Previously, in Xi’an


August 6 -11 Beijing ,  train to Xi’an (red line, see map)

August 11-14 Xi’an, train to Lanzhou ( orange line, see map)

August 14-15 Lanzhou, car to Xiahe driving to Yellow River , boat to  Bingling Si Caves

August 15-18 Xiahe, this is the region of the Tibetan Plateau, Gansu Province camp among nomadic people. (Green line, see map)


As much as I would like to post many photos, these highlights will have to suffice.  Previously in Xi’an, the days were spent walking the ancient city wall, built in 1370 AD still completely intact, surround the old city. It is over 12 kilometres around, with four enormous gate towers situated on each of the north, south, east and west sides. DSC_0275

Folk paper-cut art, as a world intangible cultural heritage, has nearly thousand years of history in China. The creator uses their hands to cut ordinary paper into different wonderful shapes of objects to express their special philosophy to communicate with the world. An afternoon spent with master paper-cutter Yang Fan  revealed  the patience, skill and creativity needed to design and produce paper-cut art.  Yang Fan born in 1981 in Shan city Province,  specialty is paper -cut series of Chairman Mao , Shaanxi opera faces, and village scenes.

Xi’an is the site of the tomb of China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang. Guarding the tomb is the Terra Cotta army of 7,000 life-sized figures. Peasants digging a well stumbled on the warriors in 1974.DSC_0325

“Inside Painting” is a unique and special painting art in China. Artists mainly use transparent material such as crystal and glass to make the bottle and then after drilling and polishing the bottle, they paint inside reversely with a special hook. Here the artist writes “Mae” in Chinese (far, top right-hand corner) my granddaughter’s name that means ‘plum blossom’ in Chinese.DSC_0406DSC_0402

The highlight of Xi’an was to attend a 3-hour performance (no intermission) by the Qin Opera, the traditional Chinese opera of northwest province of Shaanxi where it was called Qin (seeQinqiang Wikipedia). They performed The Orphan of Zhao, a tragedy based on revenge (see orphan ofZhao). (Sorry I have no access to google to instant link information to a website).


Xi’an Opera House

The performance was a brilliant marriage between precise movement to chimes and drums, and facial expressions to movement of body and costume. The facial makeup is used to exaggerate special facial expressions of the actor or actress. The facial makeup is usually consistent with the design of the dresses worn and traditional style of the performance. The use of colour and design for facial makeup are determined by status,characteristics facial features and traits of the role of the drama. Each colour has its own symbolic meaning.



The Great Mosque of Xi’an was built in 742AD under the reign of Emporer Zuanzong Li Longi in Tang Dynasty  in Chinese architectural  style. It has survived centuries till today, being renovated in the Song, Yuan, Ming, Qing Dynasties.  This subject deserves its own post so I will postpone writing more until I can give its the attention it deserves, until then here is the minaret:


Traveling to Lanzhou by train through the centre of high mountains marks and important centre for Silk Road travelers; where the caravans from the West met the Yellow River which led to markets throughout eastern China. In ancient times Lanzhou served as a garrison town providing forces to protect the Middle Kingdom from enemies who might advance down the Hexi Corridor from the west. Lanzhou is hemmed in on two sides by high mountains with the Yellow River flowing through its centre.

From Lanzhou, a car then a boat on the Yellow River brings me to Bingling Si Caves,set of 183 Buddhist grottoes carved into the Yellow River Gorge in Gansu Province. Statues, clay sculptures are from the Wesern Qin Dynasty. The small twigs between the rocks are asking for old people to overcome the bending and buckling of old age. DSC_0689

After nearly 10 hours on the road, the next four days are spent on the Tibetan plateau with nomadic Tibetan camp out side the village of Xiahe in the region of Xiahe. Set in a mountain valley on the Tibetan Plateau, Xiahe was once an important city in the ancient kingdom of Tibet best known by Labrang Monastery in the centre of the town and sixth largest monastery.


Map courtesy of Norden Camp pamphlet.

Yesterday,  I took a 2 hour drive through the mountainous grasslands to Norlha Textile Workshop, founded by American/French, Kim Yeshi, who revived the techniques of weaving Yak wool. (See :

Here are some moments of daily life for a nomad in this area.


