THIS IS A JOURNEY,
or, more precisely, a dream that became reality on the basis of the belief that dreams cannot die. They can only fall asleep until the day their awakening will bring them into existence.
This is a journey I dedicate to all that feel trapped in their daily life, between the freedom of their dreams and the prison of their routine, for one day they may go beyond the world of the familiar, simply, towards the unknown, where instinct meets dreams to become life.
From China to Italy on motorcycle has been a journey across five of the most ancient and most beautiful civilizations ever existed: a trip between history and modernism, a trip to discover lost sites and mostly to witness the clash of ancient beliefs against the modern credo of money and development. A journey to see how the original values of these civilizations are adapting or surviving to the 3rd millennium. An independent testimony and a simple dream to go back home via land, on my motorcycle.
My dream began after graduation from the University of Florence. Already at that time, a force from deep within brought me to look beyond the borders of my town and beyond Italy. I didn’t have a specific direction to point at, perhaps it was just towards the unknown, but it was surely far where I was looking.
This force became desire and propelled me to live in numerous places around the world from New York to Boston; from Columbus, to India and to Shanghai in China.
I never understood how certain desires are born and how my nature brings me to want to live in the world, where the world is my home and I am its guest and explorer. I accept and follow my instinct because I recognize that traveling is for me, life itself.
Across China, I visited the cities of Leshan, Xiahe and Dunhuang, across the Gebi desert to the border region of Xinjiang until I reached Kashgar: the last mythical outpost city on the Chinese Silk Road. From there the Karakoram Mountains took me to Pakistan across its highest point at the Khunjerab Pass at 4700 meters on the border between the two countries.
I visited Peshawara and Quetta: two cities that once upon a time were the doors of culture and commerce between Central and South Asia, today, unfortunately only in the media for current political events.
Passing through Quetta I then went towards Iran, holder of all the beauty of the Persians and the influence of the Assyro-Babylonian.
Before reaching Tehran I stopped in mythical cities like Ban and Esfahān to witness their vibrant cultural heritage. A unique opportunity to visit this country not as a tourist but as a traveler, in contact with the people, learning their customs, and witnessing the changes that are occurring, in this modern cradle of the past.
A long stop was dedicated to Persepolis, a mystical city that, almost forgotten in the folds of the past, is key to witness the past richness of culture and beauty; a symbol confirming how this heritage is not dead, but still lives in what once upon a time was called Persia.
This testimony had its peak in Tehran, capital symbol of an Islamic modernism that wants to open to the world to show once again its splendor and the glamour of its ancient customs still alive in our postmodern age.
Tabrīz took me then on the road to Turkey, Empire of the Ottomans and today one of the most intriguing and fascinating places touching Europe. Dağ, and Istanbul have been only some of the stops before crossing the Bosphorus on the way to Alexandroupolis in Greece.
Greece, with its ancient city-states and its modern European life, mixed with the relaxation of the Mediterranean life and culture, has been the door to the heart of the Roman Empire.
After about 150 days of travel, and 25,000 kilometers covered across 5 countries I was on the Italy’s doorstep, not too far from my hometown, Lavagna (Genoa). ready to witness the past of the glorious Romans and the reality of medieval towns that are still part of Italy’s daily life.
This was a trip to understand that perhaps it is true that all is relative, relative to life itself and to the people that live it in each of their realities. A trip to understand that perhaps real problems are not only the ones that we see in our comfortable developed world, but that they are, in a more realistic scale, the ones that, at the end, tie people to their very existence.
This adventure is the realization of a dream, having the will, and the simplicity one day of saying, “Time has come”.
A trip that I want to share with people who, like me, have a passion for travel. People for whom travelling is not a hobby, a status symbol, or an escape, but is a way of being; for whom traveling is part of them, if not life in itself.
So I started sharing this idea with friends, gathering their emotions, their expression of surprise, their worried eyes, and the signs of fear in front of what many judge as madness.
Then I thought I could to more if I could also share my emotions and this unique experience through the pictures I take, and using my ability to capture on film the moments, the smiles, the situations and the emotions, seeing sometimes what others don’t see in the diverse cultures and people I met and I will continue to meet.
The journey began in Shanghai in April of 2002.
seeds of the mind, are randomly overlapping in my head.
Surrounded by boxes, confusion and a need of order, I look back at ten years spent away from home and to the prospective of a journey back home born, in a day like any other 5 years ago, in India.
Said like this it seems a simple matter.
Perhaps this is the right word to call it.
When I was reading of those people starting long trips around the world I always had a mix feeling of deep admiration and curiosity on how they could blend their daily life and survival with these long pauses.
I never understood until one day I had to take the decisions that are taking me to the day of my departure.
A break. A trip to decisively mark one era from the next.
And an excuse, sometimes, to leave everything behind with the courage to quit my comfortable job to be dragged by the unbearable feeling of unbalance that rises when of certainties there are no more.
After returning from my last trip home three months ago, my feelings are still alive in me. I haven’t written since. Always trapped by my daily life, by everyone and everything. Since I have been back in Shanghai I did not feel like living anymore, only surviving until the next night.
Between wrapping up with work and the organization of the trip, time has moved so fast to make me loose the real dimension of things.
Everything seemed to go well though until the bike started to present problems with the engine. With only two thousand kilometers on it, most of the mechanics I have asked to are too scared to touch it. It is too new, they say. Meanwhile for others the rattling in the engine is “OK”…
Frustration becomes unbearable while my determinations clashes with a feeling of not belonging. The language is first of all the barrier that prevents me from communicating my thoughts and understand what I have been told. The Second is the “world China”. In shanghai bikes over 250cc are not legal and among twenty million people there are only 4 mechanics in town that have ever seen a 750cc.
THE ROAD TO WUDU
"life is made of choices.
YOUR life is MADE OF YOUR choices".
...and today it has been one of my choices to take me in a very eventful, scary and yet unique day.
Would I have known what my choice would have taken me into I would have taken a different one, but hey! this is a topic worth a debate.
From the map and the available roads, I knew that this was to be one of the most difficult parts to cross and one in which crossing was not the only problem: choosing was the other.
After having spent the may 1st holiday in Chendu with a friend, I went north to pass GuanYuan, one of the ancient gates of the old Chinese empire.
… The Great Chinese Empire.
