Stage III: Walls & Fences

Dear curious folk and readers,

I am writing from near the seat of the West Xia Kingdom (1038-1227). The city of Yinchuan is about 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) away from the tombs and mausoleum. The bone dry eastern face of the Helan mountain range towers over the mausoleum site. The site spans around 50 square kilometers (19.3 square miles) and approximately 9 imperial tombs, with a huge 253 lesser tombs. They’re still making discoveries to this day.

The tombs are incredible to witness. The museum at the entrance has six very modern galleries full of relics discovered across the site. The lighting, style and interactive nature of the artefacts is we’ll organised. There are plenty of opportunities to visit the a 3D cinema, gifts shops and grab plenty of water for the outdoor experience that follows. From the museum you can walk to a bus transfer. Here we opted to walk to the mausoleums and experience the desert ambiance.

The mausoleum site is spread out, striking and feature-rich. Steles, towers, sacrifice palaces, earth walls, and natural damage by winter floodwater alongside cracks in the earth covered the whole region. Using three-wheeled scooters after plenty of walking, we managed to see huge distances of the area. Sunblock was applied almost hourly, as grasshoppers flew by with clicking sounds and cute Gerbil-like rodents scampered around. With two litres of water, the day was comfortable, but more is advisable in 38 degrees heat! The sun is not your friend.

The day was a great investment in exploring the state’s deep history and culture. A taxi from Yinchuan cost 60RMB and a return Didi taxi car cost 85RMB with entrance fee being about a 100RMB. Just over two hours on the scooters cost 130RMB (but we certainly went off the beaten track).

The following day, Mr Oliver and I set out for the Great Wall. I’d suggested the Ming Great Wall stretch by a place called Sanguankou (三关口明长城). The three passes are about 2.5km apart. We didn’t go there. Mr Oliver found a section using Baidu maps and an overhead satellite photo near to the G307 highway (Ningxia to Inner Mongolia). So, after a Didi taxi car journey we hopped out in searing heat in the mountainous Alxa desert. Having left Yinchuan’s continental arid climate we were now at the mercy of the sun.

We scrambled up a mound of earth to see a watchtower, wandered down the road and looked at the adjacent wall sections. Here we respected every fence and sign. Then we went under the highway and followed a section of wall through fields and over hills. Horses, hares and hawks were frequent witnesses to our hiking. The enigmatic landscape surrounding the wall had so much to offer the eyes.

Fences came and went, so we walked close and far at times. We started trekking at about 10:30am and ended around 19:00hrs. Some sections had the backdrop of a Jeep safari driving range, whilst others had civilian roads with a handful of tourists driving by and saying hello. At some stage though we had to get back to Yinchuan. The map shown a road to the nearby Wuwa Highway and G110 highway. We avoided the military warning signs on a path seemingly headed into the mountains, passing some civilian contractors and wandered (now without any water left) along a bleak ever-expanding straight line slab of concrete. The road was intensely energy-consuming.

Towards the last 3km, just past the tanks, a car with two men gave us a lift to the highway. That journey was curtailed and after three hours of explaining our day’s walking route, photograph inspection and travel document verification we were driven to the village of Minning. The People’s Liberation Army were extremely hospitable. They seemed to understand that we’d strayed into their tank range unintentionally. They appreciated our desire to see the Ming Dynasty Great Wall.

The gate guardsmen gave us hot noodles, a cake and some fruit. And frequent, much needed water. The chief who came with at least three officers and the Public Security Bureau policemen kept apologising for taking our time. It was all rather surreal. We were able to cancel our onward train journey, and hotel for the next night. We also apologised politely and shown our sorrow at wandering into a restricted military zone.

The Public Security Bureau policemen waited with us whilst we tried to get a taxi or Didi car. As it was midnight, nothing was coming, so we spoke with a nearby hotel receptionist. He ordered a car for us. We got in, whilst being watched by the three policemen. They approached then checked the driver knew where we were going. Finally, they checked his credentials and found he was an illegal taxi driver. So, we stepped from the car, “for your safety” and the Police dealt with him. Annoyed by that inconvenience, we started to hike and try to get back. The Police gave up and headed back. Eventually we flagged down a van.

