Journey to the Homeland of Cashmere, Part 2: Unearthing the Symbiotic Relationship between Humans and Cashmere
its first-class Alashan cashmere. We arrived at the end of May, right when spring was in full bloom.
The journey to Alashan is quite a feat. It begins with a flight from Japan to Beijing, followed by a two-hour domestic flight west to the nearest city, Yinchuan. Nestled in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, Yinchuan was part of the Kingdom of Xixia during the time of Genghis Khan. Despite being near the Loess Plateau, a source of yellow sand that often reaches Japan, Yinchuan is abundant in water resources and agricultural produce due to its location along the Yellow River.
Setting off from Yinchuan on a bright morning, we left behind the blowing yellow sand that had persisted until the previous day. With ample PET bottled water in tow, we set out on our adventure. As we left Yinchuan's cityscape, a stark semi-desert landscape unfolded before us. Our journey led us along a less-travelled paved road towards the Khoran Mountains, bordering Inner Mongolia.
Enveloping the mountain range was a sparse semi-desert, devoid of trees but dotted with occasional shrubs and grass. As we neared the dividing Galan Mountains between the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region and Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, the weathered Great Wall of China appeared in our view. This made us acutely aware of our distance from home.
Crossing the 1600-meter pass into Inner Mongolia, we were greeted by the expansive Alashan left banner. It was a deeply moving moment as I realized that I had finally reached Alashan. Here, we connected with Mr. Liu, a cashmere collector, who guided us to the dwelling and grazing land of Ms. Du, a pastoralist.
As we followed Mr. Liu, his car suddenly diverged from the paved road into the semi-desert. The faint car tracks became our guiding path as we jolted along the rugged terrain, our heads almost touching the car ceiling due to the intense vibrations. Without Mr. Liu's expert guidance, locating a herder's dwelling in such a vast desert would have been impossible.
The welcoming Mr. and Mrs. Du are generational cashmere herders. Their humble home, standing alone in the semi-desert, boasted bright, spacious interiors and brick exteriors. Their family includes two school-aged daughters who, due to the school's distance, stay in a boarding house during the week and eagerly return home for weekends. They kindly offered us tea made from goat's milk and "karintou," a pastry deep-fried in sheep's oil.
Cashmere is harvested once annually, making this time of year particularly busy for the Du family. After we gifted them presents from Japan, we were invited to observe the cashmere harvesting process.
Mr. Du swiftly and expertly tethered a cashmere goat by its legs. The goat momentarily reacted with surprise, but quickly settled down. Unlike wool, cashmere is collected by using a rake-like tool to comb through the long bristles, in order to extract the soft downy hair beneath. Initially, I was worried that this might cause discomfort to the goats. However, to my relief, the cashmere goats seemed remarkably unperturbed and remained calm throughout the procedure.