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Silk Road day 7: Khotan – Urumqi – Turpan

Ah.. it’s Friday morning! usually, it’s a good morning cuz it’s the last day before the weekend hits, bringing along all kinds of fun (at least wishful thinking). This friday is a bit different though! We’re definitely not looking forward to the weekend as it is a clear signal that our trip is nearing its end; it’s also strange because we’re in the weirdest city we’ve been to so far in terms of interaction with locals.
Other than the taxi driver we used the previous evening and we hired for the day, most people looked positively freaked out by our mere presence.. heck, some looked like they were scared of their shadow.

By now, we’re used to a customary 30mn delay in the mornings except that this particular day. it was our driver that was missing. He eventually showed up after a bt, just before we turned into icicles and we set out for the Khotan museum.
The place was barely opening when we got there and was home to a decent mini-selection of goodies from all over the region, mainly from a cultural/religious perspective. It housed a map that informed me for the first time of a little known fact: The silk road apparently started in Japan… and there I was under the impression that it was solely Chinese and central-asian:

Museum also housed two mummies from neighboring dead cities and one extremely well-preserved sarcophagus with great drawings and style:

THe museum was cute, free and instructional! definitely not a bad combination. we were done with it all in about 45mn. At that point, the streets started filling up with breakfast folks:

Next step, visiting a town on the outskirts to meet the last mulberry paper maker in China: Tohutibak. We arrived to his family house and knocked on the door. Then came out this little old man along with his wife:

He knew exactly what we came there for and brought out a whole selection of books, letters, magazine etc.. all written about him and his trade. As he picked each piece and showed it to us, there was a sparkle of pride on his eyes.

One of the pieces was a 1000 years old binder with verses form the Koran and muslim folklore (or so he claimed).. it definitely looked the part, down to some tear and wear that looks like it could have only come from the hand of time:

Tohutibak proceeded then to give us a speedy introduction to the art of paper-making as well as a small little demo. It all starts with the tree bark that get processed and after a few steps turn into paper:

I’m not gonna spend too much time on this right now because it’s worthy of its own post but suffice to say that the experience was humbling! There was something special about being able to shake the hand of such a man. At the end of it all, we bought a couple of Kg worth of paper, enough we hoped to last them for a bit and waved goodbye to the whole family:

S had one main objective: see, feel and hear the desert! And making that happen was our next step. We were gonna go for a little trip up the countryside into the taklamakan desert to the Imam Assim Tomb. Technically, the tomb is located 23km away from the city which we thought would take us 20 mn each way if not less… uhm.. uhm… unfortunately, that was one hell of bad estimation. the type of road we travelled on made it a 1 hour trip each way.. after crossing weird dirt roads, farms, oasis and what not, we finally saw it… the beginning of the desert:

what a feeling!!! my nomadic nature was in complete utter ecstasy over this. As we started our walk towards to tomb, it just got prettier and prettier with dunes, flowing sands, curving around on the landscape to infinity. There is no comment i can make that can do the desert justice.. if you’ve been lucky to see one, you know what i mean!

We spent a good chunk of time over in the area along with our taxi driver ( aka the SOLE friendly person in Khotan) just hanging out, walking around other buildings near by and even the standard mosque that is usually attached to each tomb/mausoleum.

Alas, most good things tend to end before we want them to and this was no exception. We had a 5:00 pm flight to Urumqi waiting for us and we were not about to miss that sucker. But we saw the Taklamakan!!!!
We made pretty decent time on the way to the airport and even had time for a quickie lunch at JiLi’s favorite restaurant:

one plane ride later, we were back in urumqi again. K’s relative picked us up from the airport and was gonna be with us throughout the WE while traveling through that side of the world. We had a rough time leaving the capital due to rush hour but we eventually did.

Once we got to Turpan, we were dealt another surprise.. the city was pretty much comatose… really!!! we drove across most main streets trying to grab a bite but to no avail.. only one spot seemed ok and we ate a decent meal to rabbit, beef soup, steamed bread etc…
finally, we got to the hotel…ZZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzz………..