Sadly so far I haven’t seen too many traces of the glorious past. Maybe because of the Cultural Revolution that left very little behind. Maybe for the rush to economic achievement that has overwhelmed the west of the country. Along the roads I have crossed, the remains of the great Mongol Empire are today quite unnoticeable. In the west of this country, an incredible culture born more than 4000 years ago seems to have vanished in the folds of history. Often without leaving a trace, a sign, a piece of architecture, a voice from the past. One after the other grey houses have covered the paths all the way to Chendu. Square, aseptic, standardized constructions built with the purpose to uniform the people. For all to be equal. For all to be part of the socialist machine.
How much has been lost and how much can’t be remembered any more? After half a century of annihilation this country seems unable to recognize its own identity in a rush to build a new one for itself. A new face, a new era. But what happened to the past? What’s left of their heritage?
I think about the 5 years I lived in Shanghai. A city in constant mutation. A city chosen to be the face of the new China. The head start of the new economic revolution. A city full on contradictions. Fascinating. Yet, struggling to keep an account of its past.
If something has remained of the communist revolution in Shanghai, is the lack of appreciation for the past, for its own history, for the ones that have made the very soul of the city. City of merchants. Port of a thousands languages. Symbol of wealth. Money. And gate to the outside world.
A city chosen to be the example for the rest of the country. A model to be repeated over and over in cities like Wuhan and Chongqing. A heap in the future fast enough to risk loosing track of the little that remains of its past.
I am venturing into the heart of China where perhaps even the cultural revolution has not deleted everything on its path. Let’s hope the economic one will not complete the job ruthlessly.
Leaving Guang Yuan early in the morning I am fairly sure about the direction and the first part of the road to be taken.
My main reference point is the next town and the river. I have to follow the river all the way up the valley and I should be ok.
So I go. A big dam after 50km confirms I am on the right track even if there are no signs or indications of the city I want to go to. Usually on state roads, as bad as they can be, there is, once in a while, a sign indicating the name of the next town. In this part of China though the frequency of these signs is not high and often major intersection have not indication whatsoever.
As usual, I ask and I soon find out that nobody knows the first town I am supposed to reach. They all know the second one though... Wudu......
All seems reasonably correct to me. Everybody I ask tells me that I am on the way to Wudu if I follow the river upstream. After not too long the road becomes bad. This has become quite usual, so I go on until, in a small town, a soldier jumps in the middle of the road and stops me.
We are on top of a small mountain at the small conjunction between two small roads... I pull over and I start to ask IN ENGLISH how to go here and there without leaving too much time to the guards to ask about my whereabouts.
In front of a foreigner and not been able to speak English the soldier starts to feel a little embarrassed. A few smiles and he decides it is too much effort to try to even start a discussion. They point to Wudu and I leave very fast.
At that conjunction I am still not sure if left is the way I am supposed to go.
Before leaving I look the horizon. Far ahead two valleys open in front of my eyes. Green endless hills seem to stretch to the very end of China. On the corner of the street, in front of a small house two old ladies are busy stretching Chinese noodles. I’ve never seen the process done it that way.
The road goes up for a few hundred meters until the next intersection. There, based on what some people tells me, I recognize some how the point on the map.
I turn right and move on.
In about half an hour I am in front yet again another junction. At this point I am confused so I decide to stop.
in the endless nothing that surrounds me, there is an old man. He speaks mandarin. He seems to know well the area and he tells me that both roads take to the same place...Wudu.
The choice, as he puts it:
”The road on the right is about 120 km. A very bad road that goes up and up and down and up and down and so on. But you will arrive today”.
”The road on the left will take about 240 km but it’s nicer”. According to him this way will take two days.
I stop and I look around me. The hills stretch for miles and miles in all directions filling the horizon of pointed peaks. Yet, at this crossway in the middle of nowhere I found a man. A man that apparently has no reason to be there: a man that can give me directions.
I smile. It is not the first time this has happened. Some how, no matter how isolated the place can be, no matter how crowded the roads are, there, I can always find a wise silent man. Calm, and apparently waiting for someone to come by…
Not that I ever trusted Chinese giving estimations on time. In fact they usually are totally off. I trust though their knowledge of the roads that so far proved quite good.
I think for a moment. If I am lucky I can get to Wudu early enough to have time to reach my final destination.
I go right.
The road, remains in off road conditions for a while until I find myself at a left turn.
I turn and there it is.... … a river.
But not a bridge.
I drive along the road that leads to its very edge.
This time the road did ended... That was it. That was the end of the road. In the river.
A little confused and definitely curious I ask a couple of girls waiting for something near a boat. They confirm this is the road to Wudu but they are unable to tell me where the road is. A lady comes out from one of the boats and asks where I am going.
”The road to Wudu is there....” her finger pointing to the other side of the river.
Soon we agree on a price and she agrees for her husband to boat me on the other side. She does not have a cargo boat and once again I find myself to find a way to get the bike on a passenger one …. for a price.
Charon the soul carrier.
This is all I can think of at that moment and hysterically I start to smile forgetting all the ordeal I already went through to get to this point.
This is it.
Traveling in the unknown.
I go up and up and up and the mountains in front of me are getting higher and higher, denser and denser.
I am getting into the mountain range.
I am sure by now this is NOT the road I have marked on the map, but it is following a river and it seems to be leading to Wudu indeed (so THEY said!).
I go up and up and the scenery gets nicer and nicer. I am alone in the middle of these mountains. Alone.
I am not sure where I am going and if this is the right road.
Yet, I fell free.
Just, simply.... Free.
The more I go up the more my mind leads me to all kind of thoughts, and soon I find myself to analyze the risk of this situation. The first concern is day light. The sun is just at its pivot. I still have a good 8 hours of light ahead. Worst comes to worst I have a tent and some food. My water purifier can get me a long way and there is plenty of water around here. I am not even sure how long this road is and if I have enough fuel. The tank has an autonomy of about 200km. In addition I have two spare tanks covering about the same distance. The river’s water in the meantime has become green and blue. (in China rivers are usually brown!) A wonderful color in a valley that seems being forgotten by men and kept pure by god.
I think about the bike. With this road and all these vibrations it might just break apart. What then?
And I think about bandits. Funny as it might sound, a bunch of peasants might just as well jump out of the bushes....
After a good hour in the mountains I start to see the first houses. One or two here and there; one of two persons, some cows. All is very peaceful that I find impossible to keep these worries in my mind. I smile and I think that if I get stuck I could ask for shelter along the way.
So I ride on.
