June 20, 2011

The Highs and Lows on the Karakorum Highway

Mustagh Ata Xinjiang Province, China

Animals grazing in the pastures below the gently sloping west ridge of Muztagh Ata- Father of Ice Mountain in Uyghur.

It only really hit me when I arrived at Lake Karakul, after the long drive up the Karakorum Highway – the notion that I was actually here! It had taken another year, and a return trip to China, to finally be at the lake to see the magnificent Muztagh Ata’s snow capped peaks reflecting in Karakul’s cool waters. I too was all water as I shrank onto the wooden bench, head down hunched over, crying my eyes out.  I couldn’t stop crying looking at the incredible natural beauty. And then – the dismal, so called yurts that I was supposed to sleep in for the next two days. I had envisioned a view on the lake, in a felt covered yurt. Instead these were concrete yurts, badly cracked from the yearly earth tremors caused by the growing “young” mountains; some of which were the tallest peaks in the world. To make matters worse, the yurts were tucked behind the massive government-run concrete Guest House. With a High Voltage Radio tower looming right overhead, like a giant steel predator. It was dreadful. I let all my tired sadness run out of me in a crying jag that even the gentle Allahbardi, my guide and translator, could not stop.  The only consolation was to push on to Tashkurgan, another 2 hours drive deeper into the Pamirs.  We were all exhausted especially Amdulla the driver who had been going all day and wanted to arrive before dark. I needed to gather my emotions and get back in the car.

Camels are pack animals, perfectly suited for the high altitude treks. This herd was grazing at the sparse green thicket by the side of the highway, when I jumped out of the car and scrambled down the gully, landing about 100 yards in front of them. Very curious, they gracefully wandered over to me, stopping inches from my face. I dare not move, as they soon became bored, realizing I had no food and silently strode pass me without a second glance.  

Red  Tashkurgan, Tajik Autonomous County, China

 A Tajik woman with traditional head covering walks through the high alpine meadow, tending to her sheep. The majority of the population of Tashkurgan are ethnic Tajiks living in the region for generations.

Yaks  Lake Karakul Xinjiang Province, China

The town of Tashkurgan is at an average altitude above 4,000 metres (13,000 ft). The Muztagh Ata, at 7,546 metres (24,757 ft), and the Kongur Tagh, at 7,719 metres (25,325 ft), are the main peaks in the Kunlun and Pamir Mountain Ranges. The Karakoram Highway is the highest paved international road in the world, but at its peak at the China-Pakistan border it is only paved on the Chinese side. An engineering marvel started in 1959 completed in 1986 connecting Kashgar, in the Xinjiang region of China, to Abbottabad, of Pakistan. A suburb of Islamabad made recently famous as the safe haven for Osama Bin Laden. 

June 2, 2011

Ayalim - Apa - Aela -Yeza /Wife – Mother – Family - Village

Neighbors Beshkeiram Village, Kashgar Xinjiang Province, China

Shadebeth; seen here in the blue dress, lives in an old style mud house, traditional for centuries in Xinjiang. Her home is in Beshkeiram, a quaint village 11km from Kashgar. Its rare to see a mud home that is occupied as almost all the houses are quickly being converted to brick walls - on Government orders.  

As I travel around Xinjiang I have observed that culture survives with the women. It is because the women’ role as the central pillar, her family flourishes. In a traditional Uyghur household the marriages are arranged with the bride and groom’s consent to their parent’s choice. The just married young Bride moves into her husband’s home to begin the process of learning how to be an Ayalim – wife in Uyghur language. She will develop the style of cooking of her mother-in-law, learning the foods her husband likes to eat. After a few years of living with the man’s family the young couple may move into their own home, built on a portion of the family’s ancestral property.

I met Shadebeth when I visited her mud style home and was saddened by her tragic story of loneliness. She tells me with tears flowing, that she has no children. That her life is very difficult since her husband has left her, to live with his son from his first wife. Shadebeth has no one to turn to besides her close friend and neighbors. This extended family is common to the Uyghur villagers.

Today we wear Yellow and Orange Beshkeiram Village, Kashgar Xinjiang Province, China

The family gathers outside their home on the Poplar lined street. The traditional carved wooden doors mark the walled entrance to the inner courtyard of the typical brick house. As is fashionable, the entire family is color co-coordinated to the mother’s clothing.

Making Chuchuro Kashgar, Xinjiang Province, Chin

Nsagul and her two daughters- Aisha and Maryama make the famous tiny “Ear-shaped”- Chuchuro. Lamb filled dumplings served  in a light vegetable and lamb soup. “Tamlick” - Delicious in Uyghur.

Red Baby Cradle Old City, Kashgar, Xinjiang Province, China

6 million Uyghurs live in Xinjiang Province today comprising 47% of the population. Unlike the city dwelling Han Chinese who are restricted to one child, it’s common for Uyghur’s, to have five to six children. Primarily farmers, the children will eventually help with the multitude of chores in the home and on the farm.

Mt. Ararat

Marla Mossman

My photo
One woman traveling alone, in search of her religious and cultural heritage.