Kashgar, China…15 years too late

E2AA32C2-9DC7-4279-999D-8284E5F101BDLast 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. 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.

5809369B-00D3-4447-8A52-03F1CC081687The 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. 166BF7DE-AB15-42DB-8638-FA85B2895EE4

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)


A yattle

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:

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(all rights reserved, copyright 2018 .To copy or re-produce photography and/or writings, written permission from Lesley Lababidi is required)

Kyrgyzstan: Keeping it Real 2018


Kyrgyzstan flag is symbol of yurt and sun


Neighbourhood in Kochkor

There is something about this country, Kyrgyzstan, that pulls me to it. Maybe it’s the  magnificient mountian scenery or the superlative welcoming people or the nomadic culture or the dedication to the preservation of their heritage. My answer: all of the above.

In 2017, the plan was to arrive in Kyrgyzstan from Kashgar, China over the Torugart Pass but that plan was foiled by the unexpected closure of the border. So in a quick reversal, I took a plane from Urumchi, China to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan and explored the north-eastern and western part of Kyrgyzstan. In 2018, I’m back! And, to explore southern Kyrgyzstan and attempt the border crossing to Kashgar. Along the journey, I have had the opportunity to participate in cultural events and Kyrgyz heritage.

I visited Chon (big) Kemin Valley, the valley runs parallel to the border of Kazakhstan between two mountain ranges. There I was invited to participate with women in wrapping a traditional white Kyrgyz female turban, Ak Elechek, made of many layers of a single piece of cloth. The material (silk, wool, or cotton), number of turban layers, and its model depend on the age, social, and marital status of women. The length of the material serves another purpose as well, in case of emergency, the material can be used at births, for wounds, to wrap the deceased, or as a table cloth. In ancient times women would hid their jewellery in the folds for safe keeping.


I returned to visit Guljamal, center in pink headscarf. Last year she taught me how to make felt Kulpak, see Kyrgyzstan Art of Felt

And joined in at Tushoo kesuu ceremony held when a child first starts to walk. The baby’s legs are tied with a black and white lambs wool, symbolizing good and evil. Children of the village compete in races, and the winner gets to cut the rope from the baby’s legs signifying that the baby is ready to walk. 


tushoo kesuu ceremony


Sharing a community lunch

Horseshoe maker and farrier of horses have a special place in the nomadic life style in Kyrgyzstan for centuries. Horses have to be shoed every other month. The farrier makes cleated horseshoes for climbing mountains.

In the village of Koctkor, I met Fatima Ayipova, felt, kurak and saima master. (kurak meaning patchwork and saima meaning embroidery).

Kurak patchwork on first look is a typical pattern used by quilters around the world but in Central Asia small scraps of fabrics are used as talismans that give protective power. In Central Asia people tie scraps of fabric to branches or shrines to ward off evil like scene at Konya Urenchi, Turkmenistan.


From 2017 trip in Turkmenistan, example of using scraps of fabric at shrines

The Kurak patchwork or pieces of fabric take on a protective quality by confusing evil and thus wards off negative consequences. Particularly, repeat triangles hold special power and appear often on a variety of household textiles. Thus patchwork’s ability to protect people from evil gives the craft value.4BE6C4C5-F7D1-4241-B56B-CF0E79D27944

Saima, the Kyrgyz embroidery, is used to decorated caps, bags, clothing  and elaborate wall hangings or tush-kiyiz. Even though the nomads of Kyrgyzstan never maintaining fixed homes, decorated and adorned their dwellings with the same care as settled people.  Saima was used to decorate all wall hangings that were gifts by newly. Married brides to her husband’s household .  Mothers often began these wall hangings when their daughters were babies. Kyrgyz women developed symbols that reflected life on the steppes, plant and animal motifs and sky, sun, and earth motifs.  As sheep hoarding people they had an abundance of wool thread to use as embroidery. In the 19th century and trade with China and Russian Empire velvet and silk were incorporate. But the most common embroidery is wool thread on cotton textile. 249EF379-C28A-4371-AB48-92D52E15AC6D

Before crossing Torugart Pass, a crossing between Kyrgyzstan and China in the Tian Shan mountain range, elevation 3,752 m (12,310 ft). 