The camp is located in the Sang ke grasslands. It is a nomadic life, in the winters the herds are brought down to the valleys and in the summer, the herds and the families move to higher mountain  for grazing for yak, sheep, and goat herds. The Yak is an impressive animal and the people in this area use the Yak wool (the Yaks shed hair once a year and the hair is collected from the fields) to make their tents, bedding, blankets, clothing. Yak meat is tender and lean, it is prepared in a variety of ways: yak steak, yak sandwich, yak soup, yak bone marrow.  Yak yogurt,cheese,butter, milk, all are staples at every meal. Even yak pizza! Honey is the main sweetener, bees enjoy the yellow flowers which resemble marigold flowers.DSC_0885


Fields of Marigolds

Herding Yaks and collecting dung


Milking Yaks



Tent dot the summer residents in the high mountains where they find abundant grassland for their herds.


Mountain god pray flags, every summer placed at highest points on mountain ridges for blessings.

Tomorrow heading out to Tongren, still on the Tibetan plateau. Tongren is home to many minorities. I will have a chance to visit mosques, and Tibetans who follow the Buddhist traditions. Then onto Xining and a 22 hour train ride to Llasa that is a distance of 1956 kilometres. Xining is 2,300 meters above sea level but we will go through the Tangla Pass which is 5000 meters high. The train is pressurised with  with oxygen for passengers.

Probably from Lhasa, I will find Internet to post again.





Liu Yunjiang, the Cricket Man

Peering down into a black carved ceramic bowl as two crickets are shaken out of the chambers that house them, I watch how they land softly and crouch at the bottom of the ceramic ring. These are fighting crickets, bred and valuable to be entered into competition.Mr. Liu breeds crickets for fighting. I met him on the third day of my journey in Beijing.

A Chinese amusement as pets for their song but also crickets are selected to be for fighting. In 12th century the first record of cricket fights were recorded. Traditionally in Chinese cricket fighting males are only bred to females with three tails  as Mr. Liu conveys through a translator. The male and female have an ornate wedding bed, a miniature enamelled box open on both sides.

Mr. Liu  explains that cricket antenna’s are sensitive.Most cricket masters use blades of grass to touch the sensitive antenna that instigate a fight however Mr. Liu created a slender tool with 3 rat whiskers at the end  like a brush to give softer stroke to the antenna. In a cricket competition the loser is the cricket that firsts turns away or raises its wings. Another important tip ,for any would be cricket owner , is to never pick a cricket by hand as the legs are delicate and break easily.


Tonight I am in Lanzhou a three hour train ride through the centre of a mountain range. The last two days were spent n Xi’an , the official start of the Silk Road. My introduction to this giant country has been one of jaw-dropping awe in the magnitude of development in infrastructure…roads, rail, underground…all public signage is in Chinese and English. Organisation of 1.4 billion people in this diverse topography is clearly a challenge and yet it is a society that seems to pull together. Noticeably 99 percent of the tourist are Chinese and this is significant when the Forbidden City , only , receives 30 to 40,000 people a day. The organisation of movement of people is outstanding. Roads are lined with flowers and though there are complaints of traffic, I did not experience traffic congestion as I have in Cairo, Lagos, and New York.  Riding trains, I have the opportunity to experience the vastness of agriculture lands, industrial areas, and mountain ranges and this country is impressive. The only downside is the Internet or lack there of. Google is banned, Yahoo does not work well and once accessed, the Internet is slow. Therefore, though I am having profound experiences, I may not be able to share them or to a much lesser degree. IMG_0005

Lanzhou is known for it place in the Silk Road where caravans from the West met the Yellow River that was used for moving themselves and exchanging goods. Today, I travel to the areas of Bingling Si Caves, accessible by boat to visit 183 Buddist grottos carved into the Yellow River canyon walls.

While I have some Internet access, here are some highlights from the last few days.


Great Wall of China

Internet is slowing…not sure how long I have…


Nĭ hăo China!

All Packed and Ready to Go 

One of my esteemed readers (thank you, Murtala) recently commented, “Perhaps this incredible adventure is the longest travel in your life.” That sentence has stayed with me over the past month, turning it over in my mind, considering a lifetime of travel. And yes, it is the longest, intentionally studied, travel that I have attempted. However, my unparalleled adventure was when I followed my soon to be husband, in 1971, to Beirut, Lebanon, and found myself, within a year, in West Africa. In those days, communication was by post or a telephone call booked at the central telephone exchange. Then, water was boiled and filtered in a ceramic container; now, water is purchased in plastic bottles and everywhere! Forty-seven years later, the world has changed, significantly….email, mobile phones, Facetime, credit cards, ATM. Travel arrangements are confirmed and tickets are purchased  over the Internet, no need to send a telex and wait days for a reply.

