Following the Little Road (تار كوچا)
by Nicholas Steiner
Along the dusty, confined alleyways and tight neighborhood streets of China’s westernmost region lies the Uyghur soul. To the little road, a ubiquitous symbol of life in Central Asia that protects and endangers remote communities, at once the master of the bazaar and the mischievous bridenapper, Yasin Muhpul rightly asks, “How can they call you narrow?” No matter what the changing face of development may be, whether carved from cobblestone or concrete, the Uyghurs always find home along the little road. These images are a sample representation of how Uyghurs negotiate everyday life through the winding kocha of their region. On a regional scale, these photos show that these diverse little paths, once constituted as part of the Silk Road, are far less monolithic than popular culture might have us believe.
http://depts.washington.edu/jsishelp/ellison/sites/default/files/steiner_1.JPGRural villages, or mehella, like this one on the outskirts of Turpan each have unique character. But some things never change. Narrow streets intersecting large courtyards create a fun environment for Uygur children to meet for neighborhood games. While the kids play, grown-ups gossip.
http://depts.washington.edu/jsishelp/ellison/sites/default/files/Steiner_2.jpgMulti-lane paved roads and scheduled bus service are welcome conveniences for suburban residents outside of Turpan. However, many farmers going to and from the bazaar still prefer to travel on their own time by means of donkey cart.
Re-living the Past
http://depts.washington.edu/jsishelp/ellison/sites/default/files/Steiner_3.JPGTravel by donkey cart is also a favored method to visit the vast ruins of Kocho. Lying 46 km southeast of Turpan, this ancient city was once a flourishing Silk Road hub between the 9th and 13th centuries after Buddhist Uyghurs from the Orkhon River Valley of present-day Mongolia established a new kingdom there while fleeing from neighboring Turkic invaders. The impressive scenery does not faze this young grounds attendant at all – his attention is fixed on the cold bottle of Sinkiang dark lager we later shared from the office fridge.
http://depts.washington.edu/jsishelp/ellison/sites/default/files/Steiner_4_0.jpgOutside Turpan, a cotton farmer takes advantage of passing traffic to separate the seeds from his crop. Not having the necessary equipment to process his cotton, the farmer instead turns to the road. Each time a vehicle passes through, the stalks get crushed just a little more and his product gets a little bit softer.
http://depts.washington.edu/jsishelp/ellison/sites/default/files/Steiner_5.JPGFor many farming families that live in Turpan’s suburbs, renting or owning a taxi has become a popular way of earning extra income outside the harvest season. While the women of this family stay home to dry and package last season’s fruit for sale, the men drive into the city a few days a week to hire themselves out to urban residents and tourists.
http://depts.washington.edu/jsishelp/ellison/sites/default/files/Steiner_6.JPGSilhouetted on the horizon of this wide and modern urban ring road is Kashgar’s Old Town. The Old Town serves as a reminder of Kashgar’s Silk Road heritage while the mixed blessings of national westward development continue forward. Kashgar has been officially partnered with Shenzhen by Chinese economic planners in the hope that the far-western city might also become a Special Economic Zone (SEZ).
http://depts.washington.edu/jsishelp/ellison/sites/default/files/Steiner_8.jpgThis narrow walkway is one of many meandering through Kashgar’s Old City. While you might find yourself lost in a uniform labyrinth of cobblestone steps, also know that behind each painted door is a family with a story of its own. In many ways, the Old City is a microcosm of the Silk Road. Every distinct little path guides new life and a new generation.
Nicholas Steiner is a M.A.I.S. Candidate in the REECAS program of the Jackson School of International Studies.