Ancient Silk Road History
Jiayuguan Travel Blog› entry 322 of 658 › view all entries
People I met here who contributed to, and improved my trip: Julia (Russia), Portia (USA)
The journey across to Jiayuguan had been reasonably comfortable, as far as sleeping on a train goes. It was 07.20 when we disembarked and the 3 of us made our way to the ticket office, to try and buy onward seats to Dunhuang for 2 days later. Surprisingly the train that we wanted to travel on had been cancelled, which poses the question, why bother build the line there in the first place? The only other trains that ran to Dunhuang all left in the middle of the night and were quite useless to us, therefore we took a taxi to the bus station and bought our tickets from there.
Julia and I stayed at a decent hotel in the centre, where 100RMB ($13) bought us an en-suite double room with tv, which was pretty good value by Chinese standards. Portia got taken elsewhere, needing a little more luxury, after slumming it with us on the train :) Once we had all checked in, showered and made ourselves presentable again, Portia came around in the taxi we had used to get from the train station, to pick us up and then head off sightseeing.
The plan was to visit the four most famous sights in the region and our driver Chao had agreed to take us around them for 150RMB ($22), which also included the pick up from the train station and waiting time at each destination. I'm not sure that he realised how long we would spend at each site when he signed up for this job!
We made a quick stop at a restaurant for a Chinese breakfast buffet (10RMB/$1.
The museum proved to be a very good introduction to the site, and Portia also hired a tour guide to explain the significance and relevance of what we were looking at. Tomb 6, that we would be entering, was for a husband and wife and the coffin lids were on display, painted with interesting colours and scenes, it was a very impressive sight.
Sadly there were no photographs allowed at the tombs, mainly due to the ignorance of the curator, who for some reason believed that non-flash photography damaged the paintings. Ironically, they deemed it acceptable to have lighting on them, go figure.
The tombs were constructed by either digging into the ground and hollowing out the space, or by digging a huge hole, constructing the tomb and then filling it in after it had been completed. Tomb 6 was built by the latter method, with a large flight of stairs leading down into 3 chambers.
The entrance to the first chamber had a doorway that was surrounded by beautifully painted murals. After the deceased had been buried, the long chamber had been filled with sand to seal the entrance. Entering the 10m high first chamber, i was captivated by the vividness of the paintings that were on the wall, it looked like they were painted yesterday.
The first two chambers contained paintings depicting scenes of everyday life, with the right hand side dedicated to the woman and the left hand side to the man. Camels, horses, buffalo, chickens, pigs and humans could all be clearly made out. Some scenes of sacrificing animals were drawn out in comic book format, reading around the wall. There were also scenes of silk production on mulberry trees, showing the importance of the area.
Two layers of bricks came from the side of the wall, which represented the eaves of a two story house. Under these were paintings of birds, which portrayed them living under the roof of the house. There were a couple of holes in both sides of the wall and this is where the belongings of the couple would have been placed. Judging by the painted scenes and decoration withing the tomb, it can be determined that the pair belonged to the low ranking nobility.
The third and final room was where the coffins had been discovered and this room was the least decorated, which i found surprising. The reason behind this, is that the tomb was laid out to represent a house The first chamber symbolised the garden, the second the living room and the third the bedroom. Families would normally have all their precious belongings located in view of visitors, whilst their bedroom would be much more low key.
Although the tomb was considered quite small, i found it a real pleasure to look around. I was obviously disappointed not to be allowed to take photographs, but hoped that the images could stay as clearly in my head, as they had remained throughout the millenia on the walls.
Our next stop would be at the end of the Great Wall, which was considered by the Chinese as the end of civilisation, after which only nomadic tribes and bad lands could be encountered.
Situated next to a magnificent canyon, the remains of a turret and crumbling wall could be seen, disappearing into the horizon. The wall itself looked original and although it wasn't anything memorable on its own, when you saw it in the location it was in and realised its historical and symbolic significance, it took on a different appearance in your mind.
Having studied the crumbling ruins close up, we walked down to a recreation of the fort that had been there and crossed a shaky little bridge over the canyon. We enjoyed the place in solitude and only saw some other people arriving as we were making our way around to some statues located on the edge of the site.
The sun was really beating down on us and it was a relief to get back to the taxi and turn the air conditioning on. Disappointingly it wasn't far to our next destination, the Overhanging Great Wall. For anyone who has seen the real deal in Beijing, this place comes as a bit of a disappointment, as the wall is fully reconstructed from mud and the views pale in comparison, but it still made for an interesting sweaty stop along the way.
Our final destination for the day was Jiayuguan Fort, constructed in 1372 by the Ming dynasty. The defensive battlement was constructed with an ingenious system that helped defeat invaders.
Some cold drinks and ice creams were bought at the entrance and it took almost 3 hours to wander around the magnificent complex. Walls towered into the sky and gigantic gateways made you feel like a hobbit. I began to wonder how i would have felt approaching such a place, probably a little bit apprehensive, to say the least.
On top of the wall, there was the chance to fire a bow and arrow at some dummies below and Julia proved to be a crack shot, as she shot the hat off one of the men! Portia and i both tried, but failed miserably, so Portia cheered herself up by going for a camel ride into the desert!
As China works on a one time policy (Beijing time), Jiayuguan has very light evenings, so by the time we made it back to Portia's hotel at 18.
The nearby night market seemed the best option for Dinner, so we found a little table and ordered sticks of barbecued meat, warm bread, dumplings and beer. After some time a friendly Chinese man called Li Je Li began to talk to us. He was drinking hard liquor and was clearly a little intoxicated, but i could relate to this, so held no pre-judgments of him. He proved to be a great source of entertainment, as he sang us songs and pulled out English words that would suggest that he had not simply self taught himself from a book and CCTV9!
It had been a long day and the 3 of us finally decided to call it a night around 23.