Saturday, September 27, 2008

Caravan: Day 13

Gateway to Dalandzadgad

Day Thirteen: At last we have reached Dalandzadgad! We will rest here for a day while the caravan owners barter with the locals. It will be wonderful to have a bath and sleep in a bed after two weeks. My camel was beginning to complain about my smell. I had to leave behind a change of clothes in order to bring along the sat-fone.

This is still a major silk trading city. Legend credits Xiling, the wife of Emperor Huangdi, with first unraveling the mile or so of thread from a silkworm's cocoon, and places that event 4,650 years ago.

And you can buy beer here! I saw a "Carlsberg" sign. In spite of the strong Islamic influence, this is a live-and-let-live city.

Dalandzadgad is the only city in Turonistan to have electricity twenty-four hours a day. This is due to the hydroelectric dam built in 1948. So Dalandzadgad is the “Las Vegas” of Turonistan. There is even an airport, with flights to Ulan Bator. But the only runway is hard-packed sand, and the only airline is Aero Mongolia, and the airport has no radar or other navigational aids. Visual flight rules only! Airport security? Fuggetaboudit! They don't even have a fence around the runway; anybody and his brother could be driving a Toyota across the runway while you're trying to land!

The control tower at Dalandzadgad Airport

So travel by camel is much safer than flying, even allowing for the occasional massacre. You could take a Land Rover convoy, but all of those things are getting stolen and hijacked. Some say the thieves sell 'em to the Americans, some say they sell 'em to the Talib. Knowing the locals: probably both.

This afternoon I went to a Kazak fair. First, 50 youngsters galloped round and round a flag-marked course in a grueling mini-marathon; then women pursued men on horseback and beat them with their riding whips in what we were told was an ancient, and no doubt endearing, form of Kazak courtship; and finally there was a game of ulak tartish, a battle-game involving a goat's carcass. Not too different from Broad Ripple!

Tomorrow we will leave Turonistan and cross the frontier at the Dalandzadgad Gap, near the Turkamen Uygur Autonomous Region, formerly Persian Turkestan.

No comments: