The impermanence of everything…
The impermanence of everything…
I am sitting in my garden late in the afternoon on a December day in Lagos. A cool, dry harmattan breeze blows across the terrazzo patio. I hear the garden gate squeal as metal rubs against metal. I am aware of someone entering. A security guard hands me a white envelope with the words neatly embossed:
ETSU NUPE’S PALACE
Wadata, Bida, Niger State, Nigeria
Surprised and intensely curious, I am careful not to tear the envelope so as not to damage the contents. I pull out a beige, one page letter. It reads:
I had not a clue that I had been considered for a community service award in Nupeland, After a short time, I realized that I had 48 hours to get to Bida where Nupe Days and the ceremony was to be held. Airline tickets to and from Abuja had to be organized, drivers, food, appropriate clothes, money, accommodations …. so many people to call upon to help me put together this trip. Everyone pitched in to get me to Bida on time!
Arriving in Abuja, there was another 5 hours to drive over broken, rough, potholed roads. After checking into Bab Hub Motel and changing my dusty clothes, I visit the glassmakers of Bida on my way to the palace and give my respect to the ETSU.
The programme laid out each days activities:
Horse stables throughout Northern Nigeria—Sokoto, Kibbi, Niger—and from Burkino Faso came to Bida to race their best horses. The prizes ranged from money to generators. The races only began once the ETSU was seated.
Dusk is short-lived in this part of the world and during harmattan season, the dusty air envelops everything. As soon as the sun sets, all activities come to an abrupt end and everyone rushes to get to the road as soon as possible.
From the race ground, I return to the motel and change clothes for the award event. There are cultural shows, music, and speeches before the awards are presented:
Then I hear my name being called to stand in front of the high table to receive the Merit Award.
I wish to express my profound appreciation to His Royal Highness the ETSU Nupe for the award. I also extend my appreciation to all the Nupe Traditional Rulers of Niger, Kwara, Kogi and the FCT Abuja. My profound gratitude also goes to the entire Nupe Kingdom, all Nupes within and outside Nigeria for the honor. A special thanks goes to Alhaji Abubakar Mahmoud (Dangaladima Nupe, Hakimi Etsu Audu) who has been a friend of the family for his role in coordinating this recognition.
**Most photos were taken by my driver, Yacubu, with my camera. The first photo of the ETSU is a photograph from the royal photographers. The last 4 pictures of receiving the award was taken by royal photographers. ***All Photographs and text are under international copyright laws. No re-use without the permission of Lesley Lababidi 2019.
ARCE* hosts book launch for Field Guide to the Street Names of Central Cairo! Thanks to ARCE for hosting this launch, what I re-learned and remembered is the importance to celebrate an accomplishment. Usually, we just move onto the next thing but to stop and put a flag in the ground and breathe for a moment, gave such joy.
*ARCE Founded in 1948, the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE) is a private, nonprofit membership organization comprised of educational and cultural institutions, professional scholars and private individuals. ARCE’s mission is to support research on all aspects of Egyptian history and culture, foster a broader knowledge of Egypt among the general public, and strengthen American-Egyptian cultural ties.
American University in Cairo Press – Facebook posted a short essay on:
Or read on in October Newsletter: https://conta.cc/2E1ZgHN
Mantiqti Arabic Newspaper promotional interview.
Humphrey Davies interview in Arabic https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LPNE0urSO8Q&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR3A5Gs4uD6tDoMiYlm5_ydtSNDFYCYn9WGpgC0FkiLOtGIuSXiDKdvq-xw
Last year my plan was to end my China trip in Kashgar, go over the border into Kyrgyzstan by way of the Torugart Pass (elevation 3,752 m (12,310 ft) , then onto Tash Rabat, Naryn… But at the last minute the border was closed and I rerouted the trip by plane from Urumchi, China to Bishkek. But this year, I was able to cross the Torugart Pass and enter Xinjiang Provence. But not before, I fell and broke my professional camera…so pictures from now will be from my IPhone 😦
Western China, the Xinjiang Provence is a fascinating area not only because of the northern and southern Silk Road routes that skirted the Taklamakan Desert but also that much of the Great Game was played out with Kashgar as the pivot point for explorers and adventurers. Xinjiang Provence borders with countries – Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and India. This area of China is Central Asia with customs, food, traditions, religion, and language similar with its neighbours. It is the convergent point of varying cultures and empires, Chinese, Turkic, Mongol, and Tibetan empires; furthermore, it is home to the majority of the world’s Uyghur population.
Kashgar, officially known as Kashi is the regional capital of this Xinjiang Provence. The Prefecture of Kashgar borders with Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, and Tajikistan and is China’s western most city which lies on the edge of the Taklamakan Desert. Kashgar is a city of great ethnic diversity, including the Uyghur, Han Chinese, Kazakhs, Hui, Tajiks, Kyrgyz, Mongols and Russians. The city has 2000 years of history and is located where trade routes met and continued to China, the Middle East, and Europe.
