Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Silk Road – china – July, 2013
I arrived in Beijing, China on Wednesday morning, July 3 and took the metro to Guloudajie and from there easily walked to the Bamboo Garden Hotel (www.bbgh.com.cn) where I had stayed in 2008.  It is a charming hotel with a delightful courtyard and all the rooms are decorated in the traditional Chinese fashion.  The breakfast buffet is delicious, especially the noodles with vegetables and the fresh litchi which put you right in the Asian mood.

Afterwards I took a walk around Hou Hai lake, through some hutongs and little alleyways to the residence of Song Qingling Guju, a very powerful and influential woman.  On to the Bei Hai Park, visiting Prince Qong’s Mansion, one of the most exquisite and best preserved imperial mansions in Beijing along the way. 

My last stop of the day was the Temple of Heaven considered a masterpiece of architecture.  Several features of the temple complex symbolize the connection of heaven (circle) and earth (square) and all of the buildings within the temple have special dark blue roof tiles, representing the heavens.  Dinner that night at the Black Sesame Kitchen (www.blacksesamekitchen.com), rated #1 by Tripadvisor, was very special.   Luckily, I had reserved my “seat” at a long wooden communal table several months in advance.  23 international diners feasted on 10 courses of pork and pumpkin potstickers, sweet potato chips, roasted shiitake mushrooms, pork and red pepper stir fry, eggplant with cilantro, pork belly, etc. ending with black sesame ice cream and caramelized bananas.  There was also a mirror where we could watch the chefs cook if we liked.  It was great fun and the food was delicious.

After breakfast I took a boat to the summer palace and visited the beautiful temple of longevity, walked the famous corridor along lake kumming and stopped along the way to visit several pavilions which looked particularly interesting.  On across the marble bridge I walked and out the gate to the metro stop and back to the center.  Dinner was at No Name Restaurant near the hutongs and river nearby.  I had an interesting chrysanthemum/carrot salad and some crisp eggplant, peppers and onions for dinner and just wandered around enjoying the nightlife filled with music and dancing. 

In the morning I walked to the Lama Temple, formerly an imperial palace.  It was converted into a Tibetan Buddhist monastery and its many halls each contain enormous statues of different buddhas. I checked into my new hotel where our intrepid trip would start that night and then visited the Capital Museum filled with Chinese culture.  Our meeting started at 6 p.m. and our guide Jolie from Russia spoke fluent Chinese and Russian which was very helpful!!!  There were 12 of us and we all enjoyed a Chinese meal out together which included some delicious Peking duck!!!

After breakfast we drove 2 hours to the Mutianyu side of the great wall, built of granite in the mid 6th century.  A few of us walked from the parking lot up to where the wall began and then turned right to walk the part still in ruins and overgrown with grass before turning back and walking through the watchtowers along the part of the wall most travelled.  I have walked this wall a couple times before but it is always a breathtaking experience nevertheless.  This time I took the speed chute down which was great fun!!! 

When we returned to town I stopped nearby for some delicious noodles with baby bok choy and later took the metro and then walked about 20 minutes to the Liyuan Theatre where I had reserved a ticket for the Peking Opera.  The opera started with an actor on stage putting on his makeup and is then dressed as a woman plays a traditional Chinese string instrument.  Afterwards the actors perform with elaborate costumes and traditional Chinese music – I found it wonderful!!!  When it ended, I took the metro to the street with red lanterns and had a tasty eggplant in hot pot dish for dinner at an outside restaurant – what a terrific day!!! 

In the morning, we had a great tour of the forbidden city, the Chinese imperial palace which served as the home of emperors and their households for almost 500 years.  It is filled with halls, palaces and wonderful collections, i.e. timepieces, ceramics, paintings, etc.  Afterwards we took the metro to 798 which is the funky artist area and wandered through the shops and galleries.  Lunch at a little café was a very good caprice salad.  Overnight train to Xian.

