Day 28
Chengdu to Ruoergai – 17/6/16

We left Chengdu for Ruoergai at 9.20 am. After getting out of the traffic of Chengdu, we paid the toll and got on to the Duwen Expressway. The speed limit was 100kms, but we were driving at 120 kms. It had a 2 lane road – one for overtaking and the other was a carriage way. We were crossing the Quincheng mountains. The first tunnel we crossed was a 4106 mtrs, followed by 1440 mtrs bridge on which we had to drive @ 40 km per hr speed. We came to Duwen Expressway law enforcement checkpoint where we had to pay CNY 38 to Sichuan Expressway Co. Ltd of Sichuan.

We also crossed 1060 mtrs tunnel, a small bridge, then again a 3658 mtrs Longxi tunnel followed by another Yingxiu tunnel 5325 mtrs (drive @ 60 kms speed), Yinxing tunnel 3750 mtrs @ 60 kms speed, Lianshancum bridge 1970 mtrs, Futang tunnel 5264 mtrs. Got out of Futang tunnel to enter Toaguan no.1 tunnel of 670 mtrs followed by 5106 mtrs Toaguan no.2 tunnel and finally a 2996 mtrs tunnel.

Most expressways use a card system. Upon entrance to an expressway (or to a toll portion of the expressway), an entry card is handed over to the driver. The tolls to be paid are determined from the distance traveled when the driver hands the entry card back to the exit toll gate upon leaving the expressway. A small number of expressways do not use a card system but charge unitary fares.

The drive today after the Expressway was a single road through various villages. A lot of these villages were inhabited by Tibetans. Today was bright sunshine day with temperature ranging from 29 to 30 degree.

We were still driving at 7.05 pm when the temperature had gone down to 17.5 degree and the sun was setting down. The low lying mountains were all green and the nature looked so marvellous. The Yaks and horses –  hundreds and hundreds of them, all around grazing. There were so many tents on the way. We managed to capture a few videos enroute.

The road was a single and only road on the North West side with a lot of heavy traffic mainly constituted of domestic tourists visiting all the scenic spots on the way.

We did not stop anywhere except for short tea/restroom/lunch breaks every two hours as we had to reach Ruoergai before it was dark. After a fabulous drive of ten hours through the grasslands,we arrived at our hotel in Ruoergai around 7.30 pm.

Ruoergai Grassland also known as Zoige Grasslands is said to be the fourth largest grasslands in China located in the north of Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture of Sichuan Province and is the largest high-altitude marsh area in the world. Ruoergai Grassland belongs to the kind of alpine meadow, also one of the China’s three largest wetlands, covering 10436.58 square kilometers, inhabited by Tibetans settled there with their animals – Yaks & horses and living in tents. It is one of the three famous marshes in China at sea level of 10,826.8 ft. to 11,811 ft. Zoige Grassland looks like a magnificent brilliant emerald inlaid in the border of the northwestern Sichuan Province. It is one of the famous places to visit in China with lots of unique and charming natural landscapes.

A lot of people spend their time enjoying the fantastic scenery, riding horses in the vast grassland and strolling in the Zoige Grassland where herders take their yaks and sheep to feed on the lush, green meadows. It is a wonderful thing to get close the nature!

We spent some time taking pictures, videos but had no time to enjoy all the scenic places.

We drove down straight and checked in at Kai De Feng Hotel. It was a tiring day with Louis & Susanne having upset tummies thanks to some bug they caught in the Indian food from the previous night. We retired for the night. I however sat late into the night updating my blog lest I forget.

Day 29 
Ruoergai to Xiahe (Gensu Province) – 18/6/16

After a hopeless breakfast today, we left for Xiahe It was supposed to be a 270 km drive. Michael had arranged to get the cars washed.

When we started the car, we got a message to replace the front brake pads in 410 km. Desperate now to find the next BMW service centre to get the brake pads replaced. Coordinated with Jeffry at the BMW centre for the next service centre where we can get the Brake Pads replaced.

