In the classic of Chinese literature ‘Journey to the West,’ the monk Xuanzang (and the Monkey King) passed through Gansu and Xinjiang on the way to India, following the northern Silk Road.
The story was based on actual events, although it took Xuanzang 17 years to complete the trip there and back. Our journey (from the west) took us seven days, travelling by jeep along the stretch of the Silk Road between Turpan and Jiayuguan. If we'd been on camels it may have taken longer.
Highlights included the Flaming Mountains and the Jiaohe Ancient City of Turpan, the Han Dynasty Great Wall in the Gobi Desert, the fortress of Jiayuguan that marks the western end of the Ming Dynasty Great Wall, the Buddhist cave art of Dunhuang’s Mogao Grottoes, and a night camping in the desert.
A view of the rammed earth walls of the Jiaohe Ancient City Ruins near Turpan. The city was abandoned in 1300 after being attacked by the Mongol army.
One of the larger structures in the Jiaohe Ancient City.
Part of the city was used for living; other parts for pottery factories, government buildings, barracks, and temples.
The ancient city included a stupa forest – a big one in the middle, four groups of 25 on each corner.
A mosque in Turpan looks quite busy.
We drove into the Flaming Mountains to find the site of Buddhist cave art.
Taking a break at the Bezeklik 1,000 Buddha Caves.
We took a short hike up into the hills above the caves.
A view down the valley.
Some rode camels up to the top.
On the second day of the trip we camped on the fringes of the Gobi Desert. The next morning we had a good view of the rising sun.
After breakfast, we took a walk in the desert. This part of the Gobi is a rocky desert, and we found some interesting stones and rocks along the way.
At our next stop, Hami, we visited one of the museums. They had an interesting display of tasty-looking Chinese food – all made from rocks and stones!
Quite a banquet, if you’re able to eat rocks.
The museum also contained a 3,000-year old mummy.
Next door to the museum with the rocks and mummy was another museum dedicated to the local musical tradition of Muqam. There are some Muqam performances that go on for days, literally. We opted for the 30-minute version!
On the way to Dunhuang we stopped for a picnic in the desert. While the food was being prepared, we stretched our legs with a walk in the nearby hills.
Barren, rocky hills all the way to the south.
We set up tables and chairs for our picnic.
Closer to Dunhuang, we stopped to investigate some Han Dynasty (206BC) Great Wall.
Built from rammed earth, some of the Han Dynasty Great Wall has been eroded by weathering. If it rained more in this area, there wouldn’t be much left at all. Most of the damage here is done by wind and blowing sand.
Eroded Han Dynasty Great Wall.
We spotted the Beijing Hikers red ribbons in the tall, wavy grass.
We stopped for a group shot.
Fields of melons!
The friendly farmer gave us some melons to try. We ate them for dessert later that night – tasty!
The Mogao Grottoes were one of the highlights of the trip – hundreds of caves filled with beautiful Buddhist art and statues. To preserve the caves, only a few are open at a time. Because we were visiting during a big holiday, more of the caves were open than usual.
Cameras aren’t allowed inside the caves, so we could only take a few shots from outside.
On our second day in Dunhuang, we set out for a bit of hiking over the sand dunes.
We walked through a small village.
Heading for the dunes.
Climbing uphill – quite tough work.
Arriving at the first ridge.
After climbing to the top of this ridge we took a break to enjoy the views.
Down below, Crescent Lake – quite a well-known tourist location.
It turned out that the orange boots were rented from the park – quite a surreal sight.
A view of Crescent Lake.
The moon rose above the dunes.
On the way out, we passed the camel ride area.
Hundreds of camels.
Heading on to Jiayuguan, we passed the Two Towers Reservoir, a lake of stunningly blue water in the desert.
Approaching Jiayuguan Fortress, the western-most end of the Ming Dynasty Great Wall.
The fortress was well-guarded.
A fight broke out between the guards; curious passersby swiftly fled.
A view through one of the large gates in the fortress wall.
Our drivers managed to talk their way in without having to buy tickets.
Taking a break inside the fortress.
This part of the fortress was a trap for any attackers. They’d be let into the courtyard, the doors would slam shut, and archers would shoot from above. Nowadays, it’s a trap for tourists!
The famous ‘One Brick Left’: the architect of the fortress was asked to estimate the number of bricks required to build it all. The official in charge was skeptical, so the architect added one brick to the estimate. After all was done, there was one brick left.
The western gate of the fortress. If you were banished from China, you’d leave from this gate, never to return.
After visiting the fortress, we took a look at some more Great Wall nearby.
Pictured is Han Dynasty Great Wall, privately repaired using old techniques.
We climbed up to the top to see what we could see.
Four of the group.
The Hikers flag made an appearance.