Finally the road starts to descend. I can see the valley opening and I have a sense of relief. The sun still high in the sky gives me a lot of energy.
I stop to get some water from a natural creek crossing the road and I take some time to think about life.
Life is beautiful and we are here to live it and not to let our life live us.
I think about the emails from some of my friends. Their comments.
I know they are all with me in this very moment.
I ride on......
The ride becomes a game. Every time I see the valley opening up and I go around I see more mountains going up. They seem never ending...
Moments of hope for an opening into a flat valley alternate to moments of discouragement in front of yet more and more mountains.
I keep riding on. At this point my goal is to reach Wudu and spend the night there.
The valley opens up again and I stumble across a village. The village has developed around a bridge that leads to another road.
I stop in the middle of it.
It is composed of about 6 houses and along the bridge there is what seems the weekly market. About 100 people are busy buying and selling. They all seem to know each other and some hug like they haven't met for a long time. Lots of smiles and a lot of funny faces.
People selling pieces of modernity. People selling what they made and people coming down from the mountains with what they grew in their fields.
I stop there.
I don’t get off the bike.
Nobody seems to notice me.
Suddenly I am lifted outside reality.
I am in another world.
I look around like walking in a dream.
The people, the sounds, the characters and the valley...
This is indeed another world.
This is their world.
I decide not to disturb and I take off after a few seconds...
A small narrow pass (some call it road) cuts into rocks and along the edge of the mountain to find a way to get around it. The shape and the immensity of the mountain it cuts through tell all about its very struggle of being a road. There are no threes around but only white rocks and scarce green vegetations. I see no animals and all around there is a still peace. It is the wind the true ruler of this land and the voices of the travelers passed by.
As fast as I went up I go down.
There is a valley in front of me.
And a village
As I enter the village I decide to park on the outskirt with the intention to pass unnoticed.
But as usual it doesn’t take too long before dozens of people start surrounding me. At first they’re silent, their eye focused, their voices whispering to one another some common questions. They all come very close to the bike and follow with their eyes every move I make.
Unusually, here I am welcomed very warmly by the villagers.
Not with strange looks, not in nasty ways.
by people not crazy about seeing a foreigner but just pleasantly surprised to see someone different from them.
From the time I crossed the river on the boat to now I think I crossed roads no foreigner have walked before and that I met people that most probably have never seen someone of a different race until now.
It’s cold and rainy. The colors are dull and gloomy. All quite normal if it wasn’t for a detail: soon I notice that all of them are wearing the same color clothes. All of them are actually still wearing the Mao uniform!
For a long moment I move my look onto each one of them. I quite cannot believe to see a part of this society still wearing the Mao’s uniform after so much time.
I think I am the one now staring at them. Then a sudden thought comes to my mind. They are so isolated that I wonder if anyone even told them that Mao died… a long ago!
Long minutes pass by before one of them has the courage to say something to me.
Their curiosity is sincere and their approach is polite. It is quite a pleasure to exchange some words using the little Chinese I know.
Then suddenly I stop talking. All of them become silent, curious of what I will do next. Slowly I open the zipper of the tank bag. I can feel their eyes following. With my hand inside the bag I stop for a second. I raise my head and look at them. Seeing their puzzled look is very funny. Then, suddenly, I take out my camera.
In a second their eyes open wide and all of them explode in a noisy laugh preparing to pose for a shot. For half an hour we play together while I take pictures of them and we and all laugh together. I feel good among them.
It‘s a priceless moment.
I am sure tomorrow along the valley a lot of people will be talking about a guy that rode through today....
They will do it with just a smile.
Later on I reach Wudu. It has been a beautiful day.
I am now in the very middle of China, and I almost got lost in it.......
a small Tibetan village, it is made of brown mud housed and a small Buddhist monastery. I ride through the village that climbs steeply along the side of the hill.
I see the door to the monastery. I ride in front of it and turn off the engine and get off.
The entire village is strangely deserted. There are just a few people around. Three small kids come out from the main door to disappear a second after.
After a minute a big monk wearing a heavy cape slowly comes out.
I smile. He smiles back. “Nihao” I say.
”Nihao”, he replies.
He looks at me with seriousness and gives a good look at the bike.
The kids in the meantime have come out to surround the monk making a lot of noise.
I ask the monk if I can go inside to see the monastery and he give me a serious consent.
Inside I find the entire village!
“Here you all are!” I think.
All the villagers are crowding the entrance and the inside corridors of the monastery. In the middle, parallel lines of low benches host lines of monks in prayer.
Everybody is in silence.
So many people inside the monastery and the continuous deep chant of the monks give a mystic atmosphere to the place. I sit next to the big monk that in the meantime returned inside. For a second I forget where I am. The chants of the monks are slow and relaxing. At regular intervals, while the ceremony goes on, some monks come out to distribute sweets to the people.
Everyone is dressed in typical Tibetan clothes. This is either because today is a special occasion or just because here modern clothing has not arrived yet.
The more beautiful clothes are the ones wore by the women. They have a heavy coat made with colorful fabrics and embroidered with beads and gold threads. Around their waist a big belts. Some more sophisticated than others. Some with long pouches hanging from the side.
Their features are beautiful. The young girls have very beautiful faces and the old ones show how cold temperatures can shrink your skin into myriads of lines.
The two lines of benches in the middle of the temple host young monks of about 18-20 years old. The two lines on the right side where I am, host only very young monks. I cannot see the two lines on the left but I can hear from there deep voices starting each chant.
In the center at the end of the temple I can see a portrait. It is so real and vivid that for a moment I cannot figure out if it is a portrait or a real person.
The entire monastery is well and carefully decorated. The side walls are covered with paintings and tantras. From the wall and the side long drapes of all colors decorated with gold hang on the monks' heads.
The light is very dim and the smoke of the incense creates a light mist.
It is lunch time and in front of many monks little breads are piled up. I cannot understand the dynamic. The monks are chanting but not eating. Some have piles of little breads in front of them. Some have nothing. At times a young monk goes around the benches. He drops some breads and he picks up others from other monks. It seems he is the messenger between the villagers and the youngest monks as this is the only way for the families to exchange something with them.
Once in a while the big monk that welcomed me stands up and walks, grave, between the two benches of the youngest monks. They all look at him with a mix of fear and respect. He seems to bring back discipline where noise breaks out.
For a few minutes he stands in the middle of the benches. In that small room his presence seems larger than life....
