Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Dec 31 2008
I had met Yasmin and Merry on the packed bus ride from Gilgit to Sost. They sat on the seat behind me with Razia, a young Chinese girl on her way back home.
Both friendly 22 year old boarders at the girls college in Gilgit, they were going back home to Gulmit for winter break.
On the way, we stopped for lunch at Aliabad..they know all the ropes. Dumpy old 'restaurant' with a back room for the ladies. Razia (the Chinese woman) and i followed along. Was cold as hell and dingy to boot - so decided to get back to the bus and wait for every one in my comfy seat.. instead ended up talking to the young boys out front, all college kids going back home to one village or another. Pleasantly surprising was Merry and Yasmin's interactions with them. Laughing, talking, like any urban youngsters, totally comfortable and at ease. The girls neither shy nor awkward, the boys neither lewd nor cheezy. They all knew each other and mingled with ease.
Yasmin had invited me to stay with them that night, so i dont freeze in Sost. I scribbled her name and her fathers name down, but declined- thought if i stayed id get tempted to simply hang around in Gulmit and surely miss the next bus out to China as well. But i promised to visit another year. So now, on the way back, i thought, I have a standing invitation and whats the rush anyway!
Got off the bus right where wed dropped the girls off 5 days back..asked around and someone led me to her brother. He runs a general store right on the main road. Didnt bat an eyelid when i announced im a friend of Yasmins, and have come to stay the night! sure! big hand shake and broad handsome smile. Give me a minute, let me wrap things up in the store. its really busy being that its new years eve. Do you want everything from your duffle - no - then take what you need - leave the duffel here. Lets go surprise Yasmin, her friend has arrived after all.
1.30pm - sitting around the bukhari at Yasmins home with all her family gathered. Another older brother isn't feeling too well - buried under a heavy quilt, tires to ignore all the excitement and talk around him. Except for his mother, no one pays too much attention to him. He's got a splitting headache. I offer him some tylenol, which he gladly takes. I find out much later, hes suffering from a nasty hunza water hangover!
Yasmins telling me about what they do for new years eve - March 31 is a bigger day than Jan 01 for them. That's their new year. They celebrate 'Nourooz'. On both occasions they cook chicken biryani, maleeda (bread pieces in lassi) Garaal a type of bread, Baat made in milk (milk, wheat flour, sugar and butter) all day they visit each other, wear new clothes, put mehendi, get eidi - then at 5pm go to the Jamaat Khana for programs and duas, and shows the children put up. Two hours later they're back home eating together. Nourooz is considered a religious festival and therefore of much greater significance than Jan 01. Qurban Ali, Yasmins dad, joins us - they're all friendly and welcoming, not at all perturbed by my dropping in unannounced. An older sister comes by, as does another, who is furiously using the hand operated sewing machine..churning out shalwar kamizes at such speed i wondered how she kept a straight line going. Makes her money this way, and new years eve is big money making day! While all the rest of us chatted and socialized she kept at the machine, well into the evening.
Dads curious and asks me what im writing.
Merry is here as well, with her younger sister Nazia. Quiet and little dour faced, compared to her bubbly outgoing sister. Im to visit their home next. For now, im waiting for the family to finish lunch and wash the dishes, so we can head out shopping - to buy some music and seabuckthorn jam. Yes shopping is possible on Dec 31 even on the rooftops of the world.
Im told Wazir Aman, of Ghulkin, is the authority on Seabuckthorn. I had eaten the jam at Gilgit Serena a couple of years back and loved the sour, a little bitter taste. Have been craving for it since.