I had expected to find Kashgar a maze of adobe houses, city walls, fortresses, mud walls and narrow alleyways with a vibrant, traditions of the Uyghur community. But those days are gone. I was told I was 15 years too late. (Read Tony Steward’s Kashgar Sunday Market 1995 for what Sunday Market once was.) The Chinese government concerned about potential earthquakes and unsafe structures began to remove all traditional housing and provide new housing for each family in high-rise , earthquake-proof apartment complexes. Some areas were renovated to the original look of the old city that give an idea of how these areas once looked.
Old Kashi town:
Renovated old town:
But the streets take on an eerie silence with much of the traditional workshops selling tourist trinkets from Taiwan and Pakistan rather than authentic working/living areas. Though disappointed that did not stop me finding lots to do and see!
Some must see sites: the British Consulate and Russian Consulate, two Kashgar institutions where diplomatic intrigue of the Great Game of the 19th and early 20th century was played out. After reading “Foreign Devils of the Silk Road”, I first asked my guide if there was anything left of the two embassies. Though they are both hidden: the British residence behind a hotel and converted into a Chinese restaurant and the Russian Consulate still maintaining the atmosphere in a quiet courtyard is a boutique hotel. Both consulates were built in 1890 and in operation until 1949 when the People Republic of China took control. Within these walls, the consuls were listening posts of the Great Game by expanding routes, military and political manoeuvres. Explorers and archaeologist used these two consulates to take breaks from their conquests and discoveries of the Silk Road.
Remains of British Consulate:
Sir George Macartney (1867-1945) British consul-general in Kashgar founded the British Consul in 1890. He and his wife, Catherine Borland, remained in Kashgar until 1918. The Consulate became a place to rest for adventurers like Aurel Stein, Paul Pelion and Sven Hedin. After WWII the Consulate- General was revoked and transferred to British India and was changed into “India-Pakistan Consulate”. Pictures of Sir George Macartney and Lady Macartney and family remain at the entrance of the residence. Lady Macartney turned the British consulate:
“into an island of European civility, with cuttings from English gardens, exotic flowers and pear and apple trees. Ping pong tables were set up indoors and tennis courts were built nearby. Brahms records provided melodious lullabies and eventually a piano was shipped over the mountain passes”.
She also was known to have assisted the archaeologists who found the library at Dunhuang.
The Russian consulate, in the spring of 1893 according to a treaty between China and Russia signed in 1881, started architectural work in the old town of Kashgar to build a consulate. This consulate covered an area of 15,000 meters. In the compound, houses were built in conformity in Russian old architectural style. At the end of 1918, China and Russia broke diplomatic relations, its staff escaping to Russia or other countries. In 1925, China and Soviets resumed diplomatic relations but in 1956, the Soviet Union consulate in Kashgar was cancelled.
Remains of Russian Consulate:
The tomb of Yusuf Khass Hajib Balasaguni (1019-1085)offers respite from tourists in the gardens and mausoleum of this Uyghur poet, philosopher, statesman, and vizier. He was born in Balasagun in modern day Kyrgyzstan but moved to Kashgar around 1069, there he wrote the book Kutadkau Bilig – Wisdom of Happiness, which explains social, cultural and political lives of the Uyghurs during that time.
I was invited to spend an evening with an Uyghur family who opens their home to travelers. The dinner is in a traditional Uyghur dining room that is only used for guests and for the family at festival times. The three most important food to welcome a guest are two types of rock sugar and semsa, a fried bread. After that, dumpling soup and plov (pilaf) are main course. The table is decorated with colorful china, fruits, nuts, sweets as everything a family has is put on the table to welcome the guest.
The evening is complimented with a chapter or story of Dolan muqam music played by masters who have traveled over 100 kilometers to perform this evening, special permission had to be obtained so this is one of the most unique performances that one can see these days in Kashgar.
Dolan muqam is a 1000 year old artistic form of the Uyghur’s expression integrating music, literature, dance, drama characterised by unrestrained singing that reflects their ancestors hunting lives and culture. The accompanying musical instruments include satar, tambur, dutar, rawap, kalun, tambourine. There are various themes, and rich tones, the story telling and songs are passionate. The music was designated by UNESCO a part of the intangible heritage of Uyghurs. This group has performed in Europe on several occasions. The oldest of the group says, “old people in Europe look the same.”
In Kashgar, it is obligatory to visit Id Kah Mosque built in ca. 1442 by Saqsiz Mirza but other structures were built from 996 CE. It is the largest mosque in China and is reported that up to 20,000 worshippers come to the mosques on days of the feast. If you read on any site that women are not allowed, when I arrived, everyone was allowed to visit except during Friday prayers.
