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Beastly Blog
Thursday, 27 January 2005
China or bust
Jinghe (China) ? Urumqi ? Turpan ? Hami ? Dunhuang - Jiayuguan ? Zhangye ? Wuwei ? Lanzhou

15th January ? 27th January 2005

We drove into China along the old Silk Road and climbed up through the valley of flowers past honey and pollen sellers through the Bhorohoro Shan mountains and past a lake high up on the plateau. We stopped in Jinghe in one of the best 2 star hotels we have ever stayed in. For a measly 110 Yuan (#6.50) you get a room for two with TV, kettle, toothbrush, comb, shampoo and breakfast. Dinner was even cheaper at 60 Yuan for 5 of us - #3!

We chugged our way on to Urumqi (pronounced Oo-rum-chi), the Xinjiang state capital. Historically the region of Xinjiang was part of East Turkestan and so has a very diverse culture with Urygur (muslims), Han (Chinese) and Hun populating the area. Public posters are written in Urygur and Chinese. We went out to indulge in a light dinner and after asking what their specials were we were told ?the shrimp is good as is the dog??

Steven (Jimmy?s colleague) and Jimmy showed us the highlife of Urumqi. We dined in one of the finest restaurants in Urumqi, played electronic Mah Jong and watched one of the best bands in the province. We visited the city museum full of dessicated corpses from the ancient cities on the Silk Road, the Uygur market with the Chinese medicine stalls, carpet shops as well as Samari sword sellers. We were also treated to some Chinese Karaoke from Jimmy and some bad English Karaoke from Tom, Greg, Adriano and Alexis!

Tom and Alexis went to see the pagoda perched on the top of the hill overlooking the town. The park had beautiful ice sculptures and all the Chinese lantern decorations were up for the Spring Festival/Chinese New Year. The trees had been decorated with tissue paper stuck onto the trees. Leading up to the pagoda there was a chain with hundreds of padlocks attached to it. Apparently couples and newly weds go to the top to attach the padlock in order to declare their undying love for each other.

From Urumqi we headed over a huge sandy orange mountain range to Turpan (Turr-pan) where the fluorescent green raisins are grown and dried in strange brick buildings. The ground temperature in the region has reached 83oC and air temperature 45oC. They receive about 19mm of rain every year? a really dry arid area. Just outside of Turpan is the ancient city of Jiague. This is a city that dates back 2,500 years and is constructed entirely out of the mudstone. There are houses, offices, temples and guard posts carved into the crumbling geology. It is a UNESCO site and there are signs all over the place to stop people littering and graffiting as well to stop doing the Chinese national pastime of spitting ? when you only have 19mm of rain per year a glob of spit can make a big difference to the rate of deterioration!

From Turpan we travelled to Hami (Ham ee) stopping off at the Kumtag desert to look at the beautiful sand dunes coated in a fine sprinkling of snow. The desert park has some amazing sand castles of famous musicians, historical sites and politicians.

From Hami we travelled to Dunhuang (Done-Hwang), famous for its dunes and the thousand Buddha caves. The dunes tower above the city and are slowly edging towards the town. There is supposed to a special singing from the dunes if you throw yourself down the hill, so Adrian and Tom has to try it but ended up looking more like stranded beetles than dune surfers with music emanating from the dunes. Dunhuang is most famous for the Thousand Buddha Caves () situated 15km outside of the town. There are nearly 500 caves all carved from the cliff face, each with their own different style featuring hundreds of Buddhas across the walls and dating from over 2,500 years ago. There is a giant Buddha towering over 5 storeys high encased in a beautiful pagoda at the site. Many of the artefacts including the stone and wooden Buddhas as well as paper documents dating back thousands of years were stolen and taken to the British Museum in the early 1900s. To be fair, this thievery has saved many of the very important documents of China?s history from being destroyed during the cultural revolution (instigated by Mao Zhadong to remove all cultural and religious icons from China) although we feel that they should maybe be returned to their original home.

From Dunhuang we voyaged along the bumpy, unfinished, with mud mounds blocking the road to stop you going on or into the drainage channels ?Super? highway to Jiayuguan (Ji you gwan) where the western end of the Great Wall starts. The wall was started in the Ming Dynasty to prevent the invasion of the infamous Genghis Khan from the north who created tyranny within the region for many years. The wall stretches from Jiayuguan to Beijing and was a mammoth task. The Chinese constructing the wall calculated the number of bricks needed to construct it. On completion of the wall at Jiayuguan there was one brick left which sits on a wall out of reach.

From Jiayuguan we passed through Zhangye (Zhan gyee) and Wuwei (Woo-wee) before reaching Lanzhou (Lan-zyou). The two thousand kilometres that we have travelled so far have been fairly uneventful with just one new squeak developing from somewhere that we can?t determine and realising that we are running out of lead replacement additive (next time we do anything like this we are taking a diesel, unleaded or LPG vehicle and not believing anyone about the availability of leaded petrol ? no one seems to know what is leaded and what isn?t!).

Just before a visit to carry out a health check on our monster at one of He Liang?s friends garage, our accelerator cable that we had mended in Kazakhstan, snapped again. Easily mended at the garage but getting there was the fun bit, with Adrian clutching at the cable with a pair of pliers to accelerate and Alexis negotiating through the treacherous Lanzhou roads to get to the garage. He Liang was a fantastic translator helping to explain all our needs and worries about our giant red baby! To say thank you to our garage mechanic friend we went to his friend?s restaurant. A fascinating place as it was also used on a monthly basis as an auction room for the sale of antiques, many of which adorned the walls. There were pots on shelves that were over 5,000 years old and pictures hung up for anyone to touch that were over #100,000. From there we went to a Tibetan bar where we were dragged into some Tibetan dancing and sat to recover with a glass of Yak milk.

As we speak we are just off to have an interview with the Lanzhou television crew which will only be transmitted to 5 million people, but tomorrow we have another television interview with the Ganshou Provicial Television crew who will transmit to more than the population of the UK? a cool 100 million people. We are superstars!!

Everywhere we have stopped, there has instantly been a crowd of interested smiling men clambering to look inside the Beast, all with intense stares at these strange foreigners invading their country. They all disperse quickly after one of them decides to test the strength of the tyres by kicking them and then setting off the alarm. People stop and stare in the street and cars overtake, stop and wait for us to pass to have a good look. We will have to get used to it as we have another 3,000 km to travel through China before reaching the Laos border. We could truly be considered a freak show here!


Chinese vehicles are special. They come in all shapes and sizes usually overladen with whatever product they are carrying. There are cyclists everywhere along with three wheeled motorbike pickups and taxis, motorbikes, pedestrians, tractors, lorries, horse drawn carts, people drawn carts and cars driving the wrong way down the road. You also have to avoid the shepherds herding their sheep and cattle along the road.

- China is developing trade links with the rest of the world at a very fast rate and has an economy that along with India is classified as the fastest growing in the world.

- China has no copyright laws so there are a lot of fake products for sale including cameras, antiques, cigarettes, even cars!

Posted by Alexis at 12:01 AM GMT
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