Wazir makes and sells the jam and juice. Been at it for 6 years. Lives in a small cabin right off the KKh in the next village - Ghulkin. Ofcourse i want to go visit. The girls will take me once the cleaning up etc is i wait for an hour or so, then decide ill go myself, why drag them from their chores on new years eve, when they have stuff to do - get organized for the evening.. whatever that might be. I walk out in the late afternoon. Find my music store and buy a load of Wakhi and Gojali music. Then follow my nose to Wazir Amans place, down the road towards Ghulkin. I find the cabin, scruffy looking - stuffed with all sorts of things, a few chairs and a sitting around chatting. Shelves behind them with rows of empty glass jam bottles and orange looking juice in one liter plastic bottles - small gas stove on another counter.. tins of sugar and oil and who knows what else under the counter. the whole place messy as hell..a -D L.A. county rating!!! but then this aint L.A. county!
He introduces himself. Im surprised to find Wazir Aman to be a strapping young 33 year old handsome fellow..but then whos not handsome or beautiful in these parts???? duh!
Ghulam Nabi Shigri sells him the berries he tells me. Abundantly found in Baltistan and Shimshal, the juice of this berry is great for lowering sugar and cholesterol. He gives me some crushed dry berries to taste - a little bitter, nothing great, orange in color.
Wazir is a sculptor, graduated in 1995 from Karachi's North city school of Arts in KDA - ran out of money so came back to work as a cook at PC Burbhan for 1 1/4 years - then spent 8 years in tourism as cook and guide. Hes been to ghondoghoro la, chitral, rakaposhi, batura, passu glaciers etc. Now its 3 years since he started his jam and juice business. He tells me crows eat the berry and live a long life - that research lead to it being used for humans. He not only has a fascination with the healing qualities of seabuckthorn but a wealth of knowledge about it. Selling jams and juices hes been paying off a 4 lakh loan. Has a lakh and a half left. A son was born to him yesterday, even so hes promised to make me three fresh bottles of jam and one litre of juice, and deliver it to Gulmit before the nights out. I promise to hook him up with fellows at Hashoo Foundation who encourage this kind of unique home grown industry.
One of the men chatting in Wazir Amans cabin/kitchen with me is Mehraban Karim, brother of Nigehban Shah who died on K2 in Aug. We met this brother at our campsite in Arbabpurin when we were coming back from Shimshal Pass. He recognized me - all the rest of these guys also recognized me - they had seen all of us, Tahir, Nafeesah, Mohi and myself in Passu when we got here on Dec 12- they remember the shinny tokras we were carrying for the wedding. What a small world.
I walked back at sunset from Ghulkin, the crescent moon shining in the dusk sky, the pristine white expanse of the semi frozen Hunza river running along the KKH. I walked slowly, pulling my phone/song book and glasses out, in the dusk of Dec 31, singing 'tum ayey ho na shabe intezaar guzri' as loud as i wanted, no one around, not a soul. By the time i got to Gulmit it was dark. I stopped to buy 5 plates of the famous Gulmit biryani - from the Gulmit Biryani House - a must stop lunch break on all our previous trips up here - pulled a few gifts for the girls, out of my duffle (from Arman Alis shop, which was still buzzing with customers buying sugar and butter and sevian for the evenings fare) and walked back to Yasmins home for dinner. She and Merry by now extremely worried for me - id dissapeared for 3 hours. There were a few other visitors, we all had dinner together and then on to Merrys for a taste of Baat which shed cooked herself. From there, along with Merry's two sisters, we joined a bunch of young boy scouts in another home nearby. All drinking tea, singing and dancing Wakhi song and dance, having a grand new years eve stag party of their own. 8 to 18 year old boys all making merry. We had broken tradition and gate crashed.. though i dont think any of them minded the 20 to 50 something female company. It was pitch dark outside, freezing cold and crystal clear sky.. a million stars.. the moon just having finished its eclipse. Inside warm and friendly, the little boys as curious as the older ones.. who are you? how do you speak such good urdu? what are you doing here? learning chinese? going to a wedding? in SHIMSHAL?all the way from L.A. USA? yes yes yes..and who are you? what are your names? what grades? why only boys? why dont the girls join you? where are the parents? tell me -----we interview each other, all dance, me and the boys, slowly Merry, Yasmin and the sisters join. The two curious mothers who'd followed us and stayed out, peer from the window for the longest time. They've frozen themselves solid, eventually they decide to join the fun...forget tradition..its bloody cold, what stag party....theyre bachaas.

