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SILK ROAD

THE SILK ROAD WAS A TRADE ROUTE USED BY CARAVANS TO TRADE SILK SINCE THE 1ST CENTURY. NOW IN THE 21ST CENTURY, WE DECIDED, FATHER AND SON, TO FOLLOW THIS ROUTE ONCE MORE!

Brief description of our trip.

The silk road was a trade route used by caravans to trade silk since the 1st century.
Now in the 21st century, we decided, father and son, to follow the same route once more!
We do not have a camel or a compass. Be we do have backpacks and a GPS. Together we will travel through the magnificent fairy chimney in Cappadoce and cross the world’s largest lake, the Caspian sea. Zigzag in between the silence of the endless deserts and the overwhelming mountains of the Stans. Explore China through the splendid Xinjiang and Gansu provinces making a possible side track through the inner Mongolia. Finally we will reach our final destination Xi’an, facing a thousand of terracotta soldiers. Our journey will consist in using public transportation, excluding the plane. Each equipped with a 10 kg bag pack, this 3 months long trip, will begin in what was once the most glorious city of oriental Europe : Constantinople, Istanbul!

Hong Kong, China

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Dernier déjeuner à Hong Kong, à l’aéroport. Le plaisir de voir les yeux de Kim devant son bol de wan tan et la première bouchée de Cha Sive.

Nous sommes dans l’avion et dans quelques heures Maurice.

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Hong Kong, China

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Hong Kong que Kim redécouvre 10 années après. Quelques courses et un somptueux diner avec Raj, Brigitte et Ashwin. Un retour à la « civilisation », des reflexes à perdre, no more Point it. Le plaisir de redécouvrir et d’apprécier les choses simples de notre quotidien. Des toilettes qui marchent, des personnes polies et prévoyantes. Une foule de petites évidences qui nous paraîtront désormais précieuses.

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Xi’an, China

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90 jours! Au delà de nos petites différences, au delà de quelques accrochages mineurs, nous nous avons été les deux étonnés de la facilité de nos relations, de la douceur des rapports et de la facilité de nos décisions. Kim ne souffre pas d’être bousculé ; il faut lui donner le temps de trouver la bonne voie. Si au début du voyage le choix tardait à venir, au fur et à mesure de notre périple, il effectuait de plus en plus vite ses décisions. Son calme naturel devant toute situation lui rendait l’analyse des problèmes plus aisée. Je laissais faire et à la fin, nous avions une entente tacite qui coulait de source.

J’ignorais exprès ses réactions un peu agressives en restant calme, et les choses rentraient dans l’ordre. Il était étonné de ma flexibilité. Pascale nous posait sans cesse la même question ; « Papa te fait-il des misères ? » J’ai découvert en lui un jeune homme très agréable, ouvert, équilibré et ne tolérant aucune injustice, avec une soif d’équilibre et de justesse dans toute opinion ou traitement.

Ce dernier diner que nous faisons à Xi’an (canard délicieux) a permis un échange touchant en confidences de nos attentes et de nos découvertes réciproques. Nous nous sommes découverts. Et je suis aussi fier de lui qu’il a pu l’être de moi. Il a compris ce travail, ce rôle que j’ai su remplir au sein de l’UIA. Il était heureux de voir combien j’étais respecté et aimé par les architectes dans chacun des pays que nous avons traversé. J’étais très heureux de partager tout cela avec lui. Souvent lors de nos conversations, j’ai eu le sentiment de lui transmettre des éléments qui lui serviront toute la vie. Un peu comme les échanges que j’ai moi-même eus avec mon père.

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Xi’an, China

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The Emperor Jingdi tumb was much more revealing of the life of the dynasty in these days than the Terracotta warriors. The museum is well designed and gave us an excellent insight of the period. It is unfortunate that the English texts were so succinct. We went on a shopping craze this afternoon and bought mainly clothes and shoes for Kim. I think he loved it. Tomorrow will be our last day in Xi’an before Hong Kong.

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Xi’an, China

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This was once the terminus of the Silk Road. It is my 4th time here since 1997. Each time sees the change. Even Lonely Planet 2009 announces 4,2 m but now it has 8 m population. The Muslim quarter is totally transformed into souvenir shops and one can hardly recognize the original buildings. Of course the city walls are still there but inside them Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Armani shops set a different scene. We have seen more tourists in one day than the total of the whole of this trip. My last visit to Xi’an was 3 years ago and I had the privilege of being welcomed by the Mayor and the City itself. The City walls gate were open especially for me just like B Clinton. It is a very different story to visit the Terracotta warriors, just the 2 of us among the bus loads of tourists. We had a farewell dinner with Julien and Isabelle, the French couple whom we met in Kashgar. We will follow them on their blog.

