The murky secrets of silk
The Ferghana Valley is the most populous and prosperous part of Uzbekistan. It has been a major Silk Road destination since ancient times and was one of the first places outside China to produce silk. It is still an important
The initial process of boiling up
the cocoons is a smelly business involving bubbling cauldro
ns. At a later stage when the thread is being woven into cloth on hand looms, the weavers stop every few minutes to take a mouthful of milk which they blow over the fabric in a fine mist. This softens the cloth – and gives the factory a cheesy smell.
The Ferghana Valley in general is quite a murky place. It has a lot of heavy industry and is surrounded by high mountains, as a result of which the pollution has nowhere to go and sits in the atmosphere in a brownish haze.
Our base in Ferghana is Kokand, which has a pretty murky past. It is an ancient city that was once the capital of most powerful khanate in the region. When the Russians invaded in the 19th century, they fairly comprehensively destroyed its medressas and mosques and later, in 1918, they responded to a separatist movement by finishing off the job and slaughtering thousands of its people. So the city
today has few old buildings, the remains of the Khan’s Palace being one of the most interesting. Although a 19th century creation, the painted ceilings and wood carving are very fine.
Tomorrow we cross the border into Kyrgyzstan and will spend one night in Osh before heading up into the mountains. Expect ‘radio silence’ for nearly a week then!