Today the weather was good and I have walked a lot! I hiked from the hotel to the top of Lan Shan mountain here in Lanzhou, at an altitude of 500m, the mountain was behind the train station as in Xining. I was going to take the cable car to the top but it was packed and the hike didn’t seem to difficult so I have decided to climb the mountain – it must have taken about 2 hs. I expected it to be more difficul, but it was a lot easier than Grouse Mountain in Canada or Villarrica Volcano in Chile, perhaps because I was already in better physical shape compared to my first few weeks of travel. From below, the mountain looked very high, and from the top it looked even higher! The buildings seemed low and small, the city looked like a mock-up and the tiny cars and trains seemed like toys.
At the top there was an amusement playground and restaurants, all empty. It also had a nine-hole golf course and a drive range to practice the shots, where I played fifty balls.
Today was a rainy and cold day in Xiahe. I was going to Lanzhou and then to Bingling Si, but as Bingling Si was before Lanzhou I decided to change my route. I actually had to go to the city of Linxia, I was hoping to sleep there or in Bingling Si, or even in Liujiaxia.
The bus left early, I was talking to Vanessa on the bus, she was going to Lanzhou, after spending 8 months in India and now she was at the end of her trip. She was in doubt whether she was going to Xinjiang or Beijing with the little time she had left. The big bus was empty, had only five people and no one else went up, rare thing in China, I thought it could be full on the way, but it didn’t happen. The trip lasted about 5 hours.
The driver dropped me off in the middle of the road in Linxia, about 2:30hs from Xiahe, glad there were taxi and bus. I took a bus to the old bus station, but it was disabled, I then went to a terminal where I took another bus to Lianhwa. The bus was climbing a mountain passing through inland villages, dirt road, something unusual around here, the streets and roads are almost all paved, there were more beautiful landscapes such as canyon, mountains and finally the Yellow River, which this time was green.
In Lianhwa, I negotiated a motorized boat for USD 14.80 one way to Bingling Si and back to Matou, where there was nowhere to stay, so only Liujiaxia or Lanzhou left to sleep.
Typical landscape on the way to Bingling Si.
Bingling Si is where there is a statue of giant sitting buddha of 27m carved on the slope of the mountain, it means “Ten Thousand Buddhas” in Tibetan. The boat ride along the Yellow River to the buddha is fantastic, the formation of the mountains was beautiful and unique. The place with the big buddha also had hundreds of other smaller buddhas, carved or painted on the walls of the mountain, was impressive for its beauty, it has 183 caves. The place located in a canyon has access only by boat during the months of June to October, when the river allows navigation. It was built over dynasties for over 1000 years, having begun around 420 AD in the Jin dynasty. In the region there were also some temples, I entered one that there was a buddha lying down.
The driver of Matou van, which was on the other side of the river, wanted to extort me charging RMB 4 to take me to Liujiaxia, it was about R$ 1 (USD 0.50), it was not expensive for me, but also it was not fair, because the other passengers were paying only RMB 1, after the discussion and another passenger intermediary in my favor, he charged me the fair price. When he left me in Liujiaxia, I was going to give an extra RMB 1, but the driver refused, we will never understand!
In Liujiaxia there was a hydroelectric power plant, after a half hour ride I was in doubt if I would sleep here but I decided to go to Lanzhou 2 hours drive away. On the bus to Lanzhou, the guy next to me was a high or middle school English teacher and he had a poor English, but at least he spoke some and wanted to practice, he was so excited. He praised me for the physical aspect. The first time I was praised by a man I found it strange then I got used to it, the Chinese had no intention or malice, it was part of their culture. It was also common to see heterosexual men walking down the street hugging, this would be inadmissible to Latin people. In that sense I was Latino, I don’t really like masculine touches or physical approximations.
The itinerary of the day was like this: bus in Xiahe, bus in Linxia, boat in Lianhwa, boat in Bingling Si, bus in Matou and bus in Liujiaxia to Lanzhou. Later I came to find out that “matou” means “pier” in Chinese, it was not a town’s name. The weather was good in Lianhwa, Bingling Si and Liujiaxia, unlike Xiahe. At night in Lanzhou looking for a hotel to stay I ve found that foreigner could not stay at anyone, I was turned down in some. The chinese-only hotels are pretty dirty. But what I stayed in, I don’t think they could have hosted me either. Since I was disguised as a Chinese man, I think they let me stay. Perhaps these hotels are of such low class that in order not to make a bad impression on foreigners, they were simply forbidden to non-Chinese.
