We were done with China and the long days of driving and the never ending windy desert cluttered with vast wind farms and photovoltaic arrays and the tedious ticketing at every important archaeological site and police checks galore and the excessive bureaucracy associated with our chosen mode of transport - Landy and friends.
So it was an achievement to arrive and depart but not the most relaxing of challenges, not helped by a sickly car and having the constant company of a capable Chinese guide, who managed to fall out with most of us at some point over the 32 days!
We keep as souvenirs the Chinese Landy licence plate, the customised driving licence and many photos of coloured mountains, Buddha’s in cliffs both in Mogoa caves near Dunhuang and the cliff hugging Majiishan Grottos near Tianshui, and chunks of Great Wall, a quick wizz round the Terracotta warriors and the city walls and markets of Xi’an and its massive gates and the Panda’s of Chengdu and the lush vegetation of the jungles to the South and the vast Hani rice terraces.
We sped across thousands of kilometres on fancy motorways, dashing through many amazing tunnels and roads connecting the many big cities and massive high rise apartments. In between, when off the world class roads, many raised on massive pillars passing over valleys, and rivers, we passed through ethnic areas, where there were thousands of mosques in Muslim areas, Buddhist stupas and many prayer flags fluttering in the breeze in the Tibetan areas. The impression we got is that there are many China’s.
We were constantly reminded of its diversity, but it seemed as if some of those still in grinding poverty were left behind isolated minority communities still working the land and if unemployed were sweeping the fancy roads that swept through and over their villages. Some Chinese people were visibly racing ahead with smart cars and fancy fashionable clothing, smart phones and yet some of the areas were still very poor indeed and this seemed particularly areas where there lived clusters of the many ethnic minorities. Their toilets were gross and often shared. Buildings falling apart and many building projects were in train but were likely never to be finished. This was never more so than when in the South of China we drove through amazing jungles full of bananas and other exotic fruits, fields of terraces with rice and corn side by side and roads constantly being cleared of landslides as the vast red hills crumbled down onto the roads where daily clearance was a constant requirement.
What we enjoyed as much as the things we saw in China was camping and eating with our convoy friends.
Camping alongside the Great Wall