\May 15 2017
Xi’an to Tianshui
The Silk Road finally begins…The long awaited trail of the Silk Road began in earnest after we gathered at the granite sculptures of Marco Polo and his group. Marco Polo had his camels and we have our mighty MG Shamrock which is tackling a huge variety of terrain.
As we journeyed towards to the North West from Xián the landscape began to change. From verdant, lush conifer and mountain forests, the vegetation became more sparse and the colour of the soil changed as well. Ahead of us on our way to the Western border, we have 6 short drives around 300 – 400kms each in distance to significant sites.
The Maijishan Grottoes are in a very isolated place, not far from Tianshui, our first stop. The grottoes are protected by mountainous peaks covered with lush green trees and the calls of unseen birds accompany you as you slowly make your way up a steep roadway and hundreds of stone steps. But the real challenge hasn’t begun to access the grottoes you need to make your way along a maze of narrow twisting stairways which cling precariously to the cliff face. The snaking stairways lead to nearly 194 cave shelters of various sizes, which contain nearly 7200 Buddhist stone and clay sculptures. Some grottoes hold only a tiny sculpture of only 20 cm while other grottoes encase sculptures up to 20 mt in height, surrounded by magnificent murals. All of this was made by hand, sheer faith and devotion to Buddhism, from 384 AD during the late Qin dynasty.
The day we had was clear and we were nearly on our own with our guide who described in detail the differences between the difference construction periods and the sculptures and paintings of the Bodhisattvas, gods, guardians, apsaras, disciples and Buddhas.
It was so peaceful but the wonder of how the monks and devotees constructed this without the use of cranes and scaffolding is amazing.
Up here in the Wild West Shamrock and Peter have taken to Chinese driving like ducks to water. Trucks and cars change lanes changing lanes don’t need indicators because they assume you know they are going to do it and it occurs about 2 metres in front of you. All this happens at high speed ( 100km +). We noticed that drivers’ habits have changed from further down south. More honking of horns and cutting across lanes to reach an exit will be done at the last minute. What is most amusing is how everyone takes photos of us -while driving. They prop next to us , the window goes down phones appear along with smiling faces and cheerful waves – not bad when you are doing 120km down an expressway. The people have been so very friendly and helpful.
Still having trouble uploading photos, some evenings it works quickly yesterday and today it has been ridiculously slow! Very frustrating….