4 to 5 weeks riding the historical Silk Road through the Taklamakan and Gobi deserts. Man, I love the sound of that! One of the reasons I was so interested in coming to China to teach English was the large amounts of vacation every year. Typically, there is one month of vacation in winter spread between January and February, and then 2 months in summer over July and August. I took advantage of the winter break to do some great cycling in amazing Vietnam. Then came the decision of what to do with my summer break.
Often times I find that the most difficult decisions are made when there is a lot to choose from. And there certainly was a lot of different options to choose from, but in the end there really was only one choice. It was the route I had first thought of when I imagined China and all of the amazing places to see here. The next decision then was route, and it didn’t take very long before I settled on the 2000 kilometer west-to-east stretch between Urumqi (pronounced Oo-lu-moo-chi) and Lanzhou (Lan-joe).
The Silk Road is really a network of roads that were used by traders to carry goods back and forth from China to central and west Asia, and beyond to Europe. These are the roads travelled by Marco Polo on his journeys from Europe to China in search of trade in that most valuable and sought after commodity: silk! Specifically, Chinese silk, from which the network of roads gets their name.
My route will take me through some of the most beautiful and unique places that China, and in some cases, the world, has to offer. Some highlights of the trip will include the 2500-year-old city of Turpan. Situated in the northeast part of the Taklamakan desert, Turpan is home to the Flaming Mountains: the hottest place in China where temperatures can reach as high as 48 Celsius in summer, and the red rock of the aptly named mountains, that absorb so much of the great heat, glow and shimmer with extreme surface temperatures of up to 70 degrees Celsius. Here also I will explore some of the many vineyards and sample some of the sweet desert grapes that this area is famous for. In addition, just beyond the eastern edge of the city is an area of massive sand dunes that should make for some great photos.
One of the highlight areas of the entire trip is the city of Dunhuang. Here I plan to take advantage of some camel trekking to see some of the amazing things that the area has to offer, such as Mingsha Mountain, known as Echoing Sand Mountain for the constant sound of shifting sand; Mogao Grottos, a large series of Buddhist caves, the first of whicch was chiseled around 1700 years ago, and is home to a treasure trove of well preserved Buddhist art work and relics; and the beautiful Yueya Spring, a beautiful crescent of clear blue water standing boldly in the midst of a sea of advancing sands.
Some other highlights include Jiayu Pass, the western gate of the Great Wall of China; the great grasslands and mountains of southern Gansu province; and last but not least, the magical Rainbow Mountains which have to be seen to be believed. And even then many can’t believe their eyes aren’t fooling them, such is the incredible beauty of this natural phenomenon of colored rocks and hills. If time and fortune shine on me I may even have the good fortune to spend a couple of nights living in a yurt with a traditional nomadic family and do some horseback riding.
These are just a few of the many wonders it will be my pleasure to share with you over a 4 to 5-week period in July and August. I hope you will all ride along and join me for this great adventure.
See you out there.