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A South African’s Holiday Wandering Through The Silk Road

Elize on holiday silk road china
Credit: Elize

Elize Delia Engle is from Cape Town, South Africa. She moved to China in 2017 in the pursuit of her childhood dream to explore Asia. She volunteers, teaches kindergarten and travels. In this article, Engle shares with us her holiday experience in China.

I had always dreamed of traveling across Asia to countries like South Korea, Thailand, and Indonesia.  After all, I have lived in China for nearly 4 years and most of the Asian countries are way more accessible from China than my native South Africa.  

By early 2020, I had accomplished most of the countries on my Asia travel bucket list, and had just 3 more to go, when COVID hit. 

Border restrictions were put in place, and people were encouraged not to travel abroad, and if at all possible, avoid traveling altogether.  

After being cooped up for what felt like years, around early July, we were told that travel restrictions within China have been lifted. 

Naturally, I started planning my summer vacation. Since I had just a few weeks off around July and August, I decided I wanted to travel somewhere culturally unique and completely different from the metropolitan city of Shanghai.  

After much research and inquiries, a friend and I finally decided to travel along the ancient Silk Road, in an attempt to somehow immerse ourselves in a culture, and get a personal feel of the environment where ancient civilizations once journeyed.  

Elize on holiday in China
Credit: Elize

When we arrived in Xining we were greeted by a rush of dry hot wind and a friendly smile from our tour guide. 

After pleasantries were exchanged, we were informed about the itinerary for the trip and were soon on our way to a traditional Tibetan restaurant. 

When we arrived I was intrigued by the beautiful array of colours and the deco that displayed the authenticity of traditional Tibetan culture.  

We were encouraged to try the Tibetan tea called gur gur cha (made of yak milk, butter, and black tea leaves) and indulged in Gyakok Tibetan hot pot, made in a copper pot (a meal that represents tradition,  happiness, and family reunion), which tasted simply delicious. 

This was the first time I tried Tibetan tea, and it was quite rich and different from any other tea I have ever tasted – I recommend everyone should give it a try – even just once. 

Elize on holiday in China
Credit: Elize

With our hearts full and an adventurous spirit, we soon journeyed to Magoa Caves in Dunhuang, and then to Chaka (Salt) Lake, a beautiful lake situated on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. With its’ serene atmosphere and natural salt statues, this lake is a truly incredible sight on the ancient Silk Road. There were quite a few tourists there, but we managed to get a few pictures in. We also did some shopping,  including hand-painted souvenirs and some delicately handwoven Yak woolen scarfs – my Shanghai bargaining skills ended up being quite handy at the market. 

While traveling on the Tibetan Plateau we experienced some of the most beautiful views ever seen. We watched some farmers herding their cattle, sheep walking along with the green grasslands, and witnessed real yaks grazing. After some negotiation with the farmers, we agreed on a price to be able to pose with the yaks with a backdrop of Riyue Mountain, known in Tibetan as Nyima Dawa La.  

Elize on holiday in China
Credit: Elize

Along the mountain pass, we watched a few boys enjoying a friendly game of football in a Tibetan Nomadic Colony. As I watched this group of people I admired their simplistic way of life, how they found joy in the little things. 

As the sun set, our hunger set in. We went to a local restaurant that served a traditional homemade dish called momo (dumpling made of yak meat) and some gur gur cha, which was just what we needed after a long day’s journey. 

Before we knew it, we arrived at our hotel in Qinghai Lake (Lake Koko Nor), which lies in Qinghai Province in the Tibetan Autonomous region of China. This is the largest lake in China and known as an alkaline salt lake, which is often decorated with a blanket of bright yellow flowers in the summer months. 

Elize on holiday in China
Credit: Elize

The next morning, after breakfast, I got to parade and dance around in Qinghai Lake’s field of blooming flowers, which was so liberating and freeing. What really touched me was some of the local tourists who asked to take pictures of us in their indigenous ethnic tribal costumes. 

Another highlight of my travels was the Rainbow (Danxia) Mountains, situated in Zhangye, UNESCO World Heritage Site, which was a sight to behold. 

Elize on holiday in China
Credit: Elize

With drawn-out views that seem to stretch further than the eye can see, these ancient formations came about through sandstone and minerals being pressed together. A bird’s eye view would have been spectacular, it is as though an artist came and painted across a backdrop of pink and blue skies.  

That night we slept in a luxurious Yurt campsite, nestled at the foot of a mountain range, surrounded by an orange sea of rock and earth, under a starry night sky.  

As I journeyed back to Shanghai I couldn’t help but wonder why I hadn’t attempted to do this trip earlier. After all, it was by far one of my most memorable travel experiences. I had gained a greater love and appreciation for the country I now call home, simply by traversing through the wondrous ancient path they call – The Silk Road.

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