Last Dec i would'nt have dreamed of celebrating new years eve with complete strangers in Gulmit! but here i am, after some good old fashioned song and dance, now sitting with a family of Gojalis, as they chat amongst themselves and with me, Geo tv on in the background, patiently waiting for the momentous new year. They brought a plate of sevian, we are all sharing for the occasion and another large plate of apples from their orchard, washed in hot water so they thaw a little.
Its almost midnight and Im so sleepy, all i want to do is crawl into bed - there will be communal sleeping tonight in one large family room around the wood burning bukhari. Ma and Pa have slipped under their heavy lahafs and called it a night - sometimes peering form under to see if its midnight yet. So have the 4 youngest children. The brother with the hangover is finally up and chatting..heads cleared.
Midnight at last - Arman says a short dua - blesses all in the room, and the new year. we smile and wish each other. i finally crawl into the welcome warm bed. no fire crackers and kissing everyone in the room, no confetti and other paraphanelia to make a total mess of the place. no loud noises, forced or induced cheer...just simple affection and good wishes for each other.
A quiet acceptance of one end and another beginning; a prayer to the almighty.

i wonder what everyone is doing? Nargis, i know shes in SFO with her school friends probably having a good time, Syed Karachi or Edmonton or Dubai or Doha even Islamabad..what is everyone doing at this moment....i drift into a tired sleep under three lahafs and my down coat on top!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Deeh Pakistan - 5pm dec 30
early evening we get to the first Pakistani check post and everyone rushes out, some making a bee line for the woods, trudging through snow, to take a leak, some yelling at the policeman to hurry up and open the the barrier, couple of fellows in the bus yelling at the driver to get going, forget the fellows in the woods- complete hangama - the same people had hung around patiently for 3 hours at Chinese immigration, don't have an ounce of patience for their own people. the driver decided to teach them all a lesson and drive off to the next barrier. they came running, including the sole bearded fellow (who they derisively call 'Taliban' on the bus.)
besides the deportees, hes the only other Punjabi on the bus. 'Taliban' jumped off the bus the second we stopped, and began saying his asar prayers at the police chowki!!! he runs into the moving bus mad as hell for not waiting, theyre all yelling back at him...abhi kiya namaz parhney ka waqt hai? haan qaza ho jati warna..pagal insaan.....ghar ja kay parhna. bewaqoof, is ko namaz ki pari hai!
the whole scene unfolds like a comedy. the devout, praying on time, following the rules to the tee, dogmatic, bearded Punjabi trader, amidst a bus load of easy going Ismaili and Shia travelers not pushed about dogma or rules, holding his ground as much as they were theirs. the good thing is that these northern area folks conduct themselves with a sense of humor and getting riled up over technicalities, conversations don't become personal battles.....a sense of camaraderie with each other, and live and let live attitude for everyone else.
the next gate has a Khunjerab national forest ranger come in asking for the manifest, for forest entrance fees - they shoo him off like hes out of his mind. earlier they had collected Rs.20 per Pakistani, me included, and basically tell him to get lost, that's enough money for this bus-- hes reading the manifest and yelling back , 'theres an American' they're Koreans, they have to pay $10.00 each' they say 'no no no the American never made it from Tashkorgan (moi) the Koreans are Chinese, they've got it wrong on the manifest' (the Chinese don't pay a toll - they built the road!!) they practically push the poor fellow out and yell at the driver to hit the peddle -
we've barely driven 1/2 an hour and two narcotics officers stop us - they check all the Pakistanis with border passes (Northern Area residents travel to China's Xinjiang only on this pass) they're looking for a fellow who slipped out earlier with drugs. no luck. the guy wasn't returning on our bus! all the while there are three or four fellows sitting in front with me, some standing in the door way, all talking - i sat on the bus engine next to the driver all the way from Taskhkorgan even though butt was toasted by now - about what they do, how to get to America, how come i speak such good Urdu, my husband, my children, suggestions to come in the summer and spend a few months up north. better still rent an apartment in Kashgar for 6 months - ill surely save money and learn the language - which is a brilliant idea i might add - continually offering each other whatever meagre snacks we were each carrying, while i take pictures in a shaky bus, rolling along on solid icy KKH. the scenery after the pass becomes more and more dramatic and stunning, but by now i was so tired, just sat and talked with these fellows and quit taking pictures. enjoying the surreal scenery, the intersting easy going company in this bus journey. i figured all the pictures would be shaky anyways. suddenly i spotted the new crescent moon in the pink dusk light - 2nd moharram - what a beautiful sight. mummy had taught us to read one alhamd three quls and 7 salwats with our eyes shut, when we saw the new moon, along with a sweet farsi couplet - which I've forgotten - but basically says 'o new moon take away the worries the old moon gave me and bring with you happiness and glad tidings' then open your eyes and see something or someone beautiful first thing, so that the whole month would be blessed with that beauty. aga jan used to look at mummy's face, hold her delicate chin and give her a tight kiss on her cheeks - shed always be shy about it and say 'mat karain' in that sweet way of hers - and hed do it even more - shed have a smile at the corners of her lips -
i silently prayed that prayer, here in the Khunjerab valley and opened my minds eye to my loved ones.

