Keith and I decided to forego the Rainbow Mountains and the Reclining Buddha for a leisurely start to the day. From the feedback we received the mountains would have been better at sunset and were in deep shadow at sunrise and the reclining Buddha was not one of the best of its kind, so we felt that we had made the right decision.
We sauntered into breakfast where we were, as is becoming usual(!), the stars of the show, and breakfasted on boiled eggs and vegetables. Unusually there were no photo calls.
At 11.00 the troops gathered and we set of for Jairuguan. Out of town things are becoming much more desert like and the earth a greyish scrubland that, every so often, becomes a fertile place of rich green agriculture. In these sections sweet corn is growing and trees are planted, sometimes there are sunflowers. Then abruptly it stops. It doesn’t gradually fade. It stops. Who decides, I wonder, which area is to get the water to make this miracle happen and when the tap is to be turned off.
A long way off to our left snow covered mountains loom in the hazy distance. This is difficult to believe as we are back to fierce sunlight and energy sapping heat. To our right a train line follows the highway mile for mile. Another development is that the landscape is almost bristling with modern electricity pylons. These are obviously carrying the electricity generated by the frequent power stations that we see along the route – far more than the number that I am aware of at home.
Towards the end of the afternoon we reach Jairuguan and the rebuilt fort towards the end of the Wall, that marked furthest point of Imperial China. We left the comparative cool of the moving truck to join the throng of scarf covered Chinese tourists visiting this ‘makeover’ of the original crumbling building. Keith described it as ‘Disney goes to the Great wall’.
The rebuild is not yet completed, but the large section that has been done is immaculate in its reproduction of water towers, gateways and watchtowers. There is even a theatre! As we approached, loud marshal music and the sort of voice I had last heard at the Royal Tattoo (only in Chinese) rang out over what would have been the parade ground within the fort walls. This, we were to realise, was to announce the start of a rolling show of Kung Fu type moves and the acrobatics of a team of exotic ‘silken robed’ performers demonstrating life in the ancient fort.
Setting this aside, and it was not easy, there were some interesting billboards in almost indecipherable English about the history of the Great Wall, the fort and the various historians who had worked on it. I wasn’t surprised to learn that one archeologist who had contributed was quoted as being ‘appalled’ by what he found when he returned to see the renovations. Obviously something of a purist…..
We walked round the top of the pristine ramparts and had the benefit of not only being able to see the entertainment from above, but also to look out on the barren land outside its walls. The original fort was obviously a major landmark for those traders on the SIlk Road as they left ancient China for the unknown lands to the west – apparently there was some sort of Customs Post here. It also marked a terrifying exit for those families that had fallen from grace and were condemned to forever wander the terrifying ‘wild west’.
Having been somewhat cynical about the fort’s upgrade, we could not fault the museum we came across on the way out. This was very well appointed and gave a useful insight into the importance of the fort and what it brought to the area in terms if agriculture and trade.
By now it was 5.30, so we were a bit surprised to learn that we had one more site to see before we set up our camp for the night. A short drive from the fort we came to another piece of highly restored wall (complete with plastic camels) climbing up a steep incline to a watch tower on the top of the hill. I got some way to taking the route to the top and then remembered that in the past I spent 5 days walking on the Wall of China, most of it on the original Wall, and did not need to gain credentials by climbing this bit. So, claiming past glories, I abandoned the attempt and joined the non climbers to await the others’ return.
Our camp for the night was just a few kilometres from the Wall on a piece of stony waste land. By this time the heat of the day had been superceded by a wind that added yet another tension to the tent erection exercise. The stoney ground was rock hard and not receptive to tent pegs, but eventually The Ritz was more or less upright and, light fading, we arranged our bedding for the night with a few boulders on the inside of the tent to hold it down should the wind get any stronger.
It didn’t and we survived the night intact.