A Few Days in Zhangye (Gansu Province) 张掖

Stage 6: Zhangye and around (see stages 1  2  3  4  5  of our 2011 trip) & Danxia Landforms Geology Park 张掖丹霞地貌 & Mati Si / 马蹄寺

Dafo Si 大佛寺

Getting there from Alashan Yuoqi

The attractive city of Zhangye is only a three to four hour bus ride away from the Inner Mongolian town of Alshan Youqi, the gateway to the Badan Jarain Desert. And, as the friendly ticket lady at Youqi’s bus station had assured Adam two days ago, there are no problems getting tickets. So we swap the tickets for the 15.00 bus which the Badain Jaran travel agency had erroneously bought us, and hop on the 8.30 one instead.

Zhangye Stupa

The bus starts out half-empty, but doesn’t stay that way for long. This is still peasant country, where local people prefer to line up by the road side with their sacks and bundles, waiting for the bus to pick them up, rather than make their way to the bus station. The main difference with 20 years ago is that most of the transactions, involving pick- ups and drop- offs, are arranged on mobile phones these days.

Zhangye Guildhall

The other thing that takes us back into time is the speed of the ride; or rather, the lack of it. In fact, we have seldom come across a driver less in a hurry. Though we normally want our buses to go slowly and carefully, ever fearful of accidents, even we think that this guy could speed up a bit. Continue reading “A Few Days in Zhangye (Gansu Province) 张掖”

Route 2011 North West China: Inner Mongolia / Ningxia / Gansu

Route 2011

Inner Mongolia / Ningxia / Gansu

Xi Xia tombs and statues near Yinchuan 西夏王陵

Over the next few months we’ll be putting up articles about the places we visited in China this summer.
The trip began in Hohhot (呼和浩特), in Inner Mongolia (内蒙古自治区), where we had arrived on the train from Ulaan Baatar (乌兰巴托) in Mongolia.

Stage 1: Hohhot
Stage 2: Zhongwei
Stage 3: Yinchuan (银川) and around
Stage 4: Yinchuan to Bayan Khot
Stage 5: Bayan Khot to Alashan Youqi and the Badain Jaran Desert
Stage 6: Zhangye and around
Stage 7: Xiahe and around

Hohot's Wutasi 五塔寺 / 呼和浩特

After exploring the city’s eye-catching Wuta pagoda 五塔寺 and Da Zhao 大召 and Xilitu Zhao 席力图大召temples, an overnight train took us to Zhongwei (中卫), in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Province (宁夏回自治区), where we visited the Desert Research Center at Shapotou ( 沙坡头) on the banks of the Yellow River (黄河) and also the Sikou Scenic Area(寺口风景区).

Shapotou /沙坡头

From Zhongwei (中卫), a quick bus ride led north to Yinchuan (银川), from where we explored the amazing sights that surround Ningxia’s capital.

HelanShan 贺兰山 near Yinchuan

From Yinchuan we headed off into Western Inner Mongolia, passing the isolated ruins of the Great Wall at Sanguankou (三关口), Continue reading “Route 2011 North West China: Inner Mongolia / Ningxia / Gansu”

To Float or not to Float

When you’ve visited the wonderful museum (don’t forget to wear shoes!), seen the temples and bought your onward ticket, what more can you do with a few hours to spare in Lanzhou on a sunny afternoon in summer? Two options are quite tempting. One is to float down the Yellow River on a raft made of inflated goat skins. The other is to sit on a tree-shaded reclining chair by the banks of the Yellow River sipping Huanghe Beer (Yellow River Beer), snacking on spicy munches and watching other people float down the river. We chose the latter.

Lanzhou maybe one of the world’s most polluted cities, but in summer when it rains the air seems to be at least breathable. The river bank has been nicely spruced up since we first saw it in 1990 and is now a pleasant recreational area. The part by the enormous water wheels is especially nice. You pay 5 Yuan (50 cents Euro) to enter and this entitles you to comfy chairs with great views over the river and the attractive White Pagoda Hill on the other side. Beers cost 4 Yuan and snacks 5 Yuan. Ah Bliss!

“No flip flops or Crocs please!”

There are moments in China when it can be convenient not to speak or understand Chinese and instead pretend that you are a dumb tourist. Our visit to the wonderful Gansu Provincial Museum was one of those moments. It took nearly 40 minutes crawling through Lanzhou’s choking traffic in a taxi to get to the Museum; we picked up our free tickets and approached the entrance. A young guard came up to us before we could get to the security check and asked in Chinese if we could “jiang hanyu” (speak Chinese), being polite I replied “huì” (we can). He then pointed at our feet and said “bu keyi chuan tuoxie” (you can’t wear flip flops). I looked at him in disbelief and protested, but to no avail. Margie enquired about her Crocs and “ye bu keyi” (also not) was his answer. We continued to argue, but met with the same reply; apparently the “guiding” (the rules) stipulated that plastic footwear wasn’t allowed…!

Eventually, after a stand- off in which we were getting nowhere, the guard suggested we go to a nearby street market and buy some cheap shoes. After debating whether to return through the traffic to the hotel, or give up on the museum altogether, we decided to follow his advice. Continue reading ““No flip flops or Crocs please!””

