Tuk to the Road

The trials and tukulations of Jo, Ants and Ting Tong the tuk tuk and our three-wheeled odyssey from Bangkok to Brighton...in aid of the mental health charity Mind. For more information please see www.tuktotheroad.com

Friday, June 30, 2006

Tukking the Great Wall by storm

Jiayuguan, Gansu Province, North West China

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View from Jiayuguan Fort, Gansu

Its funny to think that when Jo and I first got our Chinese itinerary from the CSITS we balked at the sight of a 566 km day, imagining the horror of driving for eight hours. Now here we are, 21 days into China, and today, at six hours, was far and away our shortest day on the road. Even eight hours falls into the short day bracket now, so used are we to arriving at our destination each night after upwards of ten hours tukking.

Gansu maye be a very poor province but boy are its roads better. Today we covered 260 km's in six hours, cruising along almost pothole free tarmac at a steady 50 km's per hour. Since we left Lanzhou a few days ago we have been heading west, along the old Silk Road, more used to carrying precious caravans of silk and spices than Ting Tongs. Our road has taken us along the Hexi Corridor, a 1000km stretch of land sandwiched between mountains to the south and the Gobi Desert to the north. For centuries this was the trading route between China and the West, the only way for goods and people to cross the cultural and geographical divide. Today spanking new expressway stretches across the wilderness, a far cry from the camel caravans of ancient times, and Dong Feng trucks carry coal and other goods to Xinjiang and beyond. The Hexi corridor is also famous for being the location of 1000 km's of the Great Wall, which we saw yesterday for the first time.

This mythical wall, lauded as the only manmade structure visible from space, is always something I have imagined as a vast brick edifice. But the Wall we encountered yesterday is no more than crumbling mud ramparts, barely distinguishable from the desert engulfing it. For most of the road between Wuwei and Zhangye we tukked along beside this historic remnant, evocative even in its advanced state of disrepair. I feel sure that Ting Tong was the first pink TT to follow its path.

Today was equally impressive driving, the road continuing west through vast treeless expanses. Rearing up in the distance on our left were the snowcapped peaks of the Qilian mountains, to our right the endless horizon of the desert. Never before have I been somewhere so remote, it felt like driving to the edges of the universe. Which to the Chinese it almost is.

Jiayuguan, where we are now, has always been synonymous in Chinese culture as a place of grim desolation, comparable to the outer edges of Siberia in the Russian psyche. Here lies the last fortress of the Great Wall, built in 1372 by the Ming dynasty. Looking out over its ramparts this afternoon it was easy to imagine why this place has such connotations. Sand and snow-capped mountains filled the horizon and althougth the temperature was a scorching 34 degrees today, in winter the thermometer plunges to 20 below zero.

Thanks to Jack's encouragement - Jo and I were both feeling tired and idle - we also took in the Great Wall museum. Did you know that the wall was begun in the 7th century BC, took over 2000 years to build, and during the time of the Ming dynasty needed a million men to guard its 25,000 km length? No, neither did I. Quite amazing.

Tomorrow we continue further west, to Anxi. We've got to leave very early as for 250 km of the 320 km route there are roadworks, surprise surprise. Then hopefully we can have a day off paragliding or dune surfing in the desert. Double wooopeeee.

That's all from me... love to all in the UK xx Ants


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