On the Silk Road trail – Lanzhou, Qinghai, Dunhuang, China – Part 1


Taken from Wikipedia:

The Silk Road, or Silk Route, is a series of trade and cultural transmission routes that were central to cultural interaction through regions of the Asian continent connecting the West and East by linking traders, merchants, pilgrims, monks, soldiers, nomads, and urban dwellers from China to the Mediterranean Sea during various periods of time.[1]

It has always been fascinating to me how the Silk Road was crossed back in the ancient times. Imagine that you have to be traveling on the road for at least 3 years at any stretch and that you will have to plod through the deserts. It must have taken a lot of willpower and resolve to get through with the journey. I personally wanted to get a feel of what the desert is like, so when i saw that Michael of Xing-Asia is organizing a trip on the Silk Road trail, i jumped at the chance.

Our journey begins in Lanzhou for an 8 day trip. Lanzhou is the capital and the largest city within the Gansu Province. It is an old but significant city as the Yellow River flows through it from the west to the east. Our first stop in Lanzhou is of course, to visit the Yellow River. My first impression upon seeing the river was that… it really IS Yellow! And being an old city, there are still many water wheels visible along the river. These are being used to irrigate water from the river to the farms back in the old days.

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One of the interesting things about Lanzhou folks is that they actually made rafts out of sheep skin. The rafts were being used as a means to ferry goods and people down the river. Michael and a few other tour members actually took a ride down the river on the sheep skin raft! However this did made me think: Given that the flow of the river is very strong, it meant that the trips are often one-way. If the ancient folks used this method to travel downstream, does that mean they have to walk back upstream??

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The second day, it was time to head to Qinghai Lake. On the way to Qinghai Lake, we passed by the Kumbum Monastery in Xining. The monastery was huge and lots of monks practiced there. The history behind the monastery was that Tsongkhapa was born nearby and his mother built a small temple at the site of his birthplace. Throughout the years, the temple grew into a monastery and become really huge. In any case, it was an important site for religious studies and the monastery looks nice.

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Once we’re done touring the monastery, we head on west to Qinghai Lake. We reached Qinghai Lake just before evening, so we wandered around waiting for the sun to set. The view of Qinghai Lake is fantastic, with a very cooling weather as we’re high up in the mountains, about 2800m above sea level.

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The sun actually sets quite late in Gansu and Qinghai Provinces, at ard 8pm – 9pm, so it was quite a long wait. Unfortunately for us, sunset wasn’t fantastic, as it was quite cloudy and foggy, so i didn’t manage to get any pictures of the setting sun. However, just after the sun has set, the moon rises! And it was quite a full moon.


Finally we’re done with our second day as we head for dinner and back to our hotel to rest up. Early next morning, we carried on heading west to a place known as the Chaka Salt Lake. On the way, we passed by beautiful grass fields on the Qilian Mountain Range. It was so beautiful that we had to stop and looked around the place.

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Upon reaching the Chaka Salt Lake, we realized that the lake is huge, measuring up to a total of 105 square kilometers. There is enough salt there for the consumption of the world’s population for more than 160 years!

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After visiting the Chaka Salt Lake, it’s time for a long road journey along the Qilian Mountains to Dunhuang and we have to stop in the middle somewhere for the night. The whole road journey is very long for this trip and we spent a lot of the time traveling in the bus. But since China is so big, i guess we have no other choice about it.

Once we reached Dunhuang area, the first stop was the Dunhuang Yardang National Geopark. The park was full of landforms that shows the Yardang geological feature of the area. On the day that we’re there, the park guide told us that it was the hottest day of the year, at 38°C!! Despite the high temperature, the whole area was actually very windy and it doesn’t feel hot when the wind is blowing. I actually sweat lesser over there than in the humid heat of Singapore.

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On the way out of Yardang National Geopark, we stopped by another interesting spot. That spot was Yumen Pass, also known as Jade Gate. In ancient times, this was a pass through which the Silk Road passes through, and was the one road connecting Central Asia and China. In other words, this is the Customs Office of ancient China! Whoever wants to cross the border of China will have to go through the pass.

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And so…. that’s it for Part 1 of my Silk Road trail. Stay tuned for Part 2!

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