Xinjiang--South of Kashgar [photo intensive]

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Xinjiang--South of Kashgar [photo intensive]

Unread postby Lady Wu » Tue Aug 05, 2008 6:09 am

Over the last two months I was travelling in Kyrgyzstan (one of the former Soviet Republics in Central Asia) and Xinjiang (northwesternmost province of China). My route is posted in the [url=http://the-scholars.com/viewtopic.php?t=19513#19513]Hurray for Modern Transportation[url] thread. Here are some photos.

(I was travelling alone for most of the trip until my parents joined me in Northern Xinjiang, so there won't be too many photos with me in it for the first part!)

----
Part 1: Bishkek, the capital city

Bishkek is a city of little history of its own but lots of Sovietisms that the populace is in no hurry to remove.

Marx Avenue
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- After the end of the Soviet Union, most of the Soviet-sounding street names have been renamed, such as this street. Here, the street sign saying "Yunusaliev Avenue" (named after a Kyrgyz scholar) is shown above the sign for "Marx Avenue". Despite having gone independent for almost 20 years, no one in town knows the new street names, and all the minibuses still indicate that they go on Marx Av.

Soviet Street
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- And where the old street signs were torn down, people get upset. Here, the graffiti-drawer crossed out the new, Kyrgyz name of "Baytik Baatyr Street" and scrawled "Sovietskaya" on top of it.


State Historical Museum
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- There are two exhibition floors at the State Historical Museum. The top floor tells of the history of the land and the history of the Kyrgyz people. The other floor is a shrine to Lenin. As per Soviet fashion, they charge a higher entrance fee for foreigners and charge an extra fee for bringing in your own camera, so I don't have pictures of the interior.

Freedom Statue
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- There used to be a statue of Lenin in front of the Museum, but now he has been replaced by a statue of Erkindik (Kyrgyz for "freedom")...

Lenin Statue
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- ... while the original Lenin was ousted to this place behind the Museum. The plaque with his name on it was also removed.

State Bank of the USSR
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- This building still says on it "Gosbank SSSR" ("Statebank USSR").

Soviet Heroes
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- This is from the park of Soviet Heroes.

For Communism!
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- This says: "We went to war for communism!"

Bishkek is a city of opposites---the average salary in the city is $55 US, the corrupt government doesn't even pretend to do something about the ubiquitous potholes and coverless manholes that plague the streets, and quite often there is no water or electricity; and yet the streets are filled with Mercedes (there are also many carwash and auto-repair places), there are western-style malls with free wi-fi, and the nightlife is rated among the best in Central Asia.

Potholes
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- This is the best stretch of road in one of the best residential areas in town.

A typical apartment block
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- Representative of Soviet style.

A typical room in an apartment
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- Like most Central Asian households, this family choose to hang a giant carpet on the wall, over some yellowing Soviet-era wallpaper.

Graffiti
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- Wha??

Advertising in the city range from the gaudy:
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- (Advertising for a French perfume)

To the groan-inducing:
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- (This is an ad for Manas Bank. The structure illustrated is a yurt, the traditional housing for the nomadic Kyrgyz people.)

A popular store called "Sekond Khend", selling "clothes from England", prefers yet another mode of advertising:
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If there's one thing the Soviets did well, that is in constructing public spaces. There are many parks and children's playgrounds around the city, and most of them are well-maintained:
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However, they haven't gotten the hang of running tourist attractions yet. At the south end of the city there is a park that's supposed to re-create a citadel of the cultural hero Manas (the epic poem bearing his name is 20 times longer than the Odyssey and the Iliad combined, and is hailed as one of the greatest epics ever composed). It is one of the least interesting theme parks I've ever seen, even though it's the most popular spot to get married in town. Don't ask me why...
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The only redeeming feature, IMHO, is the toilet:
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There isn't even a friggin' statue of Manas at the park. There is one, however, in front of the Philharmonia:
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On either side of the area in front of the Manas statue are busts of Manaschis, men who were able to recite and perform the entire thing by heart:
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Regardless of its short history (it wasn't really anything until the Russians got there), Bishkek is a Central Asian city, after all. And Central Asian cities are all about one thing: bazaars!!

Osh Bazaar
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- It's huge. You can easily get lost in it for a whole day even if you're not buying anything.

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- Anything you can think of is here, from fresh fruits to pirated copies of the Chinese-made movie Genghis Khan, dubbed in Kyrgyz.

