A Silk Road Travelogue by Robert Yeo‏

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A Silk Road Travelogue by Robert Yeo‏
– Originally Posted on RVF Photography.
– Original Text & Photos by Robert Yeo.
– Edited by AL.

04th December 2014, Silk Road – As I was surfing the net and looking for information on the Silk Road, I stumble upon a travelogue written by a Travel Photographer Mr. Robert Yeo from Singapore. And he had went to the Silk Road with our accredited merchant and appointed Travel Agent Xing Asia. Robert recorded his account and experience from the Silk Road with his set of photos and captions which is interesting to read and a good reference for the rest of us. With permission from Xing Asia, I am re-posting Robert’s travelogue here for all of you. Enjoy!

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ON THE SILK ROAD TRAIL
– Robert Yeo – Edited by AL

Taken from Wikipedia:

The Silk Road, or Silk Route, is a series of trade and cultural transmission routes that were central to cultural interaction through regions of the Asian continent connecting the West and East by linking traders, merchants, pilgrims, monks, soldiers, nomads, and urban dwellers from China to theMediterranean Sea during various periods of time.[1]

It has always been fascinating to me on how the Silk Road was traveled back in the ancient times. Imagine that you have to be traveling on the road for at least 3 years at any stretch on either direction and that you will have to make journeys through the deserts. It must have taken lots of willpower and conviction for those who made it through the journey. Personally, I wanted to experience what the desert is like, so when i saw that Michael of Xing-Asia is organizing a trip to the Silk Road trail, without hesitation, i jumped at the chance.

Our journey starts from Lanzhou and it was a 8 days trip. Lanzhou is the capital and largest city of the Gansu Province. It is an old and significant city as the Yellow River runs through the city from the west axis to the east axis. Our first stop was to visit the Yellow River. My first impression upon seeing the river was … it is indeed very Yellow in color! And being an old city, there were many waterwheels being used to irrigate water from the river to the farms in the old days.

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The most interesting thing about Lanzhou folks is that they actually made rafts out of sheep skin. The rafts are used to ferry goods and people on the river. Michael and a few other daring tour members actually took a ride down the river on the sheep skin raft! However there was one thing that made me think: given that the flow of the river was very strong, it meant that the trips are often one-way. So if the ancient folks cruise down the river, does that means they will have to walk back up to their original positions??

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On the second day of the trip, we headed out to Qinghai Lake. on the way to Qinghai Lake, we passed by the Kumbum Monastery in Xining. The monastery was huge and there were lots of monks who practiced there. The history behind the monastery was that Tsongkhapa was born nearby and his mother decidedly built a small temple at the site of his birthplace. Throughout the years, the temple grew into a full size monastery and it’s really huge. Today, it is an important site for religious studies and the monastery looks beautiful.

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Leaving the monastery, we head west to Qinghai Lake. We reached Qinghai Lake just before evening reveals itself, so we wandered around and waited for the sun to set. The view of Qinghai Lake is fantastic, with a very cooling weather as we’re high up in the mountains, about 2800m above sea level.

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The sun actually sets quite late in Gansu and Qinghai Provinces, at around 8pm – 9pm, so it had been a long wait. The unfortunate thing was that sunset weren’t fantastic, as it was quite cloudy and foggy, so I didn’t managed to capture pictures of the sunset. However, just after the sun has set, the moon rises! And it was quite a full moon.

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Finally we’re done with our second day as we took our dinner and went back to our hotel rooms for a good rest. Early next morning, we carried on and headed west to a place known as the Chaka Salt Lake. On the journey there, we passed by beautiful grass fields on the Qilian Mountain Range. It was so beautiful that we had decided to stop the vehicle and went on foot to check out the place.

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The salt lake is huge, measuring a total of 105 square kilometers. There is enough salt there for the consumption of the world’s population for more than 160 years!

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After visiting the Chaka Salt Lake, it’s time for a long road journey along the Qilian Mountains to Dunhuang and we have to stop in the middle nowhere for the night. The whole road journey is very long for this trip and we spent a lot of the time traveling on the coach. China is big, this seems like a norm here.

When we reached Dunhuang area, the first stop was the Dunhuang Yardang National Geopark. The park was full of landforms that shows the Yardang geological feature of the area. On the day that we’re there, the park guide told us that it was the hottest day of the year, at 38°C!! However, despite the high temperature, the whole area was very windy and it does not feel warm when the wind blew at us. Comparing to our humid Singapore, I sweat so much lesser there.

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On the way out of Yardang National Geopark, we stop by another interesting spot. That spot was Yumen Pass, also known as Jade Gate. In ancient times, this was a pass through which the Silk Road passed, and was the one road connecting Central Asia and China. In other words, this is the Customs Office of ancient China! Whoever crosses the border of China have to go through this pass.