Nestled between chicken feet in buckets, flies on the roof and 400RMB lighter for it, we made it back to the hotel we’d checked out of that day. We retrieved our left luggage and checked-in. All is well that ends well. Our next journey is the 1842 train to Gansu’s Lanzhou city to meet a connection to Zhangye. What waits for us there?

Until next time, goodbye…

1982 was a year like any other.

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do / S’mae / Namaste,

Today, I am 36 years, 11 months and 26 days old. That’s 443 months and 26 days of age, or in simpler terms, I’m a week shy of hitting my 37th birthday. To some, age is a worrying number. The bigger the number, the closer to life becoming death, to some eyes. These 1929 weeks and 4 days have not flown by, but with my mind and memories, some remain so vivid and others lesser. My mind is a wonderful store for 324,240 hours of my life. Life is precious and I have been lucky to know so many great people. Along the road, there have been tests. I don’t believe anyone can live without a test, but of the 19,454,400 minutes, there have been rewards – and I truly believe more will follow. The number, 1,167,091,200 isn’t the exact time spent discussing Brexit, or the accumulated added time at Old Trafford. It is the seconds of my life. Every second counts. The building blocks and foundations of the past led me to the present. The future is before me.

I was born on a Thursday in Autumn 1982. That October day’s weather was in a year which had the coldest night of the twentieth century. The internet tells me it was around 11°C and sunny on Manchester. There was no snow in Manchester and wouldn’t be for some time – although Ben Nevis in Scotland had already seen snow earlier that month. 14 out of 15 of the hottest years globally have happened in my lifetime. Droughts, flooding and climatic changes have been witnessed year on year since.

For Manchester, The Smiths, had been performing with drag artists and dance troupes, only a few weeks before I was born. Their debut gig would be followed be decades of musical recognition. These days Morrisey and my personal favourite Johnny “Fu****g” Marr are solo acts. The jazz collective Blue Rondo a la Turk ’s whereabouts faded, save for the current Matt Bianco jazz band link. BBC Radio 3 held a Manchester Midday Concert, direct from the Royal Exchange Theatre on October the 28th, 1982. As Vossi Zivonl played the violin and Roesemarie Wright on piano ploughed through Schubert Sonatina No 3, in G minor (0408), I was making my way into a musical world. Do you really want to hurt me? by Culture Club was top of the music singles charts, during the week I was born. The Beatles, with Love Me Do, held 4th. Tears for Fears with Mad World, Eddy Grant’s I Don’t Wanna Dance, and House of the Rising Sun by The Animals occupied the top 20 spots too. (Sexual) Healing by Marvin Gaye was new, but only entered at number 50.

1982 was a year like any other. Things happened as they often do. Manchester University Press published Puma, a sci-fi novel by Anthony Burgess. It talks about a future in which loss would be encountered – on a cultural and literal level. It is an immense piece of reading. The story echoes today. The Pope had visited Heaton Park. I’ve been lucky to see high points of history, some up close, and sad enough to see stuff happen that shouldn’t happen. Mankind has an often-conflicted relationship with being civil. I was born on a day that Spain’s socialists won/communists lost in the national elections and NASA launched the RCA-E. First Blood was on at the movies, as opposed to now, where Last Blood is showing. Good old Rambo. It does feel like original movies aren’t gambled on anymore – or become so niche that they hide in arts festivals.

Just 5 days before I was born, Old Trafford, home of Man Utd experienced a game of football. City hadn’t won there for 8 years – and wouldn’t until 2008. Manchester City’s Dennis Tueart and David Cross each scored to equal the home side’s Frank Stapleton’s brace of goals. The day before my birth, City beat Wigan Athletic in the League Cup, held at Maine Road. Two goals by Paul Power were enough for the squad containing big Joe Corrigan, Ray Ranson, Bobby McDonald, Kevin Bond, Tommy Caton, Dennie Tueart, Kevin Reeves, David Cross, Asa Hartford and Graham Baker. Unlike today’s listing of seven substitutes, no subs were noted for that game. Two days after my birthday, City won 2-1 at home again. The Division One (Old) goalscorers that day were Asa Hartford and Dennie Tueart. City were suffering a cup drought – and that continued until 2011. Now, times are different. That’s life. That’s time.

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye / Hwyl Fawr / Dhanyabaad / Alavidā