Thursday, 19 May 2011

The light at the end of the tunnel...

Long time no see blogspot. Nothing has been happening recently really hence no real need to update... however teaching is fast approaching its end (three weeks left, HURRAH!) and we’re now beginning to finalise our plans for summer adventuretime, so I thought I should share with you all where we’re planning on heading.



 Around June 18th, we will begin our whirlwind 7 week tour of Western and North Western China. First stop: Chongqing. We’re only planning on a couple of nights in the ‘sweat city’, purely to get in some spicy Sichuanese food and experience the only city in China that could possibly be muggier than Nanjing. We’ve heard that Chongqing is like Hong Kong on acid... so, great! It will take us a good 26 hours by train to get here, so we’ll be in need of some excitement...

 Our second stop will be a mere two hours away from Chongqing, at Sichuanese capital Chengdu. Iain doesn’t seem as bothered about this destination as I am, mainly because my motivation to visit is fuelled by furry black and white bears... Only stopping again for a couple of nights, we’re going to say hello to Mr. Panda at the conservation site, have a wander around the much prettier city and get in some more tasty Sichuanese grub. Then it will be onto our next, and last, stop in Sichuan...





Jiuzhaigou! At the very north of the province, this is one of the top tourist destinations in China (sadly) and will no doubt be packed, but it is well deserving of its popularity. A huge nature reserve, we will spend a day or two there depending on entrance fees – apparently it’s pretty steep! – hanging around with the lakes, mountains and birds, as you do. The BBC did a documentary about China a while ago that covered this particular area, and hopefully despite the crowds it will live up to our expectations...




After saying goodbye to Sichuan we’ll head up to Gansu province, first stop Langmusi. The whole journey will be taken by little bus journeys through Songpan and Zoige, and may take a day or more. But the route is supposedly tip top scenery-wise, so it should make up for our cramped legs. This town is actually split between Sichuan and Gansu provinces, right through the centre of the area, but as we’re heading north, for us it’s going to count as Gansu. Aside from its split personality, Langmusi is known for Tibetan monasteries and their ‘sky burials’, aside from being crazily beautiful. We’ll finally be away from the crowds and be free in the countryside... bliss. From Langmusi onwards our travels take us as far as you can possibly get from Han China (the majority ethnicity in China). Take that to mean whatever you like...!



 From Langmusi we will journey on to Xiahe, famed for being the location of the Labrang Monastery. This is one of the most important Tibetan monasteries outside of Tibet itself, and we’ll be definitely making a visit to the site. Other activities will include lots of sighing at the beautiful scenery and (if I can persuade Iain) maybe one of my usual horse rides on a poor creature way too small for me and too exhausted to move. We’re expecting to find Langmusi and Xiahe temptingly relaxing and welcoming, but we’ll try to keep our wits about us and move on from each after three days or so.



 After Xiahe we will head back into big city territory and go to meet Xining, the capital of Qinghai province. This is kind of a quick stop over, just to make a short cut through Qinghai to get straight to northern Gansu, no frills attached. It should be interesting to see the growing mix of ethnicities as we work our way north, even if we will be glad to get out of the city life again only a couple of nights after we arrive. There’s a fairly sizeable Hui (Muslim) community as well as Tibetan, all nicely mixed in with the Han majority...




Next stop will be back into Gansu province, with one of our most anticipated stops: Jiayuguan. This is the spot famous both for being a part of the Silk Road and the Great Wall of China – the end of the civilised world as considered by past Chinese dynasties. Our main excitement is to see the old parts of the Great Wall, surrounded by the desert and the obligatory camels. We may also venture out into the desert for some exciting activities...



 From there we will venture onwards to Dunhuang, another highlight of our current plans. Dunhuang is an oasis in the middle of the desert, but not only does it look spectacular completely isolated in the sand, but it also is the jumping-off spot to visit the Mogao caves. These Buddhist caves were intricately carved and painted in the 4th century, which are protected these days but in previous times suffered a lot of looting (shifty looks for us Europeans...) We’ll probably stay here at least three or four days purely for the oasis living...




From Dunhuang we leave Gansu and approach our final destination: Xinjiang. This is the province both me and Iain are most excited about visiting, and our first city stop will be Turpan. It is supposed to be fairly touristy, with a nearby town called Jiaohe boasting an ancient ruins site, but it will be a great introduction to the northwest of China. We’re going to wander around the city and make all the necessary day trips out within four days before heading out into the wild Wild West... Kashgar.



 Kashgar is a good two days train ride away from Turpan, but it will definitely, definitely be worth the pain of the long journey. It is the place I’m most excited about, simply because it will be the least ‘Chinesey’... We’re also planning to spend the longest time here out of all our destinations, maybe even getting on for a whole week. This is because there is a very, very exciting road trip out from the city on the KKH Highway, from which you can stay overnight at the Karakul lake.



After spending a couple of nights in a ger in Mongolia, I can’t wait to do it all again in another jaw-droppingly stunning location... Also in Kashgar itself we’ll be visiting some of the mosques, old town buildings as well as the bazaars of course for some retail therapy. We purposefully planned to visit Kashgar as close to the end of our trip as possible so we’d have more of an idea of how much money and time we would have left before having to get back for our flights home, and we’re hoping that we will be rewarded for our advance loyalty.




Then our last destination: Urumqi. Our last stop will only be for one night, just to have a brief peek at the city before getting the two day train back to Shanghai. We’ve not heard the best things about Urumqi... that it’s been overrun by the Han and it hasn’t retained much of its heritage, being just another ‘big Chinese city’, so we won’t linger. And judging by the photograph, it will probably be a good idea.


And finally, 7 weeks after we left for our adventures, we will be heading from Urumqi back to Shanghai. We’ll probably spend a couple of days back on the east coast, getting last minute Chinese stationary and various other types of crap, and preparing ourselves for our flights (BA flights nonetheless!) back to the UK on August 8th. Adios Chinalands!