Thursday, May 24, 2007

Silk Road Trip Day 9 - 11, Jiayuguan and Dunhuang 21-23 May 07

Will try to do a quick overview of three days...
21 May 07: 
Arriving in Jiayuguan Monday morning, we met up with Simon, our next local guide.  He and Mr. Wei took us to the hotel, Jiayuguan Hotel, a nice, business style hotel with lots of plate glass and overstuffed couches in the lobby.  Since we couldn't check in right away, we just stored our bags and got some chow, a "bland" breakfast, as accurately described by the Rough Guides. 
The highlight of the day for me was the Jiayuguan Fort, where we spent most of the morning.  It commands the gap between two mountin ranges, extending walls to each, includig the First Beacon Tower (pronounced "Bacon Tower" by our local guide, to giggles) of the Han Great Wall.  It was a great effort that apparently was quite successful in achieving dominance of the region.  As a museum, it had a great mix of active and passive education.  An excellent wax museum showed daily life in the fort, and for a yuan a shot, one could shoot "Mongols" from the ramparts with a bow and arrow.  I hit my Mongol in the knee.
At the far side of the fort were a bunch of camels, so I finally got the chance to see one of myt main interests for this trip, the Bactrian (2 humped) camel.  As we approached to take some pictures, the camel herders tempted us with rides, but we decided to wait until Dunhuang.  Still, we weren't disappointed, as one of them spit on Steve.  It wasn't his fault, though, as the tout had yanked on the spike through his nose (the camel's, not Steve's) to get him to sit.  Guess I'd be pretty cranky too.
The next stop was a opportunity to walk to the top of the north end of the wall extending from the fort, dubbed the Overhanging Great Wall.  Lots of steps, and virtually straight up at times (or so it seemed), but a great view of the Gobi desert upon arrival at the top.   We again denied ourselves the opportunity for a camel ride, and instead went back to the hotel for check in and a quick cleanup.  A late lunch, and we were off to see the Xincheng Dixia Hualang Underground Gallery, an incredibly detailed tomb outside of town.  They call it a gallery, though, because of the detailed paintings on the bricks inside, showing scenes of daily life, and extolling the riches of the deceased. 
Once back at the hotel, we decided to go to the night market for supper.  Steve and I went to the internet cafe, and I made a quick update to the blog before going out for kebabs.  We found the place with the most people, and tucked into about 150 kebabs between the 6 of us.  Granted, though, they weren't all that big.  And one set (ostensibly the special of the day), all gristle and fat, we returned.  Later on in the meal, a busker singing Chinese love songs on his guitar came and showcased his good, but loud, talents.  After a quick trip to get some water and snacks for the road trip to Dunhuang the next day, we all turned in.
22 May 07
We got a relatively early start this morning, with a bland breakfast and side trip to the First Beacon before getting on the road in earnest.  The trip to Dunhuang was nice, smooth, and over good roads.  Surprisingly, even out in the middle of the Gobi desert, the mobile phone reception was three bars the whole way.  We passed a huge wind farm and finally got to Dunhuang at about 3 PM. 
After checking into the hotel (the same one used by Deng Jiao Ping, and other Chinese dignitaries when they visit the city), we had a lunch of donkey, camel, and some more normal foods.  It was all surprisingly good, especially the camel which tasted pretty much like beef.  The donkey was very rich, but tasty, served like cold roast beef with a marinade. 
Following supper, I updated the blog, and then Steve got his Tevas fixed at a local cobbler's stand.  Since we'd had such a late supper, we decided to wander the night market (not really true to name, though, as it stays light here until nearly 10:00 PM - being on Beijing Time).  Dunhuang is a surprisingly cosmopolitan town bordered by huge sand dunes of the Gobi.  Still, there were really nice shops, and I found a small Tibetan knife that I bargained the guy down from 800 to 100 yuan.  It'll go into the collection. 
We stopped for a beer at a local beer festival, getting to watch some of the local talent at jumping rope, drama, music, and beer chugging.  Even the kids were getting into the act, as we saw a number of them downing the same big beers that we were drinking.  Hilarious.  One little guy came up to us and started talking.  Turns out that he'd spent a while in Minnesota, and spoke excellent English as a result.  I took the opportunity to bring him up to date with what kids say in the US by teaching him, "What up, Dog?" and "Peace out, Homie."  Just doing my part...
23 May 07
We got up early for a sunrise at the dunes, but strangely, it was raining.  This town gets about 32 mm of rain a year, and we probably got half of it today.  So, no sunrise.  We ended up going out there at about 9, though, after having breakfast.  A bunch of what looked like big wigs from the local army base were there too.  Saw several gold epaulets and lots of stars. 
The dunes are great...rising to almost 300 meters in some places, it was the perfect storm of commerecailized nature.  There were hundreds of camels to ride out into the dunes so you could climb up, take your pictures, and then ride a sled or innertube down.  Of course, you did have to pay for the privelege to climb, as well as decend.  I chose the inner tube, and was rewarded with an exhilerating if somewhat terrifying ride as I almost ran into the demarkation be honest, I was more worried about my camera.  Still, it was worth the buck or so it cost. 
We also rode out to the rapidly shrinking crescent lake, before heading back to the hotel for lunch.  The afternoon was spent at the Mogao Caves, repositories of some beautiful Buddhist art.  Unfortunately, in the great goodie grab of the early 1900s, most of the good stuff was removed (stolen) and taken to fill museums around the world.  China actually has just a fraction of that which originally was there. 
Finally, after a dinner near the previous night's beer garden, we got on the road to the station for our overnight train to Turpan.


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