An interview with Melinda Liu by inTravel Magazine
The Silk Road, it sounds so magical and historical. Can you tell inTravel’s readers about your journey?
My husband always wanted to travel past the end of the Great Wall; the ultimate frontier. He’d said that for years, but it seemed like the time had finally come to make the journey. We decided to bring our grand-kids, since they live a fairly isolated life in Wyoming and their parents want them to see other parts of the world. Our great, romantic ideas of our journey began even before we left the US to enter our old homeland.
We flew to Beijing, spent the night, and the next morning took a flight to Urumqi. Our first stop was the Xinjiang Museum where they have a collection of 4,000 year old mummies found in the desert that are totally preserved. Some look very European, not Chinese, but perhaps Russian. While we were there we also visited Heavenly Lake which was absolutely beautiful: a lake at the top of a mountain, and Nanshan Kasakh pasture. We didn’t visit the Kazak Yurts around the lake, but our guide brought us to visit one along the roadside instead, which was very disappointing for my romantic imagination.
What did you expect the Kazak Yurts to be like?
I thought it would be a more remote camp with the rich carpets and people going about their business. This was so touristy, as if it was a show at Disney Land. The guide called ahead so they’d be ready and when we got there they started bringing things out, it just wasn’t authentic. I left wondering what it would be like in a real camp. This was not a good representative. If you go camping in the mountains and go to a proper yurt up by the lake it would be different and the surroundings The yak milk tea was not so great either: diluted weak tea with milk.
The next day we took a minibus to Turpan. We visited Gaochang Ruins, a very well preserved ancient capital during the Tang Dynasty. We went in by donkey carts and the children loved it! Then on to Beziklik Caves, lots of caves with many, many Buddhas that were damaged or removed by foreign archeologists. It’s sad, because many of the Buddha’s were taken to Germany and they were all destroyed in the war. Some frescoes were nicely preserved and the scenery around the caves was very pretty. Then we visited Giaohe Ruins, it was beautiful. Giaohe was used as a capitol in the 14th century.
We went to Emin Minaret (very interesting), then an oasis in the desert that grows a lot of grapes and makes raisins, and Kareg Wells, a fascinating irrigation system. The Aighurs living around this whole area are Muslims, they look very Turkish and speak their own language.
What made Emin Minaret so interesting?
It is Islamic architecture and people have pilgrimages here, they come overnight and sleep in little closet-size rooms. They are like little pods where the only light is an opening at the top. Sometimes this has belonged to China, sometimes not; historically there’s been a lot of fighting over it.
Do the Aighurs fit into China or are they discriminated against?
It seems like they live very harmoniously and live & work side by side. It is mostly Muslim and is very peaceful, though the people are quite poor. There is so much land and they’ve recently found minerals in this area. This is the next big area for development in China.
What was fascinating about Kareg Wells?
All the water comes from the mountains, but there is no exposed water, so there is no evaporation. It is all aqueducts and was built so long ago with all human labor to dig way down deep and put in tunnels for the water. That’s how the oasis was built.
Next, we took the overnight train to Dunhuang which was spick & span clean and quite an experience, though we had too much luggage! We passed through the Gobi desert overnight and when we woke we saw some of it, and then we ended up in the mountains. We visited White Horse Pagoda which was not worthwhile, or maybe we were just tired. But then on to the Singing Sand Dunes where we went on a camel caravan that was lots of fun and very well organized.