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The Sunday Open-Air Market
Today is Sunday, market day. For centuries, villagers have met once a week in an open area just outside Gonja village. Our part of Uyghuristan is on the crossroads for merchants coming from Russia in the north, Iran and Afghanistan in the west, and from Pakistan, India and Tibet in the south. Traders would all meet here on the "roof of the world" (or bam-i dunya as it is known by us in Tajik Persian).
In the past, long camel caravans originating in eastern China would pass by Gonja village. At regular intervals along the route from China to western Turkey, caravanserais (way stations) were built to offer rest and shelter to both man and beast. The long camel caravans are now just a memory. Today, Pakistan and Indian traders travel in huge colourfully painted diesel trucks. They travel up from the south over the newly built Karakoram Highway into China. Still, in and around Gonja village one can see signs of the old caravan trade. On a hill, one large caravanserai is now just a mud ruin, but its size indicates its importance. The courtyard had stables for more than a hundred pack animals! Along the roadways there are also ancient carved milestones with Chinese and Uyghurje inscriptions giving the distances between way stations.
When I visit the Sunday market, I think of what it must have been like centuries ago. In some ways, little has changed. One can still hear a variety of languages spoken: several Turkish dialects, Tajik Persian, Chinese, Urdu and even some English! What is most amazing are the incredible sights in the market. Animals of all kinds are sold in one part: chickens, ducks, geese, goats, sheep, donkeys, mules, horses, two-humped Bactrian camels, and even short-legged, hairy yaks'. In another part of the market, food stuffs, both fresh and dried, are sold. Village women sell delicious thick yoghurt in blue ceramic bowls. Dried apricots, raisins and cherries are offered in overflowing sacks. It is the great variety of superb fresh fruits and vegetables, however, that really impresses the visitor. Sweet red pomegrantes, peaches, pears, plums and, of course, a dozen kinds of grapes and khoghuns (melons) bear witness to Allah's great blessings upon the hard working Uyghur farmers.
The skullcap or doppa sellers are always busy with customers. Colourful square embroidered caps are worn by both young and old. The yengisar (knife) sellers also sell a lot of wares. Yengisars are beautiful, hand-crafted decorative knives that are also practical, durable and sharp.
Time passes quickly on a market day. Soon, one hears the call to dhuhr prayer. In a makeshift musallah, high up on the "roof of the world", local villagers as well as foreign traders-Afghan, Kazakh, Kirghiz, Pakistani, and Tajik - all pray together, shoulder to shoulder. We ask Allah that we may always be travellers : travellers on the sirat al-mustaqim.
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