Torugart Pass was used since antiquity by caravans but not at the exact point of the modern point.  Russia and China first established entry at the pass in 1881. 

7242BAAE-C44A-4343-BD95-6C506B440C43We spend the night Naryn for the purpose of meeting 8 families of Afghan Pamir Kyrgyz. The week before, I had passed through the Wakhan Corridor in Tajikistan (Afghanistan is across the river, see last post)  so it was a special opportunity to meet these families. 7017CA9B-A66D-42BD-AE86-F763FC3296EE



Fried, multi-layered sugar bread called katama, made for guest

The Pamir Kyrgyz nomads have known many homelands. Fleeing Russian occupation in Kyrgyzstan in the late-19th and early-20th centuries, they settled in the Pamir Mountains, spanning eastern Afghanistan and western China. In 1978, fearing the new communist regime in Afghanistan, many Pamir Kyrgyz took refuge in Pakistan and later in eastern Turkey.  In 2017 the Kyrgyz government accepted 33 ethnic Kyrgyz repatriated from the Afghan Pamir. Here is an excerpt from a recent newspaper article:

In fall last year, a group of 33 Kyrgyz nomads from Wakhan Corridor in Afghanistan’s far northern province of Badakhshan moved to Kyrgyzstan to attend school. Both adults and children, including a pregnant woman, from the Small and Great Pamirs, which lie at an altitude of over 4,300 meters, waited for months for their passports to come through in Faizabad city in Badakhshan.Once they had received their documents they traveled overland to Tajikistan – many on horseback. This journey to the border town of Eshkashim took them several days. This was in late September last year and after waiting a week at the border they were finally allowed to cross into Tajikistan where they were met by Kyrgyzstan officials. From there they traveled via Murghab Kyrgyz district of Tajikstan’s Gorny Badakhshan Autonomous Region of Tajikistan before reaching Osh, a town in south Kyrgyzstan. -https://www.tolonews.com/afghanistan/group-kyrgyz-nomads-wakhan-settled-kyrgyzstan

The night before I would cross into China was spent in a yurt camp near the 15th century stone caravanerai, Tash Rabat. Kyrgyz Academy of Sciences concluded that Tash Rabat was originally built as a Nestorian monastery in the 10th century.54A37C0B-61A7-464C-A54C-E8CB0863870844F386F1-0B19-4FF2-805F-FFEDE74375AF17FBD532-9941-4651-B424-9F371586B831


Sleeping chambers of royalty, the arrow shows a doorway where royals could secretly escape in case of being attacked

As we ascend the pass , the scenic Lake of Chatyr-Kul appears and no-mans land. 


Micheal, the driver, is Russian Orthodox, a minority in Kyrgyzstan.  The wall of mountains that separate Kyrgyzstan and China

I arrive…10 hours later, in Kashgar, China.


Kyrgyz Afghan Pamir : https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=SIdJnSpFbFg

For an introduction to Kyrgyzstan’s history and country read last year’s post Kyrgyzstan Keeping It Real.

(all rights reserved, copyright 2018 .To copy or re-produce photography and/or writings, written permission from Lesley Lababidi is required)

Pamirs : Tajikistan to Kyrgyzstan

B8D6E02D-A991-4780-9687-2A05DFFB6264Three days out of Khorog, capital of the eastern Pamir, we continue traveling through the Badakhshan Valley hemmed in by the Panj River and Afghanistan always to the right.


Tajik and Afghan roads mirror one another

Before Khorog, the farms and villages on the Afghan side are many and flourishing while on the Tajik side, the rocky, stark mountains skirted the road. After Khorog, it was the opposite and the Tajik side is fertile, farm land with plenty of figs, apricot, apple, mulberry trees along the road. 


Sweet mulberry

The Badakshan Valley meets the Wakhan Corridor ( a long and narrow wedge between Tajikistan and Afghanistan and Pakistan that leads to China and India.)