Out of the monastery a crowd of monks have surrounded the bike. Two of them are sitting on it and ask me to take them for a ride. - Thank good I took the keys away with me - , I think....
I would have found the bike and two monks at the bottom of the valley and probably smoke rising from the explosion!
They are funny and I cannot get upset. I take a picture of them and I tell them I will take them for a ride... … … another time though!
Finally I have all I need and I am allowed to ride on. The ride back to the pass is nice even if I ran into a small snow storm on the way. I try to enjoy the ride along the high land at 3000 meters from sea level stopping here and there to take some picture of some nomad families, until, after the last few curves the final plateau open again to my eyes: it’s the Kunjirap pass at 4593 meters of altitude.
Slowly I reach the check point. It is cloudy and cold and I fear snow will reach soon. At the check point I am greeted by the same guy who sent me back the first time 10 days ago. He welcomes me like an old friend. I grin. I show him all the papers. He looks at me.... "And where is the big paper?" he asks! With unbelievable calm I smile and I tell him that this time I only need the small one. If he wants the big one is at immigration in Taskurgant. He insists that I need the big paper as well and with a smile I insist I don't. I keep smiling and at each smile I think within myself: "bastards!" Time seems not to matter to them and they don't care to know that I have still 200 km to arrive to Sust, the custom check in Pakistan.
"One minute he says.." and he goes inside. In the meantime clouds close in and it starts to snow. I am left on the road to wait for a good 20 minutes while I jump to keep me warm, tired and quite upset, with a big smile I walk inside their office and I say.. "Hi... It’s snowing out here...." "Hoo,, well, please come in...tea?" ”No thanks. Is it all OK?” . At this very moment they pick up the phone and call Taskurgant for confirmation. "all OK. You can go". Well... You know what I was thinking by now... Despite the snow I decide to ride onto the plateau. The bar lifts and while I pass it under the snow I think...."bastards...."
And here is it, the Kunjarab pass, towering over the vast mountain range between China and Pakistan. The only 4 words I am able to speak while stopping at the very top are
‘ I fucking made it…! ‘
Today is may the 30th. Today is the last day of validity of my Pakistani visa. The last day to cross the border.
The feeling of being finally out of China is overwhelming. The thought of entering the 2nd country of the trip exhilarating!
The Kunjarab pass. It’s amazing to be here also if I think about the road I am riding on. The only road between Kashgar and Rawalpindi.
The Friendship Highway, as the two countries that built it in the 50ties decided to call it. A name to seal the meaning of this huge project. A road to unify China and Pakistan that cuts across these mountains on the path of ancient routes once called “the silk road”. A road to start economic trade representing a strong political and humanitarian symbol of what they were achieving after years and years of tension at the border.
Raising from the snow an inscription seals the tribute to the Pakistani people who died to build this road and a prayer, for those who pass by:
“…Sometime in the future when others will ply the kkh, little will they realize the amount of sweat, courage, dedication, endurance and human sacrifice that has gone into the making of this road. But as you drive along, tarry a little, to say a short prayer for those silent brave men of the Pakistan army, who gave their lives to realize a dream, now known as The Karakoram highway.”
They will never be forgotten…
I stop for a second to reflect. Since I left Kashar, up and down twice from the Chinese side of the highway, this is the first time I see a testimony and a tribute to the people who died to make it. Only now, it is Pakistan who remembers his heroes. The people who sacrificed and the ones who dyed. It is only now, in Pakistan, that I start to see the sign of a different culture, of different values like life and gratitude.
After joking with a few Pakistani I find on top of the pass I go through the first army check point. It is a 1x1 meter booth covered with snow standing on the side of the road.
one soldier of the Pakistani army to guard the road. As I slowly approach with the bike, the soldier comes out with the rifle in his hands. He stops me, checks the passport and let me pass.
I am Finally in Pakistan. A bench mark in the trip and a no-turning-back point. The feeling of entering the border is mixed with curiosity and uncertainty. Like for the countries I will be crossing next, I have never been in Pakistan before. Yet, I am crossing it in a time in history marked by the signs of the invasion of Afganistan by the USA. It is only a few months after the attack to the Twin Towers in New York City and it is a time of high tension in Cashmere between India and Pakistan, now both with nuclear power. I really don’t know what to expect.
The decent commences.
To open the narrow road a big sign: “keep on the left!”….
As the bike slowly covers the first meters a shock of happiness invades me. A deep feeling of relief mixed with happiness and a sense of achievement. I start laughing aloud inside the constraint of my helmet singing an old Italian song…..
I sing and I laugh
And as the happiness wipes away one week of tension lived in China, tears plough my face.
As I sing my words are broken by sobs.
I drive and the beauty of the world I am riding into leaves me breathless.
I cry of happiness.
So I ride on. Destination Sust, where I will have to clear custom for my bike and to clear immigration for myself.
I am riding through a world of rocks, peaks and snow being cut by a small road. A paradise of divine scale being marked by a sing of human dimension. The more I ride through the steep valleys the more I admire the men who built this road.
Crossing these mountains with my bike I can live the ever changing world around me at 360 degree. I can see the mountains breaking into the sky. Their mass rising from the narrow valleys to break the clouds in a never-ending shade of colors.
Crystal is the blue water
Grey white the steep stones.
Red orange river stones touch the steep beige rocks from where they seem to take a life of their own.
Beige into grey. Grey into red, red into beige into grey, black and white snow touching the sky.
Every corner I spot seems to hold a surprise gifting me with yet another unbelievable beautiful panorama.
I feel small.
Yet energized by the harmony and alive stillness of what’s around me.
Yet I can fell their soul, their energy, their life.
The mountains seem to welcome me into their land.
Even if I am in the middle of the highest mountains in the world, alone, miles away from the first human being, here I feel safe.
I feel safe here.
Riding into Sost, now 220 km from Taskurgant, I am happy to be welcomed by new faces.
As I ride closer to the bar blocking the road a big police man walks in the middle of the road. His light blue shirt contrasts with his dark skin in which I can notice his deep, ivory white eyes.
As I slow down in front of him he stops in the middle of the road,
opens wide his arm
and with a big, white smile says:
“Welcome to Pakistan!”.
I stop and take of my helmet,
as to enjoy every note of that sound and every shade of that smile. My hand almost trembling. I put the helmet on the tank
with a smile
“Thank you sir!”.
After all the ordeal with the exit permit and the rudeness of the Chinese staff at the border, being welcomed by a sincere, happy smile warms up my heart and the entire snowed peaks surrounding me. It is indeed refreshing to be in a friendly environment at last.
