Sunday the Reservoir to Zhangye

Up at 6.00 we scrambled to get our bags tamed and get The Ritz stowed away into its bag, thanking our lucky stars that we weren’t on breakfast duty. Eventually (and in our case miraculously) everything was stowed away and we set off.

Our route initially took us around the enormous lake that is the reservoir and eventually over a bridge spanning a narrow gorge with the flooded area shining blue underneath us. The reservoir seemed to go on and on! Leaving it behind, we reached Lanzhou and Yellow River again where we had turned off the main route several days earlier, this time turning left to continue west.

Lanzhou, capital of the Gansu region is very much an industrial city. We saw huge petro chemical plants on both sides of the road and again vast civil engineering projects as they rearrange the landscape to accommodate new roads and railway tracks.

Despite this, Gansu is reckoned to be one of the poorest provinces in China. The road took us along a sort of corridor, with mountains in the distance on either side. These were initially green but as the day wore on became sandy coloured rock. On the valley floor we first saw evidence of different crops – cabbages were a new departure – but still the strip farming we have seen previously. Further along the road there were basic greenhouses with ribs covered by plastic sheeting rather than glass and then a vast solar panel farm (this ran for several kilometres either side of the road). The land was by now belong far more scrubby and desert like, but where it was cultivated the fields were bigger and we saw several small combine harvesters taking over some of the backbreaking scything that had been in evidence. . Next came a wind farm making the most of the breeze that swirls the dust.

Our next excitement was a sighting of the Great Wall again. At first it could just be seen at the base of the mountain range we had been following and then as the plain broadened it followed the lie of the land appearing and disappearing. It no longer looks the high imposing route that it was in Beijing but we are now over 2,000 kilometres from where we walked on it. I think enthusiasm had waned by the time they got to here. I know in the Qing dynasty this was an area officials and their families were sent to when they fell from favour. It must have.been something of a daunting prospect.

The highway eventually breached the wall and we were told we were technically in Inner Monglia. However this did not prove to be he case as we were still in Gansu but it added a frisson of excitement into what has been a long drive.

The guidebook describes Zhangye as a ‘pleasant but slightly bland town’. This seemed a little harsh but it remains to be seen. For us it is really just a stopover en route to our next camp.

Supper was not a great success, but we have hopes of the reclining Buddha

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