The Shay Rebellion | Christopher Shay

Dispatch from Xinjiang: Karakul and the Wireless Sublime

In 18th and 19th century, German Romantic poets and painters would venture into the Black Forest to experience the “natural sublime,” that feeling of the immeasurable vastness of nature overwhelming the viewer with grandeur and power. If Germany’s Black Forest could make Caspar David Friedrich and the rest of his Romantic ilk swoon, then surely, if one of them had ever set foot by Karakul, they would have exploded.

To say Karakul is a big lake surrounded by big mountains doesn’t really justice to it. In one direction is Kongur Tagh, a 25,095 foot mountain, and in another is Muztagh Ata, which has an elevation of ‘only’ 24,757 feet. Everything feels proportionate to these peaks—the talus fields and ridges are twice as long and twice as high as anything I’ve seen trekking in the US. Needless to say, it’s a good place to experience the natural sublime.

This is where I spent two nights alone in a yurt with my Kyrgyz host, Anidin. But even amidst these grand mountains and plateaus, there’s cell phone reception. I found this out, because Anidin calls his wife in Kashgar everyday—usually twice. Not understanding Kyrgyz, I have no idea what they talk about, but it’s easy to hear the timbre of Anidin‘s voice change and to see him smiling long after their talks. Maybe making the “lovey-dovey” voice when you care about someone is a cultural universal like laughing when happy or crying when sad. Regardless, you don’t have to be an expert anthropologist to see that Anidin is still head over heels for his wife, Bezura.

After spending time in his yurt, I was as overwhelmed with the connection between Anidin and Bezura as anything coming from the Pamir mountains. For the two of them, there’s nothing more sublime than a cell phone.

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