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Published: June 30th 2005
We reached Jiayuguan, which is considered the western end of China. If you look at a map you can find that the border of China is more than 1500 km to the west, but here is where the Great Wall ends. Yes, more than 5000km from the eastern point of the wall near the sea, and very different than the photos you are used to see (from the Beijing area), the wall ends in the desert area, guarding the Hexi Corridor (the only passable valley between two mountain ranges), and reaching the mountains themselves to make sure no army can pass around it.
There is also a fortress that was built here for the army force and for guarding the area. They send here soldiers and officers as kind of punishment, because it was considered bad to be so far away from the center.
The views of the wall and the fort, in the middle of the desert, with dark mountains ranges covered with snow on both north and south - is very special. The wall climbing the mountain range to the final watch tower received the name "The Overhanging Wall". We walked on it all the way up.
get to the sites we had to take a taxi. Taxi drivers are not that smart here, and they three drivers were fighting for us and reduced the price all the time. The one who won gave us a really funny price, and we knew that there was something fishy, but we took him anyway. In China they have to put on the meter even if they have a set price so it will be visible from the outside that thy are on a ride (at least that's what they say). At the end of the ride he wanted the amount the meter showed instead of the price we agreed upon, and threatened us for a while. We are used to that behavior in China already...
That night I took a shower after almost a week, and slept in a hotel room, that stayed in the same location for the entire night. A great experience - I recommend it to anyone who hasn't tried 😊
From here to the west it is considered the silk road area, even though it is still China. The silk road was the main trade route from China to Europe since 2nd or 3rd century
BC. The Chinese were the only ones who knew how to make silk, and they kept that secret, punishing with death any attempt to export the knowledge to the west. We planned on traveling on the silk road (at least on one of them) all the way to the western most part of China.
The next day was a long bus ride to the desert town of Dunhuang (read this name out loud - I thought someone is trying to fool me with a Mexican name...). The ride was (you can already guess) hot, dusty, bumpy, and not so fun.
On that bus we met Matt, a funny British guy, who joined our group for the next few days.
There is a funny thing in China, and every morning the workers of almost every restaurant, store, massage place, etc. have some sort of a morning ceremony, in the street, where they are all standing in lines, and sometimes doing some order drills. Looks like an army parade. I took a picture of workers of a foot massage place that morning.
Near Dunhuang there are some remains that are also considered to be parts of some version of the Great Wall
(the wall was built and rebuilt for almost 2000 years, and there are actually more than just one wall). But we didn't go to see them.
The most famous thing here is the complex of Buddhist cave temples - The Mogao Caves. There are many such complexes in China, but this is the richest and the most famous. These are all caves that were used as temples, and there are hundreds of them dating from 4th century (when Buddhism started to reach China) until the 14th century (when sea routes to Europe caused the death of the silk road). The caves have different statues of Buddhas (the biggest is 36 m) and other Buddhist saints, interesting wall paintings, and interesting architecture. You can see the different styles according to the different period of the cave. It is not allowed to take pictures, so I only have one good picture of the inside.
There were many treasures that were found here in the caves when they discovered them (some were discovered only around the year 1910), including a hidden library with thousands if books and scripts (including some in ancient Hebrew). Many treasures found their way to Europe and the US
(one statue is located in Harvard), and the Chinese claim that the caves were robbed. Another version of the story was that the Chinese guy in charge of digging the caves had no funds from Beijing, so he sold treasures to western archiologists to keep on exploring the caves... Go figure.
Another nice site is the desert itself in that area. There are huge sand dunes, over 200 m high. but the heat just makes you run away from that place, even though you can climb them and ride camels there.
That night we took another train, heading west, to the last province in China - Xingjiang.
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