“One enters into a great sandy desert, where neither water nor grass is to be found. It is necessary to look at some high mountain in the distance, and seek for abandon bones, to know how to guide oneself and recognize the path to be followed. Hsuan-tsang, AD629

All packed and ready to go on the Silk Road. A term coined in 1877 by the German geographer Ferdinand von Richthofen.  The Silk Road was never a single road but a vast network of trade routes stretching from Xian (Chang’an) to the Mediterranean. Travelers have written about trade routes as far back as the Han Dynasty around 100 BC but ancient mummies in the sands of the Taklamakan Desert indicate travelers to China some 2000 years ago. In the twenty-first century, the Silk Road, has a new name, The Belt and Road, a development strategy focuses on connectivity and cooperation between Eurasian countries, the People’s Republic of China, the land-based Silk Road Economic Belt and the ocean-going Maritime Silk Road to Europe. The exchange of goods and thought perseveres.

19th century map of northern silk road. Names highlighted are cities on my journey.
-Central Asia, Kathleen Hopkirk.Eland Publishing 1993.


21st century Chinese railway map: My trip is exclusively, China by rail.

The years living in Nigeria and Egypt instilled the desire for continuous learning, which encouraged, though late in life, this journey through China and Central Asia. Study of Egypt’s five thousand-year history and Nigeria’s considerable diversity of people and culture prepared me for China’s immensely long and incredibly complex history. Empires have risen and fallen but the vastness of the territory from China to Central Asia is daunting to comprehend. First stop, Beijing…to be continued.

Beijing to Tashkent: Following the Silk Road, the countdown



Here it is! My dream voyage finally in place. Seven years ago I said to a friend that I was too old to take this trip and I listened to myself list the many excuses as to why I should not and could not attempt such a trip. Then, early in 2016, things happened. Friends, my age, had heart attacks, strokes, cancer. Some survived, a few did not. My husband was critically ill and I had an accident requiring surgery. Then in October of that year, I had a sudden realization, maybe an epiphany, maybe not,  but the clarity to know that this was my chance to travel the Silk Road. If I was going to go, it was now. So I began. And today, I am one month away from boarding Egypt Air plane to Beijing. The trip will take two months.

My plan is to traverse China mainly by train. In the ‘stans’ most transportation will be by road.  My interests are many. Though I am well aware that this journey is late in the context of the ancient silk road still, I will see what has survived in the cultures and crafts and of course, experience the land that hundreds of thousands of people have travelled and have met their fate.

My plan is to share this experience through this blog. As many of you know, I have a strong dislike for social media but with the strict orders of some friends, I have added my name to Instagram. My goal is to write about subjects that interest me on my blog and post a picture or two on Instagram that connects to the blog. This seems rather cumbersome to me but I am told this is what I should do. If all fails, I will resort to keeping a diary, a scrapbook, and a picture album to be shared on this blog at a later date. (Update one week before travels: I have studied Instagram and have decided that it is not for me. It is not the platform that I seek to share my experiences so I have deleted my account.)

Much of my interest about the Silk Road stems from research, studying, photographing and writing about traditional crafts in Egypt and Nigeria. Indigo, silk, glassblowing, equestrian festivals, bread making are just a few of the subjects I will seek out. More over, I am fascinated with the movement of Islam through these countries and have many opportunities to visit Muslim communities throughout this trip. But too, I am well aware that while something is sought after another thing is found.

The original mission of this blog is to archive my work and share my deep connection to Egypt and Nigeria. Bear with me, as I change writings to a travelogue for the duration of this journey.  It will be experimental, no doubt a challenge, and most definitely, an opportunity.



A Ramadan Iftar to Remember

Enter in Peace and Safety

In celebration of Eid el-Fitr, the 3 day feast after 29 days of fasting, this post remembers a lovely Ramadan summer evening spent at the Demirdashiya el- Khalwatiya Sufi Order in Cairo. I do not profess to have knowledge about sufism. This post is intended to share an uplifting experience that was organized by Amir Abbas Helmi and the Friends of Manial Palace, an iftar (breaking of the fast) at the palace, mosque, and grounds of the Demirdashiya Sufi Order.

