Monday, October 18, 2010

Seductive Ancient Silk Road (5) Kashgar

And finally we come to the end of our journey along the Silk Road, or at least the Chinese part of it. Having started in the old imperial capital Xian, of Tang dynasty fame, we end up in a totally different world in Kashgar. Kashgar (Kashi in Chinese pinyin) is a wonderful city, full of surprises, the most westerly- but by no means westernised, yet - city in China. It's a city within China but somehow so unlike the rest of China.

You just have to walk around and see the buildings and markets and mosques to appreciate that.
Traditional handicrafts and metalwork can be seen on the streets.

Old Uyghur farmers bring their produce in to the city to sell, as they have been doing for hundreds of years.

There are of course more modern articles for the tourist market, inevitably.
We were in time for the pomegranate season, and the fresh hand-pressed juice was just delicious, not to mention the sweet figs, almonds, nuts and local street food!
The famous old quarter, home to Uyghurs, Tajiks, Kyrgyz and Uzbeks, is being restored and renovated for the benefit of the local residents, and for the tourists - I just hope they get the balance right between commercial/tourist and residential areas. It was sad to see a lot of demolition going on as well - you should see it soon before it all becomes modernised. 
We were treated to a traditional lunch at a Uyghurs friend's home, it was sumptuous! The picture shows just the starters!

This impressive building is the family Tomb of Abakh Hoja, one of whose grand-daughters, Xiangfei, became the famous fragrant concubine of Emperor Qianlong. After her death in the 18th century, the journey back from Beijing to Kashgar took 3 years.  

And we couldn't miss the famous bazaar, which has been a meeting point for traders around the region for hundreds of years. 

You should start planning your holidays for next year in this region, allow at least 2 weeks to do it justice. Let me know if you need any more information.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Seductive Ancient Silk Road (4) Urumqi and Nalati Grasslands

It's the National Holiday starting today, not the same big celebrations like last year's 60th (see blog). However, there seems to be just as many people on holiday. Beijing is looking at its best as we come into the "golden season' here. However, I want to continue our travel along the Silk Road with a group we took recently, this time to the modern capital of the Xinjiang region, Urumqi, and to a lesser known area of unspoilt grassland Nalati.
Home-baked naan bread , fresh and hot from the oven, great smell and great taste, wonderful way to start the day!
And aren't those bagels....?

The Xinjiang museum in Urumqi is worth a visit to learn more about Uyghur culture - so many hats, and that's just the men's section!

 You can see lots of old musical instruments - not sure which came from the West and which from the East!

In case you don't read Uyghur or Chinese, they have signs in English too, fortunately.

No English here, but can you guess what it is? Free goodies given out, found inside the Men's room, and installed by the Rainbow Care Centre.

You can also see some strange sights on the road if you keep your eyes open (photo expertly taken by Nick as we drove by!) - yes it's real, live and not on a lead.

 And now on the road to the Nalati grasslands after a 2 hour flight west - quite different kind of traffic on the roads here, and more Kazakh people, not surprising since we were quite close to Kazakhstan.

Breathtaking views

The Nalati grasslands covering 400 sq km are one of the 4 largest grasslands in the world.
How would you like to live here? Very alpine looking.  Certainly cleaner air than in Beijing. We can help you come here and rent a yurt perhaps for the summer?

Sheep shearing 100% by hand

Whole family helps in collecting the wool

After several stages of cleaning, sorting, tamping and dyeing, the result is a beautiful felt rug - I bought one for my dining room

The local Kazakh community use the felt to line their yurts.

Last part next time!