Heading further west across China stands the ‘First and Greatest Pass Under Heaven’ set on a stony plain between two mountain ranges . A great fort which in the past marked the westernmost limits of civilisation of imperial China. Beyond the fort were tribes who harassed the Chinese empire as well as the forbidding Taklamakan desert, one of the biggest sandy deserts in the world, which locals superstitiously believed was filled with spirits and ghosts.
The fort was an important stop on the Silk Road and it was therefore a stop on my journey across China. I arrived in the nearby city of Jiayuguan early in the morning after another night train and was very happy to be able to check in immediately.
Jiyuguan fort is only 5kms out of town and I decided that I wanted to cycle out rather than hire a taxi. When I asked the girls at the hotel reception about hiring a bicycle they shook their heads, looked at each other, then looked at me with confusion and questioning looks. Hmm, what now? As I was trying to point on the map and find out where I could hire a bicycle a manager appeared. She spoke excellent English and after some going back and forth, and some time, she rustled up a bicycle for me. I’m still not sure from where.
Soon there was quite a scene out in the hotel carpark as a small group of hotel employees surrounded the bicycle as the chain was oiled, the seat lowered and everything checked. On the first two checks the chain stuck but the third time it was okay. Waving goodbye to the small crowd I set off with the chain clicking as I rode. I hoped the chain would hold for the whole trip!
The fort was well sign-posted and it wasn’t long before I was standing in front of it’s imposing walls. From the top of the walls I looked out over the stark landscape and found it easy it easy to imagine how bereft of hope you would feel if you had to continue west beyond the limits of civilisation.
A further 9kms on is the Overhanging Great Wall. An impressive part of the wall which climbs straight up the ridge providing amazing views out to the barren nothingness. But if you looked back to town the skyline was marred by modern industries’ chimneys belching who knows what into the atmosphere.
As I cycled past the locals seemed surprised to see a foreigner on a bicycle. But despite this the locals were extremely friendly, welcoming and curious. On a number of occasions people would help or just start trying to talk to me in Chinese!
A round trip of 28kms and I finally made it back to town, hot and sweaty. But the bicycle’s chain had held!
I stayed at Gansu Jiayuguan Hotel as there are no hostels in town. A very good four star hotel with large bathrooms, flat screen TV and breakfast included. I booked via Agoda for AUD65 a night.
A ticket to see Jiayuguan Fort, the Overhanging Great Wall and the First Beacon Platform = 120RMB