Star Date: October 2005
Hello Dear Family & Friends!
(Peace be with you - Muslim Uighur greeting)
" Had we but world enough, and time. "
We continued following the legendary Silk Road west to Dunhuang. Threading its way through deserts and mountains this famous well trodden route once carried camel caravans bringing goods and ideas in and out of China. Connecting Europe via the Middle East, with the Middle Kingdom in China, travelers and merchants used oases as stepping stones through this treacherous route. A detour was often made to the Buddhist Temples at Magao Caves to give thanks for a safe journey. Wealthy traders began donating materials to have caves carved and painted and from 366 AD the site gradually developed into an important center of worship and learning. Just as impressive is the drive 6 kms. north of town to where the road is swallowed up by Minsha Shan or Singing Sands Mountain, a mega dune of the Gobi Desert, at 1715m or about 5200 ft tall. To avoid the crowds we followed the fence quite a ways to the right and climbed part way up a dune. The return walk through mud hut villages, sheep herds, gardens and orchards was an added treat. From the roof of an old deserted palace compound we watched another of God’s spectacular performances as the rays of the sunset transformed the dunes into an ever shifting spectacle. I realize this travelogue sounds wordy at times but when I think of the sunset on the dunes of the Gobi, I still get goose bumps (or chicken skin, as they say in Hawaii).
The next oasis brought us to the hottest place in China, Turpan. In a basin 154m below sea level (2nd lowest to the Dead Sea) the mercury soars to 50o C in the summer. Registering at only 40o C (over 100 F) we explored ( early morning and after 5pm) the crossroads market, the mysterious Afghani style Emin Minaret and Mosque, the ancient ruins of Jiaohe, and the kanez or the 5000 kms of underground irrigation canals that transform this desert into a cornucopia of vineyards, orchards and lush gardens. The result is melons so crisp and sweet that they literally melt in your mouth. In fact all the fruits and vegetables are scrumptious! You can recognize us by the fruit juice dripping off our chins! The city was alive with old men wearing fez, women draped in scarves and veils, hot bread from clay ovens, donkey carts laden with fresh produce and hay wagons piled higher than double decker busses.
Ancient Corpses and Kidnapped by Kazakhs! Next we spent a night in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang province. Besides a great night market this city provided us with another full circle started in Bali. Over 2 years ago now we were sitting by the ocean having dinner while watching a large screen concert by Bob Marley and UB40. Someone switched the satellite channel and “Da Da Da Da Da!”, the National Geographic theme song that stirs the blood of all adventurers, armchair or real, blasted at us. The special was on the Ancient Mummies of Xinjiang. Following signs in Chinese and Arabic we went behind the large provincial museum being renovated in Urumqi to a small temporary display of “Ancient Corpses”. There they were, the 4000 year old mummies! Perfectly preserved in the arid climate and saline soil, with skin and hair in tact, these mummies prove that European nomads migrated over the Himalayas thousands of years ago. Intriguing! The makings of a new sequel "Mummy III"! We viewed ancient relics, (not to mention the 1000 year old piece of cake) and were face to face with the Loulan Beauty and our favorite, the Abe Lincoln look alike, complete with beard and tattoos. The first westerners we had seen in days!!!
The more remote routes we choose submerge us into completely different cultures with completely different writing, languages and dialects. There are absolutely no similarities, nothing recognizable. The small dictionary and words written in our Lonely Planet Travel Guide are really helpful for transportation and other such details. But what good is the Mandarin in an all Arabic mountain village? Now all the signs or movies on the busses are bilingual, Chinese and Arabic. English is for the tourist circuit. And thus we are gradually developing an international language of pantomime, animated faces, sounds, and body language. The goofier the better because laughter is certainly a big part of the universal language. Try acting out "toilet-hurry"! Sharing a common joke catapults the conversation into a whole new level, not to mention enhancing your immune system. Many times I have sat next to an older person for over 10 minutes carrying on a conversation – them in their native tongue and I in English – not understanding a single spoken word but understanding each other at some different realm of communication.
Twelve hours north through the desert, to the very north of Xinjiang, it gave way to beautiful alpine hills, reminiscent of the Rockies or Alps except for the nomad’s yurts and sheep dotting the valleys. We meandered alongside an opaque turquoise river that spilled out of Kanas Lake, at the base of Friendship Peak(4374 m). Sharing borders with China, Russia, Mongolia, and Kazakhstan this mountain and its region is a tasty goulash of cultures!!
Discovering that the area is developing at lightening speed into another of our 'favorite Chinese Tour Highlights' we had to quickly devise an alternative plan. We entered the national park and stopped at the small Tuvan village. Joseph walked behind the rows of log cabins into a small valley with nomadic yurts. It was here we were kidnapped by Kazaks and absorbed into one of those rare cultural wrinkles in time. We slept and ate with a Kazakh family for 2 days. Not allowed by law to take in foreigners, we were more smuggled than kidnapped. Yurts are unique circular tents made of a collapsible wooden frame covered with heavy felt and vibrant cloth embroidery. The nomads take them up and down to follow the seasons with their sheep. In we went with 2 couples, a 6 year old girl and a baby in a blanket covered wooden cradle, all of us lined up on the carpet covered platform and smothered with thick felt comforters. The evening temperature was easily 60o F cooler than in the desert and we sure felt it at night.
