The Let's Not Guide to the Takalaman Desert

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July 26th 2010
Published: August 24th 2010
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Dear all,

In similar recurrence to our adventures in the high Pamirs, we have ventured to remotest China. A note; Remotest China: Instead of there being lots of overpopulated villages in between the vast metropolises there are vast tracts of inhospitable lands.

One such tract is the Taklamakan Desert, which I suppose like all blogs on such a place I feel a necessity to tell you that it, in the ancient language of these parts, means “He who enters does not leave”, a nice sentiment that really brings out the intrepid/stubborn mindedness inside me. So, these days the Han Chinese have quite put an end to the claims of the ancient peoples by being not one but two highways across its width.

So when crossing such a desert, one would generally advise another to take the air conditioned buses that thunder down new tarmac in between the oddly contrasting light aqua crash barriers and the endless dunes rolling to as far as one can see. And not walk!

Such tarmac allows one to experience a mirage at much less peril as one would have had to endure years ago, maybe as part of the French Foreign Legion in North Africa or the Tsar’s Cossacks galloping towards Khiva in the Kyzyl-Kum. But apart from such natural phenomena, if one was there on the 12th July 2010 one might have been graced with an odd sight. For walking towards the police checkpoint, 100km into the desert, one would have seen two laden travellers seemingly in high spirits.

When crossing a desert via the means of foot and thumb it is considered foolhardy to choose a country where the concepts of hitchhiking are practically unknown! Luckily for these two pioneers they were by chance within the borders of China, where people are both hospitable and inquisitive or at least to white folk walking in the desert.

If one finds a truck willing to take them 80km into the desert one shouldn’t insist that one is dropped off 20km short of his intended destination where there is only a dusty track, even if he does seem to be naturally slowing down. This might simply be because of the quality of the road.

Well as one can imagine, once arriving at the police check point the delirium of the heat had set in and one would be quite
Coccooned Technology for YearsCoccooned Technology for YearsCoccooned Technology for Years

One of China's best(and most lucrative) secrets, so much so they named a road after it!
giddy. So on arriving there, there are a few pointers so as not to annoy the policeman. For instance, telling him that you have walked there, this only sends him a little crazy. Don’t stand behind him in his tent to shelter from the midday sun as he may find this intrusive. But all these things do lead to one happy point. He points to the desert, after having rung his superior, and says “Go, Just Go!”

After leaving the last place for 300km that has water, shade (effectively the point of no return) on foot, your mind begins to wander to the things that might become of you. Will you end up like the sheep skeleton you passed a kilometre ago? It is advised to start to think of nicer things...
The desert sands, in the immediate vicinity of the road, are caught in a great net of reeds that give the impression that someone has been programming the terrain but has forgotten to render it. Think Sim City or for the more retro reader: Tron.

Eventually a truck will stop and when it does it is very much advised to take it! Of course, otherwise hitchhiking
An Intrepid ExplorerAn Intrepid ExplorerAn Intrepid Explorer

Marching across the Sands of the Takalaman without fear
is a somewhat flawed idea. But it is a general rule that more than one man in the ride is unadvisable. Once in the truck, try to make small talk with the drivers. After having stopped for a quick prayer they may begin to start requesting money for their driving services. At this point it is not advised to refuse if the sun is falling in the sky and further transport is slim. It is probably best to agree to their demands and pay a little for a lift to one’s destination.

If one finds oneself once again mooching across the dunes without a car or truck in sight, try the bus, please really do. It will probably be the cheapest exit to this un-exitable place.

When, or perhaps if, one reaches the oasis town of Alarl, there are few things that one should not do. Firstly, on visiting the locals’ hotel, don’t hang around for the police to arrive. This gives them ample opportunity to begin their questioning and such. Secondly, once the police have arrived and suggest that you leave for another hotel, a poor excuse is to state that you only have 50 Yuan (£5)
A Warm WelcomeA Warm WelcomeA Warm Welcome

The very nice policemen who saved us from our substandard accomodation
and that you cannot afford to stay anywhere else. This is likely to cause the policeman (who may or may not believe you) to call his superior to come. His superior is also likely to bring five other officers and two vehicles. Thirdly, commenting that this is all very silly and stating that really one is quite hungry is unlikely to hurry a police officer. In fact it may cause them to call a translator to come and visit and explain that you are not able to stay here because of the great danger! That is the great danger of the locals. But if one is adamant of both lack of funds, hunger and like for the place you are staying, it may be your good fortune that leads you into a 3 star hotel with mod cons at the expense of the local police!

And so ended the day, stretched out watching Russia-China Volleyball amid fresh linen sheets, a warm cup of green tea as a night cap. Soon we were both asleep dreaming of our next misadventure.

Additional photos below
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Snakes on the MarketSnakes on the Market
Snakes on the Market

I wish old Sam L had been here to give a sound bite!
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40 winks under 40 apples

In the markets of Kashgar

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