Afaq Khoja Mausoleum is a complex built by the Khoja family from 1640 with halls, madrasah and mosque later added. Within the mausoleum are the remains of Yūsuf and many of the Khoja family are interned there. The Khoja family arrived from Uzbekistan and the family ruled the region in the 17th and 18th centuries. It was told to me that Muslim families who could not go to Mecca for the Haji could receive the same benefits if they made a pilgrimage to this spot 8 times. (I don’t know if this information is true or not.)
The tiles are mostly original and made by different artisan families. The Islamic architecture is beautiful and the rose gardens and cemetery allows for peaceful contemplation. Read more at:
If you have ever heard of Kashgar, it is most likely because of its renowned Sunday Market. There are some fabulous photographs and descriptions about this market on the Internet but, unfortunately, the market’s glory days has passed. It has been reduced to a simple livestock market where farmers hope to sell their sheep, goats, horses, donkeys, yaks and yattles (breed of 50-50 yak and beef)
There are reasons for the reduction of activity in the market but I won’t get into that here. However…good news…I went to find the men who pull dough to make noodles … and I was not disappointed.
Below are various pictures from the Kashgar market and around the town:
Want more information on Uyghurs and Xinjiang Province in China, go to Josh Summers: Far West China. It is excellent!
“Know from whence you came. If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go.” – James Baldwin
In March of 2018, I’m not tramping through the alleyways of Cairo, or watching glassmakers in Bida, or meeting the director of Karakalpakstan Art Museum in Nukus, or sitting with silk farmers in the mountains of Syria. No, my task is to sell my family home of 100 years (98 and ½ years to be exact) in Colorado…the home of four generations.
Since I left the USA in 1971 to marry my husband in Lebanon and move to West Africa, my cultural identity, lifestyle, family, community ties have not been that from where I came. After nearly fifty years, my identity is chameleon-like or camouflaged. I don’t think too much about my heritage except now as I am letting go of the last property of my family heritage, I offer my appeasement to:
This Old House
Both sides of my mother’s family arrived in the late 1600s to the ‘new world’. My father’s family arrive in the mid-1800 first through Canada then to Colorado. My parents were raised in a small community along the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.
There, one of the family homes, has remained in our family. Three years ago my, then, 92-year-old mother decided to move to Florida and live with her daughter, my younger sister, Lynn Kitchen. Mother could no longer maintain the house and decided to sell. For many reasons, I felt a responsibility to keep the house in the family. So purely on an emotion decision, I bought the house from my mother. Soon to realize that maintaining such a house when I do not live in the USA was an expensive burden. Yet engulfed in guilt, I chastised myself, “how could I spend much of my time writing about other people’s heritage when I cannot save my own?” But money was flying out of my bank account going into a property with which I could not build a future. With a heavy heart, I began to clear out, throw out and hold on.
March and April and May, these months, I polished the brass door knobs and wax the wood floors; I piled the last of the boxes and bags on the lawn for the charity to haul off; I jotted down historical notes of this 1920 house and whispered out-loud to my great aunt who built the house those many years ago. I readied the house and garden to see the day when the FOR SALE sign was hammered into the lawn along the corner sidewalk.
The house is cleared of things now.
It is different, emptied, probably more like when it was first built…an empty vessel to put memories into; now an empty vessel again, waiting.
So in honor of my family heritage, this is the story of 610 North Jefferson as told by cultural historian, Carl McWilliams and my mother, Pollyann Baird:
Harter House was constructed in 1920 at a cost of $32,255.53 (with inflation, today, that amount would equal: $404,074.70). Designed by renowned architect, Robert K. Fuller, the house is among northern Colorado’s best examples of the Craftsman style of architecture. When the house was built, the lots were graced by five stately elm trees, today it is professionally landscaped with green lawn, heritage rose garden, cedar trees and shrubs, and several Norwegian maple trees.
The 2-storey house features an irregular plan It is supported by a concrete foundation and has solid brown brick masonry walls. There is a full basement beneath the home. The home’s solid brick walls are laid in common bond, and there are battered brick piers at the corners. Cream colour stucco, with false hall-timbering, appears in the upper gable ends on the south and west elevations, and in the upper half storey on the east elevation. The roof is broadly pitched, and features intersecting clipped gables, green asphalt shingles, and widely-overhanging boxed eaves. An original sleeping porch is on the north elevation. There are three brown brick chimneys.
The Craftsman-style porch features brick steps flanked by black wrought iron railings, brick flooring laid in herringbone pattern, and brick pedestals with large urns. The windows feature decorative window boxes with Craftsman detailing.
The interior of the home’s main and upper floor is divided into ten rooms including a vestibule, parlour, dining room, kitchen and breakfast room, conservatory (smoking room), an office, sleeping porch, two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and attic. There are six room in the basement, the largest of which is the billiards room and used to practice ballroom dancing. Other rooms in the basement include the fruit cellar, laundry room, coal room, a boiler room, and workshop with an original built-in work bench.
