Deserts and Defenses

After an early breakfast this morning in Jiayuguan, I set out for the Great Wall and the town’s ancient fort, which traditionally marked the western edge of China.  It’s not possible to reach these sites by public transportation, so I had to hire a cab for a half day.  Fortunately, I got an early enough start that I was the first tourist at the wall today, and I didn’t have to deal with any crowds at all.  The climb to the top of the hill was pretty tough in the morning heat already, though.  As I was up there shooting a couple of photos, the soldier seen in the picture above wheezed his way up to the guard tower.   From the wall, I went to the Jiayuguan Fort, which sits in a strategic position at the mouth of the Hexi Corridor, the valley through which I’ve been traveling for the past few days.  It was impressive, but a bit touristy.  Both of these sites were restored about 25 years ago, and I wonder how they looked before.

I spent the entire afternoon on a bus, and arrived in Dunhuang in time for dinner.  This seems like a great town, and I’m really looking forward to spending the next few days in the area.

Here are the pictures:

It might not look like it, but it's a tough climb to the top.

The well-worn steps in the guard tower

The wall in this part of China was built from mud and rammed earth, so it doesn't quite look like the wall in the photos that most of us have seen. If you look really closely, you can see a man polishing a sign post to the left of the tower.

Maybe this is a dumb question: Isn't the ridge enough of a natural barrier already?

I hadn't realized that caravans still traveled in these parts. The merchants seem pretty friendly, too.

Farmland and desert meet pretty abruptly in this region. You can see the wall in the background.

The forecourt to the Jiayuguan Fort. All goods traveling in and out of China along the Silk Road passed through this point.

The general's quarters were in the buildings in the foreground (not much of a view form there, though).

From the Chinese perspective, the civilized world ended at this fort.

I rode the bus through the Gobi Desert today, on my way to the next destination, Dunhuang. At one point, these mountains suddenly became sand dunes. I'll visit these over the next couple of days, so you'll see plenty of pictures of them soon.

the other side of the bus faced nothing but open desert for long stretches, only interrupted by huge wind farms and their associated electrical towers.

you can see my fresh hand pulled noodles being prepared by the guy on the right.

My dinner: hand-pulled noodles with a variety of vegetables, and chicken. The noodles were incredible, and cooked to perfection. This was much more similar to an Italian meal than anything I thought I'd get out here.

Dunhuang has a really mediterranean atmosphere with a network of pedestrian streets that are set up for al fresco dining.

The religious history of the region pokes out in different places. This area was once an important Buddhist pilgrimage site, then Islam swept through, and then the Communists. Each left very different architectural marks.

The first minarets I've seen so far.

5 thoughts on “Deserts and Defenses

  1. Your climb up the great wall does look difficult. It reminded me of climbing the last pitch up to MT Washington–you look up and it seems so close, but it actually would take another hour of climbing.

    Your dinner today did look delicious.

    Can’t wait for tomorrow’s blog!

  2. Look like there were some pretty neat vistas of the Great Wall along the way. You also made me pretty hungry with all the talk of hand pulled noodles and what not. Somehow I don’t think that Ding How would offer me anything remotely similar. Now I’m just going to have to travel to China to satiate my hunger. Thanks alot!

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