Apr 2017 23

After a month long travel on silk road without shaving ,I had started attracting a lot of attention.Throughout silk road and especially in Xinjiang region, I was often asked by curious Uyughurs “Are you a muslim?”.To which I’d often reply with a smile and salaam waleykum.

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Pooja and I started our journey from Chengdu, Sichuan and the plan was to wander through the old silk road without any itinerary. When we arrived in Urumqi, the world’s farthest city from the sea, after our longest non-stop train journey, the first thing we noticed was that there were hardly any travelers in the city. There was a bit of tension in the air. There were tanks on the street and it looked like the army has taken over the city.

From the train station, we went straight to the youth hostel we had booked counting the number of tanks on the way. Every shopping mall, 5 star hotels and big supermarkets were heavily guarded.

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At several public places we noticed posters like this one showing DOs and DON’Ts. There was a clear instruction from the local government about what one should wear and what is not allowed. We also noticed people not adhering to these instructions and the consequences.

We spent our first day doing some bit of research and getting hold of the situation and then keeping the situation in mind, we decided that wherever we will travel in Xinjiang, we will travel together, always holding each other’s hand.

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Xinjiang offers a lot in terms of people, culture and natural beauty. It makes up 1/6 of all of China’s land area and is home to China’s finest mountain views, grasslands, lakes and dry deserts but still remains as one of the most under-appreciated destination in China. We spent more than a week wandering through Xinjiang’s beautiful grasslands and deserts eating Uyghur naan bread and samsa.

One day while Pooja and I were waiting at a bus station in the town of Ili, I decided to go for a stroll as the bus to Urumqi was delayed and we had more than an hour to kill. I was not even a minute away from the bus station when I noticed few army men secretly following me. They were watchful and curious. I was not sure why I’m the only one watched after. Then I realised there were hardly any outsider in that town and with my unshaven, tired and dusted look, I definitely looked suspicious.

I had two options, either to continue strolling and wait for them to come to me or head back to the bus station. I chose the latter for I’d no idea what I’d to if they come to me when I’m all alone and question my whereabouts. I noticed one of the army men looking at me and speaking to someone on his walkie talkie when I took the turn towards the bus station.

Just when I reached the bus station and had an eye contact with Pooja, I saw a troop of army men rushing inside the bus station. I ran towards Pooja and they ran towards me. I had no idea why I ran but I just wanted to hold her hand before they ask me to surrender or fire a bullet. I was next to her and now both of us were looking towards the commander.

What happened next was something we could have never imagined.

The commander saluted us and asked us for our passport. “Ah, Indian”, he smiled and then left us without asking a single question.

We kept holding each other’s hand tightly till our bus arrived.

Music accompanying this piece :

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