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- A dried fruits and nuts stall.

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- Eggs of different prices and qualities.

And here's the best find at the bazaar, a detergent soap called...
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It's very popular:
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Ads of it are everywhere, including at this bus stop:
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Speaking of buses, the most common mode of transportation in the city is by marshrutkas. These are fixed-route minibuses with no set schedule, and they go around the city via hundreds of routes. They technically seat 12 only but usually the driver crams an extra 24 standees on board. During rush hour, you're lucky if you can get on without having your butt stick out the door the whole trip.

West Bus Station
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When you get on, you stuff the fare (8 soms, which is about 23c US) at the driver (usually you can't get anywhere near the driver, so you'd have to rely on other passengers to pass the fare for you). Exact change is not required. The driver then counts out change for you (he keeps a huge wad of cash on the dashboard) while shifting the bus in gear (they're all manual transmission) while taking money from a different passenger while yelling for people to squish in more. Usually he also has to respond to requests for "stop after the next traffic light" at the same time.

When the marshrutka hits a red light, the driver gets a bit of a break, during which he rolls up sets of two 1-som bank notes to stick behind the visor (as in the photo below), in order to expedite making change from 10-som notes.

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Re: Travels in Kyrgyzstan and Xinjiang! [photo intensive]

Unread postby Mikhail » Tue Aug 05, 2008 11:29 am

Wow. That's such an interesting place. I'm liking the design on the museum. The best part of course is the "Canada" graffiti.

The photos are really insightful. It's a place that I'm sure I'll never go in life, but these pictures give me an idea of what goes on in that part of the world. Of course, I'd need to experience it to actually know, but your explanations are good enough for now.
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Re: Travels in Kyrgyzstan and Xinjiang! [photo intensive]

Unread postby SunXia » Tue Aug 05, 2008 1:19 pm

Wow, that place is really cool!!
And soap detergent called Barf, how original!!
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Re: Travels in Kyrgyzstan and Xinjiang! [photo intensive]

Unread postby Lady Wu » Tue Aug 05, 2008 2:57 pm

Thanks for the comments! I will try my best to bore people to death with lengthy explanations and cultural notes. :huohu:

Part 1.5: Burana Tower

The Burana Tower is an ancient minaret built at an unknown time for an unknown purpose (though speculations and legends abound). Most people date it to sometime before the 10th Century. The Kyrgyz people did not migrate to modern day Kyrgyzstan from Siberia until the 13th Century or so. There isn't much information left of the peoples who inhabited the lands of modern Kyrgyzstan prior to the arrival of the Kyrgyz.

Near the entrance of the site used to be a series of stone tablets on which was carved whatever information can be gathered about the site of Burana Tower. However, those tablets were removed when I went there. :( Given the remoteness of the site and the lack of concrete information, the site seemed particularly desolate and mysterious.

Burana Tower
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Close-up of the Tower
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Climbing up the Tower
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- It's super steep. Going down was a challenge.

Outside the tower is a site scattered with Turkic grave markers. They were not all from the same site but gathered from different places in the region. These are figures of people, carved of stone, and placed by the graves of important people for protection. They're supposed to be as old as the Tower itself.

Turkic Grave Markers
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Grave Markers with Arabic Script
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- Here's a stone tablet/marker/something with Old Arabic inscribed all over it.

Another one
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Re: Travels in Kyrgyzstan and Xinjiang! [photo intensive]

Unread postby James » Tue Aug 05, 2008 3:22 pm

Wow! Thank you so much for sharing this with us. It is really delightful to read about all the cultural elements! You mentioned an average salary of $55 and ownership of Mercedes vehicles. $55/what? I noticed that the mini busses were Mercedes too.
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Re: Travels in Kyrgyzstan and Xinjiang! [photo intensive]

Unread postby Lady Wu » Tue Aug 05, 2008 3:44 pm

My bad. The average salary in the cities (there are 2.5 cities in the country) is $55/month. The starting salary of a teacher in the villages is about $30/month. Many people wish to emigrate---in fact, most people who could emigrated have done so already, and IIRC there is even a slight decline in population in recent years (there are under 5 million people in the entire country).

There must be some kind of agreement with German automobile makers: the most popular brands of cars in Bishkek (from my own unscientific observations) are Mercedes, BMW, and Audi. In the villages, Audis and Russian Ladas are equally popular. In more remote places, only Soviet jeeps are feasible.

