The next day after the Sunday Market, we found ourselves at a bit of a loose end. We’d seen all within Kashgar that we had wanted to see, and yet our flight back to Urumqi wasn’t flying out until Tuesday. We eventually decided to hire a driver to take us out to the Mor Pagoda, where it is said that the great Buddhist monk, Tripitaka (you remember, the calm guy dressed in yellow in that old Japanese TV show, Monkey? Except that I think that Tripitaka was actually played by a woman in the show, to make him look younger and more virtuous).
There are many versions to the story, but here is the one that I like.
Long, long ago, in the far east of China, the old Buddhist scriptures had long crumbled to dust. All that remained were imperfect translations into Chinese of lesser scriptures, and those were kept by corrupt and lazy monks who cared less for the teachings of Buddha than they did for filling their stomachs with the fruits of others’ labour. Buddha was aware of the problem, and asked one of the Chinese lesser Buddhas, Guan-Yin (a patron of compassion and caring) to do something about the problem.
“I have three full baskets of Scripture on Earth, waiting at the Temple of the Thunderclap for someone to collect them,” he said. “Could you find a pilgrim to travel the hundred thousand leagues from China to India and back?”
Guan-Yin thought to himself, “I guess I could go get the scriptures myself, but then the Chinese people will not really appreciate them.”
Instead, he found a young and devout monk, Xuan Zang , who had joined the priesthood in search of enlightenment. Xuan Zang was the ideal candidate for the job felt keen betrayal and disillusionment when he saw what the far Eastern Buddhist religion had become. Guan-Yin convinced the Emperor to send the young monk on the quest to far off India, and at this point, Xuan Zang changed his name to Tripitaka, which literally means “three baskets” in Sanskrit.
Along the way, Tripitaka picks up his traveling companions – Monkey (the handsome man above on the right), Pigsy and Sandy.
At any rate, the claim is that on his way to India, Tripitaka stopped at the Mor Pagoda, which was once a temple, to rest and pray after the arduous journey across the Taklamakan Desert.
So. We hired a car and got ourselves a handsome young driver, a guy whose name now escapes me. He was slow to warm up, but once we got him talking, he was cheery company.
You’ll remember that the rain had been pouring down a few days before, turning any surface previously covered with dirt into mud. The road out to the Mor Pagoda was generally pretty good, and the sun was shining. The air was warm and soft, and our Han Chinese driver was impressing us with his language skills – he spoke fluent Uyghur. In my part of Xin Jiang, this is utterly unheard of. Most Han would subconsciously consider learning Uyghur to be beneath them, and not even bother to learn as much as I’ve picked up (I can’t say much, but it’s more than many Han who live here). So imagine our surprise to hear the driver respectfully ask the Uyghurs on the way out to the Pagoda for directions.
We finally emerged from the trees that cover the fertile land to the East of Kashgar city, obviously and suddenly reaching the end of the oasis that is the reason for Kashgar’s existence. At this point, the road swiftly and determinately became practically undrivable. I say practically, because our brave driver didn’t bat an eyelid at the dirt road, which alternated rapidly between dusty dry and foot deep bogs the size of yaks (oooh, the evil yaks that kept me from blogging, a curse on them!).
Not much further along the road, we see off in the distance, the indistinct double towers that make up the Mor Pagoda.
And of course, at this point, the road becomes utterly undrivable. I say utterly, and I mean it, because our driver gets out and inspects the truck sized bog ahead, with a dubious expression on his face. He is about to go and pick up some stones to chuck in the bog to attempt a crossing, much to the slightly incredulous amusement of we three westerners (“we only have to make sure we’re on the plane tomorrow!”).
But fate and Uyghur foresight is on our side. For who should come galloping up but a donkey cart with a young driver (again, handsome – what a great day! *wink*), with the cart set up with blankets to take passengers. We’d asked any number of folk for directions out there, and this enterprising young man had obviously predicted that we’d not be able to get past this point in the road.
So, our driver negotiates the fee, and all five of us jump on this cart, our legs dangling over the edges, as the most adorable donkey in the world tirelessly (or not so much – I can see where donkeys get their reputation for being stubborn from!) pulls us along the desert track to the Pagoda.