7.40 am dec 30 Tashkorgan
in all fairness to last nights lodgings, the sheets, the pillows, and duvet cover were clean, the room warm. i could have slept well, but for that heavy garlic laced Chinese dinner. kept me awake till 2am. drifted in and out of sleep, afraid it would be morning and the bus would leave without me. concierge -- scruffy man and woman behind the front counter window - didn't wake me up at 7am as promised. glad i was awake at 6am myself, woke the woman, sound asleep behind the window, gave her my keys and walked into the freezing temperatures once again. the first stirrings of morning... all the little restaurants lighting their wood fires, kneading the dough, chopping the meat and veggies, boiling the soup, mopping the floors--while its -30c outside, and i walk in and out of each place that has an open door, so i can warm my face and hands.
bus wala had said he'd leave for customs check by 8am - not sure if they'll all be i get myself half a naan and a cup of green tea in a big hurry. tastes like heaven--anything hot! the swine wants 5rmb for Pakistani hosts talks here.. the more the better.
kids walking to school -- i wonder why so many girls have premature white hair--who wants caps, its only dec! its their hair frozen in the morning air. my own snot is frozen solid, as are those hands and feet that just don't want to get even close to warm.
back to the bus - not a soul - what? they're not here? they've gone to breakfast. a haha- where? come ill take you... drops me off in front of another seedy looking joint -- they're all crammed in there - every Pakistani in town.. its noisy and the only woman in my now grimy down coat, cap, gloves, boots and still freezing... come baaji come -- sit -- where did you disappear last night? that other place right ? no good right? too much money. come what will you eat.. get her two fried eggs and paratha and tea....baaji eats with relish, downs the tea, the greasy paratha, the tasty over fried very yellow yolked eggs. the jhelum deportees huddle around the bukhari -- i ask if they've had breakfast --yes yes they'll get to eat, don't worry -- we've been feeding these buggers all this while haven't we?... i insist i pay for them--eggs and paratha and tea on me this morning....god bless you baaji all the way from china to jhelum to Karachi, god bless you, whoever you are, traveling in this god forsaken place in this god forsaken weather .. see you in the bus :-) :-)
god bless you too and keep you safe from whatever it is you're running away from or to!

9.30am tashkorgan - customs still -30c
cleared our personal bags with no hassles, except the loaded bus with all the trader samaan, unloading all that and reloading is going to take another hour or who knows how long..mean while even the hair inside my nose is frozen..
once were done with customs, they don't let us hang around inside the warm building -- so we sit outside in minus something or the other temps, on our bags, on the low wall or just jump from foot to foot to stay warm. too cold to write -- i try to read instead, but its no fun either. I'm using the darn hand warmers -- all they do is keep the hands 'warm' as in 'malool'...

11.30am finally
the most chaotic crazy rush to load the bus. the two chinese ladies at the front of the pushing, shoving, line by the bus door, get almost trampled by 15 men stampeding to get the first seats. its hilarious. all kinds of crooked middlemen, immigration officers, the driver, they're all exchanging money, stuffing more people than the already full bus that we came with from kashgar, or that it can hold. they've sold 5 extra seats when there isn't an inch of space in the bus. the extras argue away, ...those of us that came from kashgar are pushing them out-- no space, go take some other bus .. theres nothing else going -- this is the last day guys give us a break, we paid.. well you got jipped.. there aren't any seats cant you see.. we'll stand .. this goes on and on --till three of them finally get to stay. the other two are simply out of luck!. so the extras sit on top of the piles of bags in the aisles. the driver meanwhile decides to disappear. i think he either has diarrhea or is raking it in somewhere behind the bathroom, where i see him run off to. the immigration guys have stuffed one more fellow to the already packed bus. luckily he comes with us only till the last check post before the Pass.
i sit next to the driver right on the engine - determined not be shoved to the back with the deportees -- I'm taking pictures all the way home, even if I'm toasted solid in the process!
11.35 am hes back from the bathroom visit! were off to Sost!
as one final bribe and goodbye, a bag of apricots got handed to one of the Chinese immigration guys three hundred yards out the customs grounds.
i must learn their language to really figure out whats going on around me...
murdabad china!!
the landscape-- bright clear day, miles of snow on the pamirs- magnificent!