The home has tongue-in-groove maple flooring, except in the parlour which has oak flooring. The interior wood work is stained natural brown with distinctive diamond-shaped motifs adorning the interior. The main stairway is pure Craftsman with a square newel post, carved balusters, curved hand rails, and wide stair risers that give way to a graceful ascent to the second floor.
All original light fixtures are intact as are the original bathroom fixtures including a pull-handle flush toilet.
The fireplace tiles are similar to those found on the façade of the Rialto Theatre in Loveland, which were designed by Earnest Batchelder of Pasadena, California. Thirteen decorative tiles echo the glorious past of medieval masters by depicting Viking ships, knights, castles, and stylized animals and birds.
From the parlour, French doors open onto the dining room. All walls feature shoulder high panelled wainscoting. Onto these panels, European (most probably Germans from Russia who arrived in Loveland in 1902) applied a grey-blue paint stippled on with a sponge – a technique named “Tiffany finish”. The original chandelier and scones were specially designed to match the painted walls.
A central vacuum system was installed to remove dirt and dust through tubing installed inside the walls to a collection container in a remote utility space in the basement. Inlets installed in walls throughout the house that attach to a hose and was meant to be a labor saving device.
Also built in 1920, the garage is located north of the house and is connected to the residence by a brick garden wall, where there is a wood gate with a pergola covering. There is a small, pentagon-shaped garden in shed located at the rear northeast corner of the property. Brick garden walls effectively tie the house, garage, and the natural features into a cohesive harmonious landscape design.
The Harter/Borland House is historically significant as it has been associated with notable persons of Loveland – Charles A. Harter, Maude E. Harter Borland, Eugene W. Borland, and Pollyann (Castle) Kitchen Baird. The property is architecturally significant for its fine expression of the Craftsman style of architecture and because it was designed by prominent Colorado Architect Robert K. Fuller.
Robert K. Fuller was born in 1886 in Fort Collins. Robert grew up in Fort Collins and attended Colorado A&M and Cornell University where he received his degree in architecture. By 1910, Fuller had opened and architectural firm in Denver. By 1920, Fuller had designed some of his most notable buildings, including several Colorado courthouses and schools. Work credited to Fuller in Loveland include the Harter House, the Rialto Theatre and Loveland High School, renovation on the Lovelander Hotel and the original Herzinger & Harter Building.
The Craftsman style house, at the time, was the most popular style of the day. Inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement led by Gustav Stickley, the Craftsman style of architecture was principally influenced by the work of brothers, Charles Sumner Greene and Henry Mather Greene. Popularized throughout the country by pattern books and magazines, examples of the style included both elaborate architecture designed, Craftsman houses as well as more modest bungalows. Stickley philosophy of design stressed comfort, utility and simplicity through the use of natural materials and a lack of pretention. As publisher of the Craftsman, a magazine he founded in 1901, Stickley sought to expound upon the concept of ‘total design,” which sought to integrated the house with its surroundings through all aspects of design: house construction landscaping, interiors and furnishing.
Gustav Stickley’s concept of “total design” is clearly evident in Robert Fuller’s design of the Harter House, executed in 1919. From the complementary architecture of the house and garage to the unifying brick garden wall, to the duplicate pergola roofs over the front porch and gate to the home’s harmonized interior fixtures and furnishings, Fuller’s design embraces all of the elements of the Craftsman style.
A little family history:
Charles A. and Maude E. (Stanfield) Harter were the home’s original owners. In the spring of 1919, they commissioned Fuller to design the house in a style which they referred to as a “Brittany Bungalow.” Construction work on the residence was completed by a contractor named Danielson. Mr. Harter passed away, of complications from Bright’s disease and diabetes, in November 1920 having lived in the new home for less than a year. Mrs Harter, though, lived the rest of her life until her death in December 1992 at the age of 101. Along the way she married her second husband, Eugene W. Borland on December 24, 1926, and eventually passed the house on to her niece (my mother, Pollyann (Castle) Kitchen Baird who, in 2015, sold the house to me, great niece of Maude.
Born in 1889, Charles A. Harter was son of prominent Loveland pioneers Samuel B. and Emma B. Harter. The elder Mr. Harter arrived in Colorado Territory in the years prior to 1871. Determined to capitalize on the burgeoning mining industry, Harter made his way to Caribou, a bustling mining camp located west of Nederland, near the Continental Divide. There Harter entered into a partnership with John Lewis Herzinger, in a mercantile business, they moved their business to Loveland and purchased a corner lot at what is today the northwest corner of East 4th Street and North Cleveland Avenue. At this location, Harter and Herzinger constructed Loveland’s first brick commercial building, a two-storey edifice with the Herzinger and Harter Mercantile on the ground floor and a grange hall on the second floor.
