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Published: March 8th 2018
It would be good to get close to one, the leaves are said to be more rounded than the small sycamore-shaped leaves of the most common poplar hereabouts.
Actually not Minfeng, but Qiemo is not yet listed.
We had decided to go by car (700 Rmb plus gratuity), so as to travel in daylight, possibly faster than the 20mph achieved by the bus, partly to avoid delay to other passengers at administrative controls, and largely so as to arrive before (possibly 4am). Our driver turned up on time at 10.00 and everything went well; at the mid-point of the route (about 13.30hrs) we stopped at a rather gruesome WC halt amongst the sand dunes, and were transferred to another car, a taxi that had come out from Qiemo; we reached our hotel, the excellent Yudo Hotel, at 5.30 pm, having averaged 27mph across 315km. We were unable to communicate with either driver verbally or in writing; fortunately it did not matter, the first one was almost totally engaged in hand-held phone calls and the second one was more inclined to texting and playing quite enjoyable middle-eastern music. I noticed that at one point the steering was totally hands-free for 12 full seconds (which is longer than you think); presumably the minimal camber helped. We had a huge lunch, more than twice what could be eaten, as a set-meal
A sand-dune in the desert
Pity car window is a bit dusty.
in a truck stop, jolly good for £2.80 a head.
It was a very pleasant journey, sunny with reasonable visibility (although not sufficient to give a view of any mountains to the south). The terrain was (endlessly) fascinating, extensive wetland areas at first, rich in wildfowl, clearly managed for environmental purposes; then we ran into our first seriously authentic sand-dunes, wonderfully romantic. The dunes nearest the road were stabilised by natural vegetation, a type of maram grass, and of course the same grass is used elsewhere as an initial stage before establishing poplar belts. More unexpectedly, we began to see quite extensive areas of the famed Diversifid-leaved Poplar, an absolutely charming tree, gnarled and weather-beaten, often of enormous girth (over a metre), and seemingly as old as time itself. A 50 metre wide strip beside the road is being levelled by bulldozer (sparing only the special Poplars), as presumably this is needed prior to the installation of plastic irrigation grids, after which stabilisation planting follows on. This continues for mile upon mile – the huge scale of this desert region is breathtaking. There is very little traffic – this 200 mile stretch links two places (Qiemo and Minfeng) which
Very impressive, they roll away into the distance.
are both more easily accessed independently. Our administrative difficulties were negligible, a friend had furnished us overnight with a document listing our names, passport numbers and occupation (tourist) in Chinese, so that the officials en route could compare these with the actual documents. The officials were friendly and as non-obstructive as was possible, and there were only two such stops. After we checked-in, the local Public Safety Bureau called us to double check the details and our plans. There is no doubt that we are slightly hot potatoes and do cause some anxiety to the authorities in whichever area we enter.
Anyway, all was well and we set out to explore…. Qiemo is a vibrant, lively place and (like everywhere else) overflowing with friendly helpful people. A shout from a window let us to enter a rather daunting building and climb the darkened stairway, to creep along a corridor and find ourselves in (of all things) a large bar, where the only occupants gave us a huge Uighir welcome, plied us with beer, insisted that we eat part of their meal and were particularly delighted to learn that two of us were Irish (it seems that Conor McGregor is
Midway across 315 km of desert
The border between Minfeng and Qiemo. A pity that this isolated wc was surrounded by heaps of trash, cans, bottles, plastic bags etc. It really would be VERY easy to make proper arrangements here.
hugely popular, they showed us his picture on their phones!).
After a little further exploration we settled for a Chinese meal, as a slight change from the excellent Uighir cuisine; as ever, it was excellent, served by very helpful staff. Two random thoughts: how very strange that the hotel has no basic map of the town, to indicate (say) the bus station, the museum, the airport etc.; and how can it be that the western world, having secured access to the tea plant, has yet to discover the secret of the teapot with the non-drip spout? If we could master the principle it would probably work for coffee as well and save laundering hundreds of thousands of tablecloths each day. We have had an amazing amount of tea on this trip, and every teapot has poured faultlessly.
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