Monday, December 29, 2008

dec 29 1.10 pm Upal -stopped for lunch at this one street truck stop town. Men playing the ubiquitous billiards outdoors, bread, boiled eggs, fruit, noodles, kababs, rice all being sold by the road side and at the only restaurant. 17 year old cute looking kid, Ali Mo and 28 year old Uz Mahamet - the best shot - - looks alot younger, play with a couple of other boys. me clicking away, asking nosy questions, getting in their way -- they're somewhere between irritated, curious, and showing off their best shots.
2pm off again. after a tasty kabaab naan lunch. this time roghni type naan- more flaky - heated over the bukhari in the crowded restaurant. soft and delicious. tasted great. the men paid - wont let me pick up my paltry tab!

chinese restaurant Tashkorgan

7.40pm dec 29 - tashkorgan
the bus dropped us off in front of a grimy hotel in this one street town, its bloody cold -30c or so - my Gilgiti friends want me to check into this very place. this is where they're staying - costs rmb 25 they tell can imagine the rest. the Chinese group took off, looking for a place for themselves. im sure they found decent lodging - i wasn't planning on walking from hotel to hotel in these temperatures, so i walk a few hundred yards and find my self a place that looks a degree better than the first one. my room in this wonderfully dingy hotel with no hot water, costs rmb 60 - as much as the luxurious Chinibaagh in Kashgar!
I've dumped my back pack in the high ceilinged room, and tried to slip into town without the helpful Gilgitis noticing me. want to find my own dinner, explore the town even though my feet and hands are beyond frozen and i don't know a soul here! those darn foot and hand warmers are for sissies... they don't work on suckers for pain like visitors to tashkorgan in dec!
i see a restaurant sign on a small hole in the wall inviting door- i walk in, past the heavy plastic flap door, right into one happening dinner party in this Chinese eatery. All the men fairly drunk, all the women downing cha and juice. Everyone in a merry mood; welcome me right in - to the only empty table behind them - the place is tiny - one bukhari in the center- ive barely sat down and they've had three toasts to something already. I've taken 6 pictures of them toasting. eating like pigs - smoking like chimneys - the good life in Tashkorgan. -33c outside! they drink, eat, drink, eat. plate after plate of delicious looking Chinese food - no one minds the -F grade looking kitchen where its all being churned out from. the cheerful patrons scream for the waitress every few minutes, more, more, hurry lady we need the grub- shes going back and forth--probably spat in the stuff a hundered times already. here you are, you drunken fools.... theres even a little adorable baby in the midst of all the revelry -Jiang Bi Bing - burst into tears when i carried her - leave me alone you old hag strange face from mars!!! go kiss your own sort.
every few minutes they toast to something. one jolly bunch.
they insist i join their table, and taste their food - as drunk as they are they're careful not to offer me pork or alcohol - i had told them i was Pakistani and Muslim via LA - so they pour me peach drink - what the ladies were drinking - and toasted another half a dozen times to me! for lack of a better idea, i sang 'happy birthday to you' to one of the toasts. they all joined in. i promised to send them photographs of the evening. they promised to look me up in LA.
This has been the liveliest exchange of words and most enjoyable evening in China so far. but then its only been a few days.
my own paid meal
a plate full of garlicky greens
one pot of green dish water to down it
and two hours of friendly lively drunk company.
rmb 10
beginning to like this----next year inshallah!

have a dull headache, probably the elevation, 12000 ft, perhaps too much garlic and not enough water. though ive been drinking gallons of insipid green tea for the past 4 days. or more like, all that waitress spit.........mixed with the strain of speaking Chinese with less oxygen in the brain.
looking forward to tomorrows drive over the Khunjerab Pass, to Sost and home.