Tianshui 天水 – Beidao 北道- Qincheng秦城

More photos

In 2002 we made a route that we called the Lanzhou 兰州 – Pingliang平凉 – Tianshui天水 Triangle (Click here). This August (2009), we returned to Tianshui and Lanzhou to add a few more interesting sites to the route. Namely, the Water Curtain Caves 水帘洞 and Lashao Si 拉稍寺 near Luomen 洛门 and Daxiang Shan大像山 near Gangu甘谷. We also took the opportunity to revisit Maiji Shan 麦积山 and explore the historic part of Tianshui; Qincheng.

With good restaurants, reasonably cheap accommodation, a few sites and some remaining old traditional architecture, Tianshui makes a decent base for a number of excursions.

Tianshui is actually made up of two towns, Beidao 北道 and Qincheng 秦城. The towns are separated by Continue reading “Tianshui 天水 – Beidao 北道- Qincheng秦城”

Tianshui 天水: An Early Arrival

I lay on the bed unable to sleep but hoping beyond hope that the train would arrive late. However, my hopes were dashed when the conductor shook my shoulder and warned that “We are arriving in 5 minutes”. The train pulled into to Tianshui Station at 3.57am exactly on time and we alighted bleary eyed.

Crossing the square in front of the station we looked for a hotel. Unfortunately, all insisted we would have to pay the full rate for the 2 hours to 6 o’clock. One receptionist suggested that we leave the luggage at the hotel and either sit in the lobby or go out until 6.00 am. My stingier side got the better of me despite Margie’s protests. So we dumped the luggage behind the reception desk and headed out to the square where a number of food stalls and small stores remained open. We grabbed a few beers Continue reading “Tianshui 天水: An Early Arrival”

The Water Curtain Caves 水帘洞 and Lashao Si 拉稍寺 (August 2009)

There were 2 options; wade up the raging river or try and duck under the rickety looking scaffolding. We chose the latter. The last bars of the scaffolding were too high to step over and too low for me to comfortably duck under. I kept getting my day bag hooked on the rusty bars, rocks and stones fell from the over hanging cliff and the rain was incessant.  I could feel I was going to get a lumbago at any moment and  remembered how the guide book had described the Water Curtain Caves , Lahshao Si and the valley in which they were located as the embodiment of old China; serene and beautiful. At that moment it was a living hell.

More photos

Another gem in Eastern Gansu, the Water Curtain Caves (Shuilian Dong) and Lashao Si 拉稍寺 take a bit of  an effort to reach, especially if you are using public transport, but reward the intrepid with a valley of Taoist temples, rock carvings and paintings, without another tourist in sight. Unfortunately, for the next year, the path up the valley is being rebuilt and building work is everywhere somewhat spoiling the valley’s isolation. The huge carved Buddha and paintings overlooking the valley are under going restoration, but at least the scaffolding is being withdrawn and they can be seen Continue reading “The Water Curtain Caves 水帘洞 and Lashao Si 拉稍寺 (August 2009)”

Gangu 甘谷, Daxiang Shan 大像山 (August 2009)

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Continue reading “Gangu 甘谷, Daxiang Shan 大像山 (August 2009)”

Sunday 11 November 1990: hard seat from Jiayuguan to Lanzhou!

After an hour-and-a-half wait at the station we embark on our very own journey through Dante’s inferno. As we only have standing tickets, we literally have to fight our way onto the train and through five carriages already overflowing with people, before finding any place at all. We end up in one of the little hallways, right by the place where the train bends, and not even in any protected corner, but smack in the middle.

The first six hours are a bit of a nightmare: there is nowhere to put our backpacks, we eventually have to lay them flat on the floor and kind of squat on top of them. Unfortunately, people are endlessly pushing trolleys with food and drinks through the aisle and each time we have to lift all our luggage and make ourselves as small as possible. The hot-water trolley, which passes every two hours, is the worst as it leaks water and oil, covering the floor in a disgusting black sludge, in which we have no remedy but to put our packs down again. To make matters worse, in its wake, the hot-water trolley is inevitably followed by a horde of pushing and shoving Chinese, anxious to refill their thermos, or jam-jars, full of tea. It’s this continuous, heaving mass of people, fighting to get past you, while you struggle to keep your balance and defend your patch, that really tires you out and wears you down.

The scenes we observe around us would have been best described by Dickens, as coming straight from the work-house, debtors’ prison or mental asylum. Everywhere you look the carriages are spilling over with people: there are 5 or 6 passengers to each bench, people down the aisles, crowding the halls, pressed up against, or even inside, the toilets, you name it. Luggage is piled up as high as the ceiling, as well as suspended from metal hooks: there are massive sacks, held together by ropes, primitive bundles, plastic bags, haversacks, heaps of sandwiches and thermoses. Continue reading “Sunday 11 November 1990: hard seat from Jiayuguan to Lanzhou!”

Maiji Shan

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Tianshui and the Maiji Shan Grottoes

The main reason for going to Tianshui is to visit the fantastic grottoes known as Maiji Shan Shiku, or Haystack Mountain. Maiji Shan is a flat-topped rock formation, set in the midst of dense green forests. There are two groups of three large statues each, the highlight of which is a 16-metre Buddha, carved on the rock face. Then there is a whole series of caves, connected by amazing walkways that provide good views of the statues, as well as the opportunity to look into every nook and cranny of Haystack Mountain.

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With statues ranging from the Northern Wei, through to the Qing dynasty, there is a real sense of……..

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