mi ruta de la seda » 2010 » December
Threatening for travellers, locals and further people. “You’ll go and won’t come back”, “go in and you will never come out”, this is what Taklamakan means in local Uygur language. It’s one of the most arid deserts, and for the caravans of the silk road, a nightmare place. It was impossible to cross, a certain death, so it was surrounded. The north route passes by the Tien Shan mountains. The south borders the Kulum mountains that became Tibet later.
In case this was not enough on the west it’s flanked by the Pamir mountains and on the east there are the Gobi and Lop Nor deserts. Taklamakan itself is surrounded by the highest mountain ranges in the world and by two more deserts nearly as hard as itself. Doing it on purpose would not be that hostile, a natural trap.
The first place I visit after Kashgar is Yarkland. Here I go to the Altyn mosque. It’s quite like the Uzbek mosques with elaborated wooden columns, however they are painted in colours here. One of the facades is open to a courtyard.
In the Altyn mosque you can get in without problems but walking by the old quarters I got into a small mosque and the “keeper” told me get out in quite an unpleasant way. As far as I know there is no church where non believers can’t get in. If you are respectful and discrete I don’t think you annoy anyone.
There was a nearby Muslim cemetery. A man cleans in the silence.
What a better place to have a nap that between the dust and the sun?
This is the southwest of Taklamakan desert. Until the X century here there were Buddhist believers and an Iranian language was spoken. Later the Turks came and brought Islam.
Yarkland was important in the silk road because from here there was a crossing to Leh in India. Today it is a small city but as any other Chinese city, even the smallest dot in the map is bigger than what you would imagine.
From here I go to Khotan. I cross the city of Karguilik that is where the expeditions to the Chinese part of K2 departs.
The bus leaves me at 11 p.m. in the station. I open the guide book and search the hotel I’ve chosen to stay. I don’t find it, neither the next one on that guidebook, neither the two first of the second guidebook… Am I in Khotan? I’ve been walking for an hour. Why can’t I have found four hotels? I said Khotan when I bought the ticket, right? The next hotel was there. It was called “Happy Hotel”, yes, I’m in Khotan. One a.m. how hungry!
In the restaurant I shared table and tea with this couple. In restaurants here you always have a teapot totally for you. We had not too much common language but they were very kind and pleasant, we had had some sleepy laughs and then; to bed.
Melikawat, the ancíent Khotan. An immensity, dusk, a 14 years old sheppard girl and some remains of ancient buildings that remind how big this city was. As the place is not very visited you can still find ceramic pieces on the ground.
The shepard is not really aware of the history that her goats are pasturing around. If you haven’t read about the explorer that came here during the 19th and 20th century that came here to explore archaeological treasures it may just be another ruin.
Khotan is a synonym of Jade, even it was a stop on the silk road Khotan has been known for centuries for it’s jade from the rivers Karakash and Yurungkash, the rivers of black and white jade. In fact Khotan was in what was called the jade route. The city has hundreds (hundreds means hundreds) of jewellery shops and workshops working with Jade.
I want to buy a ball of jade as memory. Apart from hats I usually don’t buy anything but this is something I feel like buying. It takes me quite a while, but at the end I find a set of Chinese balls in black jade from the Karakash river. My backpack complains about the weight.
In the afternoon I saw a crowd in a corner of the center of the city. I go to see what it was. A pile of men were selling and buying jade stones. Seems that people go to the rivers to collect them and then they sell them here. They keep then in a container with water so they look better and you can see suited buyers looking at the stones with care and lighting them with a light to she their translucency so they pay the right price.
Is it homologated?
I get to the Sunday market. I see the amount of people by square meter, I buy two bananas and leave. It is as big as Kashgar market and I don’t want to be squashed by so many people.
Mummy of the local museum from about 1500 years ago.
It’s quite like the Pizza Hut logo, but it’s not.
A han food restaurant.
It’s time to decide the route to choose. I can continue by the south route but sounds complex to move around but it attracts me, if it’s difficult to move around there won’t be too many people and that’s always attractive. On the other side there’s not much to see either and crossing to the north by the middle of Taklamakan desert sounds good too. If to me it’s difficult to decide I can’t imagine how difficult could it be to merchants to choose the north or south route. For me at the end is no more than getting a bus with one name or another.
