Friday, September 16, 2016

Fossils in Hezheng and a Glimpse of Linxia.

Linxia.

Mal had set the alarm for 6a but I was up well before then. Something I ate last night had not agreed with me and I had to make two trips to the toilet to empty my bowels. Not a pleasant way to greet the day.

An early morning view of the Yellow River from our   hotel room.

Mal was already up as well and we slowly got ready for the day. The plan was to meet up with Y and Sal for brekkie, as the Aussies call it, at 7a.

It was a very nice buffet breakfast and we took our time to enjoy it.


Our very comfy van.

By 8a, we had checked out of the hotel. Eric and the driver were there to meet us and take us to our next destination - the small town of Xiahe.  Along the way, we would have two sightseeing stops.


Our first stop was at the Hezheng Paleozoological Museum.  Hezheng is located just a short drive from Lanzhou.  Hezheng is situated in the southern part of the Linxia Basin where the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and the Loess Plateau meet.  According to paleontologists, the Linxia Basin used to have a subtropical-warm temperature zone climate, and was a paradise for many kinds of animals in the the Miocene epoch of 24 to 5.2 million years ago. The strong uplift of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau during the Late Cenozoic dramatically affected the environment and the evolution of mammals in the area.  The area is rich in fossils and Hezheng has spent more than 200 million yuan building a paleozoological museum to hold more than 30,000 animal fossils of over 70 different specis/genera have been excavated  over the past half century.  For those who are interested in knowing, this relatively unknown museum holds the distinction of having:
The richest collection of fossils of Hipparion fauna of Late Miocene epoch.
Fossils of Hezheng Ovibos which are unique in the world.
The largest piece of Dinocrocuta gigantean fossil in the worlds.
The richest collection of Platybelodon (shovel-tusked elephant) fossils in the world.
The largest Equus Linnaeus (skull length being 0.73m, the longest ever found) fossil in the world.
The fossils of the earliest Coelodonta antiquitatis (2.5 million years ago) in the world.
If you already knew all this, then you are really a paleozoo geek!



Eric bought our tickets and we entered the first building which focused mainly on creatures that roamed the earth millennia ago. The first exhibition room was a bit odd - there was a large display of very large animatronic creatures.



Yim took a video of the horse moving.  It's a bit creepy.



Sadly, my first interest in being in the first museum was finding the toilet. I really had to go and go NOW!! I kept it in long enough to make it up to the second floor ladies room. When I left the toilet, I was feeling much, much better. Whatever I ate for dinner last night really did a number on me!  Surprisingly, the other three gals had exactly the same meal as I did but none of them had any issues.  And I thought I was the one with the cast iron stomach!

We didn't have anyone to guide us around and explain the displays to us so for me,  I just  glanced at the items and took photos.





We continued on to building #2 which had a display of fossils recovered from around the area. Apparently, the landscape in this part of China experienced an upheaval (which I learned about in building #3) that surfaced a lot of the fossils that had been buried eons ago.





I particularly liked the recreation of a giant creature that looked part anteater and part kangaroo.  It was cute.



There was a lot of stuff that I think only a paleozoologist or someone with interest in fossils would appreciate.

A jaw bone??

Building #3 provided geological information about the region and if I were to lead people around, I would bring them to this museum as it sets the environmental and geological context for the fossils.






I'm not much of a museum goer so I was in and out of the 3 buildings faster than the others. So I waited outside for them to rejoin me. It is a picture perfect day here - sunny, comfortable temperature and just a hint of humidity. I much prefer being outside than in the museum buildings.

Next stop was the town of Linxia, a small city, located about 150 kilometers (93 miles) southwest of Lanzhou.  About half of the population of Linxia belong to the  Hui ethnic group i.e., the Chinese Muslims.  I think it was Eric that told us that by law, every Chinese city has to be at least half Han Chinese in population.  I think it's the government's way of controlling the ethnic minorities. Very sad that they feel they have to control the minority groups in this manner.  In any case, I was expecting to be visiting a very Islamic city and indeed it is one of the main religious, cultural, and commercial centers of China's Islamic Qadiriyyah and Khufiyya Sufi orders, earning itself the nickname of "the little Mecca of China".


Some cities have a unifying architectural feature.  In Linxia, it's shop signs with English words that somehow got lost in translation.


Or they're very literal in translation.  I was amused by the signs :-)


We had arrived too early for lunch so we did a bit of a walk about town.  The first place that Eric took us to was a small neighborhood temple or maybe it was a mosque.  I couldn't tell. 



While I did not see a dome or a minaret or any Arabic lettering, there was a Muslim man, standing by the entrance to the complex, selling incense to woman wearing a hijab.  



The complex was small, a few buildings set among trees.  There was also a small pond in the garden.  Seeing the pond convinced me we were inside a temple complex as mosques are not traditionally built around a man made pond.