The first and only tunnel today we came across was the Rierlang Mountain Tunnel 1625 mtrs. It started drizzling and the cars looked dirty as ever. We drove for about 5 hours to Xiahe and checked in at Jiu Sheng Hotel around 2.00 pm.

Xiahe is an ethnically-Tibetan town in Gansu Province, China. The town lies along one main street parallel to the Daxia River. The Chinese section lies to the eastern end of the road and the Tibetan section lies at the western end. In between lies the monastery. There is graceful landscape and people are very colourful.

We decided to have lunch at the hotel restaurant and the funniest thing we came across was we were asked to pay CNY 2. Also when asked for green tea, they said that they would charge us for it at different rates they had. A surprise in China! Anyway we decided to manage without tea, but had to pay for the paper napkins. After lunch at the hotel, Susanne, Sophie & myself walked through the Xiahe street towards the Labrang Monastery, one of the six great monasteries of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. It is located in Xiahe County, Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Gansu, in the traditional Tibetan area of Amdo. Labrang Monastery is home to the largest number of monks outside of the Tibet Autonomous Region.

In the early part of the 20th century, Labrang was by far the largest and most influential monastery in Amdo. It is located on the Daxia River, a tributary of the Yellow River. The monastery was founded in 1709 by the first Jamyang Shêpa, Ngawang Tsondru. The resident monks wear maroon robes, black UGG-style boots and shaggy yellow Mohawk shaped hats, sometimes pitched to impressive heights.

After a tour of the Monastery we walked back to the hotel. Our dinner however was very good.

Tomorrow we have to leave for Xining (Qinghai Prov) with about 250 kms drive. We’ll find the BMW Service Centre in Xining.

Day 30 
Xiahe to Xining – 19/6/16

Drove for 174 kms after which we got Lanxi Expressway for 75 kms to Xining. Crossed the 3355 mtrs & 2975 mtrs tunnels.

The Street lights were powered by solar. The city had high rise buildings and Multi level flyover.

Xining is the capital of Qinghai province in western China and the largest city on the Tibetan Plateau. It has 2,208,708 inhabitants at the 2010 census whom 1,198,304 live in the built up area made of 4 urban districts.

The city was a commercial hub along the Northern Silk Road’s Hexi Corridor for over 2000 years, and was a stronghold of the Han, Sui, Tang, and Song dynasties’ resistance against nomadic attacks from the west. Although long a part of Gansu province, Xining was added to Qinghai in 1928. Xining holds sites of religious significance to Muslims and Buddhists, including the Dongguan Mosque and Ta’er Monastery. The city lies in the Huangshui River valley, and owing to its high altitude, has a cold semi-arid climate.

There are also many small restaurants offering noodles. Gan Ban is a very common noodle dish. Perhaps Mian Pian, which means “noodle leaves” is the most common noodle plate among the Qinghai people. On the streets, many Muslims sell spicy lamb brochettes. Due to the cold climate, residents of Xining are also fond of strong spirits—Xining has the reputation of being one of the heaviest regions of alcohol consumption in China. Our lunch today, one of her cheapest, while waiting for the BMW guys to fix the car.

Dinner was at an Italian restaurant, where we had Steak, Pizza, Pasta, Bolognese Malaysian Noodles with Tsing Taos Beer & Mango Sorbet. After dinner, we walked through the food street where there were many small restaurants.

Today, we completed a month since we left home on the Lifetime Journey. So far, we have driven 8000+ kms.

Tomorrow we leave for Zhangye.

Day 31
Xining to Zhangye – 20/6/16

Today on the way, we saw the Gaoligongshan snow-capped mountains.  We were driving at an altitude of 3767 mtrs height and then came down to 3685 mtrs.  The road was very beautiful with mountains on both sides.  We were on our way to Zhangye to see the Zhangye Danxia Landform Geological Park before sunset.

On the way we passed through Gongshang.  The scenery here was like a painting, the people here were like celestial beings. The entire place has colourful view and every step, every corner, every mountain was a view.

