September 30, 2006

40 Days and 1001 Nights

September 30, 2006
       What a week of adventure! Xinjiang is the largest province in China, about the size of Alaska, so when I decided to head south again, to the town of Hoten, I opted for a 24 hour sleeper bus, solely for the purpose of seeing the Taklamakan Desert along the way. I found it odd that there was no such beautiful scenery as the guidebooks promised. When I got to the end of the line, it was not Hoten either. I showed the driver my ticket, and gathered a crowd of helpful people, though I had no common language with anyone. What happened was that on the way out of Urumqi, we had had a small accident with a truck. After waiting for the police for two hours, the bus finally ended up at another bus station in the same city. What I hadn't realized is that being so late caused us to trade routes with another bus. No problem. Seven hours later, via a small schoolbus looking contraption and a taxi, down poplar tree lined roads full of horse and donkey carts toppling with produce, along with a partial refund from the driver, I made it to Hoten.
    Hoten has the most amazing Sunday Market, where villagers from all over come to trade jade, which is collected in the river that runs through town, Atlas silk, the famous multicolored tye dye looking silk that was famous along the Silk Road, carpets, animals, and vegetables. The town is like a dust bowl. Everything is covered with a thin layer of dust.
         I continued my quest to learn about Uyghur Traditional Medicine, and learned that in addition to being linked to Arabic medicine, and the ancient Greeks (possibly via Alexander the Great), there had been exchanges with traditional Tibetan, Mongolian, and Chinese medicines. I stayed in the home of an Uyghur herbalist and his family, and shared the Ramadhan breaking fast, and waking up at 5am to eat the last meal before the sun rose.
         Continuing onward to Tashkurgan, which is a small Tajik town on the border with Tajikistan, China, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, was another adventure, but I finally got there. The latter part of the trip was past majestic snow covered mountains, lakes, two humped Bactrian camels, lots of yaks, and Kirgiz villagers selling their wares by the side of the road. In Tashkurgan, I loved the way they dance so graceful and smoot, with all the movements representing eagles in flight. I met a film maker from Beijing who is working on the movie "The Kite Runner", partly filmed in Tashkurgan. If you haven't read the book, it is excellent. I can't wait to see the movie. 

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