Charles A. Harter grew up in Loveland and attended Colorado College in Colorado Springs where he met Miss Maude Stanfield (my great aunt), also attending Colorado College. They graduated and married in 1916. After his father’s death, Charles took on the family business. In early 1919, the Harters commissioned architect Robert K. Fuller to undertake two project. One was to design their new home at the northeast corner of Jefferson Avenue and East 6thstreet, and the other was to design a major addition to the Lovelander Hotel, which was owned by the Harter family. Charles was diagnosed with Bright disease and diabetes and died in November 1921 at the young age of 31. Auntie Maude was 29 years old. In 1926, Maude met Gene W. Borland who had founded the Loveland Realty Association, House of Neighbourly Services, and was a successful investment banker. Maude managed the Harter family farms and ranches almost to the day she died in 1992, active in DAR, and many community projects throughout her life.
My mother, Pollyann, lived with Auntie Maude and Uncle Gene and attended Loveland High School where she met my father, Richard S. Kitchen. In 1992, after Auntie Maude’s death, my mother inherited 610 North Jefferson. In 2015, I took over and today, the story ends but not the memories…
In this old house…an attic treasure, a first edition book, The Secret Garden inscribed with a poem from Dudley, my grandmother’s suitor, when she was attending college in Tennessee.
***Recognizing that millions of people are forced to leave their homes or their homes are destroyed by natural disasters or by war leaving refugees, homeless, and untold grief, I am grateful to have the opportunity to leave this house peacefully and with love.
To read more about the grief of letting go of a family home read:
“Goodbye to the House My Grandmother Built.” By Yasmine El Rashidi
Watch the movie: Nostalgia:”A mosaic of stories about love and loss, exploring our relationship to the objects, artifacts, and memories that shape our lives.”
How to describe a friend of nearly twenty years? Actually, I first met Neil in a professional capacity when the former director of AUC Press, Marc Linz, accepted to publish Cairo The Family Guide, in 1998. During that project, I got to know Neil as a person who was unsparingly generous with his expertise. Over the years, we became friends and I discovered things such as his love for gingerbread and the Egyptian dessert, Om Ali. As years passed, I knew Neil as an avid nature and wildlife photographer, Fayoum farmer, intrepid birdwatcher, Arab literature translator, elephant enthusiast, fellow adventurer, meticulous editor, desert explorer and generous friend. My favorite book that Neil translated (which I have read four times and has all the qualities of a riveting opera) , is The Wedding Night by Yusef Abu Rayya.
Neil’s life spans from England to Egypt to New Zealand brings together many adventures, friends and colleagues. This post and short video is to add to those voices in saying thank you to Neil for his years at American University in Cairo Press. A sincere and deep wish to Neil that retirement is all and more than his thirty-one years at The Press .
For more about Neil’s career read: Here’s to you Neil! (October 2017 e-Newsletter)
Read: Celebrating Neil Hewison: An Excerpt from His Translation of ‘City of Love and Ashes’ by Marcia Lynx Qualey, freelance cultural journalist at Arabic Literature in English
Read: 5 Books: Neil Hewison’s Most Memorable Books from 31 Years at AUC by Marcia Lynx Qualey, freelance cultural journalist at Arabic Literature in EnglishPress
The photo credits and link to the events and photograph in the video are listed below. The e-newsletter and event photographs used in this video are credited to Ingrid Wassmann,
August 30th – September 3rd
The plan was on September 1st to leave Turpan by train for Kashgar on a 16-hour overnight sleeper, then to spend 3 days in Kashgar and then drive over the Torugart Pass (3,750 meters) into Kyrgyzstan on 4th of September. Twenty minutes before boarding the train, the news arrived that the Chinese had closed their border with Kyrgyzstan for the next 5 days because of Eid el Kabir. Do I continue onward to Kashgar and hope for the best; hope the border will open one day before my visa expires? Do I wait in Kashgar but risk being delinquent in exiting China? I was told that there would be a fine incurred if I stayed past my visa date. Having experience in these matters in Africa, I knew, this breach could incur quite unpleasant circumstances to over stay one’s visa deadline. Another concern was that since arriving into Xinjiang Province, the security had noticeably tightened. The Chinese government, worried about problems in this predominant Muslim region, put tight security precautions in place. I knew from experience that one can not expect latitude in these situations, anything out of the ordinary would be questioned. Running through my mind was: do I take the long train ride to Kashgar, spend 24 hours and catch a plane to Urumchi (the capital of Xinjiang Province and closest international airport) and then fly to Beshkik, Kyrgyzstan involving long lay-overs in two airports? Or could the driver and guide who just dropped me at the train station and was heading themselves to Urumchi, return and take me with them on the 2 1/2 hour drive? A quick decision had to be made. I decided rather than to climb the ‘wall’ , the best way -though it meant giving up my goal of traveling completely across China, not seeing Kashgar, and forfeiting a fascinating part of the trip – going around the ‘wall’ was the best decision. So I exited from Turpan railway station. And found myself, several hours later, in Urumchi the capital of Xinjaing Province and on a Southern China Airway’s flight, the next day, to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
So back to Turpan…
It is a city in Xinjiang Provence, an oasis 260 feet below sea level; a city of extremes – harshly hot in the summer and caustically cold in the winters. Yet it is an agricultural city that produces a variety of the finest raisins in China (possibly the world) with 22 percent of sugar. The grapes are dried in drying house usually on the roofs of houses and hung from the ceiling to be dried by the hot, arid wind.
