Going To Jiayuguan

Written by Oct 5, 2004 11:10
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Jiayuguan's Great Wall

The train we took for Jiayuguan was exclusively for the tour being so large in number (about 600). Yup, we had it all to ourselves! The 24 hr. train ride to Jiayuguan was quite tiring, but the scenes along the way would take your breath away. You'd see snow-capped mountains on one side and a sea of sand on the other. Much of the animals seen along the way are camels being pulled by merchants, sheep grazing in the fields, and goats chewing grass! At one time we were not on schedule to catch a designated track so we had to wait for a couple of hours before the train track would be reverted to the route we were going to take. At this time a teacher came in to our cabin holding a humungous sun flower (almost twice the size of my head) while taking off some seeds to share with us. I can't wait till I show you the picture. I couldn't make out the taste of the seed. To me, it tasted like any other seed except this one is fresh and not roasted as the ones sold in stores.

We were greeted by some local dancers along with their camels upon our arrival in the evening. Their bright-colored costumes and graceful movements brought joy to our already exhausted state of mind. I wanted to dance with them, but I found them far beyond my age and the dance steps were much to slow. After a sumptuous dinner, we were brought to a four- star hotel. They couldn't find a roommate for me so after much deliberation I was finally told to share a suite with a head teacher. That's fine with me!

In the morning we headed out for the Jiayuguan Great Wall Museum. It's relatively new, having just been built in April, 2003. It's quite a state of the art museum considering its location being in the middle of nowhere. In the museum, statues of well-known generals who defended the wall were a sight for sore eyes as they were cast in bronze! It's well-lighted and various displays of ancient weapons are on exhibit. There are also many halls, like the film and TV hall, the symposium hall, the resting hall with real green plants and vines in the open air, a shopping hall where I bought a book from where much of what I'm writing is taken from.

The West End of the Great Wall

Before I continue, let me tell you a little bit of background of the place I'm about to visit. The Great Wall as you very well know is very long and its western terminus lies in Jiayuguan, Gansu Province. It is not like the famous wall you see in history books that winds its way thru mountains. . This one is actually a fortress and it is called the Jiayu Pass or you can call it by its other name ;Great Pass Under Heaven! It was constructed in 1372 and is composed of inner and outer courts. The outer court has an area of 33,500 sq. m. while the inner court has an area of 25,000 sq. m. It has eastern and western gates with facing towers. The two gates are protected by trap courts. It's like this; if you were to try to get in you'd have pass one of these high gates. If you're lucky enough to get thru, you'd end up in a trap and a hail of arrows would pour down on you from all directions. The gates are actually a decoy to the main gates. Got it! It has three towers, one in the middle and the other two above the main gates. These towers are very high and provide distant views from all directions. They were built on square platforms of 9m. high with 3-story pavilions of 17m. high on each one of them. It is said that these towers were made from the top to bottom! They first piled up an enormous heap of earth and once they were able to construct the tower top, they dug away some of the earth to build the third floor until they reached the bottom. Cool huh!

Looking up at one of the eaves of the west side tower (Rou Yuan Tower), you just might chance upon a historic brick. People say that this brick is used to stabilize the entire complex. Legend has it that a reputed craftsman by the name of Yi Kaizhan ingeniously designed and calculated the quantity of materials to be used in the construction of the fortress. Because materials were hard to come by in the area, he was asked by a supervisor if his calculations were exact. He said "Yes, otherwise I accept punishmen".
This greedy supervisor, not wanting to be looked down upon by a mere craftsman, purposely added one brick. When the castle was completed, Yi Kaizhan saw that a single brick was left and so he put it on the attic of one of the towers. The supervisor, being very keen in his inspection, found the single brick and immediately called Yi Kaizhan's attention. As the supervisor was about to get the brick and show it to Yi Kaizhan, the master craftsman immediately held back the supervisor saying that if he were to remove the brick, the entire castle would collapse and that is why to this day there is that single brick! Nice story wouldn't you say?

Tidbits of Info On Jiayuguan's Wall

All right, the fortress is in the middle of nowhere; where did they get the materials and how were they moved? Once you enter the Jiayu Pass, you will see many huge stone plates paved on the steps, in the base of the wall and the gates. These stone plates are 2m long, 50cm. wide and 30 cm. thick! It is said that these stones were taken from the Black Mountain 30 km northwest of the Pass. Being so heavy, they had to move it during winter when they were able to make a slippery path from the mountain to the designated site. Slippery when wet;fast when frozen!

How about the large quantity of bricks in making the castle? It is said that the bricks to make the Pass were baked 40 miles west, carried to the site by an oxcart, and then shouldered to the wall; the Pass is quite high and having to carry the bricks up is very frazzling! One day a young goatherd saw the exhausted workers. He felt sad and wanted to be of help. He thought up of an idea. He gathered his goats at the foot of the Pass and tied a brick to each of the goats. With the crack of his whip the goats quickly climbed the steep wall with ease! The workers were overjoyed. Thanks to the goatherd, a lot of time and effort was saved. Goat (got) it!

In the Pass, I actually got to try a little archery. Once you get on the wall, there is an area for shooting targets below. The targets are dressed in human clothes filled with straw! You have to pay 1yuan (about 7 pesos) for every arrow that you use to hit your target. Out of five arrows, I managed to hit a target with one of them! There is also a costume area where you can rent a military uniform with all the weapons you can carry along. You'd laugh your heart out once you see me in one of the odd-looking attires (or is it only me who is odd-looking?)!

At the back of the Pass are many camels and horses! I rented a camel for 10 min and I had to pay 10 yuan (about 70 pesos) for it. Quite fun, but scary at first especially when you climb up between its humps. Then once it stands on all fours; watch out and hold on to whatever it is you can hold on to! Of course, there's a saddle and a rope you can cling on. With the vast Gobi Desert just ahead of you, there's a lot of room to try out all the different gears of the camel. Unfortunately, before I could change gears, I was called back; it was time for our departure to another place along the Silk Road.

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