I felt like crossing the desert, but the bus does part of the journey at night and at night you don’t get to see the landscape. Finally I decided that even I don’t see the 10 hours of desert it’s ok, I calculated that I’d do four hours of desert and that would be enough. But the south route also has interesting things. What should I do?!
The last trees I see in hours.
After changing my mind 20 times by hour I decided to get the bus to cross the desert in the longest bus journey of my life. I don’t know yet I I’ve taken the express bus of 20 hours or the normal that is 25 and I already have the ticket! There are things that are impossible to find out.
I go by a unique road. 552 kilometres of asphalt crosses the desert. On the sides I see buildings with numbers, the first one I see has 80, they are wells to water the brushes that have been planted on the sides of the road to avoid the sand getting over the asphalt.
Never a road like that had been built in moving sand dunes but the petrol found here has done what during years seemed impossible, crossing the desert. And the most impossible even, crossing in just a few hours. Even the prodigious of the road it’s still a desert and the bad weather can close the road for days.
The bus has very reclined seats more like beds and I lean looking by the window. It’s possible to sleep very well so the journey doesn’t seem that long.
I have a very kind “protector” today. He never stops smiling and his smile seems not to fit totally in his face. He invites me for lunch when I ask how long is the stop and every time I look to the back I meet his smile.
He’s travelling to Urumqi with his wife. She doesn’t wear burka, but behind the scarf I can only see her eyes. They don’t stop talking all the trip and he’s sitting on the aisle to be closer to her, they talk in the afternoon, all night and in the morning, they laugh a lot and share thousands of things. You can see they are happy together.
The desert is surrounded by oasis-cities, small villages, hundreds of greenhouses and a lot of crops that you see on the sides of the road. On the divert to the desert towards the inside of the desert there were still some trees but shortly later there would be only sand dunes.
I get to the front part to get a picture, the drivers take a cushion to me and invites me to have a seat on the stairs so I’m more comfortable and I can take pictures, also that way we can chat a bit. Chat in this case means communicate, we don’t have many words in common, but we have 16 hours to try.
When the driver that drives got some confidence to ask me for the sun glasses. I think he’d seen me in on of the stops and wanted to try them on. He likes them, want’s to swap for his glasses, but I’d tell him no because my eyes are weak and I need covering glasses to protect them. He doesn’t care much about that and insists on keeping them so I tell him I’ll swap my shades for the bus. Now I have transport to go to Xian, hope it does not use too much petrol.
It’s sunset and I see windmills by the window. The last time I saw some was in the east of Iran.
There are hundreds.
It´s very arid.
When we arrive to Urumqi I decide to get another 2 hours bus to Turpan making it a total of 25 hours.
I arrive to Turpan. This city is in the northeast of the desert of Taklamakan. In ancient times it was an oasis that brought the water from to mountains by a Karez, a subterranean water collecting system to bring it to the village. In Iran I told you about this, they call it Qanar there but it’s the same technology.
Playing Chinese chess near the market.
Is he thinking or bored?
I go to the Emin mosque. The rounded style of the minaret and the thick base are new for my minaret collection, it’s Afghan style, from 1777.
Today is a special festivity, it’s seven in the morning and the faithful have gathered to pray. It’s exciting, you are never allowed to get into a mosque in praying time. People lean once in a while, they look to the sides often and murmur prayers when it’s time to do it. Looks quite like a mosh.
After praying they all go home, it’s the tradition. A goat is killed and cooked with the family.
Near Turpan the Jiaohe ruins are found, they are quite destroyed so I season the picture with a modern Chinese.
The signs are a bit deficient, aren’t they? “Two minutes to the big temple”. Even though it’s very interesting and it’s UNESCO world heritage.
Another stop on the small village of Toyugou, it’s not very touristy and very authentic, ideal to finish the day with afternoon sun.
