Previously, in Xi’an

August 6 -11 Beijing ,  train to Xi’an (red line, see map)

August 11-14 Xi’an, train to Lanzhou ( orange line, see map)

August 14-15 Lanzhou, car to Xiahe driving to Yellow River , boat to  Bingling Si Caves

August 15-18 Xiahe, this is the region of the Tibetan Plateau, Gansu Province camp among nomadic people. (Green line, see map)


As much as I would like to post many photos, these highlights will have to suffice.  Previously in Xi’an, the days were spent walking the ancient city wall, built in 1370 AD still completely intact, surround the old city. It is over 12 kilometres around, with four enormous gate towers situated on each of the north, south, east and west sides. There is a new architectual style introducing modern high-rise buildings with traditional pagoda finishing which I noted in Xi’an, particularly.DSC_0275

Folk paper-cut art, as a world intangible cultural heritage, has nearly thousand years of history in China. The creator uses their hands to cut ordinary paper into different wonderful shapes of objects to express their special philosophy to communicate with the world. An afternoon spent with master paper-cutter Yang Fan  revealed  the patience, skill and creativity needed to design and produce paper-cut art.  Yang Fan born in 1981 in Shan city Province,  specialty is paper -cut series of Chairman Mao , Shaanxi opera faces, and village scenes.


At the Xingjang Museum in Urumchi, above paper cut was found in burial tombs dating back to 420-589 AD , unearthed at the Astana Cemetery in Turpan.

Xi’an is the site of the tomb of China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang. Guarding the tomb is the Terra Cotta army of 7,000 life-sized figures. Peasants digging a well stumbled on the warriors in 1974.DSC_0325

“Inside Painting” is a unique and special painting art in China. Artists mainly use transparent material such as crystal and glass to make the bottle and then after drilling and polishing the bottle, they paint inside reversely with a special hook. Here the artist writes “Mae” in Chinese (far, top right-hand corner) my granddaughter’s name that means ‘plum blossom’ in Chinese.DSC_0406DSC_0402

The highlight of Xi’an was to attend a 3-hour performance (no intermission) by the Qin Opera, the traditional Chinese opera of northwest province of Shaanxi where it was called Qin (see Qinqiang Wikipedia). They performed The Orphan of Zhao, a tragedy based on revenge (see orphan of Zhao). (Sorry I have no access to google to instant link information to a website).


Xi’an Opera House

Inside Xi’an Opera House

The performance was a brilliant marriage between precise movement to chimes and drums, and facial expressions to movement of body and costume. The facial makeup is used to exaggerate special facial expressions of the actor or actress. The facial makeup is usually consistent with the design of the dresses worn and traditional style of the performance. The use of colour and design for facial makeup are determined by status,characteristics facial features and traits of the role of the drama. Each colour has its own symbolic meaning.


The Great Mosque of Xi’an was built in 742AD under the reign of Emporer Zuanzong Li Longi in Tang Dynasty  in Chinese architectural  style. It has survived centuries till today, being renovated in the Song, Yuan, Ming, Qing Dynasties.  This subject deserves its own post so I will postpone writing more until I can give its the attention it deserves, until then here is the minaret:


Traveling to Lanzhou by train through the centre of high mountains marks and important centre for Silk Road travelers; where the caravans from the West met the Yellow River which led to markets throughout eastern China. In ancient times Lanzhou served as a garrison town providing forces to protect the Middle Kingdom from enemies who might advance down the Hexi Corridor from the west. Lanzhou is hemmed in on two sides by high mountains with the Yellow River flowing through its centre.

From Lanzhou, a car then a boat on the Yellow River brings me to Bingling Si Caves,set of 183 Buddhist grottoes carved into the Yellow River Gorge in Gansu Province. Statues, clay sculptures are from the Wesern Qin Dynasty. The small twigs between the rocks are asking for old people to overcome the bending and buckling of old age. DSC_0689

Yellow River Gorge in Gansu Province

szechuan peppers being dried , Yellow River Gorge

After nearly 10 hours on the road, the next four days are spent on the Tibetan plateau with nomadic Tibetan camp out side the village of Xiahe in the region of Xiahe. Set in a mountain valley on the Tibetan Plateau, Xiahe was once an important city in the ancient kingdom of Tibet best known by Labrang Monastery in the centre of the town and sixth largest monastery.


Map courtesy of Norden Camp pamphlet.

