Mati Si: The Horse Hoof Monastery is a great day trip from Zhangye. Here is a diary account of our trip.
Once we’ve passed Zhangye’s outskirts, where a whole forest of gleaming highrises is springing up, and have negotiated the chaos of smallish lorries, pick-ups, tractors and loaded carts that convert the narrow, two-lane road out of town into such a nightmare, we can begin to enjoy the scenery.
An initial rural stretch of fields, haystacks and little mud-brick farms descends into a dry, dusty bowl, after which the ground starts rising again and the land becomes fertile once more. A huge mountain range comes into view on our right and, to our amazement, we see that some of the peaks are covered in snow!
This is, of course, the Qian lian range in the foothills of which the temples of Mati Si can be found, and the people of the Yugur (Yugu) minority.
A few days in Zhangye张掖, the friendly and attractive city in western Gansu province, is best way to get to know this remote area of China. Zhangye is only a three to four hour bus ride away from the Inner Mongolian town of Alashan 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.
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.
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.