We awoke each morning to the sound of galloping horses and barking dogs. One of the young dads got up to make a fire in the small stove. Toasty warm we laid there looking up at the circular hole in the roof, marveling at the bright hand embroidered tapestries enveloping us. One by one the puffy mounds of blankets would move and get up to pay their respects to the nearest tree. A total lack of facilities as we know, these simple folks have everything they own in a small chest or bag. Being round there is no storing things in corners of the yurts! Having simplified our lives and worldly possessions down to one 22 inch bag each (plus a small computer bag) we actually felt right at home. Knowing that they lived on a diet mainly composed of meat and dairy we had brought fruit and veggies along but the Kazakhs had no trouble adapting to sumptuously cooked seasonal vegetables over potatoes. As usual people enjoy a foreigner rolling up their sleeves and cooking over the fire together. During the days we hiked miles and miles through the forests, up the mountainside and along the lake. We lay in the sun in the lush flower-filled grass and browsed on wild strawberries and rosehips. One of the ‘cowboys’ excitedly showed us a bottle of small tasty grubs he had just found in the roots of a tree. We decided to give this gastronomical delight a pass. Avoiding tourist routes we mainly walked on small dirt paths while groups of 4 or 5 boys would race by on their horses. Practically born in the saddle there was always someone galloping by. What a place to grow up!
After seeing a documentary on Tuvan Throat Singing several years ago at the Aloha Theater, in Hawaii, I challenged Joseph and his treasure house computer to produce a tune. Remarkably Encarta DVD Reference Suite had a description of the Siberian republic of Tuva, just north of here, and 2 samples of this unique singing style in which one person carries up to 4 different notes at once. Being in a Tuvan village we tried searching out a little concert but no such luck. A virtual concert will have to do until we meld with Tuvans again. Having access to the wealth of knowledge that Joseph has arranged on our computer keeps our brains learning and adds a whole new dimension to our travel. When we have electricity and settle down for a few days we still have Mike, of Read Please, read to us from a variety of books and other sources of current interest. This technology allows us to share our adventures with you via this webpage. On the down side, spell-check keeps trying to change these little known peoples, the Tuvans, to taverns, Texans, tubas, toucans or titans. Hmmmmmm. Take your pick! Save the Tuvans!
In Yinning, a very remote town near the Kyrgyzstan border, we met Li Tao and his girlfriend returning from an archeologist's dig. After we were denied passage, due to a lack of the proper permit, through the mountains to Kuqa we ended up going back to Urumqi and there we met with Li Tao, professors from Russia and Italy, and the curator of the museum with the Xinjang Mummies. The curator was the very person featured in the National Geographic documentary we had seen in Indonesia. A fun conclusion to such an interesting 2 year chain of events! Joseph shared his knowledge of symbolism and some computer images at the museum and university. Symbols are an international language which is understood from ancient to modern times, from one corner of the globe to another. The book, “The Da Vinci Code", sheds a little light on the language of symbolism. Seeing the recurring symbols as we travel and studying about them adds interest to every culture we visit. Opinions vary on the origins of symbols but most symbols simply worship the sun and retell the story of creation.
Archeologists uncover many strange sites in this isolated area of China. In 1938 archeologists exploring caves in the Banyan Kara Ula Mountain Range discovered neatly arranged graves of small beings with large heads, along with 716 stone-like metallic disks resembling gramophone records. Dated at 12,000 years old, it took over 20 years for scientists to break the code. The discs related the story of how these beings, the Dropas, came down from the clouds and were hunted by the local tribes because they were so ugly. Once a sign language was established and it was realized that they had landed by accident and came in peace they existed side by side with the locals. The Peking Academy of Pre-History forbade the anthropologists to publish their findings until a Soviet scientist confirmed, some years later, that the discs contained various strange metals such as cobalt and seemed to carry an inexplicable sort of electrical charge. Bizarre but true. Forbidden archeology of our planet is one of the most fascinating subjects to explore. “I saw it but I don’t believe it!” There has to be intelligent life out there. Can you imagine how sad it would be to think we are the only intelligent life???
And so it goes.................................................Next continuing west along the Silk Road and exploring the far reaches of Xinjiang. Until then Keep Smiling and realize there is world enough, we just need to make the time! Take care!
Love, xoxoox Nancy & Joseph
Minsha Shan or Singing Sands Mountain - 5200 ft.
Afghani style Emin Minaret, in Turpan.
Colorful local costumes outside the ancient city of Jiaohe.
Hot bread stuck to the side of the earthen ovens and baked.
A fez for every head and every occasion.
A favorite old "side alley character" enjoying
Dried fruit and nuts at the Urumqi Night Market.
Yurt Sweet Yurt!!
The star of the family we slept with.
Notice the carpets covering the
Our morning view out the shaneraq, the wooden
wheel that knits
Picturesque Kanas Lake, stretched out below, as