8.40 am monday dec 29
the commotion outside woke me up. just as well cause reception never called at 7am as i had asked. it was 7.40am. packed my things and went straight to the check out desk, snowing again. called a taxi. traffic moving gingerly on the slick streets, like the women in their high heeled boots. taxi driver was quick to turn right out of the busy main roads and take the side streets instead. got to the bus station to find that I'm the 30th passenger on a 38 passenger bus. so no front seat for moi this time. hope some considerate Pakistani will allow me to sit by myself. we'll see. meanwhile i sit in the restaurant next door to the bus stop, for a breakfast of the ubiquitous tasteless watery green tea, my favourite - qitiq (yoghurt) - and naan i bought form a street vendor outside the restaurant. they eat a steam bun of sorts, that they break in pieces or bite into, with a plate of soupy looking vegetables and meat. chai of course. some kind of b rated war movie dubbed in Uighur on TV. cant make out which country. the actors or uniforms aren't familiar. strange how watching a movie even for 10 minutes or so transports you right out of where you are, into the other world of the movie. better than sitting in the drab bus station. lesson learned - don't carry so many things- travel light - 2 pants - 2 shirts - 2 socks 2 sets of undergarments, one towel, one sleeping bag, one pair of shoes, minimum toiletries, camera, extra batteries, pens paper/note pads, map, pillow,water bottle, diarrhea, headache and cold medicine (R1 R4), gloves hat sunglasses and money. next time that's all i need.
10.50am snowing - were standing outside - controlled chaos by the bus - the conductor loads up, taking bribes form the Pakistani traders for the excess luggage they're carrying, once hes got all that done, hell load us ordinary folks. hes got everyones passports and tickets, hes raking it in. its bloody freezing, theres a group of Chinese from Beijing, traveling to Pakistan, touring would you believe! some speak a little English, one of them fluently - studies in Chicago, nephews off to Pasadena in a couple of months!!! wants to do his mba. starting at PCC (Pasadena city college) at this rate well be waiting our turn for another hour. they all know the game well, bus conductor and traders. they all speak each others language literally and figuratively. theres much argument and discussion, slowly but surely the samaan is getting loaded on top of the bus. once that's done they'll open the bottom hold for a our luggage. wish i had a movie camera to film all this excitement. the Chinese tourists are pretty calm and pleasant about it - never a shortage of surprises here.
11.40am bus is loaded to the gills. were packed in here like sardines. I'm sitting in the second last row - over the wheels! bags all around me - 4 fellows from jhelum sitting in the last row. (they're deportees) people passing bags in through the windows. my old Gilgiti travel companions have squeezed themselves in right next to me- zulfiqar talks too much - beggars cant be choosers. were sitting 5 in a row even though there are two seats on each side. Aslam, zulfiqars uncle is alot more soft spoken and helpful in a gentle manner. promised to get me a seat up front a little later. doubt very much if anyone is giving up their front seats.
moving out of the bus station 12.10pm! got here at 7.40am

Bus talk
sanawar gateway hotel gilgit
gemstone business
works through Naghma gemstone -
mining in jun july aug sept - village sumayar nagar
mine at chimar bokor 18000ft for
aquamarine pink and red flouride quartz and hepitite
all this form a fellow traveller - one of the add on passengers in tashkorgan - young skinny with long shinny hair - has invited me to come see the mining work up at 18000 ft! hell take me himself. any time you want baaji. come stay with us for a few months

n.y Pakistani fast food restaurant - syed mohd shah, chacha to mohd farooq gilgiti - another chatty travellers info for my records

and so they each go on---i listen mostly, to their own discussions, as they chat with me telling me what they do where theyre from, asking where im from, what i do or rather what am i doing (here)???? trying to learn Chinese by travelling to china.. in 5 days??? in winter??? theres a much easier, better way to do this baaji-- rent your self an apartment in kashgar for 6 months.. go stay in the summer and talk all you want - will cost you alot less and you'll look alot nicer too!!!!(i imagined they were thinking that-- what does she look like under this grimy garb of feathers??)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

