Imagine you’re a merchant living in the North-Western Chinese city of Kashgar around 1400 AD. You own a little stall at the bazaar which is filled with thick bolts of silk and is shaded by a nice colorful awning. Your silk is stacked in a neat display that you adjust every few minutes because you’re sure that only the most perfect symmetry will compel passers-by to purchase it.
One night over a tall glass of kymyz you’d complain to your friend, “I just haven’t been selling anything lately. You think I should get a more colorful awning? I’ll bet that would bring in the customers.”
“Maybe,” your friend would say noncommittally. Being a fairly savvy businessman though, he would add, “But everyone and their brother is selling silk around here, you know? You should think about taking some over to Uzgen in Kyrgyzstan. I hear you can get a pretty penny for it there.”
Totally convinced by such persuasive talk, the very next day you borrow a few of your neighbor’s camels, load up your gear, and start off on the one hundred mile trek to Uzgen.
On the evening of the second day you can’t help but admire the soaring peaks all around you, but at the same time, your back is getting sore and you’re starting to smell like camel. You come around a bend in a narrow, mountain valley and see a welcome sight.
Someone else might mistake the large, square, high walled, and dome roofed structure for a monastery or fortress of some kind, but you know it for what it really is: Tash Rabat, medieval hotel for weary travelers.
And you are one weary traveler.
You make your way to the Tash and are greeted by a smiling kid who agrees to stable your camels – for a nominal fee. He points you in the direction of his boss with whom you negotiate a price for a less than comfortable bed (i.e. stone shelf covered with straw-filled mattresses). You wander around the place, chat with some other travelers in the big commons under the dome, and dig into a well deserved plate of besh barmok. Yum!
With your stomach full, you find your “bed” and settle in for the night. Finally you fall asleep, smiling at the thought of all the money you’re going to make selling your silk in Uzgen.
Then, six hundred years later some Peace Corps Volunteers (and a Fulbrighter) show up, take some pictures, and make a goofy video.
Shoutout to Christos for the video!