Day 45 - Tuesday 16th May - Tianshui to Lanzhou

The usual 0800 start timed us well with the peak hour traffic in Tianshui. Luckily it was not too heavy and the route out of town was relatively direct. Once out of town and on the expressway, the transition from green hills to a dry landscape unfolded.

The hills were still terraced, although a lot unused. Many had newly planted Cyprus pines. This task of greening China is mammoth.

In the valleys, cropping was intense, although we rarely saw a person in the fields. A wide variety of vegetables and wheat were the staples. The farm villages we very traditional. Similar in some aspects to the hutongs in Beijing. A surrounding wall enclosing a court yard with a number of buildings opening into it. Low, flat roofed, generally made from mud brick and unpainted.

Our destination for lunch was the Shui Lian Dong Buddha grotto and monastery. The Buddhas in this case were carved into the cliff face during the Qin dynasty in the 6th century. Off the beaten track and rarely visited. It was a change to visit a destination and not be swamped by other tourists. In the main the visitors who were there came to worship at the Temple in the Water Curtin Cave.

The surrounding countryside reminded us of the Bungle Bungles. High domed brown conglomerate peaks. Somehow we managed to convince the staff that it would be a good idea to be able to drive our cars up to the grotto, instead of catching the bus. This would provide a great photo opportunity for the management of the site with our cars.

The track up to the Water Curtin Cave was paved and lined with flowering trees. The sky was blue, the air cool as we were at around 1500m and we heard birds chirping for a change. The monastery in the cave is still operational housing a number of monks and a group of very aged helpers who were engaged in keeping the place spotlessly clean. One of the old monks or female helpers (communication was a bit of a problem) brought out a old silk scroll for Loris to look and proceeded to explain its meaning. Although the temple was predominantly Buddhist, it also had a number of Taoist elements and symbols. Apparently, this merging of the religions is not uncommon in China. 

We had lunch under the trees at the base of the grotto. A small stall was selling what looked and tasted very much like Cornish pasties. Chilli flavoured potato wrapped in pastry.

Although it was reported that Lanzhou was once the most polluted city on Earth, we did not experience this extreme. The sky hazed, but it did not seem much different to what we experienced in other places. Needless to say there is a significant amount of industry in the area. This, I understand is as a result of a policy to move it out west to create employment and also push the Han population into the western regions.

Lanzhou is a city of around 3.5m. It’s the capital of Gansu Provence. Its also the only city on the Yellow River. Like the other cities we had visited, it was brightly lit at night and had a night market where we headed for dinner after some work on the car.  

I had noticed some traces of water seepage down the side of the engine block, below the head, so we tightened the head bolts and will monitor the situation. The good news was that the glued bolts holding the exhaust flange bracket had held.

The Lanzhou night market was a smaller version of Xi’an. Crowded, noisy and a mixture of muslim and other ethnic groups lining the alleyway, with tables and chairs in behind the vendors cooking stalls. The range of food was wide. Lots of lamb including the heads and tails, seafood was also surprisingly plentiful. Noodles and fresh fruit. We settled for a bowls (as opposed to a “bowel” which is commonly used in local signage) of what looked like meat and vegetable ravioli in a broth, chilli added separately. AU$6.50 for the two.

As it was now dark we then headed off to the Yellow River and light show, a very mini version of the Bund. Still plenty of people. Although the river is not wide, it was rushing and lived up to its name.

PS: have added new images to 11th May post. Its a bit of a challenge at present getting the time to edit and then the bandwidth to upload.