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xEurasia Odyssey

A Visit to the Queen Mother of the West & parting Urumqi

CHINA | Thursday, 30 August 2018 | Views [103]

Upper temple climb

Upper temple climb

Visiting the Queen Mother of the West

 The car ride from Urumqi through what used to be barren desert landscapes was filled with new construction, highrises, and coal power plants, which may be a contributing factor to there being more air pollution in Xiajiang than in Dunhuang. The drive brought home how committed the Chinese are to building up this region. During the hour and a half ride, there was almost always some construction going on either side of the highway.  The new edifices spring like thistles out of the desert floor. The city itself is completely modern; any older sections are tightly hidden amid the modern highrises.

 When we arrived at the first entrance to the Tian Chi excursion, we got in the regular line with all the domestic tourists, as soon as we made it up to the security folks though, our passports were taken and we were summarily escorted to the police station.  After three people verified our visas etc., we were allowed to go back and wait in the original line again, this time armed with a slip of paper saying that our passports were approved. It wasn’t that we looked like trouble, it was just we were the only Westerners on the entire mountain. Once through the security, there is a line to board a bus, which takes one up the first part of the mountain.  The landscape changes from desert floor to barren mountains, to driving by a fast moving stream. At the end of that bus ride, ca. 25 minutes, one boards another bus for a 25 minute windy mountain drive through scrubs to evergreen forests to the next intermediate stop, where there are electro-open top busses/carts to take one through the pine forest to the lake.

The lake is stunningly situated.  The Tian Shan glaciers in the distance looked like this had a healthy amount of white snow on top, while those nearer the lake were deep green with forests or grasses. From the steep mountainsides jagged rock faces jut out adding contours to the vista. There is an undulating boardwalk along the lakeshore to the Feilong Pool loop as well as to the Ancestral Home of the Taoist Queen Mother of the West, which the signs say “The Goddess of the West.” 

The first temple to the Goddess was constructed here in 1221 and has been renovated three times since then. The last was apparently recently as the façade of the temple looks new. People lined up to purchase the largest incense sticks I had ever seen (about a meter long and inch and a half thick)  and then offered those to the Goddess.  Her statue is in the main temple in the middle and she is flanked by the Wise Old Man and a priest I couldn’t identify. Side temples have a shrine to her and another to a different priest.  In both the side temples and the main one, there are priests who, for a fee, will write out the people’s wishes and then say prayers for them.  

Behind the Goddess’ temple there is another staircase that leads to her actual home, a cave. There are offering tables in the cave to the Queen Mother, but no images to disturb her rest.

 From the Goddess’ home it is easy to go down the stairs to a boat landing, where a ferry transports the pilgrims back to the parking lot for the 3 bus trip down the mountain. We choose to walk through the forest rather than ride as it was a beautiful day. On the way down, which was close to the end of the day, the busses didn’t make the intermediate stop and we went the entire distance in one ride.

 After meeting our driver, we headed back to town.  There was a security check along the way, as there had been on the way there when they waved us through. This time, though, our passports were again taken from us and we were escorted into the police station.  After about five minutes the young uniformed man, who had absconded with our documents, returned and handed the passports to our driver, not to us, which we both found interesting.

The rest of the journey was uneventful, except to remark once again on the extent of the construction that is occurring in this region and city. This desert may not bloom with flowers, but it is blossoming houses.

 The next day I left for the airport at around 4:30 am.  During the trip, which would normally take about 25 minutes, we had two security checks before getting to the highway and a very lengthy one, where I once again had to get out of the car and go through a whole process with my passport, just before the airport.  At this point, I have to admit I was so frustrated with the excessive measures as well as the lack of access to information on the internet that I was grateful I wasn't a journalist trying to investigate what the government says are 'non-existent internment camps,' where foreign NGOs say over a million Uighurs have disappeared. If I had been I might not have gotten out without major hassles. I can't verify the camps or not, but what I can say is that 'urban development' has laid low the majority of the old Uighur city, the museum ignores the historical influence of the Uighur peoples, and I didn't hear a call to prayer from the Grand Minaret in the Great Bazaar even though I was there at prayertime.  When I was in Tibet over a decade ago, well before starting this blog, I had the impression that the government had put a Disneyesque bubble around the Jokang and Potala as if the Tibetan culture was just to be kept as a tourist attraction; here things were different, this was the systematic obliteration of the culture. In both of these parts of China the indigenious cultures are severely repressed.  The Silk Road is supposed to be about trade, but what I found on this part of the ancient highway wasn't the free exchange of cultural products, but the need to control.

 

 

Tags: landscapes, religious sites

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