Sunday, 15 October 2017

Silk Road: Jiayuguan and the Great Wall

Visiting Jiayuguan, the western outpost of the Great Wall
Jiayuguan was the last part of the Great Wall before heading towards Central Asia. It was built during the Ming Dynasty with stones, bricks and rammed earth, those these days it's been fixed up for tourists.

Tourists sampling some Peking opera at Jiayuguan
It was here that people had to have passports if they wanted to travel beyond the Great Wall along the Silk Road. The passport was a document in calligraphy that had their name and the emperor's seal on it. Outside of the Great Wall were the nomads called Xiongnu, Mongolians and Tibetans, basically barbarians.

Today's tourism officials have tried to spiff up Jiayuguan by making tourists feel like they are going back in time. There are "guards" standing by the gates and later on they parade around a "prisoner" in a wooden shackle before they start showing off some amateur martial arts routines.

Around the corner up on a high but small stage are Peking opera performers in costume complete with musicians. Did the audience really have to crane their necks to see the show back in the day? Just wondering.

One tourist giving his best drumming performance
There were also some odd-ball amusements -- literally. Our tour guide was so excited to shoot tennis balls from a mini cannon at a target that he did it twice, for 20 kuai for each round.

One of our fellow travelers paid 10 kuai to be able to hit a massive drum 10 times. However, instead of just banging the drum, he did a little dance routine as well, much to the amusement of local visitors.

Tourists could also purchase the "passport", where your name would be written in calligraphy and stamped with the Imperial seal. Strangely not many interested in getting the "modern antique" document.

People needed to carry passports to go beyond this pass
After our visit, we headed to a nearby part of the Great Wall, called The Overhanging Wall. It's called that because it looks like it is clinging onto the cliff. It also apparently has the nickname "Western Badaling" because it looks similar to the popular part of the wall near Beijing.

Our tour guide challenged us to climb up to the top, so five of us women took it on with aplomb. It took around 20 minutes to get up, and climbed over 400 steps. My aunt and I were the first to go, and it wasn't too difficult a climb, just that it got steeper and we stopped periodically to catch our breath.

When we almost got to the top, I heard a small boy's voice shout, "Ayi, jia you!"

I climbed the Overhanging Wall!
I looked up to see a boy, about five years old looking down at us and smiling with three other male adults. He kept shouting, "Ayi jia you!" "Auntie, add oil [keep going!] and I thanked him for the encouragement.

I regret not taking a picture of him before he scampered off again to the next section of the wall. We soaked up the amazing view below, celebrated our summit with three others before making it down again. Now I can say I've visited four parts of the Great Wall -- Badaling, Mutianyu, Simatai all near Beijing, and now the Overhanging Wall in Gansu province!

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