Fruits, vegetables and cotton (water-needy) are also abundant crops. Yet the city is surrounded by bare, flaming hot mountains where eggs are cooked in the sand.
How is this possible? The discovery was truly amazing…the land is irrigated by an underground canal system known as the Karez System. The Karez is made up of vertical wells, under ground canals, above the ground canals and small reservoirs. A 2000 year underground , man-made irrigation system that captures the melting snow from the high Tien Shan (peaks reach above 5000 metres) and through underground dug out parallel system of water way-like pipes, the water flows to the lowest part in the oasis. This along with the type of soil gives life to the area that has enticed people to stay, farm, and trade.
Turpan is in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, a Chinese administrative division that contains up to 37 different ethnic groups including the Uyghur, Kazakhs, Tajiks, Hui, Kyrgyz, Mongols, Han and Russians. This region has the most diversity of ethnic groups than any other region in China. Ancient references call this area the Chinese Turkestan. The people, before Islam, followed Buddhism, the remnants of the religion can still be seen at Bezeklik’s Thousand Buddha Caves, which are an example of portraits of Buddhist religious art. There are 77 caves at the site with the story of Buddha’s life. The faces painted on the walls are as diverse as the ethnic population that one sees on the streets today and as vivid.
Yar City also known as the city of Jiaohe is nearly 2000 years old. It was an important trading post on the Silk Road. It is an independent islet formed by crossing of two river valleys.
The ancient city was built on a plateau that contained government buildings, Buddhist temples, and private dwellings. An ingenious construction technique was employed by digging downward creating room-like basements and the dug-up soil was used to construct structures on ground level. The city islet (1650 meters in length, 300 meters wide at its widest point) in the middle of a two rivers formed a natural defense, which would explain why the city lacked any sort of walls. Instead, steep cliffs more than 30 metres high on all sides of the river acted as natural walls. The layout of the city had eastern and western residential districts, while the northern district was reserved for Buddhist sites of temples. In the 13th century the area was overrun by Genghis Khan’s army and destroyed although my guide’s story was that the city was destroyed by the introduction of Islam, which divided people’s loyalties and eventually destroying the Buddhist city.
The Emin Minaret was named after a local Turpan general, Emin Khoja. During the Qing Empire, the general sided with the Qing Empire against the Dzungar Mongols and defeated them. The minaret was completed in 1778 during the reign of the Qianlong Emperor (r. 1735–1796). It was built to honor the exploits of the Turpan general, Emin Khoja. Local craftsmen constructed the first of its kind minaret in China using local materials. It is an elegant, circular, tapered Islamic dome, 44 meters high, one of the tallest minarets in China.
The highlight of the Turpan was visiting a women’s workshop/business named BAGRIM, meaning My Heart. Founded by Hawahan Tursun three years ago, she decided that women in the village should continue the Uyghur embroidery craft as well as to make extra money, she opened a workshop to teach and promote handmade Uyghur textiles. Soon, her daughter, Rahile Hoji, joined her mother to help with marketing. Even her grandmother, Hawahan Osman, embroiders Uyghur hats. It takes her 4 days to make one hat. If there is interest in supporting this project by purchasing their products, please email Rahile at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org .
Seventy-five year old Hawahan Osman says that the years of her youth were years of starvation. But today there is plenty of food even too much of everything! She says life in China is good and plentiful.
Returning to the hotel in the hot afternoon, we came upon the first bread open oven (similar to that of Syria and Egypt) in this trip. A village women was bent over the wood burning brick oven making bread loaves called naan. She waved for us to stop and generously gave us a loaf of bread to share. Hot from the oven, the bread was delightfully chewy with a slightly crunchy, salt and black sesame seeds added to the tastiness.
The last evening dinner in Turpan was enjoyably spent at the home of a Uyghur family. Sitting on the typical raised table in the centre of grape vineyard, the family prepared a scrumptious typical Uyghur meal of a rice dish, noodle soup, chive dumplings, fried-twisted crispy dough with the ever present and ever-replenished bowl of tea. A meal to remember in Turpan.
The following photos are the guides that insured that my trip was a safe, comfortable, nourishing, knowledgable, and successful 7500 kilometres through China. Each one gave me a piece of their Silk Road to carry with me and savour over the years. I am eternally grateful. Although guiding and driving is their job, they all took pride in showing me their country and I will carry the admirable impressions of China to others along my journey because of their outstanding efforts.