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Wudu-Tianshui, China

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Like any other city the people dance on the main square, from young to the older. Last evening Kim and I got caught and dragged to the dancing floor by an old lady. She would not let us go. The whole crowd were amused and clapped happily after. I think we were the only foreigners in town.

At the last minute we tried to skip Tianshui and buy a train ticket to Xi’an. But we only managed to get tickets for tomorrow.

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Tianshui, China

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We are at the Beidao side of the city in a hotel just opposite the train station. We are booked for the 10:00 train. Although Qincheng is supposed to be a pleasant city, we only see the grey polluted side of it.

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Li Jie– Zhouqu – Wudu, China

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Zhouqu! The great thing about Zhouqu is that it resolves the dilemma of dust and mud. You don’t have to choose, you can have both. In fact you can have heat, dust and mud. If there is a city one would not wish to be, it would be here. The whole town is a construction site with not a single road, area which is not being demolished and rebuilt. Some cities are only polluted; here you can add the heat, the noise and the ugliness of the new. The future will be bright and ugly.

The police work well here in China. We were waited for on our arrival and descent from the minibus in Zhouqu. The policeman in civil was waiting and we were asked to follow him in a small van to a hotel opposite the police station. Soon after an English speaking policewoman joined us in the hotel lobby for the “interview”. Photocopies of passports and visa checks in the most polite way. The lady policeman then accompanied us and paid for the dumplings, then showed us to the bus station. We were advised to be careful for the journey

I had a haircut, short this time during the 3 hours of bus waiting. The whole staff and their friends turned up to see the foreigners and took the souvenir photos after.

We are off to Wudu and would like to try the same scenario, that is, drop off at a small village

Noise!! This is another cultural issue. In this bus, the driver is like mad crazy with the horn, the screen is projecting a Hong Kong movie loud enough for everyone to follow, passengers talk among themselves from the back of the bus to the front ones, others scream in their phone, while my neighbor blows his chewing gum in my nose and the other can spit his phlegm out of the window. In this cacophony some can sleep.

 

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Osh- Naryn, Kyrgyzstan

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Compared to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan we are pleasantly surprised how efficiently and easy it was this morning to organize our trip to Naryn and then Lake Issyk-Kul. From Karakol we would go for a three day horse trek in the mountains. All was done in one hour and at a reasonable price.

It has been 52 days since we started the journey. We have been having an overdose of meat, shashlik, kebabs, laghman and plov. The preferred diet of Central Asians is meat, with both number 2 and number 3 as meat. We are craving for vegetable and fruit. Kim and I have game where in turn we mention the names of our preferred dishes. “A glass of red wine!” ahhh! or “Chatini bringelle” ahhh!

 

Just the names bring all the tastiest dreams to our mind. We are placing our hopes in China, dreaming that once the border crossed our wishes will be fulfilled. We keep fingers crossed.

 

We went through sun, rain, snow and hail. We gave a lift to a 13 year old young boy name Adelet waiting on the road side in the rain. His daily transport is a passing vehicle or a horse or on foot to go back home to the village which is like 6 km away after his day’s work looking at the animals in the jailo (pastures).

 

The diversity of the landscapes and their natural beauty leaves us breathless. It is like an interesting movie in a giant screen. We have travelled a whole day – over 13 hours and it keeps changing, offering every time a new scene.

 

The lift stairwell leading to the apartment homestay was dark and gloomy. In my mind, I was expecting and preparing myself to a hard and rough night in a soviet apartment. But it was comfortable and just right.

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Tashkent, Uzbekistan

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Plov is more than just a national dish. It is an institution with National Plov Centres where loads of men and a few women go every day to eat the rice, meat and dried fruit combination with a few chick peas. At the bottom of the large Kazan ( plov casserole in which 2 or 3 men can sit) floats the oil and fat. Thursdays are considered the best day for plov . The bravest men drink this liquid which is supposed to heighten their libido. No wonder more children are conceived on that day.

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Registan, Samarkand

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Today our eyes are glued to minarets, domes and all the Registan monuments, the magic of all the bazaar colours even if they are surrounded and dispersed among soviet style buildings and Japanese noisy cars. They all came here. From Alexander to conquer, Genghis Khan to destroy, Timur to build monuments as well as an intellectual centre, Omar Khayyam for knowledge, the Persians and Chinese for commerce, the Russians to rule. It was Central Asia capital, economic and cultural capital. It is unfortunate to see the aggressive renovation of the communist days and the recent urge to “redesign” the city.

