You approach Jiāyùguān (嘉峪关) through the forbidding lunar landscape of north Gānsù. It’s a fitting setting, as Jiāyùguān marks the symbolic end of the Great Wall, the western gateway of China proper and, for imperial Chinese, the beginning of the back of beyond. One of the defining points of the Silk Road, a Ming dynasty fort was erected here in 1372 and Jiāyùguān came to be colloquially known as the ‘mouth’ of China, while the narrow Héxī Corridor, leading back towards the nèidì (inner lands), was dubbed the ‘throat’.
You’ll need plenty of imagination to conjure up visions of the Silk Road, as modern Jiāyùguān is a city of straight roads, identikit blocks and manufacturing. But the Jiāyùguān Fort is an essential part of Silk Road lore and most certainly worth a visit.