In the Turpan hotel I’ve got a lot of luck, I’ve got together with a couple, an American girl and a French guy, they’ve been living in Shangai for three years and apart from been super nice they talk good Chinese and are my translators all day. I’m happy. They know all the food and they tell me tons of things I would have never realize about by myself. I can’t be better.
Turpan area is in the second lowest depression after the dead sea with -154 meters under the sea level.
I don’t know why these beds are on the hill, but as the image is peculiar I put it here.
With this I’m about to finish my journey in the Taklamakan desert, a name that has resounded in my head during a few years until I’ve seen it. For you it may be a new name, but I’m sure it’s one of those names that once you know them you start hearing them in the telly and see it on magazines once in a while and you’ll think it’s impossible you haven’t know it before.
The driver that has taken us around all day tells me that in two hours there’s a night bus to Dunhuna, my next stop. JP and Marian have the same destination, they were thinking on going tomorrow but they change their plan.
I buy something in the market while they pack their bags and we get into the bus towards Dunhuang to see the Caves of the the Thousand Buddhas. After all day from one place to another I fall asleep immediately.
If any of you is wandering why I have been so many days without telling you any news, it is because I have not had material time. I had been a while delayed with the blog and in fact now the trip has finished. Yes! I achieved my objective and reached Xian, origin of the silk so many times mentioned in this page.
This post is just to tell you that even the trip has finished the blog hasn’t, I still have things to tell you. Feelings, images, thoughts, another video, and the reason to come back are something you will find in the next post.
Today I don’t tell you more, it’s been a neutral post, the feelings will come back in tomorrow’s post… or the day after tomorrow…
I was thinking I needed to put some pictures.
I had always wanted to try escorpions! Or something equally “un-appealing” I didn’t have an adventous day… didn’t try.
Greetings, this time, from Spain.
Silvia left days ago. When she told me about her return trip I asked her to write a post about it. I thought she’d tell me forget about it, but she wrote it. I’m delighted, this time I just have to translate it to English and enjoy the story, moreover she traveled with people that were able to explain to her the ethnical problems in the country, but better if she tells you:
By Silvia Ocaña.
After 15 days in Kyrgyzstan, I have to say I’ve been surprised by the country. It is one of those countries that when you go, your friends ask you; why are you going?.. There’s nothing… The truth is that if you like the outdoors, it is one of the best places to go, people are very kind and warm.
I was traveling with Fer around the country, the last city we visited was Osh. After two days there it was time to split, Fernando was going to China and I had a long stretch of road to get to Bishkek and get my flight back to Spain.
In the morning at 8 a.m. we split in the bazaar that is the place where you take the shared taxis and after the usual bargain they take you where you want. My driver was an energy engineer but as he had no job, was working as driver temporally to make some money. I was sharing the taxi with a guy that never talked so don’t know about what he did and another guy that was studding international relationships, and that talked good English. He’s the one that became my translator for the trip.
We started the trip, on the way they kept telling me things and asking my opinion about tons of things. Just after we left we went through the neighborhood in which the June problems started, I was told that it was a political thing; the official version is that there was a petrol price rise that was quite high and people went to the streets. As you can imagine that was just an excuse, for them petrol comes up and down every day.
The unofficial version is that when the USSR made the divisions long ago they had not taken ethnic groups into account, and the Uzbek people got between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, also it seems that even they have a democratic system all the ethnic groups don’t have the same weight in decisions on the parliament. In any case for what I’ve been able to see from people there and the newspaper articles I’ve been reading is that a group of politicians exalted the thinking with independent ideas arguing that some had more economical power than others, the some are discriminated, etc…
Seems that there was some disturbances on the streets with shootings, raping and attacks to shops and houses. All this finished with a wave of violence and the majority of houses and Uzbek shops were burned down. Some times with people inside and with 200.000 people running away to the Uzbek border (Osh had 300.000 people).
You can still see remains of the disturbances with official and NGOs cars everywhere.
Just after leaving, we stopped for breakfast to start the day well, and for not saying than Central Asians are not hospitality, they invited me for breakfast.
After, we started the journey and stopped in another village to try to get another person into the taxi. I took advantage of this moment to see a 10th century watchtower and a mausoleum, in the picture.
