Odd place for a camel
By Christian Tyler
Financial Times; Aug 10, 2002
A mouth-drying drive took Christian Tyler to the Black Lake on China's western border, where nature put on a theatrical light show and he encountered yaks - and a herd of Bactrians.
The best way to go to the Roof of the World is to start early at the tomb of Mahmut Kashgari.
The 11th century Uighur poet, father of Turkic literature, lies in a mausoleumat Opal, a pretty oasis south-west of the city whose name he bears.
From here, on a good day, you get a wonderful view of the Pamir mountains soaring above the desert 30 miles away. The rising sun lights up the great ice rampart and the streamers of cloud pinned to its peaks. A Uighur friend, Mamtimyn, whose family claims descent from the great Kashgari, had arranged a trip to the mountains.
Our goal was Karakul, the Black Lake, which lies on a plateau 12,500ft up near the ancient fortress of Tashkurgan on the western border of Xinjiang, China. Above the lake rise two enormous peaks: the 25,300ft (7,719m) Kongur on the north side, and the 24,750ft Muztaghata ("father ice mountain") on the south. We had been told in Kashgar that the border pass into Pakistan was closed.
Whether this was due to the turmoil in Kashmir, to American operations in Afghanistan (which also has a short border with China at this point) or to the bad April weather, it was difficult to discover. But the young woman at Kashgar city police headquarters was happy to issue us with permits: she even extended them in case we found a hospitable Kyrgyz yurt and decided to stay overnight. All we had to do now was to find a driver whose car could negotiate the bad road, who was licensed to cross the military checkpoint at the foot of the canyon at Ghez, and who wouldn't charge us an arm and a leg.
Word went down the grapevine and soon brought results. Our man was a friend of the fiancý of a girlfriend of Mamtimyn's sister. He was cheerful, and cheap. Like all Uighur drivers he drove too fast, but his only serious defect seemed to be a habit of accelerating towards pedestrians, especially if they were very old or very small. When we asked him to slow down - which we must have done a hundred times - he readily consented. On one occasion he explained that he was trying to get past a certain place before the traffic police put up their morning roadblock.
It was a fine day and a colourful drive. The road ran between avenues of green poplars and willows. Above them corrugated foothills showed beige, black and red beneath the wall of white mountain. A pale blue sky completed the picture. Our route took us along a river already swelling from the glaciers melting above us. A chaos of giant boulders marked its course, while bro ken bridges and missing sections of our road demonstrated the force of the water which had streamed down the flanks of the gorge. Our driver was not doing too well on the perilous bits, and we threatened to take the wheel. He confessed that he had been up most of the previous night drinking and was "a bit tired".
At the army post our passes were stamped without a word, the wind whistled down the canyon, and we bought bottles of water from a Kyrgyz girl. The top of the canyon opened into a moonscape. Two yaks grazed in the marshy margins of a shallow lake whose further side was a strange composition of grey rock and white sand dunes. We gave a lift to a copper-faced Kyrgyz who wore a flat cap, two jackets and three jumpers. He described himself as an "antique dealer" and sold us a translucent egg-shaped stone, two roughly carved yaks and a handsome camel-bone camel such as you find in Kashgar's hotel shops.
Reaching Karakul without mishap, the driver turned into a Chinese tourist trap which was empty but for a posse of Kyrgyz who tried to sell us tickets. We parked instead half a mile further on under Muztaghata's shining crown, left the driver to sleep, and picnicked on chicken and nan bread by the lakeside, our every mouthful watched by a group of eager antique dealers.
The Kyrgyz are mountain nomads with a long reputation for banditry. Today they are only semi-nomadic: they winter on the lower slopes and in spring drive their yaks and goats to the high plateau to graze on the tourists who pass through on their way to the Karakoram highway and Pakistan.
We decided to take a walk round the lake - a distance of about six miles which, because of the altitude, felt to our starved lungs more like 16. We passed a herd of yaks, and a flock of sheep who thought we had come to take them home. Every time a cloud passed over the sun we were given a theatrical display. It was as if a madman had got into the lighting box: the lake turned grey in the foreground, deep turquoise in the middle, and violet in the distance where ice still covered it. The mountains suffered similar prismatic paroxysms as the shadows raced over them. A Kyrgyz horseman came by leading a young camel, and further on we encountered a herd of Bactrians grazing at the water's edge. A few yards away slabs of ice had been piled ashore like wreckage by the wind. It was an odd place to find camels.
The driver had slept. But now we were exhausted, he was hungry, and his fuel gauge was showing red. We gave him the rest of our picnic, and forbade him to try to save petrol by freewheeling all the way back to Kashgar. After taking one bend particularly sloppily, he announced that we were under Allah's protection and no harm would come to us.
"Your theology is all wrong," retorted Mamtimyn. "Allah won't stop you ending upside down in the river if you're so careless with the life he's given you." After this we were able to settle back and enjoy the descent, famous in 19th century travel literature for the contrast between the lush southern approach from India and the barren outlet into Xinjiang's fierce Taklamakan desert. As we regained the first oasis, the driver suddenly stopped the car. He had spotted a police roadblock ahead. He must drive through alone, he said, and we must walk past as if we did not know him.
It turned out he wasn't licensed to carry passengers outside Kashgar. He had probably never driven up the Pamirs in his life. As I later read in an article about taxi drivers in China, he had probably never taken a driving test and had bought his licence under the counter.
Furious, we dismounted and waited at a house from which we could see our man arguing with the police. The owner, who had no legs and walked on his hands, made us a pot of tea and refused to accept any money for it.
Half an hour later, trudging towards Kashgar, we were overtaken by our impenitent driver. He was full of himself. The police had not been deceived but they had let him off. We climbed in, and forgave him.
As we reached the open desert again, I looked back. The clouds had drawn together like curtains and the Pamirs had vanished. For today, the show was over.
сама статья - обычный в таких случаях винигрет из yurts, yaks, nomads, bactrians и других волнительно-тревожащих ухо западных туристов словечек.
там и сям встречаются такие вот перлы в стиле «расскажите мне красиво»:
It was as if a madman had got into the lighting box: the lake turned grey in the foreground, deep turquoise in the middle, and violet in the distance where ice still covered it. The mountains suffered similar prismatic paroxysms...
понравилась краткость описания киргизов (которых автор ещё называет «меднолицыми», copper-faced):
The Kyrgyz are mountain nomads with a long reputation for banditry. вот так вот...
всё это вместе как бы это... smells. смахивает на ту ещё етнографию.
кашгария, да и вообще вся средняя азия – одно из немногих мест, куда до сих пор можно попереться, попялиться немного на всё вокруг, а потом наплести всякой ахинеии, назвая это «этнографическими зарисовками».
да, ещё там картинки «аборигенов» хорошо делать – вот такие, например:
это не та фотография, которая сопровождает статью, но очень похожа по стилю...
ps: ее воспроизведение, на самом деле, prohibited, так что на всякий случай – это kinderen in het dorp kegin, kazachstan, tegen de grens met china / © 1994 tropenmuseum amsterdam.