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Carrying on the journey the next day, we visited Mogao Caves. A brief description of the caves taken from Wikipedia is as follows:

The Mogao Caves or Mogao Grottoes (Chinese: ; pinyin: Mògāo kū), also known as theCaves of the Thousand Buddhas (Chinese: 千佛洞; pinyin: qiān fó dòng), form a system of 492 temples 25 km (16 mi) southeast of the center of Dunhuang, an oasis strategically located at a religious and cultural crossroads on the Silk Road, in Gansu province, China. The caves may also be known as the Dunhuang Caves, however, this term is also used as a collective term to include other Buddhist cave sites in the Dunhuang area, such as the Western Thousand Buddha Caves, and theYulin Caves farther away. The caves contain some of the finest examples of Buddhist art spanning a period of 1,000 years.[1] The first caves were dug out in 366 CE as places of Buddhist meditation and worship.[2] The Mogao Caves are the best known of the Chinese Buddhist grottoes and, along withLongmen Grottoes and Yungang Grottoes, are one of the three famous ancient Buddhist sculptural sites of China.

Photography were not allowed inside the caves in order to preserve the caves for as long as possible, no photos to be shown. I just managed to take 1 picture of the exterior of the most prominent cave there.

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The history behind these caves are very impressive and it is a bit overwhelming in terms of the achievements the ancient Chinese was able to produce. The artwork found inside the caves are beautiful and it is hard to imagine how they are all being done up. Firstly the caves are dark, and some of them are pretty huge in size. Without the use of modern technology, the ancient artists are able to paint up many wall murals and even erect statues inside the caves.

However it is also saddening to know that of the murals and scriptures found inside the caves were stolen by foreigners and now they’re being kept in museums in other countries and not within China. There’s a really long history behind the caves and the best way to learn it is to visit the place yourself.

After visiting the Mogao Caves, we visited Echoing-Sand Mountain & Crescent Lake. Crescent Lake is a crescent-shaped lake in an oasis near Dunhuang. The Gobi Desert surrounds the lake and the sand dunes around the lake is called Echoing-Sand Mountain, due to the sound of the wind whipping off the dunes, the singing sand phenomenon. The Chinese government have turned this place into a tourist area, and lots of touristy activities can be found here; including camel rides, paragliding, buggy rides, etc. In other words, there’s plenty of people around. We’re waiting for sunset, so we took our time to explore the area and climbed up the sand dunes to get a high vantage point.

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Early next morning, we set off to our next destination. A little bit of convincing from me to Michael caused him to make a detour to White Horse Pagoda. Nice little place to visit with a bit of history behind it.

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The next destination is Xuan Bi Chang Cheng (悬壁长城). I have totally no idea what it is called in English, but a loose translation means Overhanging Great Wall. Basically the place was part of the Great Wall of China.

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After visiting this part of the Great Wall, we move on to Jiayu Pass. Jiayu Pass is the first Pass at the west end of the Great Wall of China, so you can pretty much guess the importance of this Pass in ancient China. The Pass itself is huge in size, along with houses for the generals that were out-stationed here.
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We went outside to a nearby patch of open land and hopefully, get some sunset pics of Jiayu Pass. Unfortunately, the sky was very cloudy and so no dramatic sunset. Still, I must highlight to everyone that the landscape scene there was beautiful.

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Next morning, we visited The First Pier of Great Wall. This place is supposedly the start of the Great Wall in maybe the Song Dynasty. It was built right beside the cliff walls of the Beida River. In ancient times, this area also housed several military camps.

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In the afternoon, we headed east towards Zhangye. The main attraction there was Zhangye Danxia Landform Geological Park. The landforms here are absolutely beautiful. There’s the whole bit of history on how these landforms are formed. In ancient times, the area was actually submerged under water, most probably under a lake or river. Over the years as the water dried up, the land got pushed up around due to the moving tectonic plates thus forming the colourful landforms. A beautiful sight to behold, if you ask me.

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Finally, we’re down to the last day of our tour. We need to head back to Lanzhou and it’s a long journey from Zhangye, so the last leg of the trip was pretty much spent on the roads. It was pretty much the pretty mountainous landscape and we passed by some Tibetan mani stones as well.

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We passed by some rapeseed plantations along the way as well and boy, it was beautiful. According to the guide, this area has the biggest rapeseed plantations in the world.

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We finally reached Lanzhou after a long journey on the road and it was time to have an early night. We have a very early flight to catch the next morning and we certainly do not want to be late.

Frankly speaking, this trip is one of the better trips that i had went. It had been an eye-opening experience for me especially the part on knowing more Chinese arts & culture. Now that i’ve been to the first pass of the Great Wall on the western end of China, i am now tempted to visit the first pass of the Great Wall on the eastern end!

Until then!
Robert Yeo

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Editor’s Note:
Reading Robert’s account and experience to the Silk Road makes one wonder just how beautiful the place is. And following through his travelogue para by para, the itinerary is tiring and lots of traveling is involved. However, with a good travel agent and a good guide, road trips like this can be more fun and interesting than you can ever imagined. It is an experience that everyone should try – once in a life time.
– AL

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