After Peshawar, Quetta it is the second city in Pakistan with a direct connection to Afghanistan. One of the two Pakistani gates that after 9/11 has been the passage of thousands of fleeting Afghanis.
Here I can see first hand the signs. No more words. No more fiction and no more fuzzy stories about the danger or the entity of the problem. Here, reality stands in front of the eyes.
The sun is now at the horizon.
I rush to the city.
As soon as I enter I look for the police. I need to find my host. All I have is a name and a phone number. A little puzzled, the Policemen asks me several times if I know the man I want to call and why I want to call him. I tell him the story a few times and I show them passport, documents and Mr. Leghary’s name card. He agrees to help and the next thing I know is that Mira’s uncle is on the phone at the police station. “I will come to pick you up. Please stay there” he says.
…. I feel bad. It is around 9.00pm and it really seems I am pretending this from him.
I will apologize for being late. The punch was really an ordeal to fix.
While I wait a few men near the police station entertain me. One of them was a soldier before. He fought the India/Pakistan war in the Cashmere. All of them seem to know well the man I am waiting for…
“yes, he is a well know person, he is our religious leader”.
When he arrives the men present bend in front of him while he gives his blessing with his hand. I smile to him and we shake ours….
He seems a person like any other. Well kept, clean and with an austere bearing. Normal for a city I would say except perhaps for the new Pajero he drives…..
I follow him home where we have dinner before retiring for the night.
A walk. The city at night seemed much calmer of how it presents itself in daylight. I can see the real signs of what happened just a few months ago in New York.
I can feel them.
A mix of Pakistan and Afghan people is crowding the old city. Some just arrived, some being there for many years and well integrated in the daily life create an incredible mix of colors and life. I walk through the narrow corridors of the bazaar, in the main square, between trucks and donkey, between cars and beggars. All seem to have a story in their eyes. All seem to have a piece of unspoken truth to tell.
The unknown reality of what is really happening to them. Their story. The story of their people and not the covered plot of a drama we witness in the news.
Their faces are hard in their lines, in their colors. Their eyes are still, cold in the surface, piercing in their intensity. Yet I can only feel the peace of this place.
I walk all over the city center looking at the people, mixing in the crowd, hiding, observing. Everybody seems quite busy in their own work. A few men working at a construction site stop to look at me passing by. They smile. A young bus driver takes me all the way to the main station to see his bus. It runs everyday from Quetta to Kandahar… “do you want to see Kandahar? – he asks – I leave in a few hours. You can come with me”.
“But I have no visa”
“Visa…. You don’t need any visa with me. Tomorrow you will be back anyway. This is my bus and this is my little brother. Come, come to my cousin shop, you can meet some friends”.
His cousin sells all kinds of hand tools. The shop is a simple garage open on the square, white walls and a small table at the very end.
As I enter a small group of his friends come inside. We start talking and joking among us. We exchange hats, turbans and he explains me who of them is an Afghan and who Pakistani. They offer me lunch and we all eat together on the floor of the shop.
On the outside, the station is a chaos of multicolored buses and of people going on a off, running, screaming and joking. Everyone seems to have something specific and quite urgent to do…. I look perplexed and amazed.
At the edge of the station, along the road, a different kind of bus is loading a lot of people. The bus is not multicolored as the ones I have seen before and the people boarding wear different clothes and seem to hold in their hands what is left of their lives.
“see that bus?’ my friend explains me “this is the Afghan people going back to their country. Now that the battles are finished they can go home.
I look in silent.
On the edge of the street a man wearing a dark turban holds a rifle. It is neither a soldier nor a policeman. His eyes are still and deep. He stares at me without a blink, without a word, without a smile. I take a picture and look back at him.
On the area around the city center life seems calmer. There seems to be a routine going on. Kids play along the road or in small groups near their homes. Life seems going on as usual.
Back to the house I have just the time to take a shower that dinner is ready. Even if the atmosphere is quite informal and I enjoy talking with my host, the dinner has always something formal to it. Until now I have only met his son and one of his daughters that, only for dinner, comes to the table to join us. In the house the women seem to live a separate life, or at least a life separate from my presence.
The events taking place in the world often bring the conversation to the topics of Afghanistan and Pakistan and only after dinner we spend some time talking about our daily life. I am quite curios even if I try not to be indiscrete. He explains me that he is a religious leader. He is also from Afghanistan and while he is telling me his story the phone rings….
Once the phone conversation is over he shows me his phone: “look, this is a satellite phone, I just received the phone call from Kabul to update me on the grand council taking place there. I love technology… “ and he tells me about his computer, his digital camera and so on…”Anyway, I don’t pay for it….” He says.
In the meantime his son has joined us in the living room: a large room with the walls covered with old paintings, on the floor Afghan carpets and all around all sort of old objects, from old gramophones to plates and vases. The soft light in the room gives it a reddish feeling. His son is a smart kid of about 12. He speaks good English and for him I represent a refreshing and I guess curious event in his boring summer holidays in Quetta. Tomorrow he will come with me to the police to get the permit I need to cross the Baluchistan desert.
In the meantime thanks to their internet connection I also get the confirmation that the DHL package containing my shocks absorbers has been successfully re-routed and it has arrived in the Quetta’s DHL office. Tomorrow I will also have to fix the back tire …
It will be a busy day.
The next morning
at the central police station the help of the driver and of my little friend turns out to be very useful to get right away to the right office and to the right person.
At the answer that he is the son of the spiritual leader all the people in the office immediately change their attitude, bow and seek his blessing.
The man in charge is quite friendly. He knows what I need. More than a permission to cross the Baluchistan desert I have to sign a paper allowing the army to intervene in my help in case I find myself in danger.
My name along with a copy of this permission will then be passed on to every check point along the desert to check if I have passed safely.
I smile… I wonder if eventually in danger I will have to show the paper to the police before they would intervene to help me…..
Back home in the evening the atmosphere is somehow different. In the house I meet two young gentlemen wearing religious clothes. They are from Afghanistan. They are two nephews, religious leaders in Kandahar. They have arrived with a Toyota pick up truck. Traveling with them a driver and six armed companions …
The city of Bam is one of the places I wanted to see along the road. Site of one of the most ancient cities in the entire Iran, it was his beauty and his strange feeling that appealed to me.
