It has taken a long time to get here, but after finally sorting fthings out (a computer that was feeling a bit sad and replacing a stolen phone), here is the piece from the last stretch of my trip along the Silk Road.
Once out of Xinjiang province, I noticed two things. The food suddenly turned better and the presence of the police and the military virtually disappeared. Just like that. I had now entered the China I knew from before. The eastern part of the Silk Road has so much to offer, opening for some hard choices to be made. I chose to visit Dunhuang, Jiayuguan and – of course – Xi’an.
Donhuang is the home of one of the most important Buddhist sites in the world – the Mogao caves, also known as Thousand Buddha Grottoes or Caves of the Thousand Buddha. Easy acessible from the city and half the cost during low season. All the guides are students at the Donhuang Academy, with a thorough knowledge of what is going on, what is shown and what is restored. It is a good place to strike up a conversation about the restoration politics of the historic sites in China in order to get an understanding of the official mind-set. The Mogao Caves is also a great place to see original work a millennia old and – since no cameras are allowed – there is nothing more to do than just take it in.
Jiayuguan is an industrial city with little to offer accept for being built around the fortress that marks the end of the Chinese wall. This is a city where you do get a bit of attention as a foreigner, even if it can’t compare to Kashgar or Turpan.
The sites in Jiayuguan have for the most part been heavily reconstruced. The Chinese has really worked hard to ruin the historic atmosphere here. The exception is the actual ending of the wall, situated a short drive out of the city. The Beacon tower is now basically a pile of dirt and clay, but it has aged well.
The fortress is a fully, and very recently, restored replica of how it was in the past, basically ruining everything historic with the site itself. Parts of the Great Wall outside the city is treated the same way – nothing of the original is to be found. That said, the view is good and it is always a humbling experience to walk on the Great Wall of China.
Xian is like nothing else. It is Xian. It is special because of the Terracotta army. The Terracotta army along with the Small Goose Pagoda are the two things that still have a feeling of authenticity and history. The old city wall, the inner one, is now fully restored and is an impressive construction; 13 kilometres of wall where you can bike, run, walk away from the traffic. It is a cool place to be. But again, the feeling of history is long gone. Maybe the part of the wall that was turned into an amusement park had something to do with that….?