How to get there:
Routes and Fares: Hegetah is reached from Peking by taking the train or a plane to Lanchow (rail fare about £10, air travel slightly more). Here a car may be hired through China Intourist for the return journey to Hegetah, at a cost of about £30. Air travel from London to Peking, via Moscow, is quite straightforward and costs about £400 return. It is also possible to travel as far as Moscow by one of numerous surface routes, or a combination of air and surface travel, and to continue by Trans-Siberian Express. From Moscow a 2nd-class return, including sleeping accommodation, costs roughly £100, and 1st-class £150. The journey takes eight days each way and meals on the train cost 30s. to 40s. a day. Alternatively Peking may be reached by train from Hong Kong via Canton.
Formalities: A visa to enter China must be obtained from the Chargé d’Affaires of the People’s Republic of China (see below). Application should be made a good three months in advance. Smallpox vaccination is compulsory and typhus and plague inoculations are strongly recommended. Transit visas will also be needed by those passing through East Germany, Poland and the U.S.S.R. The only formality required of British travellers entering Hong Kong is smallpox vaccination. British travellers’ cheques are accepted in China, but your journey and hotel accommodation will be booked for you by China Intourist.
Accommodation: There is a large new hotel at Lanchow.
Information: This may be obtained from the Chargé d’Affaires of the People’s Republic of China, 49 Portland Place, London, W.1. General notes on travel to and in China were given in the June 1960 number.
IN an age of jet-hops from one side of the globe to the other, the two days spent in travelling by train from Peking to Lanchow in Kansu Province of China lend a comforting intimacy to a journey which by swifter means would be just another impersonal trip; and it comes as a surprise to realize, after such a long journey, that Lanchow lies not at the western extremity of China but almost in its geographical centre: it is on the desert margin and there are another 1600 miles of China before the Russian border.
Lanchow is the Chinese version of the boom town. Formerly it was the western terminus of the railway, but in the last few years since rich deposits of oil and minerals have been exploited in the Tsaidam and Sinkiang regions the track has probed out into the deserts for hundreds of miles. Now, more than ever before, Lanchow is the collecting centre for the products of this vast new-rich country and its staggering influx of workers and technicians. Once a charming, dilapidated place of 200,000 inhabitants lying at the western end of an elliptical plain on the banks of the upper Yellow River, it has become a great industrial city of about a million people. A boom town, but, in the modern Chinese manner, the boom is wholly industrial and not speculative.
Embedded in the growth of new buildings on the outskirts, there are still plenty of little dark shops selling incense or exotic skins of snow leopard, bear, chinchilla. Others are filled with the favourite headgear of Mongolian, Tibetan and other minority people’s taste, and with the bizarre silver jewellery they like to wear. And, sign of changing times, the kerosene pressure-lamp, the rubber tyre for an old cartwheel, have their prominent place amongst more local merchandise.
The swift current of the Yellow River at Lanchow is still best crossed on a raft made of inflated goatskins; and the sole bridge is that built by American engineers in the early years of the century, although a plaque recounts that its structure has been strengthened by Chinese.
Overlooking the sprawl of factories and the huge new oil refinery, a delicate pagoda on the brow of a hill is a reminder of former days. In a park I found school-children collecting roots and herbs to sell to a Chinese medicine shop whose pharmacopoeia normally includes such medicaments as essences of snake-skin and ground tortoise-shell.
Though the railway has stretched out beyond Lanchow and new roads start off in several directions, you do not have to drive far from the city to feel you are a very long way from the comforts and safety of civilization. Westward there is a road following the Yellow River for some miles, and then going along with one of its tributaries. Driving down it I was more conscious of progression into the past than of miles ticked off on my way. On the banks of the river are huge wooden water-wheels, many of them fifty or sixty feet in diameter, revolving lazily. They creak and groan, but with a dogged mediaeval efficiency they carry up the troughs of water which spill into runnels at the top. The fields are full of water-melons in whose pink juicy depths I had seen many small boys and girls in Lan-chow eagerly munching. And there are miles of bright yellow rape-seed traversed by elegant rows of silvery poplars, backed by a magnificent cyclorama of lilac-striped rocky mountains and a fine blue sky.