Entering the city from the main road the first feeling is the one of a green oasis in the middles of the never-ending desert I have been riding through since I entered the country. Palm trees along the sides of every road give the place a relaxing atmosphere: quite, different from the one I experienced in Zehedan. I can feel a strange peace in this town, a feeling that doesn’t seem to belong to the present. A feeling that seems to arrive from far away, somewhere lost in its past.
I take some time to ride around town to get a better feeling of the place before I start the search for a place where to settle for a couple of days. The new city is built on a grid of roads. The houses are small, usually one or two floors, made of mud and bricks. It doesn’t seem to be a rich town; however it seems wrapped with certain serenity.
Consciously I avoid riding near the edge of town where the old citadel stands ageless to protect the city. I have planned to visit Bam since the beginning, perhaps I am not fully ready to see what I came here for.
Despite being the beginning of the peak season, the host of the small guest house tells me that September 11 has affected the arrivals of people and this is why there are very few guests at the moment. Everything is very calm indeed, but I am not able to say how much this is really due to the world tension or it is just the way things are here. I check in and decide to write a few notes.
Sometime later in the afternoon in front of the door I see 3 foreigners seeking a place for the night. They seem riders. As they see my bike parked inside the front yard one of them asks me:
“are you the Italian guy coming from Pakistan?”
Surprised, I reply: “maybe... Why?”
“We have been following you for a few days now, glad to meet you. I am Alan”.
Apparently they have been on my tail a few days behind all the way from Quetta. In Pakistan they could trace my route by looking at the registers of the check points along the way. In Iran, right after the southern border there aren’t many places where someone can go and I believe their intuition did the rest.
The two guys and the girl ride one Transalp and two Dominators modified with higher capacity tanks and home made cases of wood or metal.
They too had a dream. Now all the way from New Zealand and Australia they are heading to England where they will try to find a job to make enough money to come back home.
What a strong word.
It is meeting travelers like them that reminds me to never forget this word…. Home.
Where is home?
What is home?
Having lived in a few places around the world, I often find difficult to define this place:.
I always though of myself as a vagabond. A little of a gypsy exploring the world, wondering to find the place that perhaps I am not meant to find.
Homeless. That is what I felt most of the times.
Homeless, a wonderer, a lot like the one I used to see along the roads of China.
With my belongings gathered in a few boxes I see myself as a citizen of the world where the world is my home.
A world with no boundaries and no visas. No barriers and no limits.
A world for everyone to live.
A world as my home.
Meeting travelers like them gives me energy all the times. All of them so unique, yet all of us so similar.
There are millions of things to be learned from each traveler and from each of their tales.
I find refreshing spending some time with my new rider friends hiding from the heat in the shadow of the backyard’s veranda. We talk about our adventure without having the feeling to sound too arrogant. We talk about our dreams as we live them. And we talk about the many reasons that pushed us to leave.
Life is strange. Really. And so, in the middle of nowhere I meet three guys like me, careless about things we believe are not important and careful about the many aspects of things that change the way we are and the way we live the world. Of them I like the way they are able to be calm in the way they live this adventure, simply as part of their life, a bigger adventure altogether. Nothing more. Nothings less.
They too Restless Travellers…
Sometime later in the day I find myself walking the streets of Bam. The late afternoon allows to better bear the heat of this season. The falling sun gives the streets a very exotic light. As the city center fades away behind me a feeling from the past starts to wraps the walls of the houses, the trees and the very essence of that place. As I turn the last corner, at the horizon, I find the edge of town. And beyond, I can see it…
Strong walls still surround the old citadel, immortal presence of a glorious past. Ageless sign of the souls of the people that lived here. Beyond their height, the tip of the fortress dominates the sky. One tower, one central palace, and a labyrinth of walls the simultaneously climb around that only hill. Entering the first circle of walls I discover the real city of Bam. A net of mud houses bring back the glory past under the shadow of the city walls. A small self existing world. A balance and harmony intact in time. A main street cuts the citadel in its center. A straight line from the main gate to the fortress. Its soul,
On its sides life. The market area and the small streets that cut through the houses of the common people that once upon in time lived there. Most of them are nothing but the remaining marks of their walls on the ground. In others, their walls allow me to step back in time. To sit in their rooms. To see where they used to cook. It’s a strange feeling. I close my eyes and try to image. The silence is deep, almost soaked in the walls. Everywhere, within the main walls there a strong feeling of security… of peace.
The entrance through the main arch reminds me of the old medieval forts /.A coincidence, almost suggesting timeless similarities that through the centuries have lived across every cultural boundary.
I go inside and immediately the road brings me up around the rock underneath. One inside the other smaller walls spread from the bigger ones while vital spaces cut their dimension in this architectonic maze.
From the top of the main tower it is possible to command a view over the outside world. North of it is the desert to reclaim its control of the universe. Rising from it, not far from where I stand, the rests of small watch towers indicate the last human presence. On the south, beyond the walls, the modern city of Bam holds the life of the Oasis from which it was born.
Alan is not tall and his long squared bear makes him look like one of the rock band ZZtop. His girlfriend, Helen is also the sister of Ken and as it turns out Alan is also a good mechanic.
Since I left Quetta I did not replace the front springs and I have been worrying more and more about the shocks. In Iran, as the roads got nicer the bike behaved much better. Nevertheless, I am aware I have to solve the problem.
At first I did not want to change only the front springs without changing the back shocks. However, since this is something I never did before and Alan is a good mechanic, I ask for some help. I have no idea where to start from so we spend the afternoon working on this job. The following day is time for me to leave with the promise they will catch up with me in Kerman to ride to Shiraz and perhaps onwards together.
A violent thunder storm shakes the coast during the night. The next day, under a shy sun we ride on.
The road to Masuleh is green and beautiful. Masuleh was not in my original plan but we decided to go there to see its unique terrace structure. In the mountain village we rent a mini apartment in a small house which allows us to cook and to have some nice privacy.
All around town small alleys cut through the terraced houses. Often we found ourselves walking on the roof of the house below. The town and the people are really pleasant even if this is clearly a touristy attraction.
“Hi, where are you from?”
“From Italy, and you?”
“I am from Iran” – he replies in perfect English without any particular accent.
“Can I talk to you” he continues
“Sure.” I smile back softly while we keep walking.
“My name is Shariah – he says in a very low voice – I am a writer,….
… Well, sort of…
But I wrote a book! It is a book about the world political events. Would you come to my home? I would like to tell you more about it”.
