04-Jul-2012 -- Story continues from 38°N 112°E.
I arrive at the train station early, at 7:30 am, so that I have time to join the queues in the ticket selling hall, to buy my ticket for tomorrow morning to the county of Dài Xiàn (代县). I want to avoid, if possible, getting a “no-seat” ticket for that three-and-a-half-hour journey.
The ticket I have for this morning, to Jièxiū City (介休市), is such a no-seat ticket, but the journey is less than two hours on a “K” train, which I believe is a more comfortable variety. Meanwhile, I do manage to get a seat on tomorrow’s train to Dài Xiàn.
In the waiting room, a girl wanting to practice her English, which she in fact already speaks exceptionally well, comes up and chats with me for a while. She is going to Línfén Prefecture (临汾市) on the same train.
The train leaves dead on time at 8:47 am, just like clockwork. It is indeed a more up-market train, with air conditioning. I am lucky to find a seat for which the ticket holder has apparently not shown up.
I arrive in Jièxiū at 10:45 am, and find the nearby bus station, where I get on a no. 9 commuter bus bound for Hóngshān Town (洪山镇). Although rain was predicted for today, so far it has remained overcast but dry—perfect confluencing weather.
I disembark at Chóngxián Village (崇贤村), with the confluence 4.4 km SE. As I walk through Chóngxián, one particular ornate doorway catches my eye. Emerging from the south side of the village, I follow an uphill dirt track that runs beside a deep gorge on my right. There is a house carved out of the wall of the gorge.
After a couple of kilometres, the dirt track converges with a paved road, and starts descending. I follow it down for a few hundred metres, but eventually work out I am going the wrong way! I make my way back up the hill, and find another dirt track that branches off to the south not far from where I joined the paved road. I decide to take a gamble on this being the correct path.
Nope! It eventually peters out in a cornfield. I backtrack all the way to where the original dirt track and paved road converge, and finally realise my mistake. I should have turned left, and followed the road in the opposite direction!
Continuing on, as I pass through a village, I hear the distinctive call of an Indian cuckoo: “one more bottle.” Just as I leave the village, a police car passes by going in the opposite direction. The occupants fortunately take no interest in the foreigner walking along this otherwise pretty deserted back country road.
When the confluence is about 140 m northwest, I turn left off the road and onto a side path. Just as was the case with yesterday’s confluence, there is an abandoned brick building at the commencement of this path. This one houses some old, dry cornstalks.
The path leads directly to the confluence, which is just a couple of metres to the left, atop an embankment that is easy to reach by continuing along the path some 50 meters, then doubling back on the higher ground. There are small fields of corn and something else (sweet potato?) being grown here.
After snapping the GPS and north-south-east-west photos, I sit down to eat some more of the birthday fruit provided by the hotel. The confluence is almost at the top of a small hill, affording good views all around, air pollution notwithstanding. Every now and then, the peaceful setting is disturbed by the sound of an explosion reverberating through the valley from a nearby quarry.
I remember from Google Earth that the path to the confluence continues on, and after doing a bit of a loop, eventually rejoins the road that I just came along. So I decide to take the scenic route, and sure enough, it leads me back to the road, emerging 370 m west of the confluence.
I return to Chóngxián pretty much the same way I came, although this time I follow a road along the opposite bank of the gorge south of the village. Back on the main road, it’s a very dusty wait for a no. 9 bus, as trucks whiz by, sending great swirls of dust up into the air—a real pain for a contact-lens-wearer like me. There has definitely been no rain today, although some would be welcome right now.
When I get back to Jièxiū, and check at the train station, I learn that the next train to Tàiyuán does not depart until after 6 pm, so I catch a bus departing at 4 pm instead. This deposits me at the Jiànnán bus station (建南汽车站) at 7 pm, from where I catch a no. 611 double-decker commuter bus back to my hotel. After a quick freshen-up, I go out and have some genuine Shānxī knife-shaved noodles (Shānxī dāoxiāomiàn 山西刀削面) for dinner.
Story continues at 39°N 113°E.