31-Jul-2003 -- This was our most interesting confluence attempt (see 36N 120E and 31N 114E), since there were more unknowns to figure out--originally we (my friend Richard and myself) had thought to take the train from Xi’an to Shilipu (pron. “Shirley-poo”), and then take a taxi from there to the vicinity of the confluence... but we soon found out no trains go in that direction from Xi'an, so at 07:30 we headed out to the Long Distance Bus Station on north ErHuan, in Xi’an. We soon discovered that Shilipu is now called Tong Chuan, and there are mini-sized buses leaving for there every 10 minutes or so. Settled that we had found the right ride, we sidled over to the side of the bus station for some breakfast, including some deep-fried plain pastries, quite good! (Picture 3, left). Just after finishing we hopped an Iveco minibus that was just leaving for Tong Chuan. The ride cost 15 RMB each, and the minibus had good airconditioning (it was a very hot day).
Most of the route was freeway, driving first to Yao Xian, then heading northeast towards Tong Chuan on a two lane road (see Picture 3, right). It was fortunate that the minibus took the old road instead of the freeway at this point, since the old road passes closest to the confluence. The trip took about an hour and a half, and by this time several on the bus were quite curious about where we were headed, especially as we neared the closest-to-the-confluence point along the road. Fortunately there is a museum where the road passes closest to the confluence, so we hopped out at the museum, and that satisfied everyone’s curiosity about us and why we were getting out at that remote spot (Note: there are actually two museums: the first is a quite a nice new museum, but continue on NE a little ways and there is an older smaller museum on the right, where there’s a Qing dynasty brick kiln that’s been excavated. Across the road from that museum is the road (34.99164N 109.01030E)leading up into the hills that you need to follow).
As we walked along, at first the road was roughly paved, but it soon turned quite dusty and relatively steep, with lots of truck traffic, hauling gravel. We came to a “T” intersection where we could have turned left (34.99367N 109.00918E), leading into a village, but since the confluence seemed nearly straight ahead, we opted not to turn left. . . this was a mistake (!). . . if we would have turned left and just followed that road as it snaked through the village and out the other side and up the mountain, it would have taken us to within 70m of the confluence! However, the way we took helped us to see a lot of the countryside and meet some nice people, so it was worth it anyway.
We continued up the dirt road, and very soon one of the blue dump trucks (see Picture 4, left) came along, stopped, and the driver asked us if we wanted a ride, so we hopped in--it was fortunate, as the road was steep and dusty and quite a bit of truck traffic to/from a gravel pit (a fair bit of blasting was going on there). About 1.5km later, at the top of a plateau we hopped out, thankful for the lift (the driver didn’t want his picture taken) and started walking back to a “Y” we’d passed, since the road had turned away from the confluence. As we walked back we passed quite a number of cave dwellings and lots of terraced fields on the side of the hills (see Picture 4, right). In this picture the caves are being used for storage.
Once we had walked back down to the “Y” and turned right up a narrow valley, we started making good progress towards the confluence. During this part of the hike we passed the most interesting cave dwellings: In Picture 5, left, you can see two cave dwellings--the doorway of the lefthand one is marked “Office” (in Chinese) along with two telephone numbers, and the righthand cave is a home, still in use (people were sitting inside). The soil here is quite stable clay, making it possible to live in cave dwellings, providing a cool shelter in the summer. In Picture 5, right, is another home dwelling, and in the tall opening to the left of the home you can see that the german shepherd guard dog was on duty, curious about the passing crazy foreigners!
Picture 6, left, is a lime mine (I believe it’s lime--very white powder anyway) that we came to as we continued up the narrow valley. At the mine you can see the openings into the hillside, loading buildings where trucks can back in to be loaded, and kilns used for drying. By this time we could see that the confluence was on our left a couple hundred meters, but as you can see, the left side of the valley is a steep cliff! Finally we asked some of the friendly people at the mine, and they pointed us to an infrequently used path that switchbacked steeply up the cliff face—it was a bit dangerous at this point, definitely not something you’d do after a rain! In Picture 6, right, my friend Richard is standing on the path just behind me, and below you can see the valley floor, giving you a little feel for the steep climb up towards the confluence. We found that at the higher reaches there were several terraced narrow fields on the hillside that we passed, while making our way up the mountain side.
Finally, we climbed above the last terraced field and suddenly found ourselves at the edge of a plateau at the top of the small mountain. Picture 7 is a picture from the edge of the plateau, looking back down into the narrow valley we had just hiked out of--for some perspective, the smoke rising up out of the valley on the right side of the picture, is coming from the smoke stacks that we were looking up at, in Picture 6, left. You can also see rugged clay terrain, as well as some of the terraced fields. The path that is visible is the end of the trail that we climbed--the steeper and more dangerous climb is back closer to the mine.
Once we had reached the plateau, the final walk was an easy 130m across the flat field (avoiding damaging any plants of course). The confluence turned out to be near the middle of a cornfield on the plateau. Picture 8, left, shows the numbers. In Picture 8, right, you can see me holding the GPS at the confluence spot for some perspective.
At the confluence we took a panorama of the scene (Picture 1), nearly a 360 degree panorama. You can see that a good part of the plateau is fallow right now, only some corn and some vegetables are presently planted there. At the far left of the picture are some silver-colored paper flower wreaths, marking the site of a double-burial spot. Also of note, there is a wasp nest in those bushes hanging over the cliff just to the right…! Looking a bit to the right, you can see a plume of white smoke rising up at the edge of the plateau--this is the smoke from the lime mine. Looking further right, you can see a single tree rising up, at the far edge of the corn field: Picture 2 was taken near there, looking down from the edge of the plateau. Clear over on the right of Picture 1 you can see the cliff again, and some storage caves there.
Actually, after all the pretty countryside scenes, the terraced fields, cave dwellings and deep valleys, the panorama picture really doesn’t show much of the area since the plateau is so high up. So, as mentioned above, we opted to walk to the edge of the plateau to take Picture 2, showing the view looking down from the plateau to the south, about 150m from the confluence point. In this picture you can see the pretty greenery of the area, the deep rugged valleys carved in the clay soil, AND also the road we missed(!). The road coming up the mountain on the right side of the picture is the one that comes up through the village from the turn we missed, right to the confluence point. Far off in the distance, at the bottom of the valley, is the road where we had gotten off the minibus, and a factory at the edge of Yao Xian.
Needless to say, on this hot day we loved the nice walk down the road, rather than retracing our steps back down the steep cliff that we had come up. The road meandered through a little village, but hardly anyone was outside since by this time it was about noon and very hot. We finally ran across a little store and promptly guzzled two bottles of water each. The kind older ladies there insisted that we stand in front of their fan to cool off some, and mentioned that the police had told them there were a couple of foreigners in the area, “probably students looking at the cave dwellings or something.” We let it go at that, as most of these folks have never had to worry about longitude and latitude. We appreciated their refuge and cool fan, but were soon on our way again. Fortunately, just seconds after getting to the main road again a minibus headed to Xi’an pulled up. They gave us good seats near the airconditioner, and the hour and a half ride back to Xi’an was uneventful.
All in all this trip was a lot of fun, from figuring out transportation and routing, meeting friendly and helpful people, seeing interesting scenes, a great hike, and a successful confluence attempt. We find that these confluence trips are a nice way to see a good cross section of the countryside--thanks for the challenge!