While driving, we saw many stalls on the road, most of them with fruit.
The best ones were the ones with huge watermelons, some of the biggest I have ever seen!
The road goes along the Naryan riverbanks, it’s an enormous river with a gigantic dam constructed after WWII, supplying energy to Kyrgyzstan and the nearby countries, and even it is not very profitable for them. Stalin agreed a concession for 90 years in which Kyrgyzstan benefits of the exporting of electricity to Uzbekistan, but at a lower price to what its costs them to produce.
One of the guys in the car told us about the set up of the numerous electrical towers. It was done by a Chinese company and the set up of each tower is about $200.000. There must be 100 and taking into account that Kyrgyzstan is a poor country it’s normal that people are indignated and see this as politicians not doing their job in the “right” way.
The good part of the dam is that fishing is possible, we saw fishermen on an inflatable boat that was later sold in stalls next to the road.
The taxi people ask if I liked fish.
We bought some and took it with us to get it fried in a restaurant on the road at dinnertime. Life goes all around, in the restaurant I met a Kyrgyz that had learn Spanish in Cuba!!!
Kyrgyzs have their sense of humor.
Night started falling and as roads were not very good, there were accidents everywhere. We stopped three times to see if the people involved in the accidents needed help, here it is normal to try to help in any way. Luckily there were no injuries. The forth time we stopped was not that good, a car had fallen into a field overturning. The driver and his wife had died, only the mother of the driver had survived and was crying disconsolately.
After 15 hours of car, at 11 p.m., we arrived alive to Bishkek. I said goodbye thanking my taxi mates for the good time in the taxi and desiring each other good luck.
I got a taxi to the airport to spend the night waiting for the plane and come back to Spain, but that’s another story…
Thanks a lot Silvia!
This market has not changed much in centuries, it doesn’t matter who writes about it or the time in which it’s been written, the description is the same: “An intense chaos of thousands of animals are bought and sold on Sundays”. It would be a sacrilege not to presence this show.
No doubt this deserved a video, so here you have it:
The music, as you see at the end of the video, is local, I’ve recorded it a few days later in Khotan, a place I’ll tell you about in the next post.
If you wonder about it, there are no chickens in the market.
I thought the dust raised by the animals would have made me sneeze dirty snots at the end of the day, but I was wrong, they were plain black.
A clarification after last post. I didn’t get into Pakistan, I just got the Chinese road towards the border. There are times it’s difficult for me to explain my route and for you to follow, so just in case I wanted to clarify this.
Soon stories from the Taklamakan desert.
The way to Pakistan crosses the highest mountain range in the world, a terrain of inhospitable nature that seems not to like having a road.
It’s estimated that during the road construction a Chinese builder died every three kilometres.
This road is 1284 kilometres. It was started in 1960 as a plan from china to strengthen its relations with Pakistan. It was finished in 1982.
Pakistan sounds appealing to me but I dismissed it on my itinerary, I don’t think it’s the best moment to go. I’ll leave it as a pending branch of the silk road for the time the situation get’s stable.
In Kashgar there are a lot of people in the hostels going and coming from Pakistan as Kashgar is the start point of the road.
In Kashgar I’ve joined two French with rastas and a bit of a lost British to do a little part of this road of awesome landscapes. The title talks about Pakistan, but it’s just an easy resource to catch your attention, however I’m not lying, I’m going towards Pakistan but not getting in.
Guez River or Guez Darya in Uygur. “Darya” was the word for river in Turkmenistan also. It carries frozen water that accumulates in stretches forming lines.
Yaks eating what’s left in the summer pastures
The route was not invented in 1960, it’s been here many centuries and may caravans have used it during centuries as it is a branch of the silk road that goes to the Indus, Gylgit and Hunza valleys.
I´m at 4000 meters. We tell the taxi driver to wait for us down the road while we go down having a walk. We have to walk slowly or the height tires you in a few steps. The brains seems to float inside the head, high altitude has to be horrible.
I´ve never been at such an altitude and I couldn´t imagine I´d be this high coming in a taxi.