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But there is some mitigated feelings about the city.  The Old city has disappeared. Large avenues have been cut to create new green parks. The Old city has been walled out by high modern walls to screen off the real life of the people. These modest houses are slowly being renovated by individual efforts each one in his own personal style with new materials in a chaotic way.  It is to be feared that the grandeur of the city’s impressive monuments will not be able to divert our attention from this. The result of the main city monuments renovation leaves an impression of diluteness in a city without soul. Scattered monuments with no relation with their immediate surroundings. Khiva and Bukhara had more coherence.

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Tashkent, Uzbekistan

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We have not seen much of Tachkent yet. We hired a travel agent for the Tajikistan. That was cool. Kyrgyzstan visa was tough. We waited 3,5 hours for a 5 minute interview and we need to go back tomorrow for a possible visa on Friday at 16H00.

There is quite a difference between Caucasians and Central Asians, especially the Uzbeks. They have known a golden age under Tamerlane somehow lost under the Russians rule. Strong pressure to wipe out the past, and the older generation is still in-between this communist experience and the establishment of a new national identity. The young are already open to the e-world but foreign contacts remain scarce. We are approached by genuine and sincere young people who only wish to talk and exchange a little. Communication remains difficult, their English very bookish and our Russian and Uzbek almost inexistent. We were very impressed by this 51 year old man with traditional hat speaking about all the French literature classics and not about Zidane , G Flaubert, JP Sartre, M Proust , E Zola , G de Maupassant , etc

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Bukhara, Uzbekistan

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For a 300 000 population and for a 1000 year old city which inhabits the mind of so many people, I imagine Bukhara much busier and livelier. I imagine the bazaars to be thriving with tourists and locals. It is just a quiet, laid back city especially on a Friday which is the prayer day, par excellence. The tourists, mainly French and some Japanese are easily recognized and we meet, re-meet often and salute each other.

It is grander than Khiva with its canals and one can feel there are too many medressas, minarets, bazaars. Again this feeling of frozen architecture pervades. The city centre is amazingly beautiful. Like Khiva, it was a centre for culture and science with eminent people Ibn Sina (Avicenne) among others.

The old fortress, Royal Palace – The Ark – escaped Genghis Khan sack but not the Red army in 1920. It is just some ruins within the fortress walls. The Kalon Minaret is one of the only monuments that was saved by Genghis Khan for its beauty.  Every city we have been till now have been savagely destroyed by the Khan and luckily very often rebuilt by Tamerlane.

The locals seem to live quietly with the few tourists and are very friendly. We are welcomed and called by all the children. Some adults Uzbek tourists even want to be photographed with us.  The older people are all dressed in national costumes. The younger women are beautiful but age does not help them. They quickly age and fade away.

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Khiva – Uzbekistan: Being an Architect

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Being an architect in the earlier days could be tough. Most clients were as difficult as now. The Khiva Khan threw one of them from the top of the 56m high minaret because he designed a better one in Bukhara. Another one got impaled because he did not want to commit himself to finish a palace within 2 years. It is not good to say no to power. However there are some few instances of lucky architects I know of. One of them married the Egyptian queen Hapshepshut. More recently Geoffrey Bawa of Sri Lanka is famous among any local person as a national celebrity. So does Louis Kahn in Dhaka, Bangladesh. But the number one remains A Tumanyan who is the national hero of the unnamed city of Yerevan, Armenia with his statue and the main avenue named after him.

Nukus

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Nukus is just a lifeless isolated city with tree lines avenues and soviet style buildings. But it contains one of the best Modern Art Museum of the world. We did not choose to go to Moynaq to see the dying, drying Aral Sea. The Igor Savitsky museum possesses around 15 000 paintings of unknown and forbidden artists from the 20’ies to the 80’ies. Unbelievable collection unseen from the rest of the world (once in Paris and once in New York only) with Russian and soviet artists extremely avant-garde and with an amazing eclecticism. The museum is worth the whole 24h train trip.

Lunch at the Nukus Bazaar with samsas (original and larger versions of the Indian samoosas) and laghman (noodles with vegetables and mutton).

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Khiva – Uzbekistan

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Khiva! Kim thought we arrived into faked world. Something designed and built for tourists. We crossed the West gate of the fortified city and walked to Meros Guest house. The whole city inside the walls is a frozen city in time. Frozen architecture at its best! Old origin since the 8th century, it remained a minor outpost until its reconstruction at the end of the 18th century. It was one of the horrible slave market of Central Asia.

Some of its 60 000 local people still live within the walls and most of them live immediately outside. We are happy to be among the few tourists (mostly European) wandering around here although the season has started yet.

We are progressively travelling from the outer posts Khiva, then to Bukhara and finally to Samarkand. Each city grows in intensity and quality of architecture and presence of history and, of course, traces of the Silk Road.