Silk Road Tour
Photo taken at Balikun Prairie, Xinjiang, China
Xian,served as the capital of 10 Chinese imperial dynasties,
was the starting point for ancient Silk Road.
The statue of Marc Aurel Stein (1862-1943). He was an explorer on the
Silk Road and also a key figure in the history of Dunhuang studies.
The Great Silk Road (or Silk Route) is a thread connecting two worlds - the West and the East, and two cultures - European and Asian. This region separating China from Europe and Western Asia is not the most hospitable one in the world. Much of it is taken up by the Taklimakan Desert (塔克拉瑪干沙漠).One of the most hostile environments on our planet. There is very little vegetation, and almost no rainfall; sandstorms are very common, and have claimed the lives of countless people. The locals have a very great respect for this “Land of Death”; few travellers in the past have had anything good to say about it. The climate in the region is harsh; in the summer the daytime temperatures are in the 40's, with temperatures greater than 50 degrees Celsius measured not infrequently in the basin of Turfan(吐鲁番). The land surrounding the Taklimakan Desert is equally hostile. To the northeast lies the Gobi Desert (戈壁沙漠), almost as harsh in climate as the Taklimakan Desert itself; on the remaining three sides lie some of the highest mountains in the world.
This ancient trade route starts in the old capitals of Luoyang (洛陽) and Xian(西安),reaches the Yellow River(黄河) at Lanzhou (蘭州), follows along the "Hexi Corridor"(河西走廊) and stretches along the edge of deserts and mountains. The trade route was never known as the Silk Road historically. Its name was given by a German geographer Ferdinand Richthofen, Baron Von (1833-1905). Before the discovery of the sea route to India, the Silk Road was the most important connection between the Orient and the West.
Qin Shi Huang(259BC-210BC), the First Emperor of China.
Heads of Terracotta Warriors
kneeling archer of Terracotta Warrior
We started our Silk Road journey from Xian(西安) and Lanzhou(蘭州), followed the “Hexi Corridor” (河西走廊) to Jiayuguan(嘉峪關), Dunhuang(敦煌), Hami(哈密), Turfan(吐魯蕃) and ended up at Urumqi(烏鲁木齊)
Here is a gist of the cities visited by us along the Silk Road:
(1)Xian(西安) is one of the Four Great Ancient Capitals of China because it has been the capital of some of the most important dynasties in Chinese history, including the Zhou(周), Qin(秦), Han(漢), Sui(隋), and Tang(唐) dynasties. Xian is the eastern terminus of the Silk Road and known as the site of the Terracotta Army(兵馬俑) made during the Qin Dynasty(秦朝). The city has more than 3,100 years of history, and its old name was known as Changan(長安).In Xian, we visited Old City Wall(西安古城墻), Big Wild Goose Pagoda(大雁塔),Xian Incident Site(西安事變遺址) ,Terracotta Warriors and Horses Museum(兵馬俑博物館) and Huaqing Hot Spring(華清池), once the favourite bathroom for the Tang Dynasty Concubine Yang Kui Fe(楊贵妃).
Lanzhou was a vital city on the Silk Road.It was a hub between
the Central China and the Western region countries.
Yellow Mother Sculpture in Lanzhou
(2)Lanzhou(蘭州) is the capital city of Gansu Province(江蘇省). Lanzhou used to be a key point connecting the central China and the western region as well as a vital city on the Silk Road. Today, Lanzhou is a hub of the Silk Road. Lanzhou is the only provincial city through which the Yellow River runs. We chose to roam along the Yellow River and to cross the First Bridge over the Yellow River. We walked up to a hill and had a bird’s eye view on Lanzhou City. The scenery was very beautiful.
Apart from Lanzhou(蘭州), we also visited Jiayuguan Pass(嘉峪關) and Dunhuang(敦煌) in Gansu Province. Jiayuguan Pass(嘉峪關) is the first pass at the west end of the Great Wall of China and was built during the Ming Dynasty(明朝). Among the passes on the Great Wall, Jiayuguan is the most intact surviving ancient military building. The Pass is also known by the name the "First and Greatest Pass Under Heaven" (天下第一雄關) ,which is not to be confused with the "First Pass under Heaven" (天下第一關), a name for Shanhaiguan(山海關) at the east end of the Great Wall near Qinhuangdao (秦皇島), in Hebei Province(河北省). The Pass was a key way-point of the ancient Silk Road.
Jiayu Great Wall Pass
Camels on the Silk Road
The structure of Jiayuguan Pass was initially built in 1372 and has a history of more than 600 years. It was not until 1539 that they became a complete defense system, which had three defense lines, the entrenchment, the outer wall, and the inner wall.
A legend says that when Jiayuguan Pass was to be built, the official in charge of this project asked the designer to count how many bricks and other materials would be used precisely. The designer gave him a specific number. But when the project was finished, only one brick was left which was placed on the Pass as a symbol of commemoration
Today Jiayuguan Pass is the most intact ancient military building preserved from all the passes on the Great Wall.
Double Apsaras made in Tang Dynasty at Mogao Grottoes,
art of Dunhuang , China.
Statues of Buddha at Mogao Caves, Dunhuang, China.
(3)Dunhuang(敦煌) is a historical city. It is world-renowned for its ancient arts and paintings well-preserved in the Mogao Caves(莫高窟) In ancient times, Dunhuang was the centre of trade between China and its western neighbours. At that time, Dunhuang was the most westernly frontier military garrison in China. With the flourishing of trade along the Silk Road, Dunhuang was prompted to become the most open area in international trade in Chinese history. It provided the only access westward for the Chinese Empire and eastward for western nationalities. Today, as a reminder of this historical area, we are left with the Mogao Caves(莫高窟)., Yangguan Pass(陽關), Yumenguan Pass(玉門關) and many wonderful Chinese poems depicting the time. Although what remains of the above-said two Passes are crumbling walls, one can still experience the atmosphere of that time while visiting in person.