Ho was separated and she had a daughter. In this country it’s still shameful to admit separation, especially when you’re a woman. Divorces and separations are an epidemic that has been reaching any race, it is one of the great evils of modern life. She walked me to the nearby airport. There were only Chinese people at the airport and on the plane, they carried many boxes of the famous fruits of Xinjiang, they were as noisy as Brazilians or Italians. The flight between Ürümqi and Lanzhou was delayed by an hour and a half.
I arrived at night in downtown, it was cold and the Lonely Planet guide book was missing a few pages from Lanzhou. Without a map, I was also completely disoriented. I paid dearly for a map I bought in a hotel, almost useless because it was all in Chinese.
I had seen a college address on a website, glad it was close to where the airport bus stopped, but there foreigners could not stay. I ended up staying in the accommodation of a college employee, there was a guy who was a doorman in one of the buildings and let me stay in his bed, because there was another bed in the lobby, I was surprised he didn’t charge me anything. At first it was kind of difficult to communicate, Yan could not understand my accent, he thought I was speaking another language other than Mandarin, but in the end he got used to it. My accent is Southern, because of my origins. I didn’t expect to find such a nice Chinese, there was another nice guy also in the room who was a janitor and educated.
Here you can not distinguish very well the social class (like in Brazil), everyone has at least high school degree and dress the same (riches and poor), and all have the “pulled” eyes, there are a lot of people and a lot of competition too. Only peasants dressed differently, making it easy to identify them.
Lanzhou is the capital of Gansu Province with a population of 3.5 million, Tibetan influence and surrounded by mountains. The famous Yellow River (Huang He) despite the color being muddy, crosses the city before traveling another 1,500km to its final destination in Qindao. Located geometrically right in the center of the Central Empire, Gansu is a province northwest of China, bordering Xinjiang. Here it was also part of the Silk Road and part of the Great Wall was here.
The next day Yan gave me some indication of how to go to the tourist sites, wrote some sentences in Chinese in my notebook to show to the Chinese, in case I needed help since I was illiterate here. He gave me his phone number in case of emergency and as a good patriot gave me a pin of Mao Zedong, without knowing the true story of this genocidal.
It was an adventure, with the missing pages of Lonely Planet, everything got harder (* as you realized already, this trip was before the creation of wi-fi, smartphones and google maps). In doubt between going to Xining, Xiahe or touring first in Lanzhou, I decided to go to Xining first. Lanzhou, Xining and Xiahe form a triangle, with Xining west of Lanzhou and Xiahe south of Lanzhou.
I went to the train station, there were thousands of Chinese and an endless queue, so I gave up and took a bus to Xining. I saw a foreigner and I followed him, he was with a Chinese guide, who helped me to buy a ticket to Xining for Y36 (USD 4.60), the bus station was close to the railway. But the driver implied that I was a foreigner and I had to exchange my ticket for another one with mandatory insurance for foreigners for Y53 (USD 6.80).
The road to Xining was beautiful, it was even colder than Lanzhou and drizzled. On the bus, a young Chinese man seeing that I was writing in a language other than his, started a conversation. The young man had never been to Xining and was going out to try to make a living as an apprentice mechanic, he had a contact in the city.
The bus stopped at a bus station and soon bought a local map to guide me, I took a bus to the other bus station next to the railway, on the other side of town, then I have found a hotel. The main buses and trains all left from here, the place was strategic.
Xining was the part I had at my Lonely Planet, here it was where I first saw Tibetans, I made a point of recording some photos, scenes of Buddhist monks in red robes walking along side Hui Chinese (who are Muslims), head covered with white beret. Tibetan women are of larger size than the Hans, with their colorful robes, long skirts and a pair of long braids, reminded me of the “cholitas” of Bolivia, only the hat was different, the resemblance was incredible.
Xining is the capital of Qinghai province, with Tibetan, Mongolian and Uighur influence, and surrounded by mountains, with a population of 2.1 million. It was also part of the old Silk Road. Qinghai Province, pronounced “tinrrai”, meaning “Blue Sea”, has the largest lake in China. It is to the west, bordering Tibet, Xinjiang, Gansu and Sichuan. Like Tibet and Xinjiang, Qinghai was not part of ancient China, was incorporated into the Chinese empire 200 years ago and was definitively controlled by the Hans Chinese from 1949, when the Communist army defeated the Muslims. It is a province full of prisons and labor camps, where criminals and opponents of the political regime are sent, about 400,000 people are in these prisons, almost 10% of the population of the province.
In the evening I went to the evening market to dine with a Danish hippie with strange ideas and two French blonde women, Oriane and Laetitia.