In Kachalam, a village in East Gilan, a man agreed to show me around in his car despite it only being our first meeting. As he did, I discovered one home that seemed conspicuously old. I told him I wanted to see it, and so he stopped the car. Fortunately, he also brought over the elderly couple who lived in it. They told me they lived together in the first floor of the building. The home was seriously damaged, having lost one roof, and it seemed to me that it was the oldest one Iʼd seen so far. It was hard for me to communicate with them, but if you were to believe what I learned from the couple, it was 140 years old.
It was cold in the morning so high above sea level.
But when I walked out to the third-floor terrace at my inn, I found it surprisingly warm. Yes, the temperature was low, but it nearly felt hot standing there under the sun. In fact, so much sunlight poured down on me that it practically hurt. I recalled all the Tibetans with their noses and the tops of their cheeks sunburned black, faces that told of lives lived high above sea level, close to the sun. When I looked out at the terraces where Darchogs (the five-colored flags of Tibetan Buddhism) flew, I could see many scenes of life in the village of Kibber.
I walked back to the home in the small village in order to pick up the pants that had been sewn for me overnight. It seemed that there, the mother wove fabric from wool while the father turned that material into pants. Their jobs were divided as though they were a couple from an old folk story. They said that the younger man I’d met earlier left the area for an outlet in a larger town where he was selling finished pairs of pants.
Many valley-side settlements located 2-3,000 meters above sea level can be found in the district of Kinnaur. Busses run daily even here in the mountains of North India, a part of the world surely once thought of as unexplored. We now live in an age where it’s surprisingly easy to travel to these villages, so long as you can put up with the bus’s swaying (though the shaking is quite bad).
As I dug my bicycle’s tires into the sand, they first moved me unsteadily forward until at last they no longer could. I had not yet reached the lake, but before me sprawled a riverside community made of a patchwork of buildings.
I descended to the center of Larung Gar, where it seemed a lecture or assembly had just ended, as priests were entering and leaving the building one after another. The sight of people wearing the same colored surplices getting sucked into the center of the space, and then dispersed into the surrounding areas was fascinating to me, since it seemed like a rhythm to life that matched the bowl-like topography perfectly.
The following morning when I arrived at Classyʼs house at the scheduled time, we met with another man who seemed to be about the same age as Classy. After finishing a cigarette the three of us left the house.
We arrived at a stone house covered with an ocher mud much like Classyʼs. There were people of all ages and both sexes all wearing decorative clothing, and the atmosphere was such that it seemed as if a festival were about to begin.
After being invited into the house, I found that people were gathered in the central room which I have often referred to (in this house pink was the base color), and in the back of the room a man and a woman were sitting dressed in the most ostentatious clothing of them all. I realized after noticing that everyone was surrounding the couple that I had been invited to a Tajiki wedding. I was surprised that a Japanese man like myself who had just been met the previous day had been invited to a wedding in the community, but there really is no better opportunity to observe the way they used the home than at such an event. The corner in which the newlyweds sat was hidden by a pink lace cloth, creating an only partially visible space.
After driving for about 7 minutes in Classyʼs car, the windshield of which had a crack in it, we arrived at a wetland area that was completely different from the field of rape blossoms I mentioned before. A river cut through the center of the thick, silky fields.
A portion of it was open to tourists as a scenic area, and though I did not see anyone who appeared to be a tourist, there were walkways, rest areas, and other such things, so that it was just like Oze Hiking Route. I walked along after Classy towards the back of the wetlands.
What I learned from these grape-drying huts was that the key to a dwelling in a desert below sea level was creating shadows by bricks, poplar, and a few branches and leaves as well as ventilating the room.
I visited seven Uyghur settlements while in Turpan. I have marked the locations of six out of those seven settlements and the aforementioned grape-drying huts in the map below. It seemed as if there were many people from the Han clan located in the center of the city adorned with grid-like wide roads while the Uyghur settlements were located in the surrounding green areas.
I came across a group of grape-drying huts on a hill just off the settlement. These huts I had seen the day I arrived in Turpan while taking a bus to my nearby accommodations some 10 hours after an exhausting train ride. On a hill under a harsh morning sun, those perforated buildings all faced in the same direction, attracting my sleepy eyes.
Cutting through the Uyghur settlements Iʼm heading to that bald hill lined with huts. Most of those huts, lined neatly on an incline, are made of sun-dried bricks. The huts have the same color as the hill they are standing on. A hill transformed into huts through water and sun. Some huts used burned bricks while some were empty lots whose foundation is all that remains.
I realized something was strange here in the centenarianʼs Yaodong. The entrances to Yaodongs are generally shaped into a pointed arc, but upon closer inspection, I noticed that the corner arches were only half-finished.
Iʼve come to realize that meeting with elders is the best way to learn about their village. Walking through a loess land of beautiful green trees, I continued to develop this method Iʼve worked on throughout my journeys. Suddenly I came upon an older woman putting a handkerchief on her head while resting in the shade of a tree.
Does she live in a yaodong? Either way, I tried to communicate to her that Iʼm interested in architecture by showing my sketches. Naturally, I could hardly communicate with her in Chinese.
It seems I managed to get my intention across after a few minutes of struggling. She took me to her nearby yaodong, indeed her place of residence. There was a small hole serving as entrance to her underground cave located some distance away from a square hole in a courtyard. Because she had a bad knee, she guided me to her dwelling while leaning on a walking cane.
Repeating myself the phrase “your house” in Chinese, the old man and I walked for about 40 minutes through a town located outside of the scenic area. I saw a construction site for some new, large building and walked along unpaved narrow streets; I saw scenes from daily live different from tourist sites. We finally arrived at what seemed to be the old manʼs home. (Only later did I realize I had mistaken the phrase “your house” all along.)
The house was a closed-off, flat building with walls of painted white brick. The tiles of the roof was similar to the ones I saw in the scenic area, and upon closer inspection, the manner in which they were stacked also looked alike. Despite being located outside of the scenic area it seemed they had something in common. Nearby there were numerous buildings of a similar fashion, as if many of the buildings were constructed in one shot.
My steps become lighter now that Iʼve decided what Iʼll look for. This is the beginning of a trip to search for bars of iron. Ten steps out and I find what Iʼm looking for. Immediately I discover a housing complex with countless iron bars sprouting from it. Iʼm a little concerned that those bars might fall onto the few cars parked directly under them.