On the Silk Road

On now out of Mongolia and back across the Chinese border. Spent a night in Hohhot and had a gander at the Indian influenced five-tired Wuta Pagoda, home to the only Mongolian star chart ever found.

Wuta Pagoda

Wuta Pagoda

Via Lanzhou I took a couple days to explore Xiahe, a Tibetan town home to the leading monastery outside of Lhasa and home to over 1200 monks. The Labrang Monastery is one of the “big 6” of the Gelugpa “Yellow Hat” sect of Buddhism.



Unbeknownst to me, this town has been off limits for foreigners until recently because of protests that took place in March and I had to be among the first to visit. China severly limited access to Tibetan areas in the buildup to the Olypmics much to my dismay.

I walked the 3 km kora (pilgrim route) around the monastery and peeked in on chanting and meditation sessions. Prostrating brightly dressed pilgrims were abundant walking the route and spinning prayer wheels.

One of the workers at my hostel took me to meet his friends at the local watering hole. Interesting evening of singing, dancing, and what converstation we could manage. The Tibetans proceded to tell me how badly China is treating them, pantoming hitting each on the head and cocking guns.

The next series of bus rides was long and uncomfortable but scenic. One leg I shared a seat next to a rather wide monk and I think we were the biggest on the cramped bus. I had time to step off at Zhangye, where Marco Polo stayed a year to write, and see the world’s largest reclining Buddha at 35 meters long:

I arrived finally to Jiayuguan (at the recommendation from some Chinese on the train out of Ulaanbaatar). This city is a major destination on the Silk Road and the start of what I’ll consider my Silk Road leg.

The Silk Road is more accuratley the Silk Routes and were “important paths for cultural and technological transmission by linking traders, merchants, pilgrims, monks, soldiers, nomads and urban dwellers from China to the Mediterranean Sea for thousands of years.” The routes stretched from Turkey to the then Chinese capital in present day Xi’an. My route will take the branch down through Pakistan to India.

The fort here is effectively the western most stronghold of the Chinese Silk Road and guards a pass between the snow-capped Qilian Shan mountains and the Hei Shan “Black Mountians.” Its the start of the Great Wall in the west and also known as the “First and Greatest Pass Under Heaven.” It was built in 1372 Ming Dynasty.

Jiayuguan Fort

Jiayuguan Fort

Marco Polo traveled this way and described this outpost. Quite excited for this leg since I have an interest in the history here. Its easy to feel as if you are a traveler of old. With that I’ll leave you with this gem:

\"Thou shalt not pass\"

Thou shalt not pass


#1 Carleen Ben on 03.14.09 at 10:47 PM

ah~ah~! so u survived the 7 hour ride on this dinky bus and made ur way to Xiahe…haha…I remember my ride was packed with flocks of sheep, men smoking nonstop, and was lucky enough to sit next to a woman who was puking thruout the entire ride…how i will never forget that lovely scent…haha…definitely one of my most memorable stops on the Silk Road…#1 being Kashgar in Xinjiang province, but i guess u didnt make it out that far…=( oooo,oooo, and those Yak burgers!! please tell me u had one!! they were the bomb! not so much a fan of that nasty yak butter tea…urk*

OMG…i am soooo seriously ready to go on my next expedition!! but i dont think id be able to do it all alone…i mean its a loooong trip and its always nice to know someone is there if needed…man ur good!

#2 tbell on 03.17.09 at 8:17 PM

Carleen! I certainly did make it to Kashgar and, yes, yak burgers are delicious.

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