Xi'an to Xiahe


We left Xi'an on April 10th, on a cold and rainy morning and headed to "the little town of Xianyang, population 4,730,000" (sic Lonely Planet), half an hour's drive from Xi'an. In 1965, or before the discovery of the Terracotta warriors, a Han dynasty tomb (approx. 200 BC to 200 AD) was discovered as well as 3000 miniature terracotta soldiers. These are housed in a small museum cum temple. The 3000 soldiers were discovered intact. On several of them, the original paint was still visible. We were the only visitors that day and to see this fascinating legacy from the past was memorable for both of us. Unfortunately, no pictures were allowed.


On our way West, between Xi'an (capital of Shaanxi Province) and Lanzhou (capital of Gansu Province), we stopped next to a 50 m Buddha. 50 years ago, they decided to build a temple around it to protect it. Because of "military reasons", we were not allowed to drive straight to Lanzhou along the pretty good condition national way 312. The Americans are able to take pictures of objects smaller than 10 cm with their spy satellites but we are not allowed to drive on one of the main roads in China (national way 312 starts just out of Shanghai on the west coast and goes all the way to the border with Kazakhstan some 4000 km west). This probably added another 500 to 700 km to our journey.


The traditional Chinese bicycle



Ningxia Province (Capital Yinchuan, Pop. 5.2 million, area 66,000 sq KM)
April is low tourist season in this part of China. We are the only "foreign devils" around in an area that doesn't see many at all. After a night spent in our tent at -10 C, just outside a guesthouse, our car will not start. After having been pulled into the street by a truck (what else will pull a 4.2 liter diesel engine), a crowd quickly gathers as we lower the tent. Our detour from the direct road means we head into the mountains and into the snow for the first time. We drive over the Lindang Shan plateau, the 2nd highest in China after Tibet. We also drive through one of the more remote and forgotten (if not unknown) provinces of China : Ningxia Province. By the way, none of you (and none of us) had noticed the mistake made in the previous update (except Louis DR). The area of each province should be sq. km, not square meters.. Nevertheless, there are lots of people nearly everywhere and crowds of curious and bemused people will gather as soon as we stop anywhere. When the sun comes out, this area of China gives us splendid views of cultivated areas in the mountains. 



Gansu Province (Capital Lanzhou, Pop. 24 million, area 450,000 sq km)
"A rugged, barren province consisting mostly of deserts and mountains, Gansu has long been a poor and forgotten backwater controlled only loosely by Beijing. Nonetheless it has played an important role in Chinese history." This where our journey along the ancient silk road really starts. This long and elongated province is home to a string of oasis towns through which traders passed. Buddhism arrived in China through the silk road and the Gansu Province is full of caves and grottoes with sculpted Buddhas. In the beginning of this century, several co

it was the Gansu is also home to the last post of the great wall, the most Western tip of what was meant to halt the Mongolians. In Gansu Province, for the first time, we see that China is not only inhabited by Chinese. As we drive to Xiahe to visit the Labrang Tibetan monastery (Gansu province borders Tibet) we drive through Muslim villages and Chinese style mosques.  



Labrang Monastery Bingling Si Buddhist caves

We are doing well !

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