Kindergarten school children walking along the road with Wakhan Corridor behind

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Wakhan Corridor

Along this corridor, the migration of people, goods and culture traveled over minor trade route. The corridor is a border division created by the Great Game, the competition between the British and Russians Empires for territory during 19th century. The evidence is the many fortresses along the way: 4th century CE ,Qahqaha Fortress built in the 3rd century BCE by Zoroastrians relic from the Kushan Era:


Outer walls of Qahqaha Fortress


Inner walls of Qahqaha Fortress

Yamchun Fortress is oldest monument of Wakhan Corridor on top of the cliff overlooking the valley for unobstructed observation, dating from 3-1st century BCE:


Yamchun Fortress. The distant, snow covered peaks are the Hindu Kush to the right. Straight ahead are peaks named for Karl Marx (6,723 m, 22,057 ft) and Friedrich Engels (6,180m, 20,275 ft). 


Yamchun Fortress


Road leading to Yamchun Fortress

Yamchun Fortress was situated so that any movement from below could be detected, a perfect place for a fortress on the Silk Road:IMG_20180716_101024_HDRIMG_20180716_100042

Panj fortress on Afghan side dates back to 2BCE-1CE:


Panj Fortress

Abreshim Qal’ai (Silk Fortress) dates to 3rd century BCE-1st CE:


Top of hill is (Silk Fortress)

Several of the fortresses have elements of Zoroastrianism ( the religion of Zarathustra), which was still prevalent here before Islam. Also Buddhist caves and stupa  and Buddhist monastery fences with stone walls.


At Vrang Village in Wakhan Corridor, stupa and monastery dating to 4th centuryCE.Looking out past the stupa is Panj River, Afghanistan on the left and Tajikistan on the right. 

The caretakers through the century of the monuments and fortresses have been the people of the Pamirs. We stayed with a Pamiri family who had added onto their traditional home a quarters for travellers something like a modern-day caravanserai. Traditional houses in the Pamirs are known as chid and built with strong symbolism to their Ismaili faith. In older homes, a main pillar represents the prophet Mohamed with five supporting pillars representing each member of their prophet Ali’s family, and four square layers in the ceiling, expressive of the Zoroastrian elements of fire, air, water and earth. The roofs are flat and yak or cow manure is dried there and used for fuel.

There, we ate with the family in the traditional Central Asian way of eating on low tables and sitting cross-legged on thick carpet. Home cooked meals, fresh from the surrounding farms and orchards.

At Yamj Villiage we stay with the family who are direct descendants of the Sufi Mubarak-i Wakhani who is a local Ismaili-Sufi scholar, poet, and traveller who died in 1910. The name of Mubarak-i Wakhani (1839-1903) , a Persian (Tajik) mystic poet, musician, astronomer and Ismaili religious scholar from Badakhshan Valley.  Mubarak has received little attention from modern scholars despite his importance to Ismaili esoteric thought and Ismaili traditions of the people of the Pamir Mountains.


Mubarak-i Wakhani Museum


Mubarak-i Wakhani shrine – grave

The Soviets discouraged the Pamiri Ismailis from building mosques and many homes are converted into prayer rooms or shrines. One evening the family came together to sing and dance. The men uncovered the instruments that have been passed down for generations and began singing ancient Pamir ballads while the children performed traditional dance. 

The Pamir road is only open from Khorog to Osh in the summer months as the winter is extreme thus people in these areas continue to be isolated though many young men find their way to Russia to work as labourers and remit money to their families. One young Tajik I met along the way said he worked in Moscow for 4 years and was able to save enough money to build a house for his family and now is rebuilding his barn/stable:D7DBCCD7-BFD0-4D99-9B1A-0983BDBA653A

Left over vehicles from Soviet times are till very much in use. 

