The Distant Chinas - A Journey to the Frontiers of Tibet, Central and Far North-West China
About this blog
This is the story of a journey that we undertook in 2007 to the frontier regions of modern China - to the remote Tibet and the distant provinces of Yunnan, Qinghai, Gansu and Xinjiang.
We were fascinated with the history of the old trading routes through China and keen to explore the ancient trading cities and their desert environment, as well as gaining an understanding of the local peoples, their customs and their culture. We were especially keen to travel in the footsteps of the brave souls who traded along the treacherous Old Silk Road routes.
Our journey took us from Shanghai to Zhongdian (Shangri-la), Yunnan in the south-east to nine days touring through the mystical Tibet, then travelling by the fabulous high train through central China across the wild and desolate high plains of Qinghai to the salt lake township of Golmud. We then headed north by public bus toward the oasis city of Dunhuang, flanking the mighty Taklamakan and Gobi Deserts in Gansu then headed west via the low lying Turpan oasis to the city hub of Urumqi and the magnificent Tian Shan Mountains and deserts of the huge province of Xinjiang. From here our travels led us south-west to the wonderful exotic frontier town of Kashgar then along the borders of Afghanistan and Tajikistan as far south as the fascinating township of Tashkorgan, the last Chinese outpost before the famous Karakoram Highway enters the mysterious country of Pakistan.
Ethnically, culturally and geographically these provinces, and even regions within the provinces, are extraordinarily diverse and are virtual countries within a country. From our previous travels to China we were well aware of the diverse number of minority groups in the Yunnan Province of south east China - from the Tibetan featured Naxi, Dai and Bai people in the areas around the cities of Dali and Lijiang to the strongly Indo-Chinese influenced minority groups of the Xishuangbanna area on the Myanmar (Burma) and Laos borders.
Our experiences on all our travels confronted any views we may have had of a mostly homogenous Chinese nation. But we were astonished that roughly a third of the land mass of China in the north-western region is populated mostly by Muslim people. "Were we really still in communist China?" we asked ourselves on many occasions.
For if you travel north from the essentially devout Buddhist world of Tibet you enter the world of Islam - the religious faith that dominates this region to the far north and western borders with Central Asia and Pakistan, and of course beyond. And within this huge expanse is a treasure of diverse and exotic cultures, a myriad of desert environments, unique oasis cities and a history steeped in the fascinating history of the ancient Silk Road trading routes.
The only curious constant from Tibet to Xinjiang is the hostile but hauntingly beautiful arid nature of a moonscape environment.
My husband Alan and I travelled on our own as a privately organised tour coordinated by China Travel Service (CTS), Australia (including air travel to and from China and most accommodation in China). Our Travel Consultant was David Hu, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Whilst CTS was as usual efficient and helpful, and the transport and accommodation they organised was first rate, we certainly could not say of the same for a number of of their sub-contracted travel companies. Despite our careful planning some many months in advance, it was very disappointing that time and time again we were let down by these agencies.
As usual, it was largely due to the generosity of local people that these difficulties did not turn into major disasters. And despite these needless frustrations, our trip turned out to be a wonderful experience and we would thoroughly recommend our travels and the fascinating routes we took through The Distant Chinas.