Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir – On a wintry November morning in Srinagar, the largest city in Indian-administered Kashmir, Mohammad Abdullah sits on the carpeted floor in his living room, with a black and white portrait of his father, Haji Abdullah Karem, hanging on the wall.
My father was among the last Silk Route traders, says Abdullah. Karem, an ethnic Uighur Muslim from the Chinese province of Xinjiang, would undertake the perilous mountainous route that stretches from Kashgar to Ladakh through the Karakoram mountain pass that divides China and India.
Abdullah says his forefathers had trekked the same route, travelling in caravans on top of horses and double humped camels, stopping at the sarais – resting stations for travellers – on the way, bartering silk, spices and pashmina fine cashmere wool.
One such journey to Ladakh located in Indian-administered Kashmir in the 1940s would turn fateful when Karem could not return home after the People’s Republic of China took over Xinjiang in 1949. The Communist government blocked the mountain pass, eventually choking off trade.