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Four Days in Gansu Province

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My four day trip over to Gansu Province was arranged by Sunflower Travel Services and they were very good (www.sunflowertravel-cn.com); providing an excellent service.

We flew from Beijing to Lanzhou, in the main to visit the Dongguan Mosque in Linxia County. I have no idea where I read about this Mosque but clearly I must have as whilst it was nice to see, it would have been better if we didn ‘t have to drive 2.5 hours out of Lanzhou to see it and then 2.5 hours back.  ‘Eagle’ our tour guide did ask us in an incredulous voice why we wanted to see it, but clearly I didn’t pick up on what he was really saying which was ‘you want to drive 2.5 hours to see a Mosque and then 2.5 hours back – you foreigners are quite strange’….lesson for young players listen to the tone of the tour guide.

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IMG_7711Eagle I think then felt sorry for us when we arrived in Linxia, as we could not go inside the Mosque due to it being prayer time so he took us to another really beautiful Mosque with wonderful architecture and gardens. Just over 51% of the population in Linxia are Hui nationality who are the Chinese speaking Muslims.

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For centuries, Linxia has been one of the main religious, cultural and commercial centres of China’s Muslim community and has earned itself the nickname ‘the little Mecca of China’ – I am actually glad that we went there to see typical Muslim life in Gansu.

We stayed at a new Tibetan hotel in downtown Lanzhou and were immediately confronted by lots (lots) of gold paint…on the poles, tables, ceiling – everywhere you looked.  However the rooms were very clean, albeit no internet connection, but I managed to live an evening without starting my travel article.  My friend, on the other hand had to trek to the restaurant as she went to order room service and found  there was no telephone in her room. (Amdo Shang Ba La Hotel).  The next morning, we caught a flight from Lanzhou to Jiayuguan which took about an hour.  We stayed at a nice hotel (Jiugang Hotel – www.jiuganghotel.com)which served fabulous food especially the eggplant dish.  We visited Jiayu Pass which represents the western starting point of a section of the Great Wall constructed during the Ming Dynasty.  It covers eight acres and lies at the base of a valley with stunning views over the Gobi desert.  It is said to be the largest and most intact pass of the remaining Great Wall.

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Our tour guide told us of a fabulous legend which is about the meticulous planning involved in the construction of the pass. When Jiayuguan was being planned, the official in charge asked the designer to estimate the exact number of bricks required and the designer gave him a number (99999). The official questioned his judgment, asking the designer if that would be enough, so the designer added one brick.  When Jiayuguan was finished, there was one brick left over, which was placed loose on one of the gates and we were shown the brick and its location.

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Our last stop in Jiayuguan was the overhanging Great Wall. It’s located northwest of the Jiayu Pass and built in the Ming Dynasty to strengthen the defensive capability of the Jiayuguan area.  It’s built on the eastern slope of Mount Heishan and viewed from a distance the Wall looks like a dragon overhanging the slope (hence the name).

Due to natural disasters and human destruction only 749 metres of the Wall remains.  I started from the foot of Mt Heishan and walked up the very steep steps to the top of the Mountain and to the highest remaining observation post.  It was very difficult but definitely worth the effort with a fabulous view of the desert. I took many breaks before I reached the top and was highly amused (maybe upset) to see older Chinese men and women overtaking whilst either talking on their mobile phones or one was actually smoking (truth be told he did turn back about half way up).

As the Great Wall is said to begin at Jiayuguan Pass in Gansu Province and finish at Shanghaiguan Pass in Hebei Province – I regard myself as very fortunate to have seen both incredible sights.

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Next was a five hour drive to visit the Jade Gate Pass (Yumen Guan) at Dunhuang.  Jade Gate Pass was a strategic pass on the ancient Silk Road and was the one road connecting central Asia and China and said to be the ‘last gas station’ in the Han Dynasty before a long stretch of road.  It was named  Jade because that is what was transported through this pass to central China.  A few kilometres north in the Gobi desert is a section of the Han Dynasty Great Wall which had stretched for 150 kms but now there are only a few broken sections and several towers distorted beyond recognition.  This part of the Great Wall is very special as it was the only part of the Wall that was not built with bricks or stones but willow, earth and reed.

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A night at the Dunhuang Silk Road Hotel (www.dunhuangresort.com)was lovely with a view of the sunset over the beautiful sand dunes.

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Before that we took a four wheel drive up into the sand dunes and then a walk to the Crescent Moon Lake – very hot but magnificant to see; make sure you do this later in the afternoon to avoid that soaring heat.

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At the Silk Road Hotel, food was very nice but I am still unsure of the need for ladles of mayonnaise on my fruit salad!!

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The next morning before our three hour flight from Dunhuang to Beijing we visited the very special Mogao Grottoes.  A wonderful experience and a place to visit early in the morning to avoid the crowds.  No photos inside the grottoes but a definite place to visit as there are so many examples of Buddhist art spanning over 1000 years.  492 caves are currently preserved and in 1900, tens of thousands of relics and manuscripts were found in the ‘library cave’ which had been walled up since the 11th century.  The contents of the ‘library’ are dispersed around the world and said to be the world’s greatest discovery of ancient Oriental culture.

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