“It sounds very interesting, why can’t you tell us about your book here? Isn’t it the same?”
“Here we might be disturbed. In my apartment is better, it is quite there and I can show you the book as well.”
“We would love to come. But we were going to have dinner. Why don’t you join us. You can be our guest. It will be our pleasure” I reply without the intention to go to his apartment but still not disturbed by his educated matters and openness to meet new people.
He does not reply. Keeps walking with us for a while. Then he insists: “are you sure? My house is really near? I can offer you tea?”. ”No, thank you. But, please, join us. You can tell us which restaurant we can go to. Not too expensive through – I smile – we are on a long trip and on a tight budget…”
“OK, - he says after a little hesitation – but I had dinner already. I will sit with you while you eat”.
“I am a writer. Well, not exactly, but I wrote a book – he repeats – a book about the attack to the Twin Towers”
Annouk and I exchange a puzzled look… “really?” We reply.
“Yes. Well…. All started in 1985 when I used to live in Russia. Then I was arrested.
I live here but I am not from this area of Iran.
I have to hide. They are looking for me…”
“The secret services and the CIA”.
“It is because of my theory. I am a political analyst. Well, I Used to be a political analyst in Russia, now I am only a writer. I wrote a book but I don’t know how to show it to a publisher and I need your help to find one.”
“A publisher…? – we reply – this is not impossible to do, but what is the book about, why don’t you tells us more”.
“First I was in jail, then I was released. I was living in Russia and my visa expired but I didn’t want to come back to Iran so I stayed. I was caught and put in jail. When I was locked up I asked for pen and paper and I started to write it down. My theory I mean. I started to write my theory:
“ Anti-historical Way of Growth of Imperialism”
So the book is entitled:
“ Espionage Agencies and Me”
“ Anti-historical way of growth of imperialism”
“It is about the struggle over the control of the development of the 3rd world countries. You know, I am a political analyst. It is to say how imperialist countries like the USA and the UK try to force the natural process of democratization and development of the third world countries (including Africa and Middle East) in an anti-historical way”.
Even if he is quite confused in his explanation and some how he is unable to find a start to his story, we feels something interesting in him, a strange tension, yet a sort of honesty in his tale. So we try to help him to line up his thoughts and to continue the explanation.
“You see – he continues – A Bourgeoisie Democratic reform of the 3rd world countries is needed ad this has to be started from the restoration of democracy in extremists radical oppressive countries like Iran.
Mullah in Iran where put into place by USA to overcome the Shah because the Shah was becoming too much of a close friend with the USSR by trading technology against US oil dollars. USA would not sell technology to Iran and USSR needed US dollars.
For the USA Iran was also strategically useful to balance its presence in central Asia.
In Afghanistan the Taliban were the Mujahidin that the USA backed up to gain power to contrast USSR’s desire to conquer the country. In my theory, since the beginning the Taliban were a government meant to be overturned in the future. They were pushed to power with this predetermined intention.
The reform has to be started. Based on my theory of reform Iran is by default the first logical country where this reform process has to be started. There are two powers in the world able to do this: USSR (now Russia) and the USA.
In the nineties Russia offered USA a trade: it offered to give Iran on a golden plate in exchange of the control over the South Gulf countries.
However the USA replied that this was a no deal. Russia to the eyes of the USA is only a new democracy therefore it is regarded as too young to dictate rules or trades.
Since Russia just came out of the democratization process itself USA will overthrown Iran and Russia will only witness and accept the event as logical sequence of the event following its own democratization.
Russia could not accept this deal because it would imply a too strong predominance of the USA in the region. Therefore Russia threatens the USA:
“If you overthrown Iran we will attack the USA and start a global war”.
And to show the seriousness of this threat they did the 9/11 attacks to the twin towers.
New York was chosen for its global village meaning and home of the USA. The twin towers were chosen because symbol of trade, hence the trade negotiation going on between USA and Russia on who shall over throne Iran.
9/11, or better 11 was chosen because of the relation to the name of Shariah, my name, which is the mastermind at the base of the theory.
In the ancient languages 11 is the symbol of the elephant.
The elephant is the only animal that feed himself with his own nose bringing the food to its mouth.
Animal that feeds himself. This is equal to self interest which is what the USSR wanted to accuse the USA of.
Shariah, my name, also means 11. The elephant is a beast. I was regarded as such. This is how they called me.
This is why I had to hide as soon as I was freed from the Russian prisons. In jail they took my papers and they started to read with interest my theory. This could not become public, you understand. There was too much on the plate to risk that the international community would link what is happening to the path that my theory was explaining.
I became a problem. …. “
The story started to become quite structured and what was more puzzling of all was the coherence of his details and his ability to make us notice that some of our comments or beliefs were actually not right basing all the time his counter arguments on specific facts and well known historical event.
“Other people were also killed in those years. I wrote everything in my book. They were real people. Some of them worked for the secret services. Some others were politicians.
So this is why the Twin Towers were destroyed. It was a warning.
The alarm clock rings at 5.00 am. It’s still dark I am not to be able to get up. Bursa is hot and we want to cover the daily 250 km in the cool of the morning.
By 6.30am we have packed and we are hitting the road. For the first time since the departure in Shanghai I find myself riding from West to the East. An unusual and strange feeling that gives me shivers in the neck.
For months one of the certainties I used to have about the direction I was taking was the reflection of the sun on the dashboard. From the back of my shoulder I was feeling the sun rising into the day, my long shadow appearing on the road ahead.
The morning sun….
When it is falling in the evening it’s different, warmer and with a touch of sadness. Riding into it leaves in you a small feeling of fear, the thought of the night while the bike in swallowed by the darkness.
The morning sun is stronger, fierce and presumptuous, quite wanting to impose his power on all beginnings while rising into the sky.
At 9.00 am we have covered about 80 km and while I already think to the usual 100km break I see a sign indicating a ferry boat. I look at the map, I thought of this option the days before but never really looked into it. The shape of the bay is such that the ferry short cut would save us about 100 km of extra riding.
On the other shore only abut 10 km separate us from our destination.
After 4 weeks on Turkey’s roads the road signs start to indicate the arrival to Istanbul.
Byzantium, Constantinople, Istanbul: three names that have marked the history of this immortal city whose destiny had been already predicted by the Oracle of Delphi. Getting closer to the city I start to see the signs of its history. Far away images start to appear in my mind. I hear their sounds. I see the traces of the travelers that have furrow these roads.
