The Asian Overland Research Trip – Week 11 – The Final Week Back to News List

By Mick McDonald

We started our final week off by visiting one of the world’s greatest archaeological discoveries, the Terracotta Warriors, it truly is an immense sight to be gazing over 1000s of warriors tasked with standing guard over Emperor Qin for eternity, from 2000 years ago. The site was only discovered in 1974 by farmers drilling a well. 

The day was seen out at a famous century old dumpling restaurant that overlooks the ancient bell tower that was magnificently illuminated at dusk. Xian is famous for its delicious dumplings and I think we tried them all and waddled back to the hotel. 

We spent the next day travelling through villages and roughly following the Yellow River before arriving at the old coal mining city of Yima. It would be fair to say we were more than a little amused when sitting at an outdoor bar we watched a water tanker go by, spraying the road, while blasting out of his cabin was the Christmas carol, Silent Night????

We left the coal mining city of Yima and drove north, ever closer to Beijing, our destination was the cliff tunnels of Guoliangcun at an elevation of 1200mt. I had seen pictures of this place and read some about it but what stood before us was some of the most outstanding absolutely impossible scenery of the entire trip. 

The small village of Guoliangcun stood atop a plateau isolated from the outside world for centuries, the only access was via a death-defying access ladder that clung to a sheer 300mt rockface. In 1972 it was decided to build a tunnel to gain access to the outside world. Thirteen “tough boys”, as a plaque at the entrance of town describes them, spent the next 5 years of their life digging a 1.2k long, 4mt high tunnel, by hand. The result is absolutely breathtaking and offers, surely, some of the finest scenery we have seen on the entire ride.

The tunnel itself is carved into a sheer rockface 300mt tall, at the end of the tunnel lies the village of Guoliangcun that is also at the confluence of two mighty escarpments that plummet straight down to a distant stream hemmed in by a carpet of green. The towering rockfaces glowed a stunning golden red at sunset where you can see vehicles snaking their way through the narrow tunnel to and from Guoliangcun, far easier than having to risk your life scaling the cliff walls as they did in the past.  This place left us absolutely slack-jawed in awe, yet again, at mother nature. Again, we had somehow managed to avoid 1.4 billion people, we had the place virtually to ourselves and certainly were the only “Gringos” in town.

Our desperation to avoid the populace rose to new heights today as we discovered an astounding series of twisties, the likes of which I have NEVER seen before, they were insane and ascended sharply, almost turning in on themselves,  between two vertical rock faces,  onto a plateau resplendent with a monastery balancing on the edge of a mighty cliff. Not even the Everest twisties could compare with these short / sharp series of twisties. We rounded this stunning riding day off with another series of twisties through a number of ancient villages where all the elderly sat by the road side, deep in conversation, and generally watching the world go by, old guys carried produce from their fields in the traditional Chinese way with a stick across their shoulders and a bucket at each end, and families tended their crops, it was the quintessential Chinese scene. We doubt if they had ever seen a foreign vehicle go by, such was there reaction as we drove through these fast disappearing villages of the hidden China. We saw the night out in the stunning ancient city of Pingyao, encircled by its 1800-year-old walls. 

Our last days were spent driving through endless mountains visiting the incredible 1500-year-old hanging temples that seemed to defy gravity as they clung to a sheer cliff walls high above the valley floor, it was a remarkable scene.

Sunday afternoon, after 80 days & 20,000ks, we drove into Beijing after descending from over 150ks of twisties, at last we saw some of the 1.4 billion people of China. We had successfully managed to find an extraordinary network of tiny back roads through ancient villages and had many roads virtually to ourselves, far from the traffic Armageddon I had anticipated.  

We could barely comprehend what we had witnessed & experienced as we drove into Beijing, it was indeed overwhelming and all a little too much to take in as we reminisced and belted out Bruce Springsteen’s “Wrecking Ball” as we entered the hotel in downtown Beijing. We enjoyed a Singapore Sling at the Capital Hotel around the corner from Tiananmen Square, just to end the trip as it had started all those months ago, with a Singapore Sling, in Singapore!

I think it would be fair to say that on no other ride do we witness such a diversity of landscapes, peoples, foods & cultures as we did on the Asian Overland , it is truly a remarkable part of the world from the surprise destination that was Malaysia, the steamy jungles, karst scenery and tropical beaches of Thailand, hidden Myanmar and it’s amazing culture and more amazing antiquities, mighty rivers and epic scenery of Laos to the very roof of the world then our descent through ancient hidden China, what a trip it has been!!

Thanks to all those who read the blog and thankyou to all for the very kind words, It’s the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City etc in the coming days, down to Tianjin to ship the Hilux out and on a plane back home, forever grateful for the last 80 days. WOW 

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