11am dec 28

this morning my eyes had opened to snow flakes quietly falling on the window pane.. what a soothing way to wake up to dreary surroundings! decided to walk around town, and ended up with breakfast in a minuscule chai khana by idgah mosque -- i share a table with a family of teachers - he Dulkun, teaches mathematics, she Nisa Gul teaches Uighur literature. they live in Yawagh with a 9 year old son Dili Murat. its sunday, they're enjoying this treat of samsa and a thick flaky paratha filled with lamb, onion and spices . very tasty
the side door to the id gah mosque is slightly ajar.
i walk in and unhurriedly take in the peace and quiet. an old Uighur man or two strolling the snow covered gardens. couple of men sweep the snow flakes and leaves away. they don't take notice of me-at the door leading out the ticket keeper asks for money.. i tell him the other fellow at the other entrance let me go cause im 'musli'...he says no youre not musli..i show him my ya Ali pendant---he smiles and says ...go go yes you musli....

8pm dec 28 - Chinni Baagh hotel restaurant
dinner with the waitresses--
mao shui wong - is what they're eating - this very hot soup
bai kai shui - hot water - is what I'm drinking with 'goosh naan' and shi liu (anaar)
I'm actually eating with the food and beverage manager Li Yi Yen Jun - they call her Yen Jun. she offered me some of her food, some pillau.
if i hang around here for a month or so I'm bound to improve my Chinese not to mention learn some Uighur as well. but not this time----I'm beginning to make friends, beginning to like the people, connect with them,and I'm leaving just as I'm getting familiar with my surroundings. I'm sure it will be easier next time. i wonder where ill land, back here in kashgar or further east. who knows--for now I'm headed back home. this most unaesthetically modern city, this dreary, dull, dusty landscape, this at once old and decrepit yet totally modern new city will have left a profound imprint on my life. for this is the very first time I've travelled by myself in a foreign country with a foreign language - the works, and yet left out wanting to go back for a longer time. i will remember my December in kashgar forever.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

11am dec 27 -
left Kashgar bus station for Yengesar. the roads are wide and well maintained, the scenery flat and uninteresting - so far.
the colors are dreary, everyone is in black, everyone dresses fashionably alike more or less. every woman in knee high boots, black skirts and fitted coats. every man in black suits and brown fur hats. the road to Yengesar flat uninteresting miles of ploughed fields. very rural and old fashioned with plenty of people riding on donkey carts, going past miles and miles of cotton farm land. maybe other crops as well. guide not particularly informative.
Ali was busy and so was his friend Osman so he put me on to the Internet cafe assistant - another friend- Qasim. he was surprised i wanted to take the public bus and not a taxi. this business of travelling in the rmb8 bus from kashgar and sitting in the opens rickshaw type cart isn't for Qasim - he tells me all his other western clients prefer taxi and best buses - well compared to Pakistan the worst Chinese buses are as good as our best! almost - I'm not complaining, hes wondering what kind of pseudo American am i? maybe a hippie - that's exactly the kind he doesn't want as clients - hes looking for yuppies, paying good tips, travelling almost first class.

in Yengesar, quiet sleepy town all the knife makers at the knife factory had gone off to lunch or namaz, don't know which. did get to see one worker pounding on the knife he was making. bought 4 knives for rmb200 - probably got cheated good, but so be it. its bound to be that way no matter what i buy. these fellows bargain too much. i never know the real value of anything.
lunch 1.30pm Yengesar
samsa, qara chai, uzum(grapes) banana and naan.
having lunch with qasim my guide for the day. we had lunch at a street cafe-- extremely delicious samsa - crisp and hot from the tandoor. washed down with piping hot tea with cloves and some other herb that looks like galangal. grapes and naan. we took our time eating as people asked Qasim where i was from etc-- Karachi Pakistan - really she doesn't look Pakistani---walked around the street nibbling on some dry fruit or the other. there is tons of great dry fruit here. specially raisins, walnuts and almonds and jujube's of all sizes.
i hadn't carried all my money with me so after lunch and knife shopping realized i didn't have enough cash for another day at Yarkand. after some back and forth with Ali over the phone with Qasim, trying to arrange for some friend in Yengesar to lend me some, i decided id rather go back. even though Ali says the Sunday market in Yarkand is authentic and not touristy like Kashgar, including village artists who come out and paint scenery's- plain air style work i guess. was looking forward to it but something changed and i just wanted to get back. i wasn't in the mood for another crappy hotel charging too much, another dusty shabby town no matter how old and historic. Qasim who thinks I'm 40, is a little miffed. I've changed my mind and decided to return to kashgar in half a day - hes disappointed i can tell. not making rmb 50 a day off of me.
9.30pm sat dec 27 Chinni Baagh hotel room
some girl getting hysterical. screaming and crying...i can hear the commotion from my room. too cold outside. maybe ill venture out later. its all quiet again. its been a strange day. i thought id enjoy the two day trip south from here to Yengesar and Yarkand. but no sooner had the bus ride began than i felt i didn't want to go further. maybe i got so spoiled in Pakistan these past two weeks that this indifference and foreignness here has put me off. these aren't pleasant welcoming baltis or gilgitis or shimshalis or gulmities - they're hardened by communist rule and suspicious of every one - bargaining incessantly. welcoming once they know you're fellow Muslim. busy - no use for idle chit chat - and this is so far west - cant imagine what the heartland must be like, Beijing and Shanghai specially