Sky has a clear colour due to the 4000 less meters of atmosphere that the light don´t have to go through.
Endless lands that make you feel small, tiny, minuscule, insignificant, and I love that feeling.
The French were very restless, were all the time doing silly things in the pictures, and I was infected.
The road has a permanent maintenance as the land is white. China is building a tunnel system on the side mountains to channel the water and avoid flash floods that destroy the road.
The Karakul Lake, at 3500 meters high. More glaciar tongues on the back.
A difficult place to live.
Over the Ice. The “moon walk” is much easier.
Cactrian camel. On the way we’ve gone by several passport controls, we go pararell to the Tajik border.
Now they are used for food and for their skins. Before they used to do this route loaded with goods and the way was hard, the mountain pass to Pakistan is 4722 meter high. It’s called Khunjerab that means “Valley of Blood” for the amount of bandits that used to assault caravans.
One time we went down to take pictures a mane came from nowhere. He threw a carpet full of handicrafts to the ground and said “small bazaar”. Seems nobody can live here.
These mountains of Karakorum and Himalayas are the youngest in the world. They keep growing, pushing up with the vigour of the relative youth of 55 million years.
We go back to Kashgar. The super pure mountain air has recharged my energy and tomorrow I’m leaving towards the Taklamakan desert.
While I get farther from the Kyrgyz border post I look around me. It’s so improbable to come back here that I want to remember it. A red wall on the other side of the canyon where I am, impresses. High Mountain without the minimum vegetation, a desolating place full of silence that very seldom is broken by a trailer that Passive Voice (consider revisiting) pass. A dense white breath getting out of my mouth until it disappears frozen, there is no wind, sometimes I go through it while walking. On a mount a watchtower, I imagine a bored guard missing home while I am delighted here. The river has little water, it has smooth turns in a grey stone river bend, on the distance I loose sight, how long it takes water to arrive the ocean from such a remote place? Army people with long green coats and fur huts that cover their ears. I don’t see birds; there is no reason to come here. A building that looks like an abandoned ski resort. A rusty flag pole with a gleaming red Chinese flag closer every step.
It’s a going through place, nobody would want to stay here long. The environment is beautiful but there’s nothing else. Inside me, the thrill of a new country that I wanted to arrive to. Nearly, need to arrive, as it was something I had proposed.
Coming, little by little, I had accumulated a willing to see China, until not that long ago I saw it far. Moreover, I wanted a change, after so many Muslim countries and two months in Central Asia, I want to start seeing new things. Here I tell you the arrival and what I’ve thought about Kashgar, the mythical Silk Road cities in China.
The first Chinese I met was, of course, the border guard. The front cover of my passport is so used up that it has no drawing. The Spanish shield was gone long ago and you just can see it if you know it existed and about the name of the country it just has some of the “e”, the “s” and the “a”. Carrying on with his work, he asks me what country I was from.
It must have been his only word in English. “Country?” I said “Spain” but he didn’t understand me so I kept trying with the rest of the variants that normally work: “Espain”, “España”, and “Spanski”… As he kept the face of “I have no clue”, I tried with the wildcard: “Europe”… he looked at the Chinese and made a minimum sign approving it and letting me in.
My head said… “ooooo ooooooo, It’s going to be complex moving around here…” but I ignored myself, I didn’t want to be too conscious of it.
In China… so Pagodas, temples, baddish, Confucianism… and burkas?
Of course, the pictures are hidden, stolen instants. If they can’t show their faces, how could they be in a foreign unbeliever camera?
I haven’t seen a burka in all the trip, not sure if one in Turkey, but I think I haven’t. I didn’t expect to see them in China.
These were Budish lands until the silk road brought that new religion that was becoming so successfull and was expanding so fast. It came village by village, caravan by caravan, little by little, and it stayed until today.
Xinjinang is the most western region in China and most of it’s population is Uygur. The Uygur are a Chinese minority that apart from the different religion have totally different customs, things that causes the central government some trouble in that eagerness of those totalitarian regiems that have a united culture in all the country.