Zhangye is located in far western Gansu province. In the north it borders Inner Mongolia and in the south Qinghai. It has a large area of 42,000 km2 and is blessed with numerous streams, abundant sunlight and fertile soil, making it an important agricultural centre for Gansu and all of China. Zhangye has a total population of 1,199,515, only 260,000 being urban residents. There are 26 ethnic minorities other than Han represented including many Hui, Uygur and Tibetans.

It was a 6.5 hrs drive with approx 337 kms on G227 highway.  Total drive was around 389 kms.  Reached the park around 5.00. We had to take our entry tickets and then we were transported in their buses to the park.  There were 4 different platforms from which we could view these mountains.  Breathtaking view!

The topography of the Danxia Geological Park area includes steep cliffs, sharp peaks and eroded caves. A formation of these fantastic “sea waves” red-orange-pink colorful mountains started about 100 million years ago. In the past, this area was the bottom of a huge lake, and many rivers brought him sand of different colors. Then the lake dried, and oxidized sediments and acquired the specific red-orange palette. Formed of layers of reddish sandstone, the terrain has over time been eroded into a series of mountains surrounded by curvaceous cliffs and unusual rock formations. It is mainly horizontal and low diagonal red strata, belonging to the Jurassic and Tertiary eras. By the way we understand some dinosaur fossils were also found in this area. Absolutely fabulous picturesque view!  Loved it!

We checked in at a hotel close to the park so we do not have to travel again and can leave in the morning early to the next destination, Jiayuguan (Gansu Province).

Day 32
Zhangye to Jiayuguan- 21/6/16

Today for a change for the first time, we had omelette for breakfast prepared by Michael for all of us in a Wok as there was no flat panel available in the hotel kitchen.

After breakfast, we left for Jiayuguan on a fantastic highway cruising at a speed of 120 km per hour.  Lovely drive with music! We arrived at Jiayuguan around 12.00 and straight away, we went to see the Great Wall.

Jiayuguan is the western end of the Great Wall built in the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644). It was an important military fortress and also a vital traffic fort along the Silk Road, the world’s oldest trading route, connecting China, Central Asia and Europe. Standing in the endless desert with rolling mountains as its backdrop, this isolated pass will takes you back to the desolation and loneliness of frontier life in ancient times.  Jiayu Pass was built in 1372 under the supervision of Feng Sheng, a founding general of the Ming Dynasty. When first completed, there were only ramparts surrounding the barracks. After 168 years of enhancements, the pass assumed its present appearance.
Covering an area of 33,529 square meters, Jiayuguan Pass of Great Wall has a complex and integrated defensive system: an inner city, the central area with many buildings, an outer city, and finally a moat.  We could also find common military facilities such as arrow towers, turrets, and cannons along the wall.

Different from sections built with stone and gray bricks in other regions like Beijing and Hebei, packed earth was the major material used to construct the ramparts of Jiayu Pass, making yellow the dominant hue. This helped the pass blend harmoniously with the surrounding desert.

Along with the vast Gobi desert and solid military constructions, we saw the Youji General’s Office, Wenchang Hall,  Temple of Guan Yunnan,  Opera Tower,  Jiayuguan Great Wall Museum.

In the evening after some rest went for a walk and found a good restaurant where we had our dinner.  It was a very good dinner and it just costed us 157 CNY with 4 Tsing Tao Beers for 5 of us.

The Jiayuguan city was so good, neat and clean with good roads, wide footpaths, Service roads, trees on both sides of the roads, etc.  The city looked absolutely new with new building constructions all around very close to the Expressway.  Also on our way noticed that this city had a lot of industries around with huge factories.  At present, Jiayuguan City is not only famous for Jiayuguan Pass but also for Jiuquan Steel Company – built in 1958. The steel company is the largest in Gansu Province. Jiayuguan is a prefecture-level city in northwestern Gansu province, with a population of 231,853 as of 2010.

Tomorrow we leave for Hami.

PART 3 follows soon.

To follow our complete China journey, it is recommended that you view
China Part 1