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The way from Dunhuang(敦煌) to Xi’an(西安) is the most important part of old Silk Road in the history and the last part for me who have rode on it from Istanbul.
The first part until Lanzhou(蘭州) is called “Hexi Corridor(河西回廊)”, which is the narrow oasis belt between Qilian Mountains(祁連山) and Gobi Desert. More water, green and towns made cycling easier.
Jiayuguan(嘉峪关) is famous for the end of Great Wall. But it’s restoration.
This is original one. In China, it’s really a shame that famous ruins are so much fixed that I cannot tell original from something added afterwards. It’s better not to visit touristic place paying a lot and better to walk along the old wall without the crowds and fee.
It’s exactly the end of the wall. It’s beautiful merged into nature.
The wall runs along the main road(actually the road was made along the wall). This is the intersection of two.
On the top of the mountain. Amazingly I can still feel that it used to be a perfect line. The best place to see the Great Wall in this area.
Riding into the mountains from the city Wuwei(武威), there is the small Tibetan autonomous area but I was not aware that because there was’nt any differences.
When I get out of the restaurant, The Tibetan monks were standing around my bike. They told me to come to the hotel they were staying at, let me inside their room and surprisingly prepared another room for me. I tried to pay but they never accepted it. I finally gave up and enjoyed talking with them. However, the police suddenly called the hotel and told me to come to the policed station in the midnight. I did as they told because I didn’t want to cause problem on my friends. There wasn’t the person who called when I got there. It took 30min to explain why I came there to another police who didn’t speak English. He called someone who speak English and I talked with her.
P “You cannot stay in that hotel. You can move to ?? Hotel”
I “ Well, but I’m so tired. When you called me, I was about to sleep actually”
P ”But you cannot stay in that hotel”
I “Then why didn’t you say it when I checked in?”
P “You can only stay in ?? Hotel”
I “If you said earlier, I could move but it’s too late. It’s nearly midnight. I’m very sleepy. And I have a bike and many langueges”
P “But you cannot stay in that hotel”
P “According to the document”
I “No, no. Please tell me why you have such a ridiculous rule”
P “You must stay in ?? hotel according to the document”
I “Bring that document here as soon as possible!!!”
I “and why don’t you apologize for calling me in such a time? It’s really impolite, isn’t it? I’m very angry. Do you understand?”
I “Anyway you have to show me the document and explain the reason because you cannot annoy or force me to do anything without reason. I have human right. OK?”
P”…..You must move to…”
I gave up after all and hung up the phone. Sorry I can speak only with human. I guess she was a fucking cheap robot.
Then a policeman took me to the hotel and forced me to take out everything from the room, and the worst thing happened. The policeman started to call my friend because there was his name on the receipt. Fuck. I had just heard from them 2 hours ago that the police is really ”bad” to local Tibetan. That’s why I really didn’t want to involve them. He came down and talked something with police. I was so impressed that he was always smiling and polite to the policeman. Moreover, he helped me move all my stuffs.
He is a real monk.
I really wanted to do something in return, then decided to visit their monastery. In the next morning, I put my bags in their car and cycled over the mountains.
“東大寺” is their small monastery which has 6 adult monks and 6 young monks, located in the valley, by the small village far away from big towns. It’s the best place to practice asceticism, without any pollution, annoying porn or stupid police. I stayed there for 2 days living same as the monks.
The young monks. They are from 12 to 17 years old. They look younger(I guess because they are not sexually developed) but as polite and gentle as adult monks. They live apart from their family since they were 12 years old. That made them independent individuals.
They practice reading the sutras all day long, from early morning until they go to bed. The way to read is quite unique. Each read a different part in a different timing ,with loud voice, so it sounds like fighting each other. They also keep shaking their body so as to shut off the others’ voice concentrate on reading.
They became like normal children when they eat. mmm…so cute.
They can be more childish to me than other big monks. We played together in their free time, some of them were eager to learn English, or some asked me to teach how to ride bicycle. They are not allowed to go out of monastery till they become adults. I was special for them as “someone from another world”.
The adults are much more free. They can do what they want except the prey time or other small tasks. They have cell phone for each, public PC and car(of course only as necessary), so it’s not more “abstemious” than I expected actually.
They have a good relationship with neighbors. The people come to the monastery to pray, talk with monks or give them food. The monks are respected as holy people who protect religion.
One woman took us to her farm and let us eat tasty beans. The people in the village are really like one big family.
They have their own language, Tibetan. It’s totally different from Chinese, but we found it’s surprisingly similar to Japanese when we reached each language(Japanese Hiragana or Katakana and Tibetan have one word for one sound, like ka, ki, ku, ke, ko, and make sentence as a combination of these words). Tibetan calligraphy is so beautiful.
We also talked about their difficult situation in this country. All of them said to me, “I’m not Chinese! I’m Tibetan!”, showing me their ID(It’s really silly that there is an item of “ethnic” on ID. It’s a big contradiction, considering the government insists that all the people in China are “Chinese”. It’s obviously to discriminate one from the others and wouldn’t be necessary if all the people were equal). They got very angry when I told them that foreigners cannot travel to Tibet freely. Also, I saw children doing “Bang!Bang!” to a police car passing below, and gestured “they came to this monastery and killed monks!”. It was so sad.