Regarding the Islam, I wonder if what I see now is strong because of a reaction to differentiate themselves to the rest of China, for emphasizing their difference with the Han majority that is the 90% of the country, to be clearly different to what the government tries to impose. I don’t know the answer but seems they haven’t changed their customs here in many centuries.
I wanted to buy one to see how you see through. Then I´ve thought that it would be super interesting to wear one in Burgos or Madrid to see how people look. Where can I get one?
For me the Chinesse food is an enough justified reason to come to China. I think I talk too much about food you are going to think I’m a glutton. I can finally eat a real sweet and sour pork… or not? To start they are Muslims so I haven’t seen a pig around.
I was wrong, my first mea; has not been other than Laghman, the noodle soup I’ve been eating in all Central Asia. It was truly tasteful but the main difference is that I’ve eaten it this time with chopsticks, if it wouldn’t be for this I’d thought I was in Kyrgyzstan.
Faces are the same, the eyes are identical, skin colour is the same… I thought that the immense Tien Shan and Pamir ranges had been more effective to make a difference between the region of both sides. There are times that I cross a border and I see a big instant change, other times the changes are smaller, gradual, as this time. There are books that include this region into the definition of Central Asia and with what I’ve seen I’d also include it.
Laghman is in the list of dishes I want to try and prepare when I’m back to Spain. Yes, I have a list of delicious things I want to keep eating the rest of my life. From the things I don’t want to taste I don’t make a list.
Kashgar rivals Kyrgyzstan in hats, in fact I think it wins. Here you have the link to the Kyrgyz hats video.
More hats. The faces could be Kyrgyz or Uzbek.
You see the banners? Chinese characters and, Arabic? The Uygur is a Turkic language similar to others in Central Asia but written in an alphabet derived from the Arabic.
A 18 meters high Mao statue in the middle of the city, I don’t think Uygurs appreciate it too much.
There is some old architecture with the arches and the balconies on the first floor. The city is full of constructions going on, they destroy this building with history and build ugly concrete buildings with lots of floors. The city is full of dust from the constructions. If the butler of the advert dues the cotton test he’d get dirty up to the knutkles.
Kashgar is a mythical city on the silk road, probably for most it’s a new name from what you don’t know much but Marco Polo already talked about it’s commercial importance in 1275 when he was here. He called the region Catay and from here there were routes to India. It is an Oasis city on the west of the Taklamakan desert. Still today it has what is probably the biggest market in central Asia.
It is located in the west corner of China, if you look at it in a map with the immensity of china seems that it’s in the border itself. It’s the last city, the one that then gives place to Central Asia. The region is the East Turkestan region and in some corners you’d think you are in the Middle East.
Nowadays Kashgar and Xinjiang have come back to be important. It’s location is vital for the Chinese expansion to the west. In the region there are 14 terrestrial open ports to the eight countries that borders it. Eleven international airports, hundreds of kilometres of roads and rails, the only road built over moving sands desert and petrol fields.
Beijing is fostering the economical development with the objective of a sound support of this expansion to the west. China can’t afford loosing this region with the independentists movements from the Uygur and hopes that this economical injection generates enough life quality to shut down the independentists instincts.
This banner was in the Id Kah mosque, the main mosque in town. I leave it to you the interpretation. It was after talking about the amount of money spent in restoring the mosque.
There is a lot of life in the streets even it´s freezing. The sun lies.
How is all this looking for you? I’m a bit disappointed. It’s beautiful, very interesting and totally exotic. But looks too much to Central Asia! I’d read it had a lot of similarities but expected more of a change. I felt like a change! I’ve been a few days down of energy, maybe I’m tired and I havent realized.
I was hoping for a change, see new things that would give me a little energy doses and enthusiasm I had lacked but as there is no change I’ve become a bit down. On top of it, moving around here is somehow more difficult than other places and I still have 4381 kilometres straight line to Beijing. As I’ve been a bit down of energy I haven’t planned anything and now I’m annoyed with myself for not having plan and having been here for a week.
On the sunday market. But I´ll tell you about this on the next post.
I have to wake up and move!
See you soon.