Echo Sand Mountain (Mingsha Shan), Dunhuang, China.
Moon Spring at Hunhuang Gobi Desert, China.
Sand-Sledding at Echo Sand Mountain, Dunhuang.
During our visit in Dunhuang, we visited the breathtaking Mogao Caves and enjoyed camel ride at Mingsha Shan(鳴沙山,Echoing-Sand Mountain) and its Crescent Lake(月牙泉).Mogao Caves is an extensive collection of Buddhist Arts and Paintings. The site has its popular name “ the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas”.
Mingsha Shan(鳴沙山)is so named for the sound of the wind whipping off the dunes, the singing sand phenomenon. The Crescent Lake is within the Sand-Mountain. This lake is apparently an oasis surrounded by the highly sandy area composed of high dunes. At the dunes, a popular activity for tourists is to ride sleds down the sand slopes, much like snow-sledding during winter time. Su Lee tried such a sand-sledding, I merely took pictures for her.
Discovery Of The Sutra Cave On Silk Road
Magao Caves Art
Fly fiaries in Dunhuang Art
Today, Dunhuang is a typical tourist city, clean and beautiful. Because of its splendid stone caves, tourism has become an indispensable industry to Dunhuang City.
Dunhuang art consists of three major forms: painting, sculpture and architecture. Buddhist icons are the main theme represented in the Dunhuang caves, such as some Indian Flying Figures and a lot of Chinese Flying Fairies. There are a total of 735 caves but only 492 caves are available for public viewing. Visitors are divided into groups led by a Student of Dunhuang Studies College to visit 10 caves with full explanation.
In order to preserve the treasures of Dunhuang Arts and Paintings, the caves are always closed in darkness so as to avoid direct sunlight. We could only view those paintings,sculptures or architectures through a torch light.
Taklamakan Desert of Xinjiang
Heavenly Lake, the Tianchi of Xinjiang, China.
(4)Our next destination is Xinjiang(新疆). Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region is the biggest province in PRC. It is a large, sparsely populated area, spanning over 1.6 million km (comparable in size to Iran), which takes up about one sixth of the country's territory. While Xinjiang is famous for the ancient Silk Road, it is also home to 256 ancient cultural sites, tombs, ruins, Buddhist caves, stone sculptures and numerous contemporary monuments.
Xinjiang Hami Melon
Xinjiang is not only known as the land of fruits and melons, but also as the home to music and dance. When visiting Homes of Uygurs, one is often entertained by dancing and singing. In Xinjiang, we visited three cities, Hami, Turpan and Urumqi. Hami is famous for its water melon. We took 6 hours to travel by road along the Gobi Desert. We stayed one night in Hami and visited Muslim King ’s Mausoleum and Balikun Prairies. The latter is the second largest grassland in Xinjiang. This was a fresh experience for us. We took a lot of pictures there.
Jiaohe Ancient City
Turpan Grape Valley
We then proceeded to Turpan ( or Turfan吐魯番) It took 4 hours journey from Hami to Turpan. In Turpan, we visited the Flaming Mountain(火焰山), Turpan Grape-Yard(葡萄溝) , Jiaohe Old City(交河古城) and Kaochang Old City(高昌故城). The weather in Turpan is harsh, with very hot summer and very cold winter. It is considered as the hottest place in China. The highest temperature in summer is 55.3C,whereas the lowest in winter could be -38C. In Turpan, we visited Emim Minaret(also named Su Gong Ta 蘇公塔.). Emin Minaret was built in 1777 in honour of the heroic Turpan General, Emin Khoja. He was an outstanding patriot who defended the unification of China throughout his lifetime He had eight sons but the eldest son died at his early age. Influenced by Emin, all his remaining sons made contributions during the war against Jungar rebellions(准噶爾叛亂). It was Suleman, Emin's second son, who built this minaret with his own money. This is the reason why the minaret is also named Su Gong Ta (蘇公塔). Upon Emin's death, Suleman inherited his father's rank and became the second Turpan ruler.
Sheeps were grazing in the beautiful pasture land
Urumqi Erdaoqiao Market
City view of Urumqi, Xinjiang.
(5)Urumqi(烏魯木齊)is the capital of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region , China's most western province. The most "inland" city in the world - the furthest from any major coastal line. About 75 percent of its population are Han People (漢族) and only 10 percent each are Uygur(維吾爾族) and Hui People(回族). Urumqi is a city where multiethnic groups of people live . They are the Uygur(維吾爾族), Han(漢族), Hui(回族), Kazak(哈薩克族), Mongolian(蒙古族), Kirgiz (柯爾克孜族), Xibe(錫伯族), totally over 40 ethnic groups of people. The development of industry has resulted in considerable environmental pollution in the recent years.
Winter View of the Heavenly Lake (Tianchi)
Urumqi means "A beautiful Pasture land " in ancient Mongolian language used by the Junggar tribe (准噶爾蒙古語) around 2,000 years ago. It was once an important town on the new northern route of the Silk Road which made important contributions in promoting Sino-foreign economic and cultural exchanges. Because the northern route of the "Silk Road" passed through Urumqi, it became a heavily-guarded fort in Han Dynasty(漢朝) and remained so for centuries. But today, the city itself has few historical sites to offer tourists except the museum and Tianchi(天池).Tianchi , literally means "Lake of Heaven", is about 30 miles of Urumqi, at an elevation of 6,435 ft. above sea level. It is a beautiful highland lake, flanked by rugged pines and cypresses, and with clear waters that reflect the surrounding mountains. We paid a trip to Tianchi and also visited the homes of Kazak people(哈薩克族)..