THE ORIENTAL GATEWAY TO THE SILK ROAD
With Innovative Travel, I have explored fascinating destinations along the old Silk Roads. On my latest adventure with this fabulous company, I went to the eastern end of these ancient trading routes: Inner Mongolia, the Gobi desert and Dunhuang: the Oriental gateway to China, where grand caravans of camels once arrived laden with exotic treasures. My gateway in and out of China was Shanghai. I immersed myself in this vibrant city: the leafy Old French colonial quarter, the raw industrial M50 contemporary art district, an amazing acrobatic show and the superb Shanghai Museum, which was truly inspirational for me as a designer. My accommodation was right on the Bund, boasting spectacular views and at night, a glittering backdrop of the illuminated skyscrapers of Pudong. In the Zhangjiajie mountains, nature’s skyscrapers, jagged and thin, thrust skywards 200 metres. This is the unique landscape that inspired the film Avatar.
China is vast. To cover so much ground I took several quick flights. One was to Guilin, where a cruise on the Li river placed me into one of China’s most treasured sites, literally as it appears on the banknotes. Layers of mountains butt up against the river and step back into the misty clouds. In this dreamy landscape was my luxurious accommodation the Sugar Retreat.
Always interested in colour for my work, in Long Ji I followed colourfully costumed mountain women up steep, winding paths into the verdant terraced rice fields. Also soaked in colour are the underground mineral formations that form the Reed flute cave, and completely natural in their colours are the recently discovered and extraordinary Rainbow mountains at Zhangye - reds, yellows and blues compacted into stripes over the millennia.
Originally brightly coloured but buried for centuries, an army, massive in their number and still only partly unearthed, are the famous “Terracotta Warriors”. Soldiers and horses stand in parade lines under a giant pavilion, a space they share with archaeologists who are restoring and preserving them in the specially built “hospital”. I found it incredible to learn that each figure is unique in its detail.
Also preserved over the centuries, in the sands of the Gobi desert, where the Silk Roads converge at Dunhuang, are the Mogao caves. Frescoes cover the walls and ceilings of hundreds of caves hewn from the sandstone cliff by Buddhist monks from as early as the 4th Century. Seeing these vividly coloured paintings up close, guided by a university professor, and with a Bactrian camel ride into the Gobi at the dunes of Mingsha, were real highlights for me.
On a previous trip I had a fabulous fun time with the playful young pandas at the Panda Breeding Centre at Chengdu. Highly recommended! Beijing: the Forbidden City, Summer Palace, and the Great Wall, plus the amazing red beach at Panjin are already pencilled in for my next visit…