However, we cannot possibly expect all to go to plan. For what should happen towards the end of the trip, but the donkey cart get a flat tire!!
So off we all hop, within an easy ten minute walk of the pagoda, and saunter across the crusty desert, spirits high and full of amusement over the transport situation. Our two drivers tell us to wait while they go get the tire pumped up, but we just laugh and say that we’d prefer to walk. But off they go anyway, to get the cart up and running again for when we’re ready to go back again.
The desert floor was an incredible sight: it was snap dried after the rains, and the whole thing was a maze of cracks:
Once we got to the Pagodas, our drivers car and donkey had climbed the northern-most tower, and were beckoning us to follow.
Here you have to understand something about the Pagodas – they are essentially mud-brick ruins. I don’t know if they’re still hollow on the inside, but the elements have certainly shown signs of having taken bites out of these ancient structures. They are worn, and the sides of the Northern tower are showing signs of water erosion, like what you’d see somewhere where the vegetation has been torn away and the rain runs down in rivulets which become deeper and deeper as the water carries away the dirt.
So, initially I was quite appalled at the idea of climbing the structure, and contributing to the damage. But then curiosity, and the assurance by the drivers that it was quite forbidden to climb the South tower, got the better of me, I am ashamed to admit.
Debbie and I clambered up, with the help of the gallant lads (gallantry is alive and kicking in China – it used to annoy me and prick my pride, but I had since laid that aside in exchange for the assurance that I wouldn’t stumble on the steep slope, and a) get covered in desert dust or b) damage my camera) and before we knew it, we were viewing the Taklamakan desert from our private lookout.
What a view!
I’m wearing the scarf over my head cause despite how cloudy it looks, it was actually very glary, and I would have burnt like a sausage on Australia Day otherwise.
This photo, I thought, was brilliant not just cause of the view (in fact, not so much for its artistic value at all) but because it perfectly captures the three cultural groups represented, and in particular their attitudes towards photos.
On the left, we have the traditional Chinese rabbit ears shot from our driver. In the middle, there’s Deb, naturally posed to my eye, but smiling. Then on the right, we have the Uyghur donkey cart driver, composed and stern faced.
It’s hard to get Uyghurs to smile in photos. I’ve not worked out why yet. I’ll get back to you on that one.
After we’d done our Mor Experience, we sauntered back to the place where they’d parked the donkey, but the driver suggested that with a flat tire, one of us should go back on his friend’s motorcycle (who knows where the friend came from!). I’m not sure how it was decided, but before I knew it, my mum was perched on the back of this dirt bike, and then she was speeding away while the rest of us clambered back onto the cart. Oh, how Debbie and I laughed.
I’m not sure that my mum’s been on a dirt bike since she taught my brothers and I how to ride my grandpa’s little 50cc. Actually, I’m not even sure if she rode it then. Snaps for her, I say!
We eventually got back to the place where we’d left the car, to find Sara (who had been waiting for at least 20 minutes, I’d say) being kept company by a car full of policemen. Not in any threatening way or anything, but she was utterly unable to tell them why she, a lone foreign woman, was waiting by herself by a car on a muddy road. So they stayed there, just to make sure that everything was OK. Nice of them. As soon as they saw us coming, and made sure that we were in the same group as Sara, they sped off.
We thanked our donkey driver for his services, and were preparing to fork over the agreed amount of money, when he began to attempt to negotiate for more dosh, using the obviously irrefutable logic that the tire was flat, and we should pay for it.
The cheeky thing, he was just trying to see how far he could push it. He grabbed me by the hand and dragged me over to the tire, trying his best to make me understand, and I just grinned at him had shook my head, saying with mock indignation in English, “no way, mate! It was probably already flat when you offered us the ride, and you wanted us to pay for it!”
Eventually, our driver had had enough of the cheeky young donkey driver, took the money that we’d agreed on from our hands, placed it on the donkey cart, and herded we foreingers into the car. As we began to drive off, we heard a massive yell behind us, and like greased lightening the donkey and his driver sped past us, in a last attempt to impress us with his prowess, standing up like a Roman chariot driver:
And on that note, my friends, I shall end this long running commentary on our adventures in Kashgar. We return to our normal Dushanzi programming shortly. Thank you and goodnight.4 comments
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