Sunday, July 6, 2014

DAY 20 – 5 July 2014; Geermu to Dunhuang

The accommodation in the Zhufengdasha Hotel was exceedingly good for the price. Breakfast was part of the price too. The spread was awesome, that is, if you were a Chinese breakfast fan. There was porridge, cakes, boiled eggs, Baozi and a variety of vegetables. This is standard fare in any breakfast spread. And, of course, there will not be any tea or coffee. However, the added items this morning was fresh fruit cuts and local bread. I settled for boiled eggs, bread and cakes. The watermelon and musk melon cuts were so juicy and tasty that I was tempted to carry a few pieces with me.

The car had been parked in the open car park. Last night Yingchu had asked the receptionist to keep a special eye on the car. And she did. When I went down to complete the check out formalities the receptionist smiled and pointed at the car from her desk! The hotel service was very good too. That matched the road I encountered to Dunhuang. Considering the time we had taken over the 650 kms stretch to Geermu yesterday I was worried about the 550 kms that lay ahead today. My apprehensions were misplaced. The G3011/G215 – it was a combination of the National Road and the Highway. The National Road provided access to towns from the Highway. The landscape was similar to what we had encountered while driving into Geermu. Yingchu told us that it would be flatter and hotter as we travelled further West. And it progressively got so. The prescribed speed was 100 kmph; but the surfacing was so good that even when I did 150 kmph the car moved smoothly. I had anticipated getting to Dunhuang only by 4 pm. However, we got to the outskirts of the city by 1.45 pm. A decision had to be made. There were two places to visit while in Dunhuang – one was the Mogao Caves and the other the Singing Sand Dunes of Mingsha. Yingchu told us that the English guide for the Cave visit would be available at 3 pm, if we chose to visit the Caves in the afternoon. We decided to drive straight to the Mogao Caves. After we parked the car and went to the ticket counter Yingchu was told that the tour had been advanced to 2 pm and we were late for the tour by 15 minutes! Yingchu was so disappointed that we had to pep her up. She felt sorry for having got the timing wrong. Nevertheless, we had lunch from a restaurant near the Cave. We ordered two dishes of Pork and Tofu with Rice. As usual, the food was tasty and very edible. Yingchu, knowing that we were ready to experiment with local cuisine, asked if I would like to sample ‘Donkey Meat’, which was a local delicacy along with Camel Meat. I decided to savor either of them for dinner. One of the major concerns raised by travelers to China was the food; they mentioned that it would be better to carry ready to eat foods, and accordingly, I had Cup O Noodles and Baked Beans in the packing list. Thus far on the journey we have not had any occasion to take refuge in them because we had extremely tasty food right from Zhangmu to Geermu.

The Lobby of the Legend Hotel
After lunch we drove to Dunhuang city where we were to be lodged in the Legend Hotel. With Yingchu’s expert guidance we reached the Hotel without much ado. The staff at the Hotel was extremely courteous; they came to the car park to receive us. At the reception we were given cold towels and welcome drinks – service levels had gone up many notches since we got into Provinces in China outside the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR). Howver, it is not to be understood that we faced any problems of service in TAR, except in Amdo, where the water situation almost ruined the day. Yingchu got us excellent rates online; Yuan 168 for a twin room. It was a steal and the hotel was located in the centre of the city and rated 4 Star; the service level was certainly 5 Star. The staff, unlike in previous hotels, spoke English too, which was an added advantage for foreigners like me.

After completing the check in formalities including paying a deposit I decided to dedicate the rest of the time to some overdue washing. The enormous pile that had got accumulated over the past 10 days was sorted out. The under garments and socks received my immediate attention. Once the washing was done I discovered that I had limited space in the room to dry them. Then my eyes fell on the hair drier in the bathroom. I spent almost an hour drying the under garments and socks with the hair drier. The drier became so hot that I almost dropped it a couple of times. Though not fully dry I was confident that they would completely dry overnight.

Yingchu found out that sunset would be around 9.15 pm. Based on that information we decided to leave for the Singing Sand Dunes of Mingsha by 7 pm, which would give us enough time to climb the sand dunes and witness the sunset from atop there. We reached Mingsha in time to buy the tickets – the entrance at Yuan 120 per head is quite steep. The mountains are pale golden sand dunes reaching up several meters high. The sand dunes cover almost 50 square kilometers. The sand dunes can be explored by camel, electric car, gliders, helicopter, quad bike or by foot. We decided on a foot expedition. Sleeves are available on rent for the feet to keep the sand out. It took me a lot of time to climb to the peak of one of the dunes; Lal and Baiju abandoned their effort quite early. I mustered all my reserves of strength, endurance and resolve to get to the top. The fine sand got in everywhere; the camera the ears, the nose – basically everywhere that was exposed. The camera was most affected. The zoom stopped working and the lens got scratched. Once I got to the top the view of the Crescent Spring was heavenly. The contrast of the blue natural lake and lush vegetation around it is very romantic. The sound made by the wind against the dunes is the specialty of the Mingsha Mountains. What exactly causes it is not known. Speculation ranges from quartz in the sand to phenomenon of Resonance to experts who feel that there are probably ancient palaces under the dunes! However, the legend of the singing sands is that the Yellow Dragon Prince, annoyed by the celebration in the temples that clustered around the Crescent Lake, used his magical powers to move a huge volume of sand dunes and bury all the people underground. Those people who were buried often cry, beat drums and sound gongs to bemoan their misfortune. Thus goes the legend of the Singing Sand Dunes.
The Lady who made the Donkey Meat burger

Though we were covered head to foot in sand we decided to attend to the rumblings of the stomach. We decided to sup at the night market, considering the experience of the previous night. Being Saturday night the main square of the food market was almost full to overflowing. We took a vantage table near a stage that had been set up for live performance of Chinese folk dance and song. During the excellent show I had a Donkey meat Burger. It tasted quite good actually; much like beef. The Chinese folk performances were graceful and well choreographed. On the way back to the hotel we bought some Dates grown locally.

Yesterday we had completed 25% of the journey in terms of the number of days and distance. The journey has been a great experience thus far and we hope that it will continue to mesmerize us and enchant us for the rest as it has done in the first quarter.


  1. I felt I am doing a crime by not commenting here having read all your 20 days so far regularly.
    Thanks very much Suresh for your wonderful Blog...
    I see you are closer just 4 days to Kyrgyzstan. Are you planning to cross the border via Irkeshtam pass & Torugart pass. It does appear to me that it requires tremendous planning and wish you good luck...While reading, your blogs take me through the journey and I really feel I am one amongst you in the whole trip...Best regards and please continue updating.

  2. Great going. I could virtually travel along with the team. Being an exotic foody traveler I could imagine tasting donkey meat. I tasted dog soup with herbs in Kunming in 2006 and horse hot pot in Sapa, Northern Vietnam last year ...


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