Gas isn't cheap either; 93-octane gas was running close to $1/liter when I left Bishkek a month and a half ago.

I suspect people who drive are not representative of the population. Sure, most cars on the streets are Mercedes, but most people in the city don't even drive. And I wouldn't drive either even if I can---the dangers of the road (traffic lights, traffic lanes, and pedestrians don't mean much to drivers) and the corruptness of the traffic police make squeezing into marshrutkas during rush hour seem a pleasant alternative.
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Re: Travels in Kyrgyzstan and Xinjiang! [photo intensive]

Unread postby WeiWenDi » Wed Aug 06, 2008 12:50 am

Wow - these photos are amazing, Lady Wu! I have to say, I'm definitely envious.

Also, you haven't bored me to death quite yet with the lengthy explanations / cultural notes, but I'm expecting to get shot down for my amateurish Turko-geekiness :lol:. I'm wondering, what more do they know, anthropologically speaking, about this region, and about the Tower specifically? During the 10th century, what is now Kyrgyzstan would have been on the well-established (by that time) Uyghur stretch of the Silk Road, and the site of Bishkek was originally used as a caravan stop-over on the northern route; some of the tour-websites seem convinced that the residents of what is now northern Kyrgyzstan at the time the Burana Tower was built were the Kara-Khanids, but from what you posted here I'm guessing that's somewhat controversial?

The Wikipedia article you linked had the legend about the doomed princess - what are some of the other 'speculations and legends' you referred to? (If you don't want to post them here, that's fine, I'd be happy if you PM'ed them to me.)

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Re: Travels in Kyrgyzstan and Xinjiang! [photo intensive]

Unread postby Lady Wu » Wed Aug 06, 2008 2:39 am

WeiWenDi wrote:Also, you haven't bored me to death quite yet with the lengthy explanations / cultural notes, but I'm expecting to get shot down for my amateurish Turko-geekiness :lol:. I'm wondering, what more do they know, anthropologically speaking, about this region, and about the Tower specifically? During the 10th century, what is now Kyrgyzstan would have been on the well-established (by that time) Uyghur stretch of the Silk Road, and the site of Bishkek was originally used as a caravan stop-over on the northern route; some of the tour-websites seem convinced that the residents of what is now northern Kyrgyzstan at the time the Burana Tower was built were the Kara-Khanids, but from what you posted here I'm guessing that's somewhat controversial?

Alas, you've caught me on my weak spot. I know next to nothing about Turkic history (thankfully, Kyrgyzstan is somewhat light on Turkic history...). The site of Bishkek was indeed a caravan stop-over, but there is little, if any, artifacts unearthed in the city area (though there is stuff strewn all around the Chuy River Valley area). Tokmok and Suyab (sp?), around 80 km east of Bishkek, were also major trade centres (there is also speculation that the great Tang dynasty Chinese poet Li Bo/Po/Bai was born around Suyab---it was Chinese territory back in the Tang dynasty).

About the architects of the Burana Tower: Given the extent of Kara-Khanid influence, it would make sense if the Burana Tower was built by them. But as far as I know there is no definite knowledge of when exactly it was built. And there was no information whatsoever at the Tower or at the museum next to it. Your guess is as good as mine.

The Wikipedia article you linked had the legend about the doomed princess - what are some of the other 'speculations and legends' you referred to? (If you don't want to post them here, that's fine, I'd be happy if you PM'ed them to me.)

The legends I've heard are all variations of that princess story. In one version, it was a sickly young prince whose father built the tower in a bid to please the Forces so as to alleviate his son's illness. In another version, a scorpion was the killer instead of the spider.
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Re: Travels in Kyrgyzstan and Xinjiang! [photo intensive]

Unread postby Lady Wu » Wed Aug 06, 2008 4:41 am

Part 2: South Shore of Lake Issyk-Kul

Issyk-Kul (which means "Hot Lake" in Kyrgyz) is the second-largest mountain lake in the world and also the second-largest saline lake (and slightly radioactive, too, due to Soviet submarine tests and storage of uranium in the area). It's the top vacation spot in the country. One weekend, I went on a short trip to explore the lesser-developed south shore.

Advertising in the Hills
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- They love putting ads on the sides of the barren hills along the side of the highway. It's free and cheap (usually it only involves arranging white stones to spell out the name of their company). At one point, though, someone really patriotic decided to advertise Kyrgyzstan (which is what it says beneath the flag).

