The Silk Road: Xining to Zhangye

This was by far one of the most beautiful train rides I had ever been on. We woke up very early this morning in Lanzhou, taking an immediate train to Xining, the gateway to Tibet. I was looking forward to seeing some beautiful snowcapped peaks, but yet once again, our expectations were dashed by the overgrown, high-rise architecture of Chinese cities with only views of the foothills. But the afternoon train ride north to Zhangye fulfilled every promise of seeing the vast white capped peaks expected of being so close to Tibet. 

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The ride started of slowly chugging through the urban sprawl of Xining, but about 30 minutes, and a few tunnels later we were suddenly in a vast natural wonderland. On one side of the tracks we had steep jagged mountains jutting straight up, and on the other we had golden pasturelands dotted with livestock, and massive snowcapped peaks dancing in the clouds in the distance. The mountains just seemed to float above the rest of the valley, majestically overlooking the small, cultural towns of rural China. The peaks inspire such mystery and adventure looming on the horizon. The sharp contrast of the white laden snow on the dark, grey jagged cliffs gives the mountains so much depth. The foreground rapidly changes before us as towns and fields pass by, yet the mountains remain constant in their enormity. 

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The sky has suddenly become crystal clear. No sign of haze or smog of the industrial cities, but the oxygen has been cleansed by the altitude. East China is over for us and only the mountains and desert remain. This is the China that most travelers never make it to see, yet it is the most excited I have been on our cross continental journey so far. The mountains call my name, and the vast landscape makes me feel like an individual again. An individual with freedom and the possibility to explore, and awe inspired by Gods handiwork. This is why I travel and this is why I go overland. To see these in betweens and watch the land change before me. To watch crowded cities turn to wide open mountain ranges. If you ever get the chance to take the bullet train from Xining to Zhangye, please take it! And don’t miss the journey by taking a nap!

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And speaking of Zhangye, who knew they had such beautiful painted mountains!! Can’t wait to explore the natural phenomenons in this little known western Chinese town!


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