After days on the traditional silk road it was time for a short deviation. This time the deviation led to Xining the capital of the Qinghai province in central China. Even though Xining also is part of the silk road network, the reason to visit the city was the multicultural society and the possibility to get a first grasp on Tibet. Thus far the idea…
Since we had to change trains in Lanzhou on our way from Jiayuguan to Xining anyway, Tim and I decided to to spend a day in the capital of Gansu province. Just before 7am the night train from Jiayuguan arrived and we discussed our plans. Since I started to feel the consequences of the previous days of fast traveling I was not that interested anymore to visit Lanzhou. Nevertheless we bought the train tickets to Xining for the evening and brought our luggage to the left luggage in the train station. We first started to look for some breakfast.
Tim soon found a place where they served noodle soup, apparently a specialty of Lanzhou. My stomach did not feel like any Chinese spices at the time which made me skip the soup. I felt like drinking a nice tea, which is why we stumbled into a bakery a little later. Strangely the only hot drinks they had was an artificial tea with milk and some pieces of dried fruit. I tried their hot drink, which was not exactly what I had in mind. Since the two of us were very tired and did not want to fall asleep in the bakery, we headed out to find something better.
The better place came in form of a tea shop. We stuck our heads inside to find out whether they only sold tea or whether it was also possible to drink tea there. The three girls immediately invited us in and we could drink their green tea from very small cups, which were probably intended for tea tasting. We stayed in the tea shop for quite some time and tried to answer all their questions. To our profit we also learned some new Chinese expression, which we probably could remember had we not been so tired.
From the tea shop we continued our stroll through Lanzhou across the Dongfanghong square to the Yellow River. This was where we saw the first attractions of Lanzhou, the big water wheels along the river. Our main goal for a visit however was the White Pagoda Temple on the other side of the Yellow River. Thus we used the next available bridge to cross the river. Tim spotted a Muslim man selling dumplings and greeted him politely. We thus were invited for food to his place to try his freshly cooked dumplings and cookies. The dumplings had a sweet filling, which I could not clearly identify. However they were delicious.
The temple was a little further along the river which is why we chose to take a street parallel to the river to get there. After about the half the distance we arrived at a large open market surrounded by mosques. Since Tim spent a lot of time in the mosques I decided to continue the trip on my own.
The first thing I remarked was a destruction sight on the hill in front of me. Apparently all the smaller buildings had been taken down only to be replaced by tall apartment buildings. Another sign of the ruthless modernization taking place in China, where historical centers are eradicated without hesitation. The only building left in that part of the city was one of the mosques, where the people were headed for their prayer. The local Hui, the Chinese Muslim population also were astonished by what was taking place in that part of Lanzhou and probably were already missing what there used to be.
I followed the road from the construction site until I found the temple complex. I was expecting a large temple but not what I finally found there. A huge complex consisting of dozens of buildings and pavillions covered a whole side of the hill topped by the White Pagoda on top of the hill.
I decided to discover the complex without any rush and to climb the hill to the top. Since it was winter and thus off season large renovation was going on all over the complex. This is why it was not possible to visit all the buildings. Also some of the paths up and down the hill were being renovated, however I still managed to walk into a construction area without even noticing. I left the parts of the complex which was very far due to my health, however I still could see how one could get the fastest from the White Pagoda on top of the hill to the other side of the river. There is a very fast zip-line leading from the White Pagoda to the top station of a cable car leading across the Yellow River. Since I wanted to visited another part of the temple complex, I refrained from using it.
Once again on the south side of the Yellow River I started my way back to the train station with the goal to find one or another tea house along the way. I first passed a large park along the Yellow River were many people were congregated. A few older men were playing the Erhu, a two stringed violin of which one takes the body on one’s knees to play it. The resulting music was not really made for my ears which is why they did not get my extended attention. A little further down the river people were once again dancing. There were couples just dancing to the music being played, while other people took some lessons. A little bit disturbing was the fact that there were several speakers playing different music. Directly behind the dancing people one could find the gamblers. Around small tables, which were apparently brought there by the people, people were playing cards and as apparently anywhere in the world, the spectators knew best which cards to play next and who had made which mistake and why.
During my walk I eventually found a bakery where I enjoyed some pastry and actually wanted to drink some tea. Apparently they had only coffee, but not tea in that bakery, such that they were able to convince me to take a coffee instead. After having drunken and eaten and fallen sleep the fifth time I decided it was time to move on to the train station. Along the way I suddenly heard loud screaming on the other side of the road and I saw a throng of people. The employees of a clinic were apparently comparing their strengths in a tug of war. The referee was fully equipped with red flag and a whistle while the men were measuring their strengths under the loud cheers of the female staff.
At the train station I met Tim and the train brought us in a little over two hours to Xining. A young Chinese man who spoke a little bit of English was kind enough to help us with the local bus and even had someone else to tell us where we had to get off the bus. Everything worked out fine up to the fact that we could have ridden the bus almost to the door steps of our chosen hostel. So we half way walked the distance until a Chinese couple offered to provide us a ride in a taxi. A little bit more complicated than necessary we thus arrived at the Lete Youth Hostel in Xining, where we would spend the next few days.
Since my cold had gotten worse I decided to stay in Xining until everything was better before continuing to Xian. Thus I ended up extending my original stay of 2 days to 5 days during which I did not see much of the city. All I did was buying food, medicine and a train ticket to Xian for Wednesday January 4.
Thanks to Google Maps I knew that train tickets were sold in the Dashizi post building. On a little twisted ways I finally found the building. Seeing no train ticket office I asked a local about train tickets and he pointed upwards, which meant second floor. I thus climbed the stairs and stood in the middle of a big post office with many counters and a few shops at the sides. All the train ticket offices had looked the same so far so I expected it to be this way here too. Fortunately I saw a western looking face and asked him if he knew where I could get train tickets. Brad, an American who had been studying in Xining for two years, was able to help out. Unfortunately the counter had closed about half an hour earlier. The lady still sitting there was unwilling to do anything. Brad asked the police man next to her, where I could find a train ticket and he wrote down an address at a super market. Using this address I could catch a taxi which brought me to the supermarket on a metered rate. I entered the supermarket and asked the security guard about trains. He pointed in one direction where I immediately recognized the familiar train ticket counters. The lady at the counter was once again quite annoyed having to serve a foreigner who did not speak Mandarin and even though all the relevant information was on my little slip of paper she did not see it. I had already transmitted that I wanted train number K622 to Xian, but she apparently did not see the date. Once again I was helped out by a lady in the queue who could translate “tomorrow” for me. A few seconds later I held my tickets in my hands and left the supermarket.
I managed the way back to the hostel by bus, stopping in the center to eat some food. Wednesday was spent in front of the netbook to complete this blog post and to prepare myself for Xian, before I headed out to the Xining West train station at 6pm.