Local petrol-station: 

1950-55 tractor still in use:9EFC70CE-780D-40F0-9558-6BE61957B30FI was invited to meet a neighbourhood ladies group who get together everyday in the afternoon to sew traditional Pamiri costumes. They explained that they make these articles for sale in shops and it gives them extra income plus a chance to share daily ups and downs. 665273A0-EFA5-44F4-ACBA-A0741C67213E

Leaving the Wakhan Corridor, we ascend over desert mountain landscape and come across struggling cyclists.

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Over the Ak-Baital Pass of 4655 meters:45A0D17E-3D12-4E99-8503-3BAEAF2EE76AThe last night in Tajikistan was spent at a dusty outpost and Tajikistans’s highest altitude town, Murghab, where petrol was scarce and air dry. It was time to move north and join the Tian Shan mountains along the Alay Valley of Kyrgyzstan.  The Pamir Highway over the border to Sary-Tash and the landscape changes drastically to green pastures and onto the 3000-year old city of Osh in Kyrgyzstan. D8A8843B-995D-41E9-9B3B-4B538609C3FA

(all rights reserved, copyright 2018 .To copy or re-produce photography and/or writings, written permission from Lesley Lababidi is required)

Pamir Highway, Tajikistan

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Nurek Reservoir Dam

Leaving Dushanbe, we begin the long drive to Kalaikhumb. We begin on a good highway that climbs to the Nurek Reservoir Dam. IMG_20180712_092513 En route to Kalaikhumb, we stop at the massive Nurek Dam, one of the largest artificial lakes in Tajikistan. The reservoir is a  huge earth-filled dam built by the Soviets between 1961 and 1980 across a deep gorge on the Vakhsh River. It forms a beautiful 38 square-mile reservoir that is the source of irrigation for the Dangara Valley’s wheat fields.  The geopolitics of water in Central Asia, particularly between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan and recent improvements in relations has led to re-establishment of cooperation on hydroelectric projects, the re-opening of border crossings, the easing of visa restrictions for citizens of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan traveling back and forth; and the re-launch of the direct air route connecting the capitals of Tashkent and Dushanbe after a 20 year hiatus. 



About four hours out of Dushanbe we see the River Panj, a tributary of the Amu Darya or Oxus River. The river is 1,125 km long and forms a considerable part of the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border and the Pamir Highway follows the river to the city of Langar.


Says: Islamic Republic of Afghanistan

We travel through the city of Kolub that was celebrating its 2700 years of history.  The road is  winding but an asphalt road. This days journey has been 9 -hour drive before reaching  Kalaikhum.


Modern hotel in Kalaikhumb with Afghanistan looming in the background

During this long trip we had several stops, one at a women’s cooperative to observe the local embroidery in Kolub. IMG_20180712_141626~22CCE5EA3-510D-4C57-9C1A-24E18B4D84A5Also a to visit to the Hulbuk Fortress, where, as guest, Mr. Khojaev, caretaker, presented me with roses in appreciation for the visit. 91586F21-140C-45C8-9B16-69E6B2455473Hulbuk Fortress historically was an important stop over for the Silk Road between the 8th and 11th century.IMG_20180712_115044 IMG_20180712_113034_HDRDestroyed by the Monguls, little remains or the original structure of the once mighty fort-palace. The citadel lies approx 30 km southwest of Kulob. Already in the Bronze Age, people settled in the area in sight of the salt mountain Chodscha Mumin, which rises 1334 m above the valley. This bronze cat that is now in the Dushanbe Museum of Antiquities was unearthed at Hulbuk Fortress:


But mainly, as we drove along the road that clung to the side of the Tajikistan mountains, my attention was to the other side of the river and Afghanistan. The road on the Afghani side was like a mirror image of the Tajik side. Here are a variety of photos.

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Driving to Khorog, the road becomes mostly gravel, narrow, and leftover asphalt from the Soviet days. It was 7 hours of exhausting, bone-jolting drive but thanks to Zafar, my driver, we arrived into Khorog before dark and in one piece. The Serena Hotel in Khorog is worthy of a mention. It is an old Pamiri house converted to a hotel. Pamiri houses are square and follow the Zorestrian elements of wind, earth, fire, and rain. The view of Tajikistan’s mountains  are stunning and only a stones throw to the Afghan banks.


