Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Along the silk road

Well, here we are in Dunhuang now preparing to leave.
From Kashgar we took a 23 hr bus (with cages of chickens and pigeons underneath the bus crapping on our bags) up to Urumqi. Urumqi is the provincial capital with nothing really of interest to us (it's claim to fame is as the world's furthest city from any ocean, over 2200km!) so 15 minutes later we were on another bus 3 hrs to Turpan. Turpan is china's hottest city so we were back up to 40C again for a few days. There are a few ruins around the town so we got a taxi for the day and drove around to see the ancient capital of the Uyghurs (1200 years old) and graves. 2 mummies were present, a first for us all except mom (she's a mummy expert apparently). Turpan is also a world famous grape growing area so lunch was up in a grape valley with open restaurants covered with vines and grapes hanging everywhere above us. Sweet. Lots of free fruit for lunch too.
I know UP in a valley sounds wierd but in this case it is true. Turpan is right at sea level but just outside town is a depression. It's 154m below sea level, the 2nd lowest spot on earth! Normally people don't go out to it but we did anyway (the joys of having your own wheels and not being on another Chinese tour). Okay, we have a new contender for the title of End of the World. Mom thinks it's the ugliest place on earth. It was cool but totally messed up because there are actually a few people living in a deserted town beside the lake digging random holes in the ground all over the place. The landscape is just a continuous upturned mess with salt at the bottom of the holes. The only green out there was a piece of broken bottle we drove by. Can't believe people were living out there. So depressing (Pun intended), but totally worth going to.
We also saw another set of ruins that were better but none of them were in really great shape. Our day also included a trip to a museum about wells. Okay, I know what you're thinking but our trip has not suddenly gotten very boring. The irrigation system here, known as Karez, is one consisting of wells and underground reservoirs and canals unique to this part of China. There are over 160,000 wells and 5000km of canals above and below ground (some as low as 90m below the surface). The best part is that this system has been going on for 2000 years already and we were able to walk along a 1200 year old canal 10 m below the surface! It's the best way to conserve water in such a hot and harsh environment.
The food in Turpan was so cheap too. The girls were eating ice cream cones for 6 cents! A big plate of veggie and meat noodles (like a local pasta) was only 5 Y each, about 65 cents US.
From Turpan we took off on another sleeper bus to Dunhuang. That was only 14hrs I think. The best/worst part about these buses is the movies. Old Chinese Jackie Chan movies are awesome! All the rest are so pathetic it's comical.
Dunhuang is in a different province so we are now back in the Chinese part of China where we can use our 10 words of Mandarin again. Dunhuang is another silk road town with lots of ruins and stuff nearby but the main attraction is the Mogao caves and old carvings and art inside them. There are also some huge sand dunes just outside of town. Unfortunately, we have heard a lot of mixed reports about Dunhuang and it's attractions and I am inclined to agree with the more negative ones. Of all the places in China it is becoming the biggest tourist trap it seems. Everywhere around here advertises tourist information available but whenever you try to ask a question nobody speaks English so can't tell you anything. Go figure.
We've met a bunch of people that have been ripped off here and the entry fees to the sites are pretty much the highest in the country with relatively little to show. Maybe we've just seen too much lately to compare it to. So we've actually done nothing here but eat. Yesterday we got on bikes and rode out to the sand dunes. Yeah they are cool but it's a Disneyland show out there. They've actually tried to fence off a huge portion of the sand dunes so they can charge you to get in. Inside they have tons of camels, paragliding, sandboarding and ATVs. The place is swarming with Chinese tourists (red-hat tours as we've come to call them) with megaphones and trams driving them around the sand. Wow! While we were standing there shaking our heads we were met by some other Westerners who felt the same way and we set off along the fence to find another way in, just to touch the sand. At one point, one of the guys crawled under the fence and got up the dunes but the rest of us were stopped by park security. The guard was actually pretty good about it and the whole thing turned into a rather funny incident for us all. But we never did get to the sand...... I'm glad we got to see some unspoilt sand dunes in Mongolia.
So we've decided to leave tonight instead of tomorrow. Another overnight bus, this time straight south to Golmud where we will stay just long enough to get permits for Tibet (fingers crossed) and then head directly to Lhasa. I think I am ready to leave China and am looking forward to a change in scenery. Something green would be nice but I think we'll have to settle for mountains instead....
PS. If anyone is still reading this and doesn't know about the pictures go to


At 2:12 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

you left me!!!!


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