A coincidence at this Aug, 2010 made me had my wish to do Silk Road trip, although it just some parts of Silk Road, but I was extremely satisfied and felt a lot.
Our first stop is Dunhuang city, 1.5 hours away from Xi’an by plane. Dunhuang, an oasis city fed by underground springs located in Gansu Province. Dunhuang roughly translates as “blazing beacon” in Chinese, a moniker it bestowed upon it as the terminus of the Great Wall into western China. The surrounding area includes the Crescent Lake and Mingsha Shan) mountain range which roughly translates as “Echoing-Sand Mountain” due to the eerie sound created by strong winds whipping over sand dunes
Dunhuang is also most famous for the Mogao Cave Grottoes the Yardang National Geological Park and its singing sand dunes. Dunhuang benefits from a natural oasis, allowing for sustained agriculture and development to occur for centuries. During the early ADs, it became a focal point of migratory Buddhists who deemed the area as “mystical” due to its singing sand dunes, odd rock formations and availability of water in this harsh desert.
During the mid 4th century AD, Lè Zūn, a notable Buddhist monk, envisioned setting up camp here by excavating caves and rooms of worship in the Mogao Grottoes. His goal was to provide a location for pilgrims to rest and meditate at while seeking spirituality. Over a millennium, these temple caves multiplied as pilgrims, artisans and monks left elaborate murals, sculptures and paintings within the 1000 individual caves and chambers.
It is definitely forbidden taking photos inside the grottoes, I only took pictures here.
The next day we went to Jade Gate pass (Yumen guan) , Yardang National Geological Park, and Yang guan pass. It takes1.5 hours from city to Yunmen guan. Then you need spent another 1.5 hours driving away from Jade Gate pass, the Yardang National Geological Park, situated in the Gobi Desert, houses “yardangs” or pillars of jutting lime and sandstone caused by wind erosion from desert winds (they’re called yardangs because they generally resemble the shape of a ship). The results are sphinx or tower like columns of sandstone that jut meters above, seemingly ascending from the desert sand below. In this location, tourists can wonder the arid grounds, climbing rocks and snapping photos, or they can venture inside (where there is AC) to get a “geological history” of the area. *As a brief side note, this location was used in the desert fight scene of Hero staring Jet Li.* .Just remembers to bring a jacket, because the temperatures will plummet once the last rays are choked off by the hills. See the Gallery below:
Yangguan pass is about 2.5 hours from Yardang National Geological Park, Yangguan was named for its location south of the Yumen Pass. Today Yangguan is in ruins, buried under sand dunes. Of what is left of it is a ruined tower which stands on a reddish sandstone hill. It gives a perfect view of the vast area around it. Traces of the wall foundation of Yangguan Pass can be seen at times amidst the dunes. It is a desert full of precious deposits. It is said that the trousseau of a princess of the Tang dynasty was buried here by a sudden sandstorm.
This noon, another “oasis” gave me a big surprise is these “restaurants” close to Yangguan pass. We had our lunch under grape trellis， really an environmental air condition “house.”.
After finished 4 days staying in Dunhuang city, two of us choosed driving to Jiayu Pass, 350 km away, 4 hours on road. The time we arrived at JIayu Pass is after 8 pm. The largest and most intact section of the western Great Wall of China. The pass, runs through central Gansu acting as a corridor for people traveling between Dunhuang and Lanzhou. In ancient times, this pass was a stronghold for the Han Chinese, resulting in one of the most fortified sections of the Great Wall. Remnants of the ancient Great Wall are still in place, but have been warn down, due mainly to lack of up-keep, conflict and erosion from the desert winds.
Next day, we had to get up at 6.30am because we need cross Zhangye city, Qilian Mt, go to Xining, Qinghai province for 1 night staying.
Zhangye: anciently named Ganzhou, Zhangye was a famous commercial port on the Silk Road and one of the biggest international trade markets in the country. Merchants from the west kept coming here for trading. Irrigation from the Black and Shandan rivers makes agriculture here quite developed. It gains the reputation of "lush southern-type fields in the desert". Nationalities: Han, Yugu, Tibetan, Hui, Mongolian, Zhuang, Uygur
We had a quick stop at Giant Buddha Temple and passing Wooden Tower of Sui Dynasty,Located in the downtown of Zhangye, this temple was used by the royal families of the west Xia kingdom and the Yuan dynasties. Kublai Khan was born here. The temple houses the world*s biggest reclining Buddha, along with 6000 volumes of Buddhist scriptures authorized by Ming Emperors.