Serena Inn hotel garden



Across the Panj River is Afghanistan

The Pamir regions occupy a unique position within Tajikistan and is strongly linked to the contest between Russia and Great Britain in the Pamiri in the second half of the 19th century known as the “Great Game”. At the end of this contest, the two dominant superpowers in the region agreed in 1895 to form a Pamir Boundary Commission to define the borders that are still in force today. When Soviet power was established in the Pamiri, the region incorporated into Pamirskaya oblast in 1923. In 1925 a decision of the central executive committee of the USSR remanded the area as the ‘Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast’. After independence and the end of the Cold War, GBAO’s special autonomous status remains.


Pamir Highway on Tajikistan side. Panj River is the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan

GBAO in Tajikistan is roughly separated into two parts: Western and Eastern Pamiri. The Western Pamiri are marked by deeply incised valleys and a multitude of villages inhabited by Pamiri mountain farmers who mails belong to Eastern Iranian language groups. All major rivers flow westward to the Panj (also know in antiquity as the Oxus).

The Eastern part, is named Murghab district has high plateau landscape. Predominantly Kyrgyz livestock herders who speak Kyrgyz, a Turkic language.

The capital of the Pamiri is Khorog combining river terraces with flat area at the confluence of the Panj, Shakhdara and Ghund rivers.

From Kalaikhumb to Khorog we see signs referrring to the Diamond Jubilee on fences and trees.

On July 11, 2017 His Highness the Aga Khan is marked his Diamond Jubilee, or 60th year as the 49th hereditary Imam (spiritual leader) of the world’s Shia Ismaili Muslims. The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) promoted a worldwide celebration brings together the global Ismaili community, partners of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), and government and faith community leaders in over 25 countries.Along the Pamir Highway villages have dedicated 2018 as a year of celebration so on Saturdays the villages come together for song and dance to show their appreciation. Along the road, we passed some Pamiri girls dressed in traditional Pamiri costume walking to the festival.IMG_20180713_161409

And today, Saturday, we spent at the festival where there was wrestling and dancing. I sat with an elder group of volunteers. Each neighbourhood gets together and with their own money organizes musical groups. Here is the Gulaken Folk group. E7A1E11B-550E-47EB-98C4-BFA6EEC42CEEThey are women my age who have just started to learn English and go to the Agha Khan center for lessons once a week. They have written their names for me using Latin letters. 9E6EAC28-93A2-40E9-A739-DD84E9C54C52

IMG_20180714_122227The local Khalifa (religious leader) organized a musical performance and food was blessed and given out for free.

Each region along the Pamir Highway is designated with a gate:


(all rights reserved, copyright 2018 .To copy or re-produce photography and/or writings, written permission from Lesley Lababidi is required)

Dushanbe, city of roses

Roses in the parks, along the sidewalks and highways were an unexpected introduction to the Tajikistan capital, Dushanbe. A quiet, clean city with welcoming population, it was a small village in 1924 now has a population of 1.2 million. Dunshanbe means Monday in Tajik language. The Soviets incorporated this village and 3 others form a capital.

I begin with this unusual, beautiful introduction to Tajikistan: my guide and translator, Sitora Nabieva, singing the Tajikistan national anthem in Kohi Navruz Palace.

Three days to visit artisan masters began at the office of the Executive Director of the Union of Craftsmen of Tajikistan. With a delightful introduction and welcome, we were introduced to Khurshed Sattorov, Head of Fashion Design Studio and Nadia Imranova, Fashion Designer, both internationally known Tajik fashion designers. Both fashion designer’s employ women from rural communities to embroider, dye silk, and weave.


Khurshed Sattorov, Fashion Designer

Tajikistan is a presidential republic, headed by Emomali Rahmon, president for life. On the day I arrived, Sitora noted that Tajikistan welcomed the 9 millionth citizen into their country, a country that is 93 percent mountainous with an abundance of water resources, minerals, and agricultural products.

