Our ‘Journey from the West’ trip is a seven-day adventure along the strand of the Silk Road between Urumqi and Jiayuguan. We do it as a road trip, travelling in jeeps and stopping off to explore all the amazing sights along the way – the ruined city of Jiaohe near Turpan, the Flaming Mountains, the Mogao Grottoes and Crescent Lake at Dunhuang, the fortress at Jiayuguan, and more!
We started the trip by flying to Urumqi, and after a quick look at the Grand Bazaar we headed on to Turpan. At Turpan we enjoyed a meal in a lovely courtyard in Grape Valley, went underground to see the ancient ‘karez’ irrigation system, and explored the ruins of Jiaohe, a city abandoned after conquest by Genghis Khan in the thirteenth century.
Our next stop was the Flaming Mountains. According to the legendary version of the Journey from the West, this is where the Monkey King fought the Cow Devil King. We didn’t see either of them on this trip. But we did see the Bezeklik Grottoes, a site hidden up in a canyon where Buddhists carved out caves and decorated them with statues and murals.
Our next stop on the Silk Road was Hami, a really long drive from Turpan. Instead of trying to do it all at once we spent a night camping in the desert. Our campsite is a nice secret spot, where we can wake up and go for a nice walk in the desert before heading on.
One of the highlights of the trip is Dunhuang, an oasis town on the edge of the desert. Near Dunhuang is the Mogao Grottoes and Crescent Lake, both of which we visited.
We finished the trip at Jiayuguan, visiting the Jiayuguan Fortress and the Beacon Tower and Canyon.
See all the photos below!
Dinner at a Uyghur family courtyard in Grape Valley.
Ruins of Jiaohe Ancient City
The walls of a large building.
Jiaohe Ancient City ruins
Taking some photos of the river that surrounds the ruins.
This part of the ruins is in good condition, and was formerly a temple.
A wider view of a different section of the ruined city.
This pagoda was the centerpiece of a temple.
Satomi learning some folk dance techniques from a local elder at the Bezeklik Grottoes.
The Flaming Mountains, named for their fiery red colour, and fiery summer heat.
Sunset at our campsite.
Our campsite was in the middle of a rocky desert.
This is a big jump after a long day!
Breakfast at the campsite, before heading off on a short hike.
Near the campsite was a nice area to explore on foot.
Red hills near the campsite.
Look what we found: an ancient coin with mysterious symbols! The calligraphy on the back says it was made in the Yuan Dynasty (1260—1368).
Meanwhile, other hikers conquered one of the hills.
Hiking team photo.
We took in a muqab performance in Hami. When there's a wedding or celebration, the muqab can go for days. We saw the shorter version.
A lively and colourful performance.
Flowering shrubs in the desert.
Another type of colourful flower.
Hard to see how it grows in the desert – it’s so dry and rocky!
Another hike in the desert on the way to Dunhuang.
Really pleasant weather for a short walk.
Very unusual rocks.
The remains of some Han Dynasty Great Wall, built from rammed earth more than 2000 years ago.
Hikers exploring the remains of a fortress.
Our hotel in Dunhuang had a patio on the roof – the perfect spot to see the sun rise over the dunes before breakfast.
Crescent Lake and its temple. And its tourists! We escaped the crowds by hiking up into the sand dunes.
Hiking along a ridgeline.
We hiked up to the high point to see the excellent views and then ran all the way back down. Fun!
Another watch tower from the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD).
On the way to Jiayuguan we stopped for a walk at a huge reservoir.
Near the reservoir were two towers.
It's amazing to see so much water in the middle of the desert.
Locals say there’s a village under all the water, flooded when the reservoir was built.
Another of the towers.
At the Jiayuguan Fortress we could just see the snowy Qilian Mountains in the background.
A performance at the fortress.
The Jiayuguan Fortress marks the western end of the Ming Dynasty Great Wall.
Near Jiayuguan City there’s a deep river canyon, topped by more Great Wall.