Travelling for work sounds like a lot of fun, especially when you are not experiencing said travel while grinding your life away in some soul-destroying and largely meaningless corporate existence. Tell people that you go on buying trips to exotic locations for a living and that you buy all manner of objects like textiles and jewellery and handicrafts, well they become almost catatonic with excitement on your behalf imagining all of the delights you must experience on a daily basis. They picture you swanning from bazaar to souk, interacting amiably with colourful locals, sending your goods via porters straight to a steamer vessel at dock, then resting your weary head on billowing silk cushions at night, perhaps recounting tales of your adventures to other travellers in the bar between times. What they don't know (or want to know) is that you are most likely working in 40 C plus (sometimes higher indoors) or adversely, during the rainy season, that you battle illness, mosquitoes, heat rash, dogs, monkeys, thieves, inadequate banking facilities and nightmare transportation logistics, or that you generally carry everything you buy in a day on your back until you can deposit it somewhere safe.
Not to say that all or our trips are the stuff made of nightmares - and besides, quite often the best stories come from what was at the time a very difficult or even a dangerous situation. I remember one perfect evening on a hotel porch in Jaipur, sitting in our recliners sipping fruit punch with a husband and wife team of diamond buyers from South Africa. We were discussing monkeys, as you do in that part of the world, and I was recounting a particularly funny story (in retrospect) about being badly scratched by one on an earlier trip. The wife in turn related stories about baboons back at home. I asked her if she'd locked the house up tight before leaving and her face fell as she suddenly remembered leaving a small bathroom window open on the first floor. I spent the next hour cheerfully imagining out loud all the things the local troop of baboons were doing to her underwear at that very moment.
Taking a half-day out of our buying schedule to visit an ancient Jaipurian palace, I took a moment to sit, at which point the monkey in the picture sidled up to me and started eying me off. Just as Ian took the shot the monkey reached over, looked me straight in the eye, then raked its filthy little set of claws across my leg.
Hotels are a particular dice roll when travelling for this kind of work. Booking from home can be expensive and land you in surprisingly unsuitable locations - one hotel in Hannoi located next to a river came with such a loud chorus of frogs we had to shout to make ourselves heard, while my father once ended up in a male brothel in Bangkok. However booking on the spot can be even more expensive and you run the very real risk of finding every hotel in town is full because of some unforeseen and obscure flower throwing festival, which is also how I ended up spending the night in a brothel in Ethiopia. And now that I think about it, I'm not sure that any of my hotel mishaps have ever once resulted in a funny story.
Another major problem with booking your hotel online is that the owner's idea of "four star" and your idea of "four star" can be two very different things. On one memorable occasion, we required overnight housing in Mumbai at Air India's expense because our afternoon flight to Jaipur was canceled. We were told we were being sent to the "Four Seasons" as a special treat. An hour later, we found ourselves inside a hole in the wall building in suburban Mumbai still under construction. It turned out the "Four Sasons" we had been sent to was not exactly legit.
So for better or for worse, this is my hotel classification system, and certainly one that has never let me down:
Shithouse. I think you can picture this category for yourself. Think of the toilets in any seedy nightclub at 4 am on a Sunday morning and you’re pretty well spot on. So vile even cockroaches avoid the place. Costs anywhere between $5 and $80 a night. May be in or near a brothel.
Dormitory accommodation in Pakistan. Photo credit: Kashgar
And while we're at it, this is not Harrods. Photo credit: Kashgar
Toilet Block, Clean. This usually consists of a room tiled in white with twin beds, and a bathroom that you can shower and crap in at the same time. Surprisingly clean, but looks can be deceiving! I once spent a night in a room like this while a rat quietly ate half a packet of biscuits not five centimetres from my sleeping head. Costs between $40 and $120 a night. Possibly has hot water, at least at certain times of the day (those times being when you are out). Mattress feels like a plank, usually made of foam. Subcategory is Toilet Block, Dirty. Same as above but three years older.
And the dining room was disappointing... Photo credit: Kashgar
The pleasures of the Holiday Inn, Manali, await you. Falls into the Toilet Block, Dirty classification. Sign reads "Owned by competent group of companies". Photo credit: Kashgar.
Deceased Estate. You reach the lobby and think wow! Soaring ceilings, mezzanine levels, grand piano in the corner. Unfortunately the good times don’t reach the guest rooms. Stinking of the accumulated years of cigarette smoke and carpeted in some kind of dense green felt, the room will have an air conditioning unit that sounds like a rabid hippo and plumbing that lets you know exactly what your neighbour is up to at all times of the night. Cost between $120 and $250. May or may not include breakfast.
