Star Date: November 2005
Hello Dear Family & Friends!
"I found him on a lonely plateau where the wind tasted of sage. He stood near his domed yurt, made of felt carpets over poles, and regarded his charges: 650 sheep. Here too were his horse and his moving vans: two camels. The shaban, or shepherd, is to Kazakhs what the cowboy is to Americans: a folk hero, wandering free under blue sky... Marat had been on the move for a month and still had 60 miles to go—two weeks of travel—before his flock would nibble mountain grass. "I know the way without a map," he said. "Kazakhs have been grazing sheep on this plateau for centuries."
(Mike Edwards - National Geographic 1993- We have the whole set on CD )
A stan, stan here, and a stan, stan there, here a stan, there a stan, everywhere a stan stan! Following south past the borders of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Kashmir, we enjoyed the cultural diversity of Xinjiang. Borders don’t mean much in these wide open regions where nomads wander freely. Each culture has groups of people living on this side of the border also so we decided to avoid the bureaucratic red tape of visas and just stay within this large westernmost autonomous region, thus utilizing our cherished 1 year Chinese visa to the max.
We jumped off the bus at Sayram Lake, high in the Tian Shan range. After talking for a while to Marat, a 30 year old Kazakh, we followed him home to his family’s yurt. This time we stayed 2 nights in a special yurt set aside for travelers (40 Yuan-$5). Considering the energy of the 16 month old baby girl, it was nice to have our own space. Decorated once again in the colorful rainbow of hand embroidered tapestries, the yurt’s usual little wood stove was missing so we had to literally bury ourselves in the warm quilts until the morning sun warmed the landscape. It was a real cultural experience to cook over the fire outside and in, learn how to make their yummy wheat noodles, teach Marat his numbers in English, play with the baby and watch the steady stream of nomads, sheep, horses, and camels parade by the yurt. We were really surprised to find out that Grandma and Grandpa were not in their late 60’s as guessed but within a year or two of our ages. Grandma rubbed her rough hand across my face and then pointed to the leathery wrinkled skin on hers. The sun, fierce winds, and elements age these nomads quickly but inside they are healthy and happy. To us she was beautiful. Following nature’s call the next morning we headed for the trees up the mountain. Over 2000 feet later, straight up, we were in total isolation on the top of one of the peaks. The 360 degree view was breathtaking with green grasslands full of yurts and sheep, coniferous forests and the enormous blue lake with snow capped mountains behind. A new monster billboard, standing 50 ft tall and a real eye sore along the highway, is a sign that this isolated gem will soon become a stop on the Chinese tour circuit.
There is a definite difference of opinion on development between the local Uighurs and the Chinese. The Chinese have forged forward in an effort to modernize the western regions, often at a high price. On the other hand roads are built, new sections of cities are erected, (rarely are the new and old towns mixed), and cutting edge technology paves the way for future advancement. Having just made our way along a new highway, with the journey taking 8 hours instead of 2-3 full days, we understand the positive aspects of progress. Just think if all the roads you used weekly were suddenly converted back to mud, rough rocks and gravel, impassable for a portion of every year??? Development with a balance of culture and the environment would be the ideal.
The local Kazakhs and Uighurs dislike the bulldozing of Old Towns and the rampant development. Conflict often exists between local Uighurs and the Han Chinese officials. Some Uighurs see the Chinese as invaders but they forget that they themselves swept south and invaded this region less than 300 years ago. In fact this region is more like Central Asia than the rest of China. Aside from mandating the migration of millions of Han settlers here over the last 50 years, little attention was paid to this outpost until the discovery of oil and gas reserves. China needs these reserves to expand and after finishing a 3000 km pipeline with neighboring Kazakhstan the stakes are high. With a US base in Uzbekistan (a mere 180 miles away) and military presence now in bordering Afghanistan the oil interests are being controlled by the big boys. Persecution of the local tribes led to riots in 1997 in which 10 were killed and hundreds of people were injured in Yinning. When the Uighur leaders supposedly responsible were executed, three buses were blown up in Urumqi. Violence is never sanctioned but were these “terrorists” or locals just wanting their stolen land back? Following 9/11, with the help and sanction of the US, thousands of Muslims were rounded up, many still behind bars, and jailed as insurgents, rebels or terrorists. Many are just innocent victims in the “War on Terrorism”. This scenario is played out all around the world over and over, i.e. Kashmir, Sumatra, Iraq to name a few current situations. A young Chinese man told us that a current joke in China is that George W. Bush needs to learn to control the media better. Instead of acknowledging the actions of terrorists he needs to not admit that the event even happened, such as when a bus was blown up in Beijing several years ago. The wreckage was cleaned up in 4 hours and the government announced that nothing happened. How could anyone claim responsibility for something that didn’t happen? And we thought the media in the US was controlled! Hints of “1984”? As an older Chinese woman put it while commiserating with us on the political situation in the U.S., “We understand what it’s like to live under a corrupt government.”
The people are great everywhere. It's the government and military to keep an eye on. After talking to a traveler who just had his webpage blocked in China for his comments on the government we will show more discretion. We are visitors in their country and try to observe and understand China's culture. China is coming of age and should be recognized for improvements in human rights issues. Besides, each of our respective countries have had their share of over-running existing cultures in the name of progress. We sincerely like the Chinese and this big conglomerate of cultures. We Love China!!! We Love America!!! We Love clean toilets that flush!!! We Love exotic cultures!!! Hey, We Love life!!!
We stopped in Kuqa for a couple of days to break up the 22 hour train trip to Kashgar. Taking the slow local train to Kashgar was an experience to remember. No seats available, hundreds standing in the aisle, we made friends with a seat full of women heading down the line to pick cotton. They squashed into one bench and we squished into the seat across. Being the only westerners again we had no less than 20 people, spectators, our entourage, fans, at any given time observing our every move. And now for the 2 pm show!! You get used to being the center of attention in certain situations. They are simply being curious. We followed the silk route through the desert and after 14 hours and a small dust storm later we arrived in Kashgar or Kashi.
As our new Chinese friends said, "
Good Luck and Go With the
Love, xoxoox Nancy & Joseph
Yurt Moving Vans!
Kazakh Grandma and neighbor having a chat.
Looking down at Sayram Lake, after a challenging
A feisty, munching 2 humped Bactrian camel.
One of the
Vibrant interior of our yurt at Sayram Lake.
Notice the intricate
Grandma and baby stirring vegetables for our
dinner. We learned
Thinking that Grandma and Grandpa were in their
late 60's they
We took this photo from our bus. In front
was a herd of sheep,
A Muslim family of 'new friends' at the bus depot.
The women are
a scene from "The Grapes of Wrath",
the face of
Then again why not make the best of each day?