2600 years of history in a city across two continents. Sign after sign I can feel the beat of the city spreading far out its boundaries. Kilometer after Kilometer as the distance to the city shortens I can hear the pulse of its heart around me. It is a strange and exiting feeling. A smile on my face signs a restless desire of arriving. The ride is smooth and despite the heavy traffic I enjoy every minute of it, every meter and every image of the fast changing world around, until, at the horizon, I see the hills of the city.
Capital of three empires, gate between the East and the West and ground of endless battles between the religious believes of Christianity and Islam. Today is a huge metropolis as big as Shanghai, catching up with the development of the European Union.
As I ride into the city its vastness seems endless. With every hill covered with houses and buildings, the extent of houses seems endless.
Our destination is near the Blue Mosque in the old part of town. All we have is the little city map in the guide and not too much time pass before we take the wrong turn. We stop somehow in the outskirt. Nobody we ask speaks English but we manage to get some direction, until we finally arrive to the Bosporus’s shore.
Just below, one of the bridges connects the East with the West of the city.
One more U turn and we are entering the Bosporus Bridge.
I am very excited and I keep jumping on the seat. The more I go over the bridge the more I can feel euphoria growing in me. The view from the bridge is beautiful. The meaning of crossing it is deep. Behind us we can see the farthest shore of Asia. In front of us we see the farthest shore of Europe. As we ride below the last pillar a sign at its end says:
“Welcome to Europe”.
Welcome to Europe – I think within myself.
For a moment I close my eyes. Thousands of lighting images cross my mind. The sounds, the situations and all the daily vicissitudes come back in my memory.
A deep shiver…
Today I crossed Asia.
So far I have covered 19045 km
The last leg has been 173 km
The fuel expenditure in Turkey so far has been 278 500 000 L
The hotel expenditure in Turkey so far has been 299 000 000 L
The sound of the city spread in the air. Light and deep they seem to cross the walls of any civilization. The chant of Islamic prayers. The sounds of a lonely instrument over a song of heroic deeds, while the night covers the frenetic motion of the modern metropolis.
I walk on stones walked by thousands of people across thousands of years. Across gates once upon in time only allowed to emperors and sultans. For a moment alone, alone with myself and the flow of history that runs inside me.
For a moment. Alone.
Alone to travel.
Overlapping signs of all its past. The Genovese tower, the roman walls, fishermen boats. Mediterranean colors in the narrow alleys.
In how many have passed through here. In how many have wanted to leave a sign. Grab a strip of its soul to make it their own.
Illusions. All Illusions.
Strange place this is. Like the church of Sancta Sophia.
Risen in the heart of the city, it seems like she is the one having been here first. Like a constant presence, Eternal.
Symbol of different religions. All that have passed through it tried to make it theirs. They deconsecrated, invaded and re-consecrated it in the name of their god.
No one has ever dared to destroy it. And so on, probably, it will live forever. Like if her, of the various religions wouldn’t care much after all. Chameleonic disposition hers. She was born to survive, to carry the weight of those that in this place have really believed. In which have seen something to hold on, a symbol. She seems to be there. Just like that, simply for us.
The night sets and like in all other cities the people comes out in search of something. Of company, of silence, of darkness. People comes out to be themselves or to transform in one of their be that during the day could not survive. Like all other cities, Istanbul gives the new generations this opportunity: be themselves outside religion, laws or social impositions. Free zone. Freedom of expression.
We are really near Europe and we can hear its echoes.
As we ride east through the rocky mountains we start seeing massive monasteries towering the valley from the surrounding peaks. One after the other their intention seems to escape from the world below towards a better place of peaceful contemplation.
There are no roads reaching their gates. Often there are no walking paths reaching their doors. When they first built them, the monks used it to escape the persecution and the only way they could be reached was by being lifted by a hand pulley.
The light of a falling sun trying to break into the dark peace of the peaks gives the area a mystic feeling. There is something of simply beautiful in all of this.
The silence is deep.
The trees, the plants, the stones of the walls, all seems to have been there forever.
Without a beginning.
Without an end.
After a few days, through Kavala, Thessaloniki and Larissa we have reached Meteora.
We remain silent to watch….
We’ll be back tomorrow morning.
Where we stop for the night, I notice overbearing, the clash, strong and unreal between the camping with swimming pool and the mystery hidden in the millenarian silence of the surrounding monasteries.
It seems a noise out of place, that of the dims and modern music breaking a sacred silence.
The next day, entering in one of the monasteries it is possible to notice how the monks, isolated from the world, after all of time they had a lot.
In my mind I start to draw parallels with the Tibetans monks I have visited during the trip. Takkar for example: also there, thousands of miles away, monks’ live was similar. Also there, frescos that seem to wrap from the inside the entire world in which the monks live in, were presents in the sacred and prayer rooms.
Even if the feeling of the frescos is a little different, the message is innate, almost natural. The good and the evil. God and the Gods. Even if in the frescos of Meteora there is a more severe sacredness. There is the sacrifice, that of the martyrs. The one that in Tibet cannot be found.
A hard sacrifice, violent, terrifying and real. Almost alive, heavy. Outside the smell can be felt. Ortodox Sacredness. Strange thing. An almost inhuman effort to scare, to terrify, to create a sub universe of main and terror. To control.
And the Saints. They are also there. And they are many. Each one with his story and all represented nakedly in the purest and most dreadful violence of the torment of their martyrs.
They are impressive. However, what strikes me the most is that they suck you in with them, against the wall to extrapolate the details, the wounds, the particulars, the blood that comes out from their cut limbs.
The feelings and the pain of the martyrs glue you there, to those frescos, to seek the pain of their deaths.
I hide in the shadow not to be seem by the monks always vigilant and almost rude. Behind a column I watch one of them letting all the tourists out of the chapel and closing the door.
Inside , alone, the silence seems to lift the place from the earthly reality. The light is dim, mad e of dazzles, irreverent flashes, gusts of lightness and vortexes of darkness.
Are the first to jump to the eye from the deep and dark colors of the frescos. And their looks: wrinkling out of the candles that , alone , light up the room.
There is also the altar on one side of the chapel. While the four columns seem to prevent that world from disappearing in the darkness.
I remain in silence.
In the middle of the room.
And slowly I start to swing on myself.
I close my eyes and the small, that of the candles
That of the incense
That of the million of pilgrims that passed through here
That of the souls that have remained trapped.
It is the smell.