Dalal Al Ghanim and Sheikha Al Nafisi
Passionate adventure travelers
“Traveling has 7 Benefits”. Out of this familiar saying, many people like to travel and move from one country to another; but what if traveling included fun, suspense, discovery and an opportunity to see new things never seen before.
Although all people without exception love traveling, some of them consider it a passion. They are not like ordinary people who like to travel by plane. They go further. They aim at living a unique experience and a new adventure, discover different cultures and civilizations, meet new people and get to know how they live and other secrets through the use of the train and the car.
Since her childhood, Dalal Al Ghanim has been passionate about traveling and adventure. Her niece Sheikha Al Nafisi inherited her passion, what led them to embark together on a 45-day adventure trip in 2010. They visited eight countries and used only two transportation means: the train and the car, to discover the Silk Road. In this issue, we will talk about 3 countries only. As for the rest of the journey, we will explore it in future issues.
Grand Asian Caravan
The trip “Grand Asian Caravan” was organized by the Australian company Sundowners Overland. “This is not my first trip that way, says Dalal. I have already traveled by train from the east coast of Russia to London, what means that I have crossed the two continents of Asia and Europe by train.”
China … and the clay figurines
The journey started from Kuwait to Dubai and from Dubai to China where the two women stayed for 10 days. Their only mean of transport was the train. They had an amazing experience in Beijing’s countryside as they walked along the Great Wall of China. Then they took the train to Xi’an, one of the seven ancient capitals in China. The Terracotta Warriors are a must-see attraction in Xi’an as well as the old city walls, towers and arcades.
After enjoying what they have seen and taking photos everywhere, they went to Zhejiang, one of the Chinese provinces, that means “the bent river”. The province’s name derives from the Zhe River, the former name of the Qiantang River that flows past Hangzhou and whose mouth forms Hangzhou Bay. Zhejiang Province is situated on the south of the Hangzhou River Delta, and it has beautiful scenery and famous human culture monuments. Zhejiang is the site of the Neolithic cultures of the Hemudu (7000 years B.C) and it witnesses the flow of the Qiantang River.
For more than 400 years, huge caravans have left traces in Zhejiang through the western gate, and epic trade trips have begun along the Silk Road to and from Central Asia. Dalal and Sheikha followed these routes and passed through Dunhuang City or the Pearl of the Sand Sea in western China. This city was called “Tianshui” in ancient times and is an important province on the ancient Silk Road.
The obvious in this city is the extent of the Islamic influences of the Islamic convoys that traversed the Silk Road. And despite the amazing experience they lived in China, Sheikha explains: “We found it difficult in China because most of our time was spent on the train and there was no one to speak English, only Chinese, and I used to communicate with them by drawing or pointing. We exchanged things, especially tea, and learned a lot of their games.”
On their way, Dalal and Sheikha passed through the city of Turpan situated at 192 km at the east of the capital Urumqi. This region is characterized by a distinct ecological environment, a long history, and many archeological and cultural sites such as the ruins of the city of Jiuhao, the ancient tombs, the rock caves and oases, China’s Great Underground Channel “Cariz”, a word of ancient Persian origin that means “channel” in English. It is a reservoir of more than 1,100 channels with a length of 5,000 km.
The Cariz channel, which transmits water from the depths of the earth to the surface, is considered one of the oldest man-made structures in China, along with the Great Wall of China and the Grand Canal. At present, large tracts of fertile land are still irrigated with the waters of Cariz, formerly used for agricultural development and for domestic use.
Kashgar was the last stop for Dalal and Sheikha in China. In the past, pedestrians coming from China and the Western countries used to stop in this region.
Kashgar is a crossroads of ancient history and one of the most important cities of the Silk Road and is famous for its brightly colored markets.
From Kyrgyzstan to Kazakhstan
After China, Dalal and Sheikha were supposed to go to Kyrgyzstan; but after reaching the border they couldn’t surpass it because of a revolution happening there, so they had to change their destination towards Kazakhstan. But to enter Kazakhstan they needed a visa that takes longer time to be delivered than the duration of the trip. So they had to act quickly: They called the Kuwaiti consul in Beijing Khalid Al-Khalifa, who in return contacted the Kuwaiti ambassador in Mongolia who is friend with a diplomat at the Embassy of Kazakhstan. The diplomats have greatly contributed in accelerating the procedures that usually take a month, and granting Dalal and Sheikha in two days, a visa to enter Kazakhstan.
Here, Dalal remembers something that happened with them: “There was an English man waiting to obtain his visa. He told us that it would take a month for the visa to be issued, and every day he would go to the embassy to ask about the visa, but they would tell him to come back the following day. And when we got the visa, he said to us: That is impossible! How did you get it in two days; I applied a month ago and did not get it yet.”
European character of “Almaty”
The trip to Kazakhstan is no less remarkable than to China, according to Dalal and Sheikha, who took the train for 30 hours to reach the ancient capital of Almaty in Kazakhstan, which is still of European character and has a park with the oldest Orthodox churches.
Then they took a train to the border of Uzbekistan and the first region they entered was Tashkent, the capital, and then Samarkand, which is characterized by its impressive architectural collections and stunning domes and minarets. The city of Samarkand is located in Asia, in Central Asia, a city in the country of Uzbekistan. It is the second largest city in the country, with a population of more than four million. Most of the people in this city are called Tajiks, and speak Tajik.
Samarkand … Earth Castle
The word Samarkand means (the castle of the earth), and the Arab traveler Ibn Battuta described this city by saying: “It is one of the largest cities, and even the largest. It has a perfect beauty, and it was built by its own people on the shore of the minors’ valley. It combines many large and great palaces, and Ibn Battuta was dazzled by the city’s architecture, and always praised its people for their hard work.
Among the most important places that Dalal and Sheikha visited were: the Palace of Dalaksha, known as the Summer Palace of which entrance is decorated with blue and gold; the Baagh-e Behesht, also known as the Garden of Paradise; the Baagh Janaran also known as the poplar garden; along with the schools characterized by their creative construction and designed in an innovative architectural way. And despite the magnificence of these monuments, the impact of the Russian occupation can still be felt there.
Here, Sheikha explains that under communism many monuments were destroyed in Samarkand but after the end of Russian rule many monuments were restored with the help of UNICEF. Samarkand is known for its carpets and fabrics.
Although she enjoyed the trip, the only difficulty Dalal encountered was the food. “I found it hard to eat some food and was poisoned twice, one time in Samarkand where I was obliged to enter their primitive hospital. Once in the hospital, I felt communism in every corner of this medical center that lacks lots of basic requirements and I soon left the place despite my illness. At the end, the guide helped me a lot by wrapping a scarf around my stomach in order to push me to vomit all the food.
The place that the two women liked the most was Bukhara also situated on the silk road. It is an important commercial center, in addition to being a center of study, culture and religious sciences. The old part of the city which contains mosques and ancient schools has been declared by UNESCO as a world heritage site.
Sheikha reveals: “When I learned that Bukhara would be among our destinations, I read Ibn Battuta’s novel about the city after I had read it for the first time in high school. And one of the things I was sure of in the novel is that Ibn Battuta said that Bukhara’s watermelon is the best, and it indeed was.”