The Silk Road was about migration and transfer of ideas, ideologies, religions, intermarriage, language and trade. It was about invention, movement, and discovery. Walnuts, glass, pomegranates, horses, lions, camel, coloured-glazes (cloisonné), herbs, musical instruments, chairs are just a few of the things introduced to the East. While the East carried porcelain, silk, iron ware, gunpowder, tea, paper, bitter orange to the West. Curious and desirous seeking people took up the journey for profit and power, and survival. There was suffering and hardship; life lived and life lost. The Silk Road then and now, remains the same.
With the Eastern roads behind, I head West into Central Asia.
Want more information on Uyghurs and Xinjiang Province in China, go to Josh Summers: Far West China. It is excellent!
(all rights reserved, copyright 2017 To copy or re-produce photography and/or writings, written permission from Lesley Lababidi is required)
August 26th -August 29th, 2017 Llasa-Lanzhou-Dunhuang-Liuyuan (yellow line on map is roughly the Hexi Corridor between Lanzhou and Dunhuang, not to Llasa)
My first introduction to Lanzhou was an overcrowded, polluted, traffic snarling city. Mountains hemming the city in on both sides with the Yellow River dividing the city into east and west, heavy industry with snarling traffic did not leave a reason to return although I knew I would return on my way from Llasa to Dunhuang. But, Lanzhou holds secrets. Get lucky and give her a chance and Lanzhou brings out another side.
Lanzhou, capital of Gansu Province, is considered to have been the gateway to the Silk Road and where this road crossed the Yellow River. Historically, this was the most important route into ancient China to what was known simply as the western Regions and beyond to the west, Central Asia. Everyone, merchants to poets, wanderers to conquers passed through the narrow, 1000 kilometres long strip between Dunhuang and Lanzhou (or visa versa) known as the Hexi Corridor. Sometimes as narrow as 16 kilometres wide and surrounded by inhospitable country of Qilian Shan (mountain) to the south and Gobi Desert to the north, any caravan passing through this track had little freedom of movement. This natural bottleneck or the Throat, opened onto the Mouth of China and anyone making the journey from Central Asia to the fertile lands of China had to pass this way.
Fortresses and beacon towers were built along its length. Even the Great Wall extended as far as the Hexi Corridor. The most western remnants of it can still be seen near Dunhuang to Luyuan as well as some at Jiayuguan (not visited) where the Ming rulers built a magnificent fortress in 1372 and has been renovated to its past glory. Here in this photo, I am between Dunhuang and Luyuan, there are remnants of the Great Wall melting into the desert. Here, the walls and fortresses built with mud-bricks rather than like the eastern wall (near Beijing) of stone. These areas were the outer reaches and probably used as places of tax collection or ‘immigration and exit’ points. The Shule River once flowed through here, which would have provided transportation as well as protection, fresh water for people and animals, and a source to make mud for building the wall. Now, there are only black goji bushes and and cemetery from the local village that occupies a spot in the Gobi Desert.
(However, at the end of this post, you will note a new ‘great wall’ in the Hexi Corridor.)
After a 25 hour train ride from Llasa, I was looking forward to the in-room foot salt-bath that had been prepared on my first visit to Ningwozhuang Hotel. The hotel is grand and I was told it was for ‘big potatoes’ assuming that meant for official visits. I wasn’t sure how I got a reservation, but certainly, it was one of the finest hotel rooms that I have ever stayed at! (Here the wifi was the strongest that I encountered throughout China.)
The five days while I was in Llasa, it had rained in Lanzhou. The Yellow River was red with silt from the mountains. Even the Bingling Si Caves (see ‘Previously, in Xi’an’ post) which I had visited two weeks previously were closed due to the rough waters of the Yellow River, which had to cross to get to the site. So I was lucky to have seen these caves.
This day is was cloudy with a chance of rain so we headed to the Lanzhou – Gansu Provincial Museum. What a treasure of information and beautifully presented – chronological, interactive, well-lit, labelled in English and Chinese (definitely museums around the world could learn from this museum)! I would see one of Gansu national treasures, The Flying Horse, a Chinese bronze sculpture that perfectly balances on one leg from the Eastern Han probably the 2nd century CE. Discovered in 1969 near the city of Wuwei, Gansu Province. The Silk Road exhibit, magnificent Quran of the Qing Dynasty and the ancient pottery exhibit was most informative. I was enthralled with the patterns found on pottery (BCE) and the similarities to the patterns found on calabashes in Northern Nigeria. Although probably no connection, the recognition of these patterns were most interesting to me. (When I return to Cairo, I will add to this post the comparison of patterns found on calabashes to these patterns.)
After many inquiries about handcrafts in Lanzhou and the difficulty of getting past the excuse ‘that there is no parking’, we are dropped off at a walking street that offers as many international brand stores as in London. My guide turns off into a quiet alleyway and facing me is a Confucius Temple. Within the alleyways are small stores that offer supplies for calligraphy art, stamp and coin collector shops, and a calabash store. Here, artists have worked for centuries carving beautiful scenes onto tiny to giant calabashes.