We arrived early in Xian and several of us shared a cab to the tomb of emperor Jingdi which is still intact and visited the man-made necropolis nearby.  I wandered around the Muslim quarter later in the afternoon and in the evening we took a bus to see the dancing fountains and music show in front of the goose pagoda which was beautiful.

In the morning, we took a local bus to the terracotta warriors discovered in 1974 by farmers digging a well.  There are approximately 8,000 clay figures, depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China including chariots and horses all lined up in battle formation.  The figures are life sized and were originally painted with bright pigments.  There is also a nice museum nearby where you can see a few individual figures and chariots in more detail than in the 3 pits.  Afterwards we had a delicious Chinese lunch nearby.  Later in the afternoon I walked back to the muslin quarter bustling with activity and then visited the old folk house of a diplomat where there was a shadow puppet show with traditional music in the background.  Overnight train to Turpan and the beginning of the silk road going west towards the Gobi desert.  It was the route used by Marco Polo and traders between east and west.

Arrived after two nights and a full day on the train.  Had one meal in the dining which was fun…Next to our hotel was a little café called John’s where they served scrambled eggs on toast – a really nice change from the Chinese noodles we had been having for breakfast.  Headed out to the ancient city of Jiaohe and wandered through the remains of courtyards, monasteries, etc. dating back to the Han dynasty.  On to the 2,000 year old Karez irrigation system.  Turpan’s water system was made up of a horizontal series of vertically dug wells linked by underground water canals to collect water runoff from the Tian Shan mountains.  Ample water was crucial to the oasis city of Turpan and to the caravans passing through on the silk route.

We had lunch outside at a new hotel sitting at low tables and eating delicious thin spicy noodles, morning glory, chicken skewers, etc.  On to the flaming mountain made of red sandstone which glows red from the heat.  We visited the Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves, once an important Buddhist worship area.  There are about 70 rock cut caves filled with murals but most of the murals have either been severely damaged by the Muslim population or removed by German explorer Albert von le coq and sent to Germany.  Our final stop was the Emin Minaret, a beautiful circular tower built out of mud brick.  Later that night we walked to the night market and sat outside and had street food, i.e. flatbread, grilled mushrooms, quail eggs, eggplant and chicken for dinner.  As it was still Ramadan the Muslims couldn’t eat until the sun goes down so it was about 9:30 p.m. by the time we had dinner.

I took a walk in the morning and picked up a large warm flatbread which we all shared for breakfast before boarding our train for Kashgar.  I shared a little two bunk compartment with one of our travelers and it was so nice and quiet!!!  Scenery was lovely, i.e. from the flat desert to grasslands, beautiful rivers and streams.  I had picked up bread, fruit, figs and cookies and that served me well throughout the trip.  We arrived in Kashgar around noon and, after settling into our hotel, went nearby for lunch.  A couple of us shared the famous meat flatbread pie and morning glory before we met our guide who took us into the old part of town along stalls selling clothes, bread cooked in tandoori ovens, fruits and vegetables, dumplings, etc.  We went inside the modest Id Kah mosque and then had a free afternoon.  I wandered around the old city which is being torn down to make way for the new.  People are being displaced and it seems rather sad…That evening my roommate and I walked back to the market and picked up some delicious street food, i.e. lamb pies, noodles, chickpeas, cabbage salads, etc. for dinner which we ate in our room. 

In the morning after a wonderful breakfast of pastries, eggs, Chinese food, melons, etc. we visited the tomb of Abakh Hoja, a powerful ruler before visiting the animal market.  The market was filled with goats, sheep, horses, chickens, etc. all for sale, some being sheared, some tied together in bunches – it was really fascinating!!!  We had delicious spicy noodles for lunch at a nearby restaurant and then wandered around the Sunday market which sold EVERYTHING!!!  We bought a melon to share for dinner which was juicy and just enough after our hearty lunch.

I picked up some pastries and fruit from the breakfast buffet for the long ride to the Kyrgystan border and a new country…. 

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