Day 46 - Wednesday 17th May - Lanzhou to Xining

Roses grow in the middle of the street

Roses grow in the middle of the street

The drive out of Lanzhou in the morning was the usual bun fight of people, cars and bikes all over the place. This means:

Cars will not stop for pedestrians on the crossings, so they end up stranded between the lanes until they find a break. Even if we stop, they stand there, presumably assuming that we will mow them down once in front of our cars.

Crossing the Yellow River

Crossing the Yellow River

Cars pulling out from a side lane or street, don’t wait for a break and drive perpendicular to the oncoming traffic and then turn into their lane. They will generally turn left immediately into the oncoming traffic and then work their way across the lanes facing the on coming traffic headon. No one seems in the least bothered by this manoeuvre.

Bike, trikes and anything else on two or three wheels also follow the same manoeuvers as the cars, but are less inclined to work their way across the traffic. Rather they will just continue on their way riding into the oncoming traffic. Interesting when it’s a whole group of them.

I had been assuming that once we were in the remote regions of China, the sky would start to clear up as we would have left the industrial east of China behind. This was not the case. Once we were out of Lanzhou we started running into very large industrial complexes, some manufacturing, but most looking like some sort of petrochemical plant. All billowing stuff into the air.

The frightening, and not entirely obvious part of this scene was the cabbage and other vegetable gardens that were neatly tended right up to the front gates of the plant and generally surrounding the complexes, so that anything that spewed out the chimneys, would invariably settle over the crops and be absorbed back into the food chain.  

In amongst the cabbages and the petrochemical plants we came across, what I presume was a dairy. There were thousands of black and white Friesian cows in lots and in a large shed, which looked like a milking shed. 

As we wound our way through the mountains, we had our first glimpses of snow capped mountains to the south. Although each range seems to have its own name, they are all part to the northern edge of the Tibetan Plateau and form the southern boundary of what is known as the Hexi corridor, a narrow strip of land between the plateau and the mountains and then desert of Inner Mongolia to the north.

For thousands of years the Hexi corridor has provided protection to China as invariably invaders were forced to enter China down it as the mountains to the north and south were too rugged or cold to bring armies over, except if you were Ghengis Khan. From an internal perspective, it also provided a taxing point for all goods entering and leaving China as all transport routes funnelled down the corridor. While the Silk Route had many branches, they all funnelled down this passage as well. Today, the highways and rail routes also all converge down the corridor. 

We arrived in Xining before lunch although we had been tempted to take a detour. While we exited the G6 tollway at Xining, the road continued on to Lasha in Tibet. But our actual plan was a little more mundane. Our visit was a little more local to the The Kumbum Tibetan Buddhist Monastery for the afternoon just outside of Xining, before heading back to the hotel.

As we passed through Xining on our way to the temple, the car started to do weird things. It was as though there was a disconnect between the engine and the drive train, even though the clutch was holding. When we were running against the motor (not accelerating), we might have been doing 70kph but the engine revs would drop away to say 1500, instead of something like 2500, and as we dropped gears the engine revs did not increase. Lengthy discussions and Mike thought a it was a tuning issue, I was a little more circumspect. When accelerating and driving on the highway, there was no problem.

We could have been in Tibet for all we knew as it was bitterly cold at the Monastery as the winds blew down from the plateau.

Tibetan Buddhist Monasteries are different to the traditional Chinese and for that matter other Asian. The statues of the Buddhas are similar, but the shrines are draped with cloth, like multicoloured flags. Yak fat candles burn before the Buddhas and prayer wheels adorn the temples. The devoted also prostrate themselves, full length, on the ground. The very devout walk around the temple or complex, prostrate themselves, stand, take a step sideways, prostrate and so it goes on until they have circumnavigated the temple. At a large temple this may take days. To protect themselves, they wear pads on their knees, a heavy full front apron and wooded paddles on their hands (like the handboard I used for surfing), to allow them to slide out to full length. The Kumbum temple complex was still fully operational and housed 800 monks as it had done for nearly 1000 years.

On our way back to the hotel we were stopped by a random police road check. The first time a patrol car had pulled us over. They stopped in the middle of the road halting us and all other traffic. Documents were inspected. Green as other Chinese tend to be, was very robust in her discussions with them and TV Tony (the cameraman) had his camera out and stuck under the noses of the police. All our paperwork was in order, the police cameras then came out to take the obligatory selfies, we waved them good bye and traffic started moving again.

Xining, is like most of the other towns we have visited. Large and modern. There is always a central square where the locals congregate in the evenings, a food street and lots of modern malls and designer shops.

We ate in the food street and then wandered in the park after dinner to watch various groups dance, from modern to the classic, three groups competed for attention. And ofcourse there was the light show.

As we head west the ethnic melting pot is changing. Han Chinese are still predominant, but we are starting to see lots of other minorities.