I meet Mr. Chang who had just sat down to a bowl of noodles. He offers to share his lunch with me and invites me into the next room where his wife is pulling dough into noodles and placing them in an electric pot full of aromatic broth. Lots of vegetables were sliced up on the table and entered this delightful hotspot. We dawdled and talked, laughed and joked, of course through a translator. Mr. Chang sat me down and tried to teach me his art. With his tools, I tried to make a scratch on the calabash but could not and fearing the knife would slip and I would cut myself, I gave up rather quickly but not without a keen appreciation for his art and craft.
Then off to lunch at the Yellow River Romantic Garden Restaurant looking over youth playing football and beyond the Yellow River. This restaurant’s speciality is for weddings and beside our table was a wedding party enjoying many, many toasts to good life and fortune.
Here I was introduced to pre-packaged 8-treasure tea or sanpaotei! A mug glass filled with all the dried ingredients: green tea, goji beans, walnuts, ju-jube, chili, chrysanthemum blossom, rose hip, rock sugar , wrapped in plastic, and all ready for boiling water, refills free.I was not sure who then owns the glass mug but I left it behind.
Then off to another railway station and another overnight train (13 hours) to Dunhaung. (This time I had an in-suite toilet!)
Dunhuang is at the western end of the Hexi Corridor near the historic junction of two arms of ancient Silk Road coming from the west, one around the north, and the other around the south of the Taklmakan Desert. The Silk Road routes from China to the west passed to the north and south of the Taklamakan Desert, and Dunhuang lay on the junction where these two routes came together. Additionally, the city lies near the western edge of the Gobi Desert, and north of the Mingsha Sand Dunes (whose name means ‘gurgling sand’ or ‘singing dunes’, a reference to the noise of the wind over the dunes), making Dunhuang a vital resting point for merchants and pilgrims travelling through the region from all directions.
As such, Dunhuang played a key role in the passage of Silk Road trade to and from China, and over the course of the first millennium AD, was one of the most important cities to grow up on these routes. Dunhuang initially acted as a garrison town protecting the region and its trade routes, established in the 2nd century BC by the Chinese Han dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD). Yü Guan or “Jade Gate” and the Yang Guan, or “Southern Gate” are names of ancient passes along the medieval highway that illustrate the strategic importance position of Dunhuang.
Over many centuries Buddhist monks, initially traveling from the west, created a sanctuary in hundreds of caves armed out of the dry cliff faces at Dunhuang, where an oasis provided water and the means of growing food. Buddhist monks from India and China traveled this road, and Dunhuang became a repository of Buddhist wisdom and art through the thousand years of trade on the Silk Road.(Also at Turpan’sBezeklik’s Thousand Buddha Caves and the Bingling Si caves outside of Lanzhou clearly illustrate the movement of Buddhism). Eventually, caves were painted and statues incorporated onto the walls and scriptures written as a holy Buddhist resting area. The earliest carvings and frescoes are reminiscent of Indian art, while later dynasties’ artists used different techniques and portrayed figures of their Chinese contemporaries.
The Mogao caves hold one of the greatest storehouses of Buddhist art in the world. That is, they did, until the beginning of the last century when they were pillaged by highly respect European archaeologists carted Buddhist wall painting off to public and private galleries and museums,but then, the Cultural revolution and extremist Islam have also done damage, too. The grottoes spread for 1700 metres along a canyon wall. At the peak of their use, during the Tang Dynasty, AD619-907, they housed 18 monasteries, more than 1400 monks and nuns and countless artists, calligraphers, and translators. All this creativity was funded by private donations. At the height of its glory there were more than 400 caves at Dunhuang now only eight caves, selected in rotation from among that number are open to visitors at any one time. The caves became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.
Going through the towns bazaar in mid-day was not a good idea as everyone is having a siesta but my guide knows my interest in crafts and he suggests visiting his home to meet his mother and father. His mother makes hand-made shoes for children and sells them in the Saturday/Sunday markets. So with a rare invitation, we enter our guides home and enjoy a few hours seeing how these shoes are made.
In Dunhaung the most western section of The Great Wall of China rises in sections of dusty remembrance of the past. Wikipedia says: “A comprehensive archaeological survey, using advanced technologies, has concluded that the Ming walls measure 8,850 km (5,500 mi). This is made up of 6,259 km (3,889 mi) sections of actual wall, 359 km (223 mi) of trenches and 2,232 km (1,387 mi) of natural defensive barriers such as hills and rivers.Another archaeological survey found that the entire wall with all of its branches measures out to be 21,196 km (13,171 mi)spans.”
Eastern Great Wall near Beijing:
Most Western Great Wall near Dunhaung
As I leave Dunhaung for the train station in Luyuang to travel 4 hours to Turpan, I am struck with another, modern Great Wall and provides an example of the continuous improvements in infrastructure that China invests: 200 kilometres of wind mills along the Hexi Corridor.
(all rights reserved, copyright 2017. To copy or re-produce photography and/or writings, written permission from Lesley Lababidi is required)