First stop: going to see the Barskoon Waterfall. After climbing some 20km up a poor gravel track, we arrived at the base of the waterfall, a popular picnic spot.

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Like all good picnic spots, it's got a river:

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And wild animals:

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And world-class plumbing:

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Yuri Gagarin
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- The plaque says: "Yu. A. Gagarin, First cosmonaut of the world". After returning from his historical first manned flight in space, he visited this area. Thus, a giant bust of him was erected at this site to commemorate him.

Take a deep breath...
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- There's the waterfall!

And we're there...
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- Although the altitude was under 3000m, the ultraviolet (sunlight?) was so strong that it made most of my mountain photos look hazy, and I didn't have a polarizing lens (in fact, I was using a simple point-and-shooter). It was also the highest I had been in my life, and I was already having difficulty breathing. There was actually two more parts of the waterfall higher than this, but I had to give up at this point. :(

After getting all sweaty from hiking, I went to a salt lake for a dip. It was so salty that you can stand up straight in the water and float vertically! Too bad I don't have a picture of that amazing feat.

Salt Lake in the Mountains
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Then I went to wash the salt off at Issyk-Kul (it's far less salty than the Salt Lake).

A beach at Issyk-Kul
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- Yes, that's me. The beach was pretty popular but not very well-kept, as evidenced by this incredibly useful beach umbrella. The water was lovely and cool, though.

That night, I stayed with a local family who lived in a very traditional house.

Kitchen
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- I wish I took pictures of all the amazing meals they managed to cook over this primitive stove.

Setting the table
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- I only managed to snap a blurry picture before the real food got to the table...

The Cleanest Outhouse I've seen
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- This is the most unsmelly outhouse I've ever been in. Unfortunately, it's quite far from the actual house, and woe to him who hears the call of nature in the middle of the night. Note how the neighbours also built their outhouse in the same corner.

Gravity-operated faucet
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- After using the facilities, you walk back to the house to wash your hands. Water is drawn from the well and poured into the silver-coloured canister. Pushing up on the stick at the bottom of the canister releases the plug inside the canister, and water flows out. Letting go of the stick causes the plug to drop, which stops the water. Underneath the sink is a large plastic bucket. When it's full, simply open the cabinet door under the sink, retrieve the bucket, and dump the dirty water somewhere.

Sweet dreams
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- Traditionally, people slept on the floor between lots of colourful blankets.

The next day, I went to visit a woman who runs a yurt workshop.

Yurt #1
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- The traditional housing of the Kyrgyz. This yurt can easily house a family of 6 or more. It is designed for the nomad on the move---a Kyrgyz family can assemble or disassemble a yurt in as little as 1.5 hours. The frame is made of light-weight wood and no metal, and on the outside it is wrapped with grass mats and felt mats.

Storage spaces
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- Inside a yurt, daily items are stored in these light woven bags (try carrying a cabinet with you on a horse). The round bag is for dishes and the square one for clothes. The Kyrgyz are masters at maximizing storage spaces in the house!

The smoke hole
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At the top of the yurt is a smoke hole, crowned with a lattice structure called a tunduk. The tunduk is also featured on the Kyrgyz flag. When it rains, a sheet of felt (or plastic these days) is hoisted up to cover the hole.

Shadow
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- The shadow of a tunduk against the wooden frame of the yurt.

Wool
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This is the wool for making the felt that covers a yurt and which is used for making carpets to put inside the yurt.

A Machine
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The son of this family created this machine to press woven wool into felt.

A finished carpet
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- This type of felt carpet is called a shyrdak. It's made from cutting different shapes from dyed (or undyed) felt and sewing them together by hand like a quilt. They are quite thick and incredibly strong.

At a gas station on the way back to Bishkek...

Check out how much our fuel cost!
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I didn't make that up! It's...
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Re: Travels in Kyrgyzstan and Xinjiang! [photo intensive]

Unread postby Lulu » Wed Aug 06, 2008 3:09 pm

Thank you for sharing that Lady Wu, it was a fantastic read :) All of it was very informative. Too bad so little is known about that area though.
It must have been a great experience to stay with a local family, looking at all those pictures, wow, I take my conveniences for granted.
I was amazed at how beautifully decorated the yurts are. And the press the son had mad for the felt :shock:
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