Friday, December 26, 2008

Dec 26 2008
Idgah mosque Kasghar

took a taxi to the idgah mosque right after lunch----started walking around , to realize that it is Friday. everyone rushing into the mosque, ultimately a sea of men dressed in black suits and hats forming row after row, first inside the mosque then the gardens around it, then spilling into the streets.
a string of face covered beggar women sit by the side entrance. i stood by the doorway taking pictures till some of the older men shooed me away. i knew i wasn't doing the kosher thing, but couldn't resist. my foreign looks help me slip through the cracks of resistance and when i say I'm Pakistani makes things even better. 'you musli?' yes 'i musli' 'you don't look Pakistani' 'you speak urdu?' haan mein urdu bolti hun - aap boltay hain? khuda hafez...shukriya, tashakur, so forth. often the eyes fall on my ya Ali pendant--invariably elicits 'you musli' question. i don't think most of them can actually understand its significance, it just looks Arabic and Koranic and that's enough to make me 'musli' and 'meiyman' welcome in their city.
once the prayer finished rows of scarf clad women holding plates of dry fruit, bread, fresh fruit, dates, water etc stood on either side of the front doorway; as the men poured out they'd phooko on the offerings being held out by the women. this went on till the very last man.
ill ask Ali tonight what that was all about. all sorts of Muslims with all kinds of ways of worship.
they've painted the mosque a perfect shade of yellow- painted in all the blue tile work.. . ruined a beautiful old mosque with this white wash--all for the hordes they were expecting after the Olympics, touring this historic outpost of Chinese sovereignty. crying shame ruining a historical building like this.

dap - tambourine like instrument with rings
tambour - 5 string
rawab - also 5 string but harsher sound
ghirjek - like a violin, held over the knee
i walked into a musical instrument store just outside the mosque, ended up spending two hours being serenaded by the dap, tambur and rawab. it was truly lovely. the most beautiful string music. the best part was eating grapes, naan and sipping green tea with the musicians - this was offered to them by the store owner, which they promptly offered me, an i joined in happily. i ended up buying a dap? paid rmb150 after listening to a 2 hour performance - gave the musician rmb 50, he was quite taken aback. such a simple life, just walk into a store, be fed, be entertained and go away buying something with happiness and deep satisfaction
i walk around now slowly taking in the sights and sounds of the heart of this city- life around the idgah mosque. I've stumbled upon a antique selling vendor wed bought some scrolls from last year. i sit outside his old antique stall writing away, while three curious Uighur men peer over me, reading or trying to read what I'm writing.
ended up buying a scrolls for a friend who'd liked mine. one for myself. some oranges, the ubiquitous naan, some raisins, I'm constantly nibbling.
---- now a curious young boy now peers over me deciphering what i write in such a hurry. he got tired standing so hes sitting. now asking me for my pen as 'saughat' ill give it to him in just a minute. Alim Jaan is 8 years old.
4.40pm chinni baagh hotel - back at the hotel I've come to the dining room upstairs to munch on my leftover pilau lunch and hot glass of water. its delicious even cold. they have a Christmas party for 150 people. the waitresses running around putting on last minute touches. the organizers Chinese the workers Uighur. they have some awful blaring Chinese music playing on a large screen TV.

tomorrow to yengesar and yarkand.........