On the gate of the entrance, the plaque reads, Qasr (palace) Abdul Rahim Demerdash Pasha, donor of  Demerdash Charitable Hospital, for hospitalization of patients and the poor, 1928.

Iftar tables in the open portico next to the mosque that has cells for silent meditation during a sufi gathering,  on lower and upper floors.

The Khalwatiya, a Sufi brotherhood (tariqa), came to Egypt during the Mamluk period. The Demirdash family was of Circassian Mamluk ancestry, arriving in Egypt with the name Taymmourtash around 1517. Muhammad el-Demirdash el-Mahmudi founded a Sufi order —al- Tariqa el-Demirdashiya—soon after the Ottoman took control of Egypt. The responsibility of continuing the order passed down from father to son, and Sheikh Abdul Rahim Demirdash Pasha  assumed the mantle from his father, Mustafa, at the age of twenty-four. The Sufi order was made up of prominent scholars and merchants, which, along with his considerable wealth, gave Abdul Rahim influence in parliament, where he served, in various positions, for nearly twenty years. In 1928 , he donated his property on Queen Nazli Street (now Ramsis Street) to build a charity institution, the Demirdash Hospital, now a part of Ain Shams University Hospital.

Cells for individual sufis in the background. The key element of Demirdash Khalwatiya  philosophy  is silent meditation.

A peaceful but active order is dedicated to inclusion of all religions, gender, and peoples. All are welcome to visit.

For those who would like a complete discussion of the Demirdashiya al- Khalwatiya Order, read: Visionaries of Silence by Earle H. Waugh (AUC Press, 2007).





When the Flame Trees bloom, you can be sure it is heating up in Cairo! Between the last few weeks of May and early June, the streets light up in the brilliant glow of red from the Delonix regia tree. Though we need no reminder of summer heat in this part of the world, the glorious splash of red provides a welcomed relief. 

LAGOS STATE @ 50 May 27, 2017

My feet first touched Nigerian soil in 1972. Lagos State was a mere five years old. Eko Bridge (1975) had not yet been completed; the only bridge that connected the mainland (and Apapa where we lived) with Lagos Island was Carter Bridge.

Nigeria Magazine 1961, Carter Bridge

Of course, Lagos (Èkó in Yoruba) has a much longer history than 50 years, in fact, people have inhabited these islands for centuries. The actual founding of the area is lost; however, it is recorded that the first people to settle in the fifteenth century were known as Awori, a Yoruba subgroup.

Scan 13

Nigeria Magazine 1961

Lagos meaning ‘lakes’ named by the Portugese explorers around 1472, naming the Lago de Curamo. Lagos was first a port city originated on a collection of islands that are separated by creeks. Open to the Atlantic Ocean, it was protected by long sand bars, now completely urbanized. The islands consist of Victoria, Ikoyi and Lagos Islands are the network islands which are separated from the Mainland.

Before the creation of Lagos State on 27 May 1967, Lagos, which was the country’s capital. Eventually towns—Epe, Badagry, Agege, Ikeja, Ikorodu— from nearby regions were incorporated into Lagos State.

Nigeria Magazine 1961

Nigeria Magazine 1961

To celebrate Lagos State at 50, I am posting a series of articles (from my private collection) written in 1952, 1961, and 1969 for the Nigeria Magazine. Nigeria Magazine of 1961 published a special centenary supplement to celebrated one hundred years (1861-1961) since the Yoruba Kingdom of Lagos was ceded to Britain by its ruler, Dosunmu. On the 1st of October 1960, Lagos became the capital of Nigeria. Today, Abuja is the capital of Nigeria but Lagos remains the a mega commercial centre of Nigeria and Africa.

Read about Lagos :

British Occupation of Lagos 1861-1961 (1961)

The Beginning of Modern Lagos (1961)

LAGOS—Nigeria’s Melting Pot (1961)

Ariel Views of Lagos 1952

Eko Bridge (1969)

Lagos in Portugal and Lagos in Nigeria (1952)

A Walk Through Lagos Island

To view captions, pass the cursor over the photograph.

arieal view lagos now

2016 Lagos Island top right and Mainland bottom half of photo. lower to upper bridges are : Eko Bridge ; Carter Bridge; Third Mainland Bridge

All rights reserved by Lesley Lababidi.