Monday, May 9, 2011
6th China Blog: The Southern Silk Road: Hotan to Kashgar
Hotan is an oasis on the Southern Silk Road, east of Kashgar, famous for centuries for its jade. It was here we met our friend from home, Rick Kattelmann, and our new guide Abdul, and began our trek through far western China's Uighur region. Hotan is an island of green in the Taklamakan Desert, with orchards of fruits and nuts and fields of wheat going on for miles. We drove to the “green wall” at the edge of town where men were planting and drip irrigating peach trees and tamarisk, trying to hold back the shifting dunes.
Hotan exists because of its water--the Jade River. A major discovery in 2001 in the river bed started a modern day “jade rush', a free for all that is tearing up the riverbed using everything from shovels to huge excavators. People sleep among the tailing piles, and work at night, looking for the shine of the precious stones. Men could be seen all over town haggling over stones. We presented a small piece we found to a jade buyer. The answer? He threw the worthless river stone on the ground.
Silk has been the key trade item for centuries. A factory in Hotan still does the whole process by hand, from stringing the silk off the cocoons, to spinning, dying and weaving.
Continuing west, we explored Yarkand (a “small” town of only 560,000 at 38°17'N) and a wonderful weekly market in Kargilik. Even with a nice van and a good driver, it was a long, bumpy ride. A railroad is set to open soon, and a new highway is under construction. The evolution of the Silk Road continues.
Kashgar has always been a crossroads and trading center, a bridge between China and Central Asia. The Uighur region seems like a whole different country, and for much of human history, it has been. Veiled women now mix with Han Chinese in mini-skirts and high heels. Color abounds everywhere, with beautiful fabrics, lucious fruits and shiny copper pots. Woman dress to go to market in exquisite dresses we would only consider wearing to a formal wedding. The transport mode of choice is an electric scooter. They zip around everywhere, including on sidewalks and through crowded market aisles. Women sit side-saddle in back, clutching small children and not even holding on to the driver or scooter.
Kashgar has a livestock market on Sundays, where sheep, donkeys, cows, goats and even cats and dogs have been sold or traded for centuries. Looking for a fast horse? There's a special area to “test ride”the sale horses at top speed. We sampled a traditional Uighur kebob here, lamb, dipped in flour and egg and baked in a stone fired oven.