The history of this area is complex with many invaders, empires, kings, and sultans. Tajikistan itself is a new country receiving its independence in 1991 after the break-up of the Soviet Union; its borders haven been drawn by Stalin when he divide Central Asia into countries. Tajikistan suffered a violent civil war between 1992 -1997 that might have seen another war-torn country like Afghanistan, Syria, or Iraq. Fortunately for the Tajiks, an insightful leader, Emomali Rahmon, emerged and the country is on its feet, safe and developing. One of the most important points that my guide, Sitora, impressed upon me that the Tajik people are not nomads, they are settled peoples thus they have a great legacy in literature, science, and traditional crafts. Rather than trying  to struggle through the history, here is a is a quick synopsis from Wikipedia:

“The territory that now constitutes Tajikistan was previously home to several ancient cultures, including the city of Sarazm of the Neolithic and the Bronze Age,  and was later home to kingdoms ruled by people of different faiths and cultures, including the Oxus civilisation, Andronova culture, Buddhism, Nestorian Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism and Islam. The area has been ruled by numerous empires and dynasties, including the Achaemenid Empire, Sassanian Empire, Hephthalite Empire, Samanid Empire, Mongol Empire, Timuride dynasty, Russian Empire, and subsequently the Soviet Union.  Within the Soviet Union, the country’s modern borders were drawn by Stalin when it was apart of Uzbekistan as an autonomous republic before becoming a part of the Soviet Union in 1929.”

Exploring Dushanbe, it is hard to miss the golden arch and bubbling fountains of the Ismail Samani monument in the centre of town. Commemorating the 1,100 anniversary of the Samanid State, this monument honours the Persian Samanid, whose time in power was one of peace and plenty, with great flourishing of the arts and sciences.3D467359-6607-4390-A3BB-BC49ACE93CD5Last year I visited the Samanid Mausoleum in Bukhara, Uzbekistan, where Isma’il Samani is buried.

Ismail Samani Mausoleum. See post: Soviets and Sodigans

Isma’il is known in history as a competent general and a strong ruler; many stories about him are written in Arabic and Persian sources.

Another monument in the extensive gardens is Rudaki, born in 858,in (Panjrud), a village located in the Smanid Empire  is now Panjakent, located in modern-day Tajikistan. Biographers write that he was blind at birth yet he was the court poet to the Samanid ruler Nasr II (914-943) in Bukhara.  Rudaki is  the Tajikistan’s  most revered poet. The setting of Rudaki’s statue in a rose garden is appropriate for this 9th-century ‘Adam of Poets’, whose poetry celebrated philosophical musing on the natural world.


My guide and translator, recites a poem of in song about when the king wanted to make Samarkand the seat of government and leave Bukhara, Rudaki wrote a poem that successfully changed the king’s mind and he kept his court in Bukhara.

While strolling through Dousti Square, and living up to the meaning of its name, friendliness, we met tourists from Uzbekistan from the Ferghana Valley and, of course, they are friendly and, of course, we join to share photos together.


Then off to the Art Foundation of Tajikistan, a foundation that supports and encourages the development and preservation of Tajikistan’s deep artistic legacy. Exhibitions and classes showcase today’s artisans and their dedication to keeping alive traditional Tajikistan crafts. Djamshed Djuraev, Master of Florentine Mosaics cleared his schedule to give us a ‘master class’ in his craft.


Djamshed Djuraev, centre. Nassim, right. Sculptor, left.

In an interview before the class, Djamshed explained the process: Florentine mosaics are cut pieces of stone fit together with each other in such a way that you can’t tell that the finished work is, in fact, made up of many little bits of semi-precious stone.With other mosaic styles the spaces between the tiles/pieces are quite obvious, indeed, are meant to be seen. In the technique of Florentine mosaics  each piece of stone – often minute in size – is carved, shaped, filed, measured, and re-filed until it meets perfectly with its connecting piece. Below is part of the process .

