If at some point in the future, I am given the opportunity to go back to Lanzhou, I think that I will politely decline. Perhaps I was in a bad mood last night, but the “most polluted city in the world” did not leave me with pleasant memories. The air gave me an asthma flair-up, and the night market was a complete disappointment. However, I only spent one night there, and today was a great day.
I’m now in Zhangye (pronounced Jong-yeh), a much smaller city of about 300,000 people. I took the train here this morning, and passed through some incredible landscape, including a section with towering snow-capped peaks in the distance, and rugged desert in the foreground. Unfortunately, snapping photos out the window of a moving train does not yield good results, so you’ll have to use some imagination, and just believe me when I tell you that it was amazing. While yesterday’s train was full of sleeper coaches, today’s only had Amtrak-style cars. My car turned into a raucous get-together by the end of the trip. There were kids running around, and climbing all over the seats, five different cell phones blasting Chinese pop music at full blast (competing with the traditional vocal music that was blasted over the loudspeakers), and even conductors who walked up and down the train trying to sell random goods (belts, toys, towels, and assorted other items). I was also somewhat of an attraction and conversation piece in the crowded aisles. Staring out the window when I could I was able to see my first camel of the trip (didn’t have the camera out), and caught a glimpse of the Great Wall (although as you’ll see in the image below, it didn’t look so great).
The weather upon arrival in Zhangye was absolutely perfect. It’s dry here, and I’m able to sleep with the window open. It’s the first time since arriving in China that I’ve felt smog-free. I’m looking forward to getting out into the countryside to enjoy more of the weather tomorrow. I’m planning on hiking around a Buddhist monastery that was built into the side of a cliff. Then, I’ll spend one more night here before heading to jiayuguan, which is the next oasis along the Silk Road. Marco Polo spent a year in Zhangye, but it looks like I’ll be out of here after two nights.
Here are a bunch of photos from the last two days (apologies for the blurry out-the-window shots):
Xi’an to Lanzhou:
Lanzhou to Zhangye: