Since our last blog we managed another 3100 meters of altitude difference and 700km within 8 days. When we are not cycling we do some sightseeing, enjoying China’s culture and history. We have hardly had any days off until now, because the sightseeing is demanding and partly strenuous. Climbing stairs is part of every excursion, whether we are visiting a temple, caves or looking at wonderful landscapes from a viewpoint.
After leaving our beautiful campground the day's stage leads us to Dachaigou, a small, deserted village in the middle of nowhere. We are lucky to find a place to stay here; there is only one motel. A helpful woman shows us the way to the motel, which we definitely wouldn’t have found by ourselves and she supports me with the formalities. Even though checking in as such is not that difficult, it doesn’t work as easy as we are used to. Since the owner does not have a photocopier, I have to go to the nearest copy shop first and copy our passports including visas. In China it is still mandatory that the hotels register us foreigners. The woman accompanies me again and even takes over the 2 Yuan copying costs. In the meantime Markus drives our loaded bikes through a narrow corridor directly into our bedroom. There's not much room left for the two of us. We just manage to turn around, get into bed or go to the bathroom! After all, we get a warm shower; you can’t imagine how good it feels. We end the evening with a delicious pasta dish and warm tea in the nearby little restaurant just across the street.
The next day, we leave the newly built road named G312 and drive along the old G312. Finally we have the feeling to have arrived in the beautiful part of China. The road is bumpy, but therefore the landscape is breathtaking and above all there is no traffic noise. The area is very deserted here; only now and then we see a farm in far distance, or the shepherd with his flock of sheep, occasionally also some cows grazing. It doesn't bother us that the road is going uphill, we are fully compensated. We only miss the first pass of 3000m asl by a few meters. If we had driven the new G312, we would have made the first pass of 3000m asl. Anyway, there are still a lot of high mountains waiting for us.
Unfortunately this part of the old road ends and is merged with the new G312 again, much too early for us, we would have liked to continue like this.
In the course of the afternoon we choose a shady spot under a big tree to take a short break. As soon as we have made ourselves comfortable, a police car with three uniformed police officers stops on the opposite side of the road. "Will this be our first police check?" we ask each other. The first policeman gets out of the car, the second immediately follows him, and both cross the road. They stop in the middle of the road - and stop the next car. As it turns out, it is a simple traffic control. The policemen have taken the same decision as we did and have chosen a shady place for the traffic control. It's as simple as that.
Before we reach Wuwei, we pass the beautiful Batai temple with its dozens of white pagodas. How splendidly these white temples rise up to the sky in the green park; in the background we see the lovely mountain range.
In Wuwei we stay in a hotel that was also chosen by other “long noses”, an American basketball team. The Chinese give us a room on the same floor, which is to our disadvantage. The young basketball players spend their free time in the corridor, listening to music, shouting to each other. We would have liked to have it a bit quieter! At least, we don't hear anything when they come back after having their evening /night out. Either we are so exhausted or the players are actually very quiet.
The city of Zhangye was once an important place along the Silk Road, Marco Polo is said to have lived here for several years. Even the name of the city indicates the importance of this place, it means "to stretch out the arm of the nation into its western area". We stop here too, but only for an extra day.
The city is located in the middle of the so-called Hexi Corridor. The Hexi Corridor is considered the most important passage from China to the West, i.e. to Central Asia. It is an elongated passage of over 1000km length and up to 100km width. It is bordered on both sides by mountain ranges. As a result of the meltwater, there are various oases where people make their living out of agriculture and livestock farming. The oases are surrounded by desert and semi-desert.
In Zhangye we visit the great Buddha Temple dating from the year 1098. It is surprising, that this wooden temple is still in its original form. Inside the temple is a 35m long sleeping Buddha made of wood, which is supposed to be the largest of its kind in China. We are amazed, very impressed and fascinated.
Another highlight of this stage is the visit of Mati Si. We leave the bike in the hotel in Zhangye. For a change we take a taxi to do the 65 km. This is really comfortable. The taxi driver picks us up at 9.00. We've already been on the road for a while when I realize that we're going in the wrong direction. On the brown road sign (brown = sightseeing attraction) the Danxia Landscape is indicated instead of Mati Si. That is not our plan as we want to visit the Danxia landscape the next day, but with our bicycles. We ask the taxi driver to stop. He is a little confused, as he acts according to the instructions of the hotel. A phone call with the hotel employee who hired the taxi driver clarifies the situation. The hotel Employee explains that Mati Si is quite far away after all, that's why she told the taxi driver to go to the other sight which is closer. Result: the taxi driver turns around and drives us to Mati Si as agreed. It works perfectly.
Mati Si is known for its Buddhist monasteries and the horse hoof temple. The name is based on a legend according to which a heavenly horse left a hoofprint in the cave. A temple was built there. The caves are similar to the Maijizhen caves that we visited off Tianshui. Even though it was similar, it is always unimaginable and impressive how these works were created on the slopes of the mountains. Over steep stairs, ledges and narrow passages, we visit the various mediation rooms, either constructed of wood or carved into the rocks,. For people with vertigo, that's definitely nothing. We especially liked the golden Buddha, which is in one of the largest grotto.
We spend the evening in a restaurant known for its wonderful hot pots (not the bathroom is meant, but the fondue chinoise). First you choose the hot pot (spicy, less spicy etc. there are at least eight different variations) and then the meat and the side dishes. It was delicious.
The next day we continue our trip with the bikes, but make a small detour. We do not want to miss the Danxia landscape under any circumstances. This landscape is characterised by the colours orange, yellow, white and brown, which were formed by deposits of sandstone and minerals over thousands of years. The shapes and patterns created are amazing. It would be even nicer to watch them at sunrise or sunset. But it is also worth seeing during the day. Since we are on the road with the bikes and there is no camping possibility in the immediate vicinity, it is not an option for us to be there in the early morning or late evening. Nevertheless, we enjoyed the day to the fullest.
While we are going on we are surprised that several tricycles or small trucks with sheep on the loading area drive past us. After several kilometers we get the answer to our question: a sheep market takes place. We stop ther to see what's going on. For us the sheep market is the attraction, for the farmers we are the attraction. Quickly a group of men forms around us, laughing, taking pictures... as always it's a pity that we can't have a good conversation with them.
The onward journey is quite monotonous; the landscape is not really beautiful. Steppe landscapes, countless high-voltage poles, from time to time a small village, some industry and solar systems characterize the picture. The accommodation in Qingshui is correspondingly simple. But we are glad to have one at least after 117km. We can't be picky. There are hardly any camping possibilities in this barren landscape.
Finally we reach Jiayuguan. This is the end of the Great Wall of China. You can read more about it in the next blog.