Tajikistan has dedicated 2018 as the Year of Tourism Development and Folk Craft. So I could not have come at a better time to meet master artisans in so many fields of traditional crafts.  There are many that I would like to write and will post especially on this subject. E5237437-0A02-46CB-8732-175E0423EB51However, a mention here of the Ceramic Master, Sukhrob Saidov, who is a 10th generation potter and whose family originated in Bukhara. Tajik pride themselves in their hospitality to join for tea, fruits, and hot round, chewy bread. The hospitality and generous spirit to share what they have touched my heart.

Glass…I finally found evidence of glass production  in Central Asia, at least up to southern Tajikistan. In the museums in Bukhara, glass was no where to be found but here in the Museum of Antiquities that displays ancient artefacts of the many cultures and religions that influenced the Silk Road, I found glass remnants.

Tomorrow I begin the journey along the Pamir Highway. Internet might be non existent so it may be over a week before I post again.


-map by Henry Cookson Adventures

In the meantime, I will leave you with the Center piece of the Museum of Antiquities, a 5th century Reclining Buddha, unearthed from a Buddhist monastery complex in Amina Tepe in southern Tajikistan.


Dushanbe to Beijing


Map created by Pablo of Henry Cookson Adventures

Here I go again…this time starting on the Pamir Highway (the old Soviet road known as M41) in Tajikistan and making my way to Beijing, China.


Pamir Highway is a road traversing the Pamir Mountains through Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia. It is the only continuous route through the difficult terrain of the mountains and serves as the main supply route to Tajikistan’s Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region. The route has been in use for millennia, as there are a limited number of viable routes through the high Pamir Mountains. The road formed one link of the ancient Silk Road trade route. -Wikipedia

Pamir Mountains. Mountains of  Tajikistan Pamir Mountains
The Pamir Mountains are a mountain range located in Central Asia which are formed by the junction or knot of the Tian Shan, Karakoram, Kunlun, and Hindu Kush ranges. They are among the world’s highest mountains; in Victorian times they were known as the ‘Roof of the World’. They are also known by the Chinese name of Congling or ‘Onion Mountains’…

Mountain peaks as high as 7,143 metres will be skirted and some as high as 4043 metres will be passed over.  This is a high altitude exploration following the migration of material culture along some of the lesser known routes along the Silk Road. I will visit remote communities and artisans over 6 weeks such as…

-In Tajikistan meetings with artisans  such as  Djamshed Djuraev, Master of Florentine Mosaics
– Dilmurof Sharipov, Jeweller
– Daler Mehtojev, Painter
– Karim Rakibov, Kundal Painting Master…to name a few.

-In Kyrgystan:Afghan Palmir community in southern Kyrgyzstan

– In China some highlights are :

Hotan Silk Factory: An important oasis on the historic silk road, Hotan has long been famous for the quality of the silk it produces. Watch the silk-making process first-hand, from boiling raw silk cocoons and spinning thread to weaving generations-old ‘ikat’ (atlas in Uighur) patterns, resulting in richly designed, colourful silk fabrics.

Sunan, China a meeting with Ke Cuiling, a skilled artisan, who has spent her entire life to preserve Yugur culture through clothing. National costumes are noted for their high collars, intricately embroidered designs, brightly contrasting colours of blue, red, black and white, along with tasselled, trumpet-like hats. Yugur are the smallest population of China’s 56 recognised minorities and are Turkic-speaking nomadic descendants of Mongolian Uighurs.

I hope to write as I travel but the roads are rough and long, and the Internet often scarce but I will try and I hope you will follow along.


This Old House

“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, twice the time outside of the USA, 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 HouseIMG_6499

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.


Loveland, in northern Colorado, at foothills of Rocky Mountains


Original neighborhood on 6th Street

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.P1000511

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.   P1000280

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.P1000323P1000302


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.


Left to right: Eugene W. Borland, Maude (Stanfield) Harter Borland, Pollyann (Castle) Kitchen Baird, Charles A. Harter


1979 Auntie Maude (88 years old) with my children, Omar and Saadiah. Note the luggage on the stairs, Auntie Maude, in her day, called it a ‘grip’.

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.IMG_6583 (1)

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.IMG_6463IMG_0432

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.”