The morning in Kashgar is made of doves diving into the trees, people walking fast to the first prayer of the day, uighur chattering. Next to the Mosque a tea house is invaded by people celebrating a newborn or a wedding or who knows what, while smiling musicians walk the guests gently into the dawn, which as everybody that has ever gone to a party or stayed up all night knows well, is a much more terrifying transition than the day into the dusk (kids scared of the dark don’t know anything, not yet).
So that morning I was particularly reluctant to leave the sofa in the tea house and embark on my way with the hired taxi that would bring me to Tashgurkan. The Karakorum Highway and Tashgurkan were a highlight in my guidebook and my schedule would not allow me to go and back with a daily bus (and frankly speaking I was a bit skeptical about this highlight and how a frontier town such as Tashgurkan would be). Besides, a taxi driver somehow becomes always a friend for the day, and I could have stopped for pictures.
The road up to the frontier was marvelous, a continuous unfolding of peaks, discrete platans (I suspect that they are planted by Chinese govt everywhere, given their frequence in Tibet too) and rocks of all colours.
The promise of spring, of May knocking at the door that was arriving in Kashgar was soon forgotten along the way: snow storms, rain and sun accompanied us and very little people dared to share our road , a few kilometers after Kashgar.
My taxi driver talked about how he had learnt to drive during his experience in the army, and how everybody should join the army to learn Mandarin and get a license to drive. He also told me about this or that person that was his best friend here or there, and to do so put his index fingers to collide on the side, how I had see the old lady at the market doing. A common sign of friendship: how warming to see the pride the fact of having a friend could be to an uighur. How warming indeed, to see a gesture that seemed natural and familiar to me, after three weeks in China of not having a clue of how to express oneself. It reminded me the words of Mauro again , recalling his trip in these places and particularly the bus that brought him from China to Pakistan: he was sitting in the front in his bus, and then all of a sudden he started to hear people giggling and slapping each other’s back, touching their arms, like friends would and he realised that during the previous weeks, he had never heard of such things along his trip on the Chinese side of the Silk Road. Not that Chinese do not touch each other , but somehow when you travel you do not see that, let it be restrain or whatever else. It is only when you reach Xinjiang that a vague sense of familiarity creeps in again and surprises you.
We arrived at Tashgurkan for lunch. People dressed and had very different faces. The wore long coats to remind of much longer winters here than where we came from. I asked the taxi driver and he explained to me that the local Taijiks only recently had gained the right to go see their families on the other side of the border. Before with the Soviet Union, it was not possible, so families had been cut apart after the war and not seen each other for more than 50 years. Yet, still now the passport was awfully expensive.
Tashgurkan was a typical frontier outpost, just built to host shops, necessities stores and restaurants for the people coming by. By no means I felt any sense of permanence there, even with those people that probably had got stuck there for decades: somehow, staying there was something that happened to you and not a choice. The roads were engineered wide and slippery with ice slush, they would never have been filled with people.
I asked the taxi driver again whether the people in this region were Muslim too: he said some were , some were still following an old religion and he pointed at some weird monuments; I asked “communists”? and he shook his head . And then I figured it out, could he be referring to vultures, not the eagles? Was he meaning Parsi, Manicheist? He said yes, but he had already his foot over the accelerator on the way back to Kashgar and I know that you can never extract any rationality from somebody that is already bent on the direction home: he will never let you slow down the return process.
More snow, more wind and more sand on the way back. Then we gained Kashgar again, and it was almost spring again, it was the night market with its shaky lamps, it was the chant of the muezzin at the twilight and the ice-creams a little afterwards in the night at the stall in front of the Mosque: we were away from those cold destinies left to wait on the frontier.