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Published: June 30th 2013
In YuMen I asked my host Xubo about the road to Guazhou. He laughed and showed me with his hands that it was up and down the whole way and that the road was in extremely bad condition. I sighed… Riding to YuMen had been so difficult I knew I had to get ready for another tiring day of cycling. But then Xubo told me I could try to get on the expressway, the G30 I had been following for many days. He said cyclists weren’t allowed on it but if I rode very fast at the toll gate, no one would stop me… So I did ride fast and I got on the expressway as early as I could (I think it was 7am). As I said in my previous blog entry, I usually think that the smaller roads are more scenic and quiet but it felt so amazing to ride on the G30! The tarmac was soooooo smooth! And there was plenty of space for me to ride on the right side of the road (I guess it is the emergency lane). The road was smooth, the sun was not scorching yet, and most importantly there was no wind!
I rode fast and I felt like I had grown wings. I cycled the 130km to Guazhou in less than 6 hours! I met some older Chinese cyclists on the way. We had met a few days early but this time we stopped and talked for a bit and took pictures. They have been riding since Liaoning Province in the northeast of China. The eldest man was 64 years old: pretty impressive! They asked me to ride with them but I was pedaling way too fast compared to their easy-going pace so I took off. I was glad to arrive at Guazhou before the sun started burning. I found a nice hotel room for 100rmb and relaxed until 6pm when the temperatures cooled down a bit. Guazhou is a small city with a main street and some outdoor markets. I ate well and found some shops to fill my bags with goodies for my next ride to Dunhuang.
The 140km-ride to Dunhuang was tough because of the wind and the road went through the desert (as you can see on the pictures). It took me a long time to get there. It was hot (I left too late) and
I felt a bit tired after the 130km-ride from the previous day… and the wind… The wind is a killer! On the way I met a Deutsch cyclist riding on a very elaborate bike (with a plastic chain!). He was coming the other way around from Turkey, all the way to Laos. He told me the road from Urumuqi to Dunhuang was pretty monotonous with flat bare desert land. So I won’t feel bad taking the train up to Xinjiang! ;-) I rode with 2 Chinese cyclists for 5 minutes but we were not going at the same pace so I said goodbye and rode ahead. I arrived in Dunhuang around 4pm. I couldn’t help but raise my fist in the air as I arrived in the city. It had been a long and painful day with headwind taunting me most of the day. I really did appreciate when 20km from town an old man stopped his car and handed me a bottle of water. This was a first but it made me smile and gave me lots of energy. Thank you, Sir!
Dunhuang is a touristy town. I think there are more hotels in town than there are
clean toilets in China… (I said it!) The problem with touristy towns is that hotels are expensive (because Chinese tourists have money). After visiting 7 hotels I ran into a middle-aged man who said he was part of the Dunhuang cycling team and he took me to his friend’s hotel for 100yuan a night. Nice! I could have stayed in a dorm in an international guesthouse but I did feel like having a bit of privacy after 2 days on the road. Will spending so many days alone make me more of a bear or more sociable when I actually meet people?
Dunhuang is famous for 2 things: the sand dunes + the Mogao Caves. On my first day in town I rode the 25km to the caves through the desert (nice ride but a bit hot!). The caves are located on a cliff by a river and right behind lies the desert and the sand dunes. There are more than 700 caves (all carved by hand) but only a few can be visited. The caves contain some of the finest examples of Buddhist art
spanning a period of 1,000 years. The first caves were dug out in 366 CE
as places of Buddhist meditation and worship. The Mogao Caves are the best known of the Chinese
Buddhist grottoes and, along with Longmen Grottoes
and Yungang Grottoes
, are one of the three famous ancient Buddhist sculptural sites of China.
An important cache of documents was discovered in 1900 in the so-called "Library Cave," which had been walled-up in the 11th century. The content of the library was dispersed around the world, and the largest collections are now found in Beijing, London, Paris and Berlin, and the International Dunhuang Project
exists to coordinate and collect scholarly work on the Dunhuang manuscripts
and other material.
Because these caves were sealed for centuries most of the paintings inside remained untouched. It was very interesting to witness this ancient art forms and I was amazed by the big Buddha statues hand carved over 30 years. Pictures weren’t allowed inside but I took photos of the reconstructed caves at the museum.
After visiting the Mogao Caves I rode my bike back but stopped on the way to climb a few dunes and glaze at the desert. I love how clean and quiet this part of China is! ;-) Enjoy the pics! I’m gonna have barbecued lamb!
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