Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Back in the saddle


So much has happened since my last post,...

All Internet and international calls were blocked in Kashgar (China), the whole Xingjiang province, in fact, as a reaction to the July 5 troubles in Urumqi. So even though the hotel had wireless access, I couldn't post anything. In Kyrgyzstan we were off in the hills with the nomads. Let's start there:

We rode from the Tash Rabat caravanserai (yurt camp) up to a 3825-meter pass, in picture-perfect weather (oodles of sun but brisk)--it was like being inside an old Western, but in Technicolor. Managed a couple canters and one (semi-involuntary) full gallop--thrilling, but all I could think about was how to stay on; how nice it would be to ride well enough that I could think about other things, like the scenery rushing by, or the basic incredulity of moving at such a speed, being astride a living creature that can go so much faster than your own legs, nearly as fast as a car or train. I've never been, and never will be, a lover of horses as some are, but there are times, in the right landscape, under the right conditions, that it's an undeniably, and peerlessly, grand way to travel.

That was several days ago already; I'll fill in the gaps as time allows. For now let me just mention how different Uzbekistan is: a proud, ancient culture strongly influenced, but in no way overwhelmed, by the Soviets (as opposed to the mainly nomadic peoples of Kyrgyzstan). Massive mountains have yielded to a vast, verdant valley that might be mistaken for Provence, or Ohio. Bales of cotton for sale on the street corner. Little factories where ladies fish through boiling vats of silk cocoons. Flatbread decoratively punched like pressed tin ceilings. Hand-painted pottery in dizzyingly precise abstractions of blue, green, and off-white. Cold water, spiced lamb, clear soup...these are the highlights so far.

A free year's subscription to anyone who can name the violinist pictured in the last post. (Since I don't have a digital camera, all photos on this blog are "borrowed.")


  1. Glad you're back. Did you ever feel in peril--or simply tense--in Xingjiang? Will you be writing more about that political episode upon your return? Do you have to go back through there to fly home?

    On horseback, did you do a cowboy yelp? Or sing "Back in the Saddle Again"?

  2. I really didn't feel tense, except, as mentioned, when the soldiers stared at me. The Chinese really want desperately to AVOID further violence; you can sense that even when surrounded by military.

    I considered it a success NOT to make any strange noises while galloping; the rest of the time, I just gaped at the scenery. My hat finally looked fitting, though, I thought.