This four star hotel in the backlands of Vietnam comes with it's very own pig as a doorman. Picture credit: Kashgar
Plastic International. Ok, except for the price. Value $120, actual cost closer to $300 plus taxes. Breakfast usually extra. Five channels of Bollywood, Chinese government propaganda or the Dow Jones Index and CNN available on TV. Staff ignore you unless absolutely necessary. Swimming pool generally closed for maintenance, often all year round.
This is Nice. Unfortunately, this is also rare unless one is spending upwards of $300 per night. Always has a functioning swimming pool and staff dressed in huge turbans/pantaloons/funny hats. Current trend is a glass wall between the bed and bath and a rain shower. I always steal the toiletries from these hotels just to get a better sense of value. But boy are they nice to come back to at the end of long day's buying.
My favourite hotel in the whole world when I'm traveling in India: the head doorman at the Ajit Bawan Hotel in Jodhpur. Photo credit: Kashgar
Meanwhile somewhere in Burma...Photo credit: Kashgar
Linda has a Honours degree in Marine Biology and a PhD in Ecology from the University of NSW, Australia. She has travelled extensively and is a passionate writer on subjects as diverse as the role played by women throughout history, tribal communities and their customs, symbology and ethnology, talismans and their history. Occasionally she also writes about her travel experiences, her new life on a 25 acres in the Northern Rivers region of northern Australia and her black miniature poodle Phoenix. She is currently writing her first book on talismans.
In 1989 my father Bernard packed in his house painting business and set off for two years on a backpacking trek to the remotest corners of the world. When he finally arrived in the oasis city of Kashgar, China, he was so impressed with its history that he decided to start a new life collecting and selling exotic goods from all over the world. For 2000 years the legendary city of Kashgar was a melting pot of ideas and a key trading post on the historic Silk Road. It was this unique combination of philosophy and trade that my father wanted to recreate at home.
Starting in markets in 1991, he opened his first store in the Sydney suburb of Newtown in 1994. I gave up my own career as a government scientist to join him in 2000 and soon convinced my partner Ian to join us in what was to become the Family Business.
Today our version of Kashgar stocks a hugely diverse range of furniture, rugs, textiles, antiques, handicrafts and jewellery sourced from over twenty different countries including India, Nepal, Tibet, China, Thailand, Burma, Laos, the Philippines, Vietnam, Mexico, Peru, Turkey, Palestine, Syria, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan. Our collection includes contemporary and tribal silver and gold jewellery, a unique range of headhunting curios, antique Buddhist relics and a collection of one-off necklaces, earrings and bracelets that I design and create myself using the beads and jewellery making techniques of ethnic minorities from around the globe.
Kashgar is a philosophy as well as a store. We are committed to supporting traditional artisans and small village communities by selling authentic handcrafted goods which are personally collected by us. By supporting traditional methods of design and production we hope to encourage local cottage industries which have a low impact on the environment and help ethnic minorities maintain their self-sufficiency into the 21st Century. We are particularly committed to assisting women around the world and to this end have worked with several organisations including the Hua Bin Women's Union of Vietnam, the East Timorese Women's Association and Tikondane in Zambia. Time honoured means of craftsmanship and traditional ways of life are disappearing as people all over the world give up their identity in favour of jeans and T-shirts. We see our trade as a means of staving off the inevitable encroachment of the 21st century, assisting communities to decide for themselves which parts of the western world they wish to incorporate (medicine, education) and which they wish to reject (prostitution, drug production, begging and servitude to warlords). We encourage our customers to think of the handicrafts and artifacts they buy from us as an investment: a piece of history and a way of life that may soon be gone forever.
Kashgar has recently closed its retail outlet and gone completely online.
In the past our pieces appeared in many movies including The Hobbit, Mission Impossible 2, Queen of the Damned, Scooby Doo, Moulin Rouge and Wolverine, and in many televisions series, as well as in plays, commercials and exhibitions. We've found special pieces for individual customers as well as for film sets, event management companies, hotels, businesses, consulates and embassies. The uniqueness of our stock means that we are also very appealing to interior and fashion designers with a taste for the exotic.
There is something for everyone at Kashgar - collectors, the curious, those looking for a special present or for something unique to adorn the home. Most of our items are one-off specialties; other pieces we only stock in small quantities so as to continuously offer a wide and ever-changing range of interesting products. We are also packed with ideas for decorating home and work premises that will challenge your established concepts of design and storage.
Please enjoy - Linda Heaphy
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