Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Close Encounters

Saturday 15th May
We have been taking a break in Jimsar, partly to get the horses shod and partly as Peng wanted to do a spot of sightseeing here. He is always up for visiting any Buddhist places of interest within miles, and was very keen to visit the old Buddhist city of Beiting just to the north of Jimsar. I was rather surprised that I had never heard of it before, until I realised that this was the Chinese name for the ancient Uighur city of Beshbalik, the site of which is now being excavated and developed. French and Cable mistakenly identified it as the old name for Urumqi. Beshbalik dates from at least the eighth century and became capital of the Uighur Karakhoja kingdom following the fall of the Uighur Empire of Mongolia in the ninth century. It was abandoned in the 13th century. At this time the Uighurs had not yet converted to Islam, but practised Buddhism, as well as Manichaeaism, the latter being an extinct and somewhat bizarre religion. The West Temple is being excavated from a huge mound reminiscent of 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind', though I was the only alien in evidence. It has been encased in an enormous building in the style of the Terracotta warriors.

The Chinese authorities cannot resist an opportunity to make a political point.

We also had another close encounter with the police, but once they were confident we were official, they could not have been more helpful, though they told us not to film in town - rather strangely as Jimsar is indistinguishable from any other standard Chinese town. They not only treated us to a delicious Chinese meal (at which Niyaz sat rather glumly until they rustled up some nan bread for him) but tracked down some fodder for the horses, as our supplies are getting perilously short. This comprised a load of maize stalks from one yard, and some chopped straw from another. To our surprise, the latter transpired to be part of the rations for a pen of wild asses which had been rescued from the winter snows, and were recuperating prior to release back into the wild. They were certainly wild.

To Peng's delight if not mine and Niyaz', the police also told us about a Buddhist temple at the top of a nearby hill, so off we all traipsed again. But in fact, although it was not very old (only Qing dynasty!) it was well worth visiting, if only for the sinister Turkic looking buddhas which lined the walls. An iinteresting reminder that the Uighurs were not always Muslim. Is the gentleman on the right really wearing spectacles?

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