Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self. - Cyril Connolly
Friday, November 09, 2007
The China Chronicles - Midnight at the Oasis, Put Your Camel to Bed
From Dunhuang, we went to lunch at a newer restaurant near a new hotel complex. Then we drove a short way to the edge of the desert. Being an oasis town, Dunhuang is surrounded by the empty plains and shifting dunes of the Taklamakan and Gobi Deserts. We suddenly came to the end of town - quite literally, and were faced with large sand dunes.

The End of Town

Through the gate in the photo, there is a place to rent camels and ride them out into the dunes. It could have been very touristy, but instead was actually quite authentic, and riding Bactrian camels in the Gobi desert was definitely a highlight of the trip. Cross that one off life's "things to do before I die" list!

Rugged individualism

See the saddle blanket on the camel? They are made of camel felt and hand stitched. I later bought a very colorful one from a Khyrgyz trader to use as a small rug. It's outside my bathroom - next to my bed.

Camel train

They don't call them "Ships of the Desert" for nothing - check out the feet on these things!

Made for sand

Luckily, my ride, while not the smoothest way to travel, was quite docile and didn't spit or bite. I was impressed with how well taken care of the camels seemed to be. Each camel herder had about 6-10 animals they were in charge of, and as their primary source of income, they all seemed to be very well cared for.

We rode about 1/2 hour out into the desert to a large dune and clambered to the top so we could slide down again on little sleds like kids.

Climbing the dunes

Harder than it looks, which is why I skipped this part, but it was worth it - here's the view from the top of the dune courtesy of my friend.

The view from the top

We reboarded our steeds and headed to a small oasis called "Crescent Lake". A tea house built at the edge of a small lake in the middle of dunes. The lake is barely present anymore, and is quickly being devoured by the encroaching dunes.

Desert Tea House

Here's one of the camel herders resting.

Camel Herder

And in a true case of "it's a small world after all", here's another one - where he got the Target grocery bag in the middle of nowhere at the edge of the Gobi desert in China - I'll never know....

The Global Village

Later in the day, I saw this gentleman resting. Not sure what he's waiting for, but this is a very typical sight. This would also be one of the last truly Chinese looking people we would see after today. From here on out - people looked very Central Asian - not Chinese.

Old Man and Cart

So, after traveling since before dawn, and riding smelly camels all afternoon, we had an unremarkable dinner and went to the Dunhuang train station to board an overnight train through the Taklamakan desert north to Turpan. You know, at some point in the day, Purell just smears the dirt around. The train station is in the process of being completely renovated, so we waited with our luggage in a VERY small, very dirty, very crowded room with a lot of other people. I half expected to see chickens and livestock running around. Definitely a third world experience.

We had a small cabin for four with two bunks in it. I had the top bunk, and shared the compartment with a lovely woman from South Africa, my friend from Ireland, and a woman from the US State Dept. stationed in Beijing (originally from Pittsburgh no less!)


It took forever to get the air going in the cabin, and once it did - all the cigarette smoke from the smokers in the other cars seemed to pour into ours. I didn't get a good night's sleep, but 13 hours and a LOT of desert later - we were in Turpan, which, at 505 ft. below sea level, is the driest, hottest place in all of China. Only the Dead Sea is further below sea level.

Tomorrow: Turpan, hiking in the countryside and grapes.....
posted by Broadsheet @ 11:21 AM  
2 Editorial Opinions:
  • At November 09, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Fabulous photos! They make me want to ride a camel somewhere at some point even though I know camels are nasty and spit.

    When are you coming for turkey day exactly? I'm putting together the giant-list-of-shit-to-do this weekend and seeing if we can't tour a F.L Wright house near Buffalo Friday.

    Youngest Sister

  • At November 10, 2007, Anonymous Butch said…

    Cool pictures, but my laptop is having trouble loading the images. I haven't had time to look at your blog lately.

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