West on the Great Wall – Through the Iron Wall in Silver Mountain to Datong in North-Shanxi

As you may have noticed, lately  I have been hugely inspired by the Yellow River and it’s Basin, parts of which were more or less "discovered" by us (Caroline and I -Sheng-!) on a China Report Expedition, Last November (2005). Even before that latest tour of China i had planned to explore East of Beijing, and – if possible – organize a thorough tour of the Wu Tai Shan holy Mountain Area. At the very least I should follow the Great Wall Eastwards and have a look at Yungang Grottoes and the Next Pass of the Great Wall of China (YanMenGuan).
Hmm, well. As usual, things turned out a bit different as planned, and after exhausting activities in Beijing, we first had a holiday in Thailand on Caroline’s request, spending a week of possible photo-time, but having a great time with my "Sweet". Back in Beijing and readapting to winter China we found ourselves a bit short of time and money to go on and tour to the West of China. As such we only made it to Datong, 8 hours by Train from Beijing. But-
Even then i had great time !! Excellent !!
As featured a bit earlier in this Blog, I really really enjoyed following the Great Wall of China winding it’s Way west from the Badaling (JuYunGuan) Pass near Beijing. From Beijing one passes through the Iron Wall in Silver Mountain, a railroad strung along steep and deep ravines, razorsharp edges and cliffs towering above Nanyang He and winding through many tunnels in these rough northern mountains, eventually to end up in the yellow and dusty Loess lands of North-Shanxi, at the time still unknown and dark territories to Me. Training slowly South-West from the impressive Granite "Silver Mountain" Walls, re-meeting the Great Wall (outer Ring) and travelling in it’s shelter across the highland plain on to Datong, a new world opened itself. The Loess-lands of Shanxi and the Northern End of the Yellow River Basin.
When one takes the night-train out of Beijing West, one misses out on much of these sensational beauties, and travels through the utter dark of night, seemingly into the nothing, then… to be awakened by the morning sun shining on a bleak and dusty, moonlike landscape. It is a near calming and much humbling experience, to come from the by now modernised, imperially majestic and metropolitan-like busy bustle of Beijing, then turn the page to a new and very different chapter and landscape.
In North-Shanxi there is no overcrowding of cars,nor of people. There is hardly any modernity. In the wide-open landscape far away mountain-ridges to the North and South travel with the train and -somewhere outside the window- the great wall of China. Two modern mig-fighters make white-lines in the deep blue sky, traveling with ease across the rough lands, then arch north-west and – supersonic- pointing the way to the Chinese Border at Inner Mongolia. Somewhere there, beyond the Wall atop those Granite Ridges, once were the wild territories of the Nomad Tribes (Toba,Manchu,Huns,Nguyen,Mongols,etc). Here,still inside Great Wall life suddenly seems not so different. On the one main road that meets the tracks ,every now and then in an otherwise empty dust-scape, a slowly moving donkey-cart travels between far between villages, the driver tucked deeply away in his old army coat. Small brick trainstations are the gate-ways to dusty agricultural villages displaying corn harvest on their porches. Pigs walk freely between the small white houses and walls. Dirty and dusty locals carry huge bundles away while the train is leaving the station, traveling again, westwards on this iron line to Civilization. Where abandonned Watchtowers come down from the High Granite Mountain-ridges to mark the progress of the train in a broken line, the once Great Wall melted away by time,  the train nears the city of Datong. Roads and even some trees appear, the land marked by small man-sized grave-hills. In between villages, hills and grave-sites scrawny sheep are tended by their shepherd. Small caves, dug out in the loess land mark the resting places of local farmers working their small patches along the railway-line.The Wall moves North again climbing it’s Granite Seat still visible near then far. Just outside Datong the train meets a seeming maze of railroad-tracks marking the cities activities and title as Coal Capital of China. Many of China’s rough industrial materials wind their way along here. Other than this, nothing much reminds of real modern day life, there is just loess, hills and blue mountains near.
When the sun has just climbed above the granite horizons of the Damaqun Shan, the morning train arrives between the clear white houses on the Eastern outskirts of Datong. A new kind of Chinese City emerges in the Yellowish Hillscape. This is Datong ! Moving between the difficult to define, post-revolutionary chinese city housing, the wide landscapes and the view of the City and Northern Mountains is lost. Time to pack up and arrive at the typical main-provincial-city Train Station of Datong.
(To find what can be next in this experience, browse online at Datong Report and see for yourself !).
Please visit the Following Useful and Entertaining Link for a better experience to go with this Story – A Gricer’s Guide to China’s Railways , at www.railography.co.uk with some Impressive information and rather unique Photos of the Steam Engines of North-China, formerly of Manchuria and more. Our advise- Start with the Photo-Galleries of this Railroad Fan Page ! Great Work, which we admire and hope to achieve in our photographies. There is a full listing of the Trains on Exposition at Datong Railway Museum included, too.
Images : 1) Schematic of Beijing Area in 1950 with an early pathway of the same railroad passing (the inner ring o/t Great Wall of China at YuJunGuan Pass (Badaling) and then) the Silver Mountains on the way to Datong. 2) Satellite View of a Road winding between Loes Hills in the Kelan Highlands of North Shanxi Province in China. A Typical North-Shanxi landscape.
(Note- the Yellow Provinces are (parts of) Shaanxi,Shanxi,Ningxia,Gansu, and a part of Hebei = the yellow river basin. Moving from Beijing to Datong one enters the Yellow River Basin and the birthplace of Chinese Civilization).

About DrBen.com

I am the creator, founder, owner and CEO of AsiaReport.com and OceaniaReport.com and specialise in guiding your way to "everything under the sun" on two continents.
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