First impressions of Hotan (or Khotan, or Hetain…it seems to have a million transliterations…) were the kind that make you question why on earth you had come there. It is a Uighur town in western China that has been subject to increased migration of Han Chinese in recent years as road, rail and economic links to the rest of China have improved (which also makes it easier for travellers to get to) It is a town that depending on where abouts in it you are, seems to fluctuate between being very obviously Chinese, to being a town that also reflects its geographical position of being only 100 miles away from Kashmir. Security is tight here, police and soldiers stand guard behind iron grates and barbed wire with the recent tensions in the Xinjiang Province somewhat at odds with the large statue of Mao embracing a Uighur man in the centre of town.
But just outside this town, and given only a cursory mention in the Lonely Planet China guide stood what is undoubteldy for me another trip highlight. 15km from the centre, on the edge of, and slowly being enveloped by, the surrounding desert, stands an Islamic holy site, the Tomb of the Imam Asim. The strange beauty of this site, with the only noise coming from the 100’s of flags flapping in the wind really was moving, as the desert stretched out beyond the site with mountains just visible in the distance.
It was a if some strange ghostly pirate ship had emerged from the desert sands. It was unlike any shrine or tomb I’ve seen from any religion before or since and it ‘just felt’ very old, almost biblical. The photos and video below can’t hope to give justice to the moment, but if nothing else will hopefully persuade you that if, for whatever reason, you find yourself nearby (ok it would probably have to be quite a weird reason its not exactly on the tourist trail) you must pay this place a visit.
I’d only stumbled across this town because the trains from Kashgar to Urumqi were fully booked for the whole week after my arrival forcing me to immediately give up on my initial plan and take a rather more roundabout route onwards into China. Proof again perhaps that some of the best travel experiences result from things initially not going to plan…