Silk Road Trip
When: July 16 to August 13, 2007
Where: Beijing, Xi'an, Lanzhou, Jiayu Pass and Yang Pass
Who: 25 high school students and 5 teachers
The Silk Road is commonly defined as intercultural trade routes connecting the Eastern and Western civilizations of ancient times. Trade along these routes may be attributed as the first instances of globalization, linking the mighty Roman Empire to the powerful dynasties of China. As one of the world's most historically significant cultural bridges, a trip here was one to commit to memory.
Beginning in the capital of the world's most populous country-Beijing, China-we trekked for three days through a number of prominent historical sites including Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, and, of course, the Great Wall at Mutianyu. Each subsequent wonder seemed more impressive than its predecessor. Our daily explorations through the city found us enjoying such famous Beijing delicacies as Peking Duck and Gong Pao Chicken. In the evenings, we were fortunate enough to witness a range of cultural activities that included the Beijing Acrobats, and a night of mirth, dance, and song at Lao She's Teahouse. These served as a means to unwind after particularly vigorous daily activities.
Following an overnight of soft-sleeper berth train travel, we found ourselves encircled by the Great Wall once again as we journeyed to the eastern terminus of the Silk Road in Xian-home to one of the wonders of the world, the Terracotta Army. An exploration of the Shaanxi History Museum in the morning prepared us well to understand the context and promise of what we were to see the next day, but not before we finished our first day in Xian at the Big Wild Goose Pagoda. That night, we dined at the top of a rotating restaurant followed by a show at a magnificent theater. The next day we took the bus outside of the city to view the Army Museum. Our pictures do not give the enormity of these tombs justice. It blows my mind to think that only one fifth of the estimated army has been excavated! We dined in the city center that evening, and got a real taste of the metropolitan city that is Xian. We took a mid-evening train overnight to our next destination, Lanzhou
Lanzhou is in the Gansu province, and, in my opinion, was the most beautiful stop on our journey. Built along the banks of the Yellow River, the city is bordered by the Qilian Mountains to the north and the Pinglian mountains to the south. Houses on the sides of the mountains reminded me of coastal cities in other parts of the world. The weather here was comfortable, not as hot and dry as Beijing and Xian. A strong minority influence could be felt, as there are many Tibetan and Muslims settlements. A university visit to the University of Northwest Nationalities gave us a taste of the ethnic minorities in China, which only make up seven percent of the population. After an afternoon on the Yellow River banks, we visited the famous night market before our departure to Dunhuang.
Our third encounter with the Great Wall was at its westernmost starting point-the Jiayuguan Pass. It consists of three parts: an inner city containing the Passes' largest buildings, the walled-outer city complete with watch towers and pavilions, and a moat for defense purposes. Looking south and west from the top of the Wall, we saw snow atop the Qilian Mountains, as well as the beginning of the Gobi to the north and east. From Jiayuguan, we bussed for six hours on the highway to Dunhuang. Most impressive sights on the drive were the giant windmills along the side of the highway and the sand dunes of the Gobi. We also spotted a few small tribal villages along the way; a distinct contrast to the four cities through which we had previously traveled.
Once we reached Dunhuang, we devoured delicacies of this part of the Gansu Province. Donkey meat was a local treat, and the fruit was abundant and flavorful. We also enjoyed sweet sticky rice, which seemed more like a dessert than part of our dinner. The following day, we trekked to Mingsha Hill and Crescent Lake. Our mode of transportation up the mountain was via camel, which most everyone thoroughly enjoyed. Some of us "sand-sledded" down the high dunes, while others scoped out the vastness of the Gobi. The oasis of Crescent Lake is surrounded completely by these dunes, a thrilling geographical setting most of us may never see again. Later in the day, we headed to the Buddhist Mogao Grottoes, the best preserved and richest treasure house of Buddhist art in the World. The brightly colored murals have survived years of erosion because of their strategic placement within caves. The enormous paintings and carvings left us speechless. The Yumen Pass was the main attraction the following day. It is easy to think you're at the end of the earth while you are there. You can see for miles in all directions; not a person in sight, nor a sound to be heard.
Our return to Beijing felt like a homecoming. The group was able to test their Chinese oral abilities by bargaining in the Silk Market, and tie up loose ends for souvenir shopping. The Temple of Heaven served as the finale of the wonders in Beijing, followed by a night of packing and reminiscing among our friends.
-- By Deidre Gallivan, Bryant '08, who was a chaperon of the group