China 04 – Silk Road 01 – A Close Shave

I’ve decided to abandon any ideas of travelling the south just yet – aside from feeling like a sauna that’s had someone be over generous with the water bucket, there’s floods and lightning storms as far as the forecasts go.

I’ve flown into Lanzhou in the central north on the edge of the Gobi desert with the intention to follow the old Silk Road as far as the Chinese border. It’s already over 40 degrees in these parts but that’s not as hot as it gets and in any case, I’ll take the feeling of sticking your face into a blast furnace over resembling Victoria Falls in wet season any day.

Lanzhou as it turns out is an unnecessary hour’s bus ride from.the airport (always good to find out at 1am) and sits in a bowl surrounded by mountains. When you factor in over 3 million people and a lot of heavy industry it ends up with some of the worst air pollution in the world. There’s a night market across from hotel which I arrive at after 2am, and it seems to be in full swing still. I nestle down on to my bed made of granite and am lulled to sleep by the gentle thwok thwok thwok of an air conditioner that sounds like a military helicopter coming in to land.

View from the train heading west from Lanzhou

With nothing much to hold me in town I decide to take the first train west and get out of Dodge … which I barely make becausqe a) the traffic moves at roughly 4kph so it takes almost an hour to make the short distance to the train station and b) I’m held at the security scan and told that underarm deodorant and shaving cream are too dangerous to take on a train. I didn’t let that one go, in the end I caused them too much embarrassment and they just tell me to get on the train, deodorant and all.

Travelling with toiletries is the kind of living-on-the-edge adventuring I do. When Mao Zedong raised the revolution cry, no way did he do it with sweaty pits and three day stubble.

mao
Chairman Mao – dry pits, no stubble
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