In the second morning, waking up at the voice of children’s reading the sutras, the daily life in the monastery started, I washed my face and went to the main hall. There was filled with the smoke and unique smell of incense in the courtyard. They pray altogether only one time in a day, wearing the formal uniforms and beginning with reading and ringing the bell, then go into the hall and start praying. I was sitting in front of the hall and listening to their voice, which was similar to the one of Japanese Buddhism, made me feel so comfortable and realize how strong the Buddhism is in my mind, for the first time in my life. Every time people ask me if I’m Buddhist, I’ve been saying I’m not, actually I didn’t like it because it has been so close to me since I was born though I didn’t choose myself, but now I really want to learn it seriously. Well, they made me want to, like Muslim friends made me interested in Islam.
He is a high priest here who let me stay at the monastery. He gave me some presents when I left. The young monks told me, “you can still sleep!”, “you can leave after lunch!”. One monk whom I stayed in the same room with, cried and gave me his pendant That was the most impressive time in China.
Now I have 2 pendant on my neck. The one I got in Iran of the first sentence of the Koran and the other one of the picture of the Dalai Lama. It might make them feel bad, but sorry I cannot choose one, I like both and both of you who gave me. I like to be on this way.
This is the Yellow River(黄河). The first time I got to know that it’s really yellow. It’s awesome.
Lanzhou(蘭州), placed on the crossing point of the Silk Road and the Yellow River.
Lanzhou is a huge industrial city, and it was so much polluted(gas from factories or cars and dust from bad roads) that it was impossible to cycle(even breathe) without mask and sunglass. The water was completely black after washing hair.
From Lanzhou to Xi’an, the road was quite hilly and the weather was always cloudy – rainy, but I enjoyed beautiful nature and the road without traffic.
This was why there was not many cars…
I got a problem with police again in the small city. When I stayed in a cheap place, policemen came to my room and told me to come to police station and change hotel(the most expensive one in that city, 150RMB), which I had expected. I didn’t shout,but smiled and said calmly, as a monk did, “I don’t mind moving to other hotel. No problem. But I have only 400RMB and I have to go to Xi’an only with this money. It would take 5 days to Xi’an, which means I can use only 80RMB a day, including food, water and accommodation. If I pay 150 for tonight, I have to skip meals for 2 days. This place is 50RMB and this is the limit. If you want me to move, you have a responsibility to find a room under 50. otherwise I won’t follow you”. Then a young policeman who understand English, he got embarrassed and said, “I don’t know the reason but my boss is hitting me if you stay here”. I got aware that he was also feeling it was wired. He thought for a few minutes, called someone(I got to know later, it was the manager of hotel) and said, “Free!”. I couldn’t believe it but it was really free.
I was thinking back in the room. It reminded me that it’s important to try talking with people, even though they are policemen or they seem really “rough and rude” people I had tried to avoid. I suddenly got interested in Chinese people since then. I went out to a small restaurant and talked and drunk beer with people there till late night. About their life or my trip. It was so surprising that one woman cried when I talked about my family. Some of them were cold to me at first because I’m traveling at this age though even daily life is hard for them, but everybody encouraged me after I told them why and how I’m traveling. It was really an impressive experience.
I would say, Chinese are the closest and farthest people for me, and the most difficult to understand but also the most interesting people in the world. They are just different, they have their own way of communication, and it really works well in China. It might be more comfortable for me now than ridiculously complicated “politeness” in Japan. I love to cycle in this mysterious country.
The grottoes near the city Tienshui(天水). It was amazing.
I cycled around the city and hung out with a guy I met there. He is the same age as me, very intelligent and speaks perfect English. We talked a lot about China. I was so inspired by his word “Our generation must change this country”, that also made me think how I can do to my own country.
We crossed by chance at a small town. He is a photographer cycling alone to Shingjan. We stayed at a cheap place(15RMB!) together. Basically young people are really open-minded and like to discuss politics or other deep topics. I really like their idea and I’m sure we can be the good neighbor in the future.
Also, I got to know the way to avoid “Police check”. The hotel must register all the guest according to their ID. But people don’t have any idea of how to see passport, then ask police. So I did registration(just filled in a form) myself, and said “it’s OK!”. They didn’t check again. But it’s only available for paper form, not on the web.
A beautiful sunset after rain for 7 days.
Good translation “Dive into Xi’an”! Why slow down!
The old city wall of Xi’an, the end of Silk Road. I had completed it after 8 months and 10,000km cycling!
There are lots of things to see here, and it’s nice place to meet new people, feel history and life in China or retrace the way I’ve passed. I love this city.
But it’s not my destination. I need to go back home, and my journey is going into the final stage.
Dunhuang – Xi’an
11936 – 14261 / 2325km
The next way : Xi’an – Shanghai(上海), the end of the continent