one.

"After we relocated to the Pamir Youth Hostel, I found out that it also got recommended in Lonely Planet," she said.  

In the Lonely Planet published in 2015, Pamir was listed at the top spot for accommodations in Kashgar.

Changing minds

Kashgar, known as Shule in ancient times, was on the ancient Silk Road. The history of the city dates back to the Western Han Dynasty (206BC-AD25). The city is one of the best places to go for those interested in Uyghur Culture.

Different from other Chinese cities that she has visited, Leroy said that the culture, food and language in Kashgar is "different and exotic," which for her makes it more interesting to visit.

Safety hasn't been a concern for Leroy.

"I'm not worried about safety. Now even France is not very safe," she told the Global Times.

In Kashgar, her family try to talk with local Uyghur people whenever they have the chance and they have yet to encounter any trouble.

Zhao said that she often received calls from guests asking whether the place is safe.

"Telling them a million times can't compare to letting them see the place on their own. When they come, they will know," she said.

Once guests arrive, Zhao encourages them to tour the old town and taste the traditional Uyghur food at the night market, which stays open until around 4 am. The night market is just opposite the Idkah square.

"The only thing I warn them about is to keep an eye on their pockets," she said.

"After touring around, they all learn that this place is safe."

Even her family needed this lesson at one point.

When she first moved here, she didn't dare to tell her parents that she was in Kashgar, instead she told them she was in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang.

Last year, she finally invited her father to visit Kashgar, so they could see that there was nothing to worry about.

In addition to delivering a message of safety to the world, Zhao told the Global Times that her biggest dream is to "rebuild the hostel's past glory."

During the peak season in 2013, which runs from July to October, the hostel received more than 100 people a day.

Although the hostel has recently only reached capacity during certain holidays, business is still good.

"As more tourists come this year, I'm optimistic about the future," Zhao said. 

Newspaper headline: Home away from home

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