Winter Comes

Nicholas Quirke was expecting to be in a state of awe on his trip on 6 October 2020 as the scenery of Zhangye Geo Park promised some of the most unusual and astonishing that the extraordinary earth had over billions of years produced. He was definitely not disappointed even though clouds had gathered to give a gloomy pallor to the day . He was however, feeling mildly irritated again by the thousands of people that despite the early hour had already turned up to view the parks treasures. It was still the week long national holiday and after the ravages on time and money and freedom following lockdown China’s travel industry was seeing the movement on its mainland of 637 million people. Spending during the holiday of 1.6trillion Yuan the equivalent of 183 Billion with the movie box office alone generating 3.7 billion, 424 million pounds, Evan Wuhan, the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, was now a popular destination for Chinese tourists with The Yellow Crane Tower topping the list of the most sought-after attractions for this Golden Week. Naturally there were going to be a lot of people around given these figures and he was going to have to suck it up and deal with the crowds. The site was extremely organised and once again they had to take a bus to the various viewing platforms. There were 4 viewing sites with a bus laid on to take visitors to the next location with multiple areas and walkways to enable views from different angles. Helicopter and camel rides to give the Silk Road experience, came at a premium but whatever you could afford, however long it took to get around there was no denying the vista of coloured hills and shapes the earth had wrought the landscape into was staggering. Shades of green, of reds, yellows, browns and whites, creating an immense surreal painting. It was another outing where he was photographed and starred and pointed at. He had a surprise too on the return journey to Xining through a mountain pass they had travelled the day before. The sun drenched autumnal landscape of rock and pasture had overnight transformed into an austere winter scene and it was difficult to reconcile the two. Even the temple in the rock they had explored looked forbidding compared to the colourful inviting space he had experienced. It seemed winter had come which did not bode well for their trip to Gangshiqia peak in the eastern Qilian mountain range. At 5,254 it was one of the highest peaks in China. It was not going to be possible to reach the summit but they got as far as they could via road and reached the base of the climbing route. It was very cold and the altitude caused them shortness of breath. It was an amazing sight though once again it transpired that the county of Menyuan Hui was also closed to foreigners without a permit and once again he was tasting a forbidden laowai fruit. It was still a long drive back to Xining and dusk was upon them as they drove through the mountain peaks giving spectacular views of the valleys and the mountain tops. They were revisiting the hotel they had stayed at and were given an upgrade to a suite. Nicholas felt the onset of cold symptoms as he prepared for sleep.


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