Saturday, February 05, 2011


It is a bit of an overused American stereotype, isn't it? The "give me space" line? As if each person needs this amount of physical distance between her/him and the next physical body and the next immaterial mind? As if closeness breeds incapacity? This is what I used to think. And yet, these days, I think I have more of an appreciation for physical space, for vastness, as far as the eye can see. I think it helps that I currently live in a deeply wintery, slightly desolate, landscape.

Ever so often, I make a list. Of places I'd like to go to. Of places I've never been. And I have noticed that of late, Central Asia has been re-appearing frequently on it. When I used to teach an introductory class on India, I often began with Central Asia; the crossroads of civilization, metaphor to nomadism, and let's not forget, home to Genghis Khan.

In the modern era, it is easily remembered as an agglomeration of the 'stans'; Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Often, Mongolia, Afghanistan, the northern and western Pakistani frontier, northeastern Iran, Kashmir,parts of Western China, and southern Siberia are also included in this understanding.

I think of space and I think of Central Asia (as opposed to South Asia where space is the lack of it). Mongolia. Maybe Tuva. But these people of the expansive space apparently needed more. In the early 13th century, in just 25 years, the Mongols conquered more lands and people than the Romans had in over 400 years.

It turns out that citizens of India can travel to Mongolia sans visa. Along with citizens of Poland, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Israel, Philippines, Singapore, China, and Vietnam. And a few more, who have "diplomatic and service" passports. Notice that Europe, or the US do not feature on the list. Just like days of yore. When perhaps Central Asia was the eponymous centre of the world.

And how do I get there? Well, I could fly to Ulanbaatar from Moscow and Irkutsk (Russia), Beijing and Huh Hoto (China), Seoul (Korea), Tokyo and Osaka (Japan), and Berlin (Germany). This time around, when I was flying from India to the US via Turkey, I met a fair number of fellow passengers travelling to Moscow via Istanbul. To study medicine. Digression aside, I'm pretty sure my preferred route to Mongolia would be on the Transsiberian Railway.

But I have always wanted to go to Kazakhastan too. Ever since I saw Tulpan.

Why have I been thinking of Tuva now? Yes, it borders Mongolia I know. Ah yes, the throat singers.

And just because I had such a good time grooving to music on my way to work today; here is something to brighten your day. Kongar Ol-Ondar with another of my favourites, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones (sigh, I miss Austin)...