Jiayuguan Travel Guide, Gansu, Silk Road
Jiayuguan, one of the most grand ancient forts on the Silk Road, is a significant fortification on the western section of the Great Wall. The city and fort have their present name from the pass that runs through this area, at the foot of the Jiayu Mountain. The area, not so much the town, is a good place to visit for those making their way up to either Dunhuang, the wilder recesses of Xinjiang, or beyond.
Founded during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD), there was originally just the Fort here, built onto an existing watchtower and completed in 1372. With primitive working tools it took thousands of laborers dozens of years to complete the project. Goats, and even ice, were used to convey building materials to the site. With completion, the fort became the strategic end of the Great Wall, demarcating the apparently advanced east from the allegedly desolate and dangerous west. Many Chinese still feel this way today, even after the completion of the Gansu Expressway.
The town itself grew up around the Fort, thriving from both its protection and location on the Silk Road. Nowadays, however, the town has lost much of its charm, bisected by main roads, including the expressway, and plagued by uninteresting buildings. For most tourists traveling along the Silk Road, the main purpose for coming to this remote outpost in Gansu is to pay a visit to the Fort, which guards the Jiayuguan Pass.
Aside from Beijing, Jiayuguan is one of the best places to visit the Great Wall, especially for its precipitousness, vastness and wildness.
- Jiayuguan Fort
5km southwest of the city, the fort is generally acknowledged to be the western end of the snaking Great Wall, despite the obvious proof that it stretches beyond here (mounting evidence pushing it westward every year).
The fort stands in the middle of the narrowest part of ridge (the Jiayu Pass) that separates the northern Qilian and southern Mazong Mountain Ranges, while on the west and eastern sides of the fort lies the vast expanse of the Gobi Desert. The Section of the Great Wall that leads off from the fort, starting from near the Gate of Conciliation, leads northwards along the Black Mountain (Hei shan) to the Overhanging Great Wall and the continuing Mazong Mountains beyond.
Although the fort was possibly first constructed in the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD), the present day complex is in the style of Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD) construction, completed in 1372.
The fort, also known as the"Impregnable Defile under the Heaven", has been crowned as the best in China due to its perilous and bleak location. The existing building is sunk into yellow soil, and the western walls are fortified by bricks. The whole area has a perimeter of 640m and is littered with different towers, mostly archery buildings or watch towers.
Jiayuguan Fort consists of three defense lines -an inner city, an outer city and a moat. Today it's the most intact ancient military building preserved from all the passes on the Great Wall. Many frescos were found in the areas around Jiayuguan Pass.
How to get there: a taxi ride from the city center is around Y10.
Admission fee: Y60
Overhanging Great Wall
Lying 14km to the City and 7km northwest of the Jiayuguan Fort, the Overhanging Great Wall was built in 1539 during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). In subsequent years, the wall has dwindled from its original length of 1.5km to its current 750m.
The Overhanging Great Wall is an extension of the Jiayuguan Fort, and was once an important part in the medieval military defense system. Winding through the Gobi dessert to the steep Black Mountain (Hei Shan), the wall appears to hang over the cliff and block the vital pass of Shiguan Xiakou. It is similar in appearance to the grand Badaling Great Wall in Beijing, and is therefore also known as the Western Badaling.
The Overhanging Great Wall was reconstructed in 1987, with sidesteps added to allow visitors to climb the Wall.
How to get there: a taxi ride for about Y60 on the surface road. You may try to ask the driver to take the shortcut, which is a rough road leading north towards the mountains.
Admission Fee: Y21
Getting there and away
Thanks to its footing as a major tourist destination on the Silk Road, Jiayuguan has rapidly become a transport hub only slightly less important than the provincial capital Lanzhou or Dunhuang in recent years. The city can now conveniently be accessed either by air, railway or bus.
There are 5 weekly flights from Lanzhou and Dunhuang to Jiayuguan, not flying on Tuesday and Saturday. Also infrequent flights to Xi'an and Urumqi.
The airport is about 12km northeast of the city proper and a taxi should cost around Y40. A cheaper choice is the CAAC shuttle bus for Y10, which meets every flight.
The Lanzhou-Xinjiang Railway line passes the city . with regular trains to Beijing, Chengdu, Korla, Lanzhou, Shanghai, Urumqi, Xi'an and Zhengzhou. For tourists traveling between Lanzhou and Jiayuguan, the tour train leaves one city in the morning and arrives at the other in the evening.
The railway station is 5km from the city center, a taxi ride is around Y10 or a minibus No.1 from Xinhua Nanlu is Y1 only.
Highway G312 connects Lanzhou with Xinjiang via Jiayuguan. From here, you may either go north to Mongolia or head straight south to Golmud in Qinghai Province.
There are 5 daily buses between Dunhuang and Jiayuguan, about 6 hours. You may also take a daily sleeper coach to Lanzhou, Y160 /16 hours.
Also quite a number of buses to Zhangye. Be careful of the indirect buses, which may double the original 5-hour journey. The long-distance bus station lies on the main highway of the city proper, about 1km southwest of the central roundabout.
Taxis, motorbikes, minibuses and buses form a huge pool around the Jiayuguan and Changcheng Hotels.
It is also fairly easy to travel in town by hiring a bike for about Y2~3/hour, so long as you do not mind braving the occasional gusts of sandy and dirty wind. Hotels with bike hire include the Jiayuguan, the Changcheng and the Youth Hotels.
Yinbin Hotel (Yinbin dasha): enjoys a good location, just beside the bus station, surrounded by a group of restaurants. It's ranked as one of the best choices or backpackers.
Youth Hotel(Qingnian Lvshe): located on Jianshe xilu, which is designed in an incongruous European Castle style. Dorm beds are about Y35, std. dbl is around Y150.
Wumao Hotel: provides nice and clean rooms and dorms.
Xiongguan Hotel : Y20/dorm
Liangshiju Hotel : Y25/bed in dbl, Y15/dorm
The best of the lot for selection is the Fulihua Restaurant in the Wumao Hotel (Wumao binguan), although the restaurant in the Jiayuguan Hotel (Jiayuguan binguan) is also good.
For cheaper and more interesting food, you can explore the Night Market on Jingtie lu, just past the Wumao Hotel heading southwest, where you can find a variety of fast cooked food, mainly noodles and kebabs.
There are also some good restaurants in the area around the railway station, especially the Linyuan Restaurant (Linyuan jiujia) that serves spicy Sichuan cuisine at reasonable prices.