Yesterday,  I took a 2 hour drive through the mountainous grasslands to Norlha Textile Workshop, founded by American/French, Kim Yeshi, who revived the techniques of weaving Yak wool. (See :

Here are some moments of daily life for a nomad in this area.


Nomadic lifestyle in the Sang ke grasslands where winters families bring their herds of yak, sheep, and goats to the valleys for warmer conditions and in the summer, the herds and the families move to higher mountain for grazing. The yak is an impressive animal and the people in this area use the yak wool ( yaks shed hair once a year and the hair is collected from the fields) to make their tents, bedding, blankets, clothing. Yak meat is tender and lean and prepared in a variety of ways: yak steak, yak sandwich, yak soup, yak bone marrow.  Yak yogurt,cheese,butter, milk, all are staples at every meal. Even yak pizza! Honey is the main sweetener, bees enjoy the yellow flowers which resemble marigold flowers.DSC_0885


Fields of Marigolds

Herding Yaks and collecting dung

Milking Yaks



Tent dot the summer residents in the high mountains where they find abundant grassland for their herds.


Mountain god pray flags, every summer placed at highest points on mountain ridges for blessings.

Tomorrow heading out to Tongren, still on the Tibetan plateau. Tongren is home to many minorities. I will have a chance to visit mosques, and Tibetans who follow the Buddhist traditions. Then onto Xining and a 22 hour train ride to Llasa that is a distance of 1956 kilometres. Xining is 2,300 meters above sea level but we will go through the Tangla Pass which is 5000 meters high. The train is pressurised with  with oxygen for passengers.

Probably from Lhasa, I will find Internet to post again.


(all rights reserved, copyright 2017. To copy or re-produce photography and/or writings, written permission from Lesley Lababidi is required).

All Photographs and text are under international copyright laws. No re-use without the written permission of Lesley Lababidi 2023.

21 thoughts on “Previously, in Xi’an

  1. My mind goes to the three colours you have mentioned in your route summary, Pink, Red, Green lines. What do they represent?

    • Dear Murtala, Thanks for pointing this out. I have been having lots of trouble with the Internet, the colours did not come out as I thought, so I have corrected them on the map. Can you look at the post again? The lines represent the road I am taking during the specific dates. L.

  2. As if I’m reading a novel, an ancient one … moving between chapters/posts I can’t blink! breath taking dear Lesi!

  3. Wow. Can’t wait for you to get to Lhasa.
    Did you try tsampa? I’ve heard it’s a staple made of yak butter, yak milk and grain all boiled up. It’s not exactly Michelin star stuff, but it keeps you going.

    • Thanks for bringing these comments up. I will answer them on my next post. Yes they make a porrage out of tsampa and yak meat, it was okay but not easy to eat for breakfast. They made pancakes and a thin bread , a soup , and roasted tsampa, which was quite good.

      • Ayo…I’m going to reply to your questions in an upcoming blog. Thank you for highlighting some questions. You got me thinking about food. I am not a ‘foodie’ but you are right, there are some interesting meals that I am having and will try to share some unusual (for me) eating experiences. L.

  4. Extraordinary, Lesley!! I love the perspective that your camera so magically presents to us! Every photo is so rich! Thank you!

  5. To be able to experience all the cultures and the blending of old and new is beyond words and it is done so gracefully – all the different art mediums and methods seen in China are part of ongoing history that you are able to touch as you pass through. On to the Tibetan Plateau where life goes on as it has for years without outside influence. Thank you for sharing your adventures as you capture the essence of the Silk Road.

  6. What an amazing set of adventures you’re having already! And typically going out of your way to meet interesting and creative people, and seek out unusual experiences. The photographs are great, too — my favorite is the close-up of the Buddha’s fingers.

    • Dear Neil,
      Coming from a world traveller and photographer as yourself, your comments give me a real boost. Thank you so much for following along. It means a lot to me. L.

  7. Lesley,
    Each day I think of you and wonder where you are and what you are seeing. The photos and reports help me visualize your progress.
    I’m in awe of you as I have always been.
    Travel safe, my friend.

  8. Great article! You’ve assimilated so much information during your stay there, and it’s always a joy to read your writing because 1) You are very eloquent and 2) I can feel your passion for learning new things.

  9. Lesley, this article is SO BEAUTIFUL!! I have always wondered how the “inside painting” on bottles were made….also, the extraordinary theatrical photos are so colorful and moving!! Truly inspiring!!

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