Day 44 - Monday 15th May - Xi'an to Tianshui

We were back to the old pattern of driving a bit over 300 kilometers for the day, but an early start was planned as Tony had found a monument marking the start of the Silk Road. I don’t think it had any historical significance, but was there as a marker. So it was that the Silk Road marker was the first stop for a photo shoot.

The blown exhaust flange gasket had been repaired and the car was running much quieter, to everyone’s relief. The problem was that the bracket that holds the exhaust pipe to the exhaust manifold had come completely undone. When we tried to reattach it we discovered that a couple of the studs that held everything in place were pretty dodgy.

Once on the road, a range of mountains appeared on our distant left hand side. By morning tea we were off the flat land and wheat fields, gaining altitude and immersed in the Qilian Shan, a large range of east – west running mountains. Tunnels and winding road became the norm once again. One tunnel followed the next, the longest was 13k long.

The Qilian Shan is an important range in China’s geography. The south side is the watershed for the Yangtze, while the north side is the watershed for the Yellow River. On the south, the climate is warm and humid. They grow (and eat) rice there. On the north, its dry, warm in summer and cold in winter. They grow wheat and eat noodles. The mountains are over 4000m high.

The backbone of the range is a series of National Parks and is the home to a wide range of animals including Golden Monkeys and Pandas, we are told.

Our lunch destination was the Maijishan Grottos. There are 4 lots of grottos in China that get a 5 star rating. These are one of them. The grottoes consist of a couple of sets of large Buddha figures carved into the cliff face and a series of caves and galleries carved into the cliff face which are lined with Buddha figures. They date from the 7th century. To view them you climb this amazing scaffolding that hangs off the side of the cliff face. First class Chinese engineering, steel and concrete (it used to be timber wedged into the cliff face), it shook if you stepped too heavily. The top gallery was over 100m high. Those who suffered vertigo, were most uncomfortable.

While countryside in the first part of the run through the mountains was lush, but by afternoon it was starting to dry out significantly.

It was then a shortish run into Tianshui, (a small city of some 3m people) for the night. Before leaving the cars for the night we checked the exhaust flange repairs and found that one of the 3 nuts had already fallen off. We wanted to fix it that night, but had to wait and hour or so for the exhaust to cool down. We then glued a new nut on with a metal epoxy compound and left it over night to set.