Friday, October 31, 2008

Silk Road Day 6 – Giant Buddha Temple, Jiayuguan, Great Wall Museum, Jiuquan

Day 6 arrived, another day, a fresh start. After a bad breakfast (so much for fresh starts) we rode off to the one and only site in Zhangye.

The Great Buddhist Temple / Giant Buddha Temple
Intro courtesy of travelchinatour:
The Great Buddhist Temple is located in the southeast part of Zhangye City. It was built in 1098 in Xixia. Its original name was Jiayerulaipian Temple, and it is the largest temple in Gansu Province. Now there are three great buildings tourists can visit. They are the Great Buddhist Temple, Cangjing Hall and Tuta Tower. The great Buddhist Temple is 33 meters high. A Buddha which is made up of wood, soil and plastic lies in the temple. Its body is 34.5 meters long, the shoulder is 7.5 meters wide and its ears are over 2 meters long. This Buddha is said to be the largest reclining Buddha in China.

34.5 meters, I mused as I stared at the giant reclining statue. A building story is about 3-4 meters high, so this Buddha is about 10 stories tall. Now that is big. The eyes were elongated and managed to convey utter serenity and peace. Om.

Jiayuguan (City)
We left Zhangye behind and trundled on to Jiayuguan, the city not the pass. They’re both called the exact same name, which causes some confusion, at least for me. So if you go to Jiayuguan (the city), you will in fact see a city, and not sections of the Great Wall.

Jiayuguan is one of the richest cities in China actually, because the highly prosperous Jiuquan Iron and Steel Company reside here. And it earns lots and lots of moolah per year. Remember all that steel it took to build the Bird’s Nest and Water Cube for the Beijing Olympics? Well, some of it came from here. Other steel sources: all over the world. The Beijing Olympics really single-handedly increased world steel prices by 50% or more.

Since it’s so rich, our tour guide espoused, you can see more Beemers and Benzes here than any other city in China. And he was right. It’s a nice place, new, clean, with lots of steel sculptures. Figures.

We had a nice lunch and went off to Jiayuguan (the pass).

Jiayuguan (Pass)
Intro courtesy of travelchinaguide:
Located about six kilometers (four miles) southwest of Jiangyuguan City, the Jiayuguan Pass represents the western starting point of a section of the Great Wall constructed during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The pass covers an area of 33,500 square meters (eight acres) and lies at the base of a narrow valley, and takes its name from one of the surrounding hills, the Jiayu. Commonly referred to as the finest example of its kind on earth, the pass is the best preserved of the Great Wall's ancient military fortresses.

Yup, in Ming days, if you’re south of the wall, you’re safe; venture northwards or westwards, and you’d be prime beef for Xiongnus, barbarians and all kinds of atrocities.

The pass looks… new. It’s all very renovated, to keep it from falling to pieces of course. Ming emperors of yore would probably have seen such a clean, buffed-up façade when they came around on spot checks.

Messenger: General, Supreme Ming Emperor Yadda Yadda the Sixteenth is coming for a spot inspection!

General: What?! I’m in the middle of a war here, darn it! Oh fine, get 1000 workers and clean up those blood and bodies near the wall. Patch up the cannon ball holes, and make sure his supremeness doesn’t go to the west side!

There are many sections and layers, places where you could separate and trap the enemy, before killing them off one by one. Very efficient actually.

Great Wall Museum
Museums can be ho-hum places but this one isn’t. My favorite: the weapons! Especially a 1.5m knife (nearly as tall as me!) with an edge that still looked lethally sharp. One swing, and bodies would be sliced in two, blood and entrails spurting all over. No civilized long distance bullets here, it’s blood thirsty face-to-face combat that tests endurance, skill and pure muscle. Oh yeah.

Well, if long distance combat is your thing, there are bows and arrows as well.

Grand Canyon ala China
Yes, China also has a Grand Canyon! Now, I don’t know what Grand Canyon (US) actually looks like, because we went there one November, it snowed, and we couldn’t see a thing. But GC (China) looks like a smaller version of it. At least the color’s pretty similar.

It’s a site-filled day today so onwards we went to Jiuquan (another city), intro courtesy of chinatour:
Jiuquan, or “Wine Spring,” is a major stopover on the "Silk Road" northwestwards from Lanzhou, capital of Gansu Province. From the second century B.C., commissioners and high-ranking officers were dispatched by the rulers of Western Han Dynasty (306 B.C.- 34 A.D.) to develop the region. As the traffic along the "Silk Road" became busier and more important, the prefecture of Jiuquan was established more than 1,600 years ago to protect this vital artery. On a triumphant expedition, as legend has it, Huo Qubing, a celebrated commander of the Western Han army, visited the town with his troops. Emperor Wudi had decreed that they feast on wine, but there was not enough to go round. General Huo then poured his cup of wine into a spring so that it could be shared with his soldiers. That was how the city got its name.

It is also home to the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, which recently launched a rocket carrying two astronauts to circle the earth. The base is actually somewhere in the desert, and top-top secret. Only top clearance people can go there, and not us lowly tourists. Oh well, maybe next time.

Jiuquan Park
We went to Jiuquan Park, which is built around the actual spring that General Huo Qu Bing poured his wine into. Who is General Huo? Please read above intro of Jiuquan by chinatour.

K is a big fan of this guy. At the tender age of 16, he was already a great general, and led his men to victorious battles against the Xiongnus in the West. He was a great military commander and very brave, rushing headlong into enemy ranks and spurring his men onwards to victory despite terrible odds.

The Xiongnus got their back at him though. They threw rotting animal bodies into the water sources to spread diseases amongst the Han soldiers. There was no other water source around since it is the Gobi Desert. General Huo drank the contaminated water, got sick and died at age 24.

Moonlight Cups
Shopping again, this time for moonlight cups. There’s a famous Chinese poem about grape wine and moonlight cups and how they’re the perfect match.

Moonlight cups are made of some kind of jade stone. Sorry, can’t seem to find a good English intro on it. The facets and veins on the stone surface reminded K of Chinese ink paintings. They cost RMB50/pair, which seemed quite reasonable, so we bought 3 pairs. They’d probably just cost RMB20/pair in the street markets, but we’d spent quite some time picking the pairs, so we were happy with them.

There were a LOT of sites on Day 6, but they were all interesting and good places to visit.

Jiayuguan (Pass): stand at the top and try to see the difference between ‘in’wall and ‘out’wall.
Great Wall Museum: definitely check out the ancient weapons, they’re lethal!
Jiuquan Park: the statue of General Huo is quite a moving piece.
Moonlight cups: get a pair and toast the moon with some fine red wine.
Great Buddha Temple in Zhangye: the temple is pretty ancient, and who can resist giant buddhas?

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