When I told people that I plan to travel along the Silk Road of China reactions ranged from “I would so much love to join you” to “Oh my god, you are so brave.”
Honestly, I didn’t feel brave before going on this trip. I had doubts and felt insecure, but I am interested in this area for a couple of years already and always intended to go there once I have travelled across Eastern China. Since I have been to the eastern provinces of the Middle Kingdom twice last year, 2014 seemed to be a good year for a trip to the northwestern part of the country and there was absolutely no reason for me not to go. It was nothing more than visiting places I really wanted to see.
Apparently the Silk Road of China is a road less travelled by both, chinese as well as western tourists. I know a few travel bloggers like Silvia and her friend Danielle who have explored a couple of places along this ancient trade route and Rebekah, who visited the Labrang Monastery in Xiahe. But no one I know personally has been to this part of China. Many chinese people I talked to told me that I would be travelling to an area they had never been to and that I would be visiting places they might never see.
“Travel – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller”
54 hours in Dubai
I started my trip with a 54 hours-layover in Dubai where I did a desert safari in the neighboring emirate of Sharjah. For the second day I had originally planned to do a Heritage tour including a walk through Dubai’s historical district Al Bastakiya and a visit of the Diwan Mosque. Alternatively I had considered to participate in a cultural meal at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. I didn’t know that I visited Dubai during Eid al Adha, the Feast of the Sacrifice, one out of two religious holidays celebrated by Muslims all over the world. Therefor these two activities didn’t take place.
Instead I took the same guided tour of the Jumeirah Mosque which I have already taken back in August because I really liked it. I also had further questions which I got answered by our guide Nassif. He is a businessman from Dubai and volunteers at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding like Debbie, the guide which I had on my first tour at the Jumeirah Mosque.
I spent the evening at the outdoor area of the Dubai Mall, my favourite place in Dubai, before heading to the aiport to catch my flight to Beijing.
Back to Beijing
I spent six extra days in Beijing prior to the start of my Silk Road trip and six days after returning from Kashgar. Even though I have never lived (yet) in this amazing city, China’s capital already feels a bit like home far away from home. I met my friend Mill for a Hot Pot lunch before she left for a trip herself as well.
My parents who were on their way to South Korea and Japan stopped in Beijing for my Mom’s birthday, so that we could celebrate together. My friend Leon arranged a table in great restaurant for us and I am still happy and impressed by this evening. By the way, the same goes for my parents who are also still absolutely thrilled.
I returned to places I love and discovered a new sight for me – the Old Summer Palace also known as Yuanmingyuan.
I had handmade Won Tons and fresh fruits for breakfast every morning and moreover, I had lots of delicious chinese food.
I got in touch and talked to many western expats – the expat community in Beijing is said to be absolutely amazing – and spent quite some time at the Beijing Bookworm, one of my favourite cafés and restaurants in the city.
I enjoyed every second of my time in Beijing so much that I didn’t want to leave. Therefor I extended my stay in the city by four days and used my visa to the the fullest, for the whole period of exactly 30 days.
My trip along the Silk Road of China
The tour by itself as a tour couldn’t measure up with my three previous trips across China and Tibet, but the itinerary and the activites, both included and optional, were absolutely fantastic.
Although I had been to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City twice before I decided take the offer of the company and explored these two important sights once more, together with Nikki who works as a local guide in Beijing. Since I was there short after the National day which is on the 1st October, Tiananmen Square was colourfully and festively decorated.
In Xi’an I spent a wonderful day with Harvey another tour leader and the lovely people of his group and cycled along the ancient City Wall with them. In the evening we enjoyed a Dumpling dinner and a Tang Dynasty show together.
The next day I discovered the Silk Road monument, strolled through the Muslim quarter and attended the musically synchronised Fountain show at the Big Wild Goose Pagoda which takes place every night at 8.30 PM.
In Jiayuguan, in Gansu Province, I explored the Jiayuguan Fort Cheng Lou, climbed the 700 steep stairs up the Hanging Wall, which connects the Fort with the Mazong mountain range, and visited the westernmost and unrestored “first” Tower of the Great Wall.
In Dunhuang I strolled over the night market, discovered the Mogao Grottoes and rode up the Mingsha Sand Dunes on a camel at dawn. From one of the higher Dunes I enjoyed a wonderful sun rise. I also paid the Crescent Lake aka Yueyaquan a visit.
Turpan is the lowest point in whole Asia, it lies 80 metres below sea level, and was the first place in Xinjiang Province on my journey. I visited the local bazaar and enjoyed the scenery of the surrounding Flaming Mountains. Together with Anna, a local guide, I explored the ruined cities of Gaochang and Jiaohe, Tuyoq – a traditional village – the Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves, the Karez underground water systems, the Emin Minaret and the adjacent Uyghur Mosque.
In Urumqi I visited the Xinjiang Uyghur Museum and continued into the Tian Shan Mountains and to the Heavenly Lake where I have slept in a yurt of the local Kazakh minority people.
The next day I flew from Urumqi to Hotan at the edge of the Taklamakan desert, where I explored the area on a donkey cart and visited a Silk plus a Carpet factory.
Kashgar was the westernmost and last place on my trip along the Silk Road of China. I discovered the Sunday Bazaar and Animal Bazaar also known as Mal Bazaar which takes place every Sunday. I also strolled through the Old town and the Gaotai Residences and visited the Id Kah Mosque.
From Kashgar I flew back to Beijing via Urumqi.
My goals: teaching English in Beijing and learning Mandarin
As already during my previous stay in Beijing in August and September I was often adressed in mandarin, this time even more than before. It almost never happened that chinese people talked to me in English. Apparently I was viewed as an expat living in Beijing who of course speaks enough mandarin to communicate with the locals.
I hope to return to Beijing to live and work as an English teacher in early 2015 as I have mentioned before. If that comes true I intend to take mandarin classes and learn as much of the language that I am at least able to do small talk, preferably even more. There were so many times in Beijing as well as along the Silk Road when I really wished that I understood and spoke some chinese.
Something I have lost on this trip
On my flight from Frankfurt to Dubai I lost my beloved jeans jacket. I forgot in the overhead lockers, but noticed my mistake about five minutes after leaving the plane and headed back right away. The aircraft was locekd already and although I tried everything within the next two days and also on my way back home, I didn’t get it back. For me, this is quite sad as I bought this jacket ten years ago in Santiago de Chile where I lived and worked for a german-chilean newspaper. Prior to the purchase I had searched for a jeans jacket like this for a long time before, so it had quite a special meaning for me.
I have paid for my flights, my hotels and my tour and the optional activities I choosed. These were something I could book. But I had the best time and the best moments of my travels because I met the right people at the right time at the right place and I am grateful for all of them. These moments and experiences are absolutely priceless.
Thanks a lot to Harvey and his amazing group for a great day in Xi’an.
Thanks a million, Mill and Leon, for a wonderful time and for your friendship. I hope that we’ll keep in touch and stay friends forever.
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