The view when crossing Qilian Mt is exactly marvelous: clustered yak, sheep, yellow and green grassland…….deep in my brain. "One of Top Six Most Beautiful Grasslands in China" Ranked by China National Geography Magazine, Qilian Mountain Grassland in Qinghai Province and Gansu Province: The beauty of blending. The grassland at the foot of the mountain has plenty of water and pasture. In ancient times, it was a grazing ground for the Hun chieftains and Mongolian nobles. Its distinct climate and good weather gained it the name of 'golden lotus prairie' in the Tibetan epic KING GESAR, and the Uygur and the Mongols call it 'golden pasture.'
Travel Tips: It is the best way that you rent 4 Wheel off-road Vehicles in Xining City.
In the evening at 20:30 of 2010.Aug 25, we arrived at Xining Qingzang Mansion hotel, my friend Mr. Lu got a surprised that too changes for this city, he had been here 3 years ago. Xining is located on the eastern edge of Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and the upper reaches of Huangshui River. It is the political, economic, scientific and technological, cultural and traffic center of Qinghai Province with an average altitude of over 2,200 meters (about 7,217 feet). The activities of human beings in this region can be traced to 2,100 years ago.As well as being the important hinge between the central plains and the western part of China in ancient time, Xining was the most common passing channel of the famous Silk Road. Until now, it is still the only road by which to enter the hinterland of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.
There are about 37 nationalities living here, including Han, Hui, Tu and Tibetan. The local traditions and customs are influenced by these distinctive nationalities, in particular the Tibetan group. That being said, there are a large amount of ethnically Muslim Han Chinese here (called the Huímín or literally “return folk”. While Han Chinese in ethnicity, they do disassociate themselves from regular Chinese in a few ways: the men wear little white hats, the women wear white shawls, they don’t drink alcohol and of course, and they don’t eat pork or meat, arguably Chinese peoples’ favorite meat.
Earlier 26 Aug, unfortunately, we spent a couple of hours driving out of downtown due to it is renovation everywhere in the city. After 1.5 hours driving on the highway to Qinghai Lake, I finally saw famous Qinghai lake which I heard before many times. Located in the northeast of the 4,500-metre-high Qinghai-Tibet plateau, Qinghai Lake is a blue mirror nestled between snowy mountains and grasslands. Measuring 4,400 square kilometers, it is the largest inland saltwater lake in China. Every summer, cool breezes sweep across the lake, where thousands of birds live in nearby wetlands. Yaks and sheep graze on the lakeside grassland. The scenery is as amazing as one can imagine.
Back in Xining city, we went to Ta'er Monastery (Kumbum Monaster) by another direction, just 30 min by driving. This is the first Tibetan Buddhism monastery I went. It is abounds in fascinating Buddhist stories as well as arts and crafts of superb workmanship. Kumbum Monastry, one of the two most improtant Tibetan Buddhist monasteries outside Tibet it self, is about 27 southwest of Xining. Set among flowing wheat fields and fertile hills, the Ta'er Monastery evokes an ambience of relaxation and meditation.
Kumbum Monastery, also called Ta'er Monastery, originated in 1379 from a pagoda, which marked the birthplace of Tsong Kha-pa, founder of the Gelugpa Sect in Tibetan people. The site covers around 400,000 square kilometers and is home to over 75o monks. The most famous items in this monastery are the "Three Treasures"-the yak butter sculpture called "Suyouhua". Made from yak butter, the sculptures bring to life Buddha, animals and flowers, varying from a few meters tall to less than a centimeter. To prepare for the grand butter sculpture show on the night of January 15 on the lunar calendar, the lamas must start working at least three months ahead. To prevent the butter from melting, they must work in sub-zero temperature and the sculptures are kept in giant glass boxes with air-conditioning after the show.
I need to thank my new friend in Dunhuang and Lanzhou, Mr. Lu helped me make such a memorable and interesting trip.