China 07 – Silk Road 04 – The End of the Line

Full photo set @ Flickr

Jiayaguan sits out in the desert or Western Gansu and was either greeted with jubilation or tredidation by the Silk Road caravans. This was the furthest reach of the Ming era Great Wall. Coming from the West it meant at last they were out of bandit territory in the untamed barbarian lands stretching thousands of kilometres to Persia and were now in the relative security of Imperial China, along with all the luxuries of life that an established local trade route brings. Leaving Imperial China, there was a fair chance that this was to be the last bit of civilisation you might see.

The huge Jiayaguan Fort was the garrison where Chinese armies would ride out to more remote outposts and to quell incursions by marauding hordes. I’d seen plenty of photos of the fort, seemingly in a far flung forgotten corner, slowly being reclaimed by the shifting sands and had romanticised having to travel through some wild country on precarious transport to reach there and have the run of the place more or less to myself.

First lesson in not romaticising historic places in China: a bullet train brought me into town at a leisurely 200kmh where I could hop straight into a taxi to whisk me off to the Great Wall and fort where several thousand Chinese tourists had had the same intentions, arriving by the busload with flag waving tour guides and loud-hailers. It’s possible there were more selfie-sticks in operation than there were guards in the Ming Imperial Army. The fort is completely rebuilt, as is the “last stretch of Wall”, the only remnants of the original in view stretched away from the fort towards the mountains, where it’s been bisected by high speed rail links and motorways.

Jiayaguan itself is no dusty village – 300,000 people and a lot of heavy industry. Kind of killed that romanticised ideal as I turned from the top of the Great Wall to gaze out on the lonely desert …

I’m still working on learning that lesson …

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