The next place that Eric took us to was definitely a mosque!  I don't know its name either :-(


I loved the bas relief on the walls. Very pretty. 


The door was open but we didn't enter inside.


As we walked, I found myself captivated by the look of the elderly Hui men here.  It's not that they're handsome but I think they have a unique look to them that ties them to this city.  It was their beards and head toppers that I was fascinated by.  Every man seemed to have a different beard style and they each topped their heads in their own personal way.



I mentioned this to Yim and before you know it, she had gotten in to my game and she started pointing them out to the men that she thought were interesting looking.  I was particularly charmed by the men on bicycles :-) 


A few of them sported the flat lens sunglasses that are distinctive to Linxia. They are very trendy in the US at the moment.  I wanted a pair!





I had no idea where we were walking to.  Yim and Sal followed Eric and Mal and I followed the two gals.


I just took in my surroundings.  I am particularly captivated by modes of transportation in China.  Yes, there are big cars and SUV's here but I think for the majority of people, buses and motorized bicycles are still the main form of getting around town.  The buses were packed to the max!


*Mini-trucks* are also a common sight and they are very practical.



We passed by a butcher shop that stands just in the shadows of a very modern apartment building.


People may live in a western style building but I bet they still buy their meat from the old time butcher and not in a styrofoam pack from the supermarket!


Our walk took us past Laohua Mosque, a Sunni Muslim mosque that was originally built in 1368.  Obviously, the building facade that we walked by doesn't date back to that time.


It was approaching time for midday prayer and there was a small group of men that had congregated outside the entrance.  In my mind, I wanted them to all line up so I could take a photo for my *Linxia elderly Hui man* album but it was not something that would have been appropriate to do so Yim and I just snuck a few photos.



Yim managed to take the photo of the one  man that had caught my eye.  Perfect shot and don't you just love those distinctive Linxia sunglasses?  Put them on a Parisian model and you would be right on trend!

Photo by Yim Chan.

On the way to the restaurant, we passed by a tea shop.  I was tempted to buy some as you can't get this quality of green tea, even the lowest grade, for a reasonable price in the US.  But my suitcase is literally so packed with stuff that I can barely zip it shut :-( 


Lunch was at a local restaurant which I would describe as a high end restaurant by local standards.


We were escorted into our own private dining booth and Eric helped with ordering our meal before leaving to have his own.


No doubt, he is eating at a more affordable local eatery nearby. I let the other 3 gals do the ordering.


Although my stomach was feeling much better it still wasn't at 100% so I was only going to have a modest amount of food - I really just wanted something plain and I figured the veggies would do it. They ordered the hand grabbed lamb aka Dongxiang boiled lamb,  a local specialty that is basically boiled lamb that you dip into a seasoning of your choice to eat.



The gals also ordered two bowls of local style noodles, a plate of what looked and tasted like melon and then a plate of boiled, fresh bamboo shoots.

Noodle dish.

Of a the dishes, the bamboo shoots was my favorite mainly because it was something that I had never eaten before.  Eating them was reminiscent of eating artichokes in that you could only eat the tender inner leaves; the outer leaves were just too tough - impossible to even chew through.

Boiled fresh bamboo shoots.

I stayed away from the lamb as I'm not all that fond of boiled lamb. Local specialty or not, I much prefer my lamb grilled over an open flame. Like we had in Azerbaijan. That simple lamb dish will forever be my benchmark for how I like my lamb cooked. We washed our meal down with rice bowls of green tea....the same local tea that we had seen in the shop earlier.



After lunch, we began our 3 hour drive to Xiahe where we will be staying for a couple of nights.  Xiahe is Tibetan Buddhist territory and I knew we were close when made a quick stop by this entry archway.

 

The two deer are a common element on Tibetan Buddhist archways and entries to monasteries and temples.  Deer have a rich history of significance in Buddhism. When two deer are shown, it is usually a male and a female, facing the Dharma Wheel (Wheel of the Teachings).  This is in reference to Buddha's first sermon which he gave in  Sarnath Deer Park near Varanasi.

Our first view of a stupa.

I think we had all been riding in the van for a tad too long.  It didn't take Mal but a few words to get the gals into a giggling fit!  Mal is hilarious and she was right when she wrote in her email that she would provide the laughs!


The last bit of our drive took us past mountains and streams.  It was very pretty landscape.  Sadly, it's not only overcast but it's very chilly here.  I'm not quite prepared for cold weather so I'm going to have to figure out how to layer up to stay warm. 



Seemingly out of nowhere, buildings appeared.  We had arrived into Xiahe.


The guys dropped us off and Eric got us checked into our rooms before saying goodbye.  We would meet back up with him tomorrow morning.  Interestingly enough, the small hotel is run by a couple - he is Tibetan and she is Dutch. They both spoke excellent English, so communication is will not be a problem!


There was still time in the day for exploring a bit of Xiahe!