We left Khotan on the morning of the 26th and this was the first time that I had been in a position to see the early morning Tai Chi in the main square. I am sure that it happened in Kashgar and I certainly heard the wake-up music over the loudspeakers but round the Seman Hotel was not really a Tai Chi sort of place and probably not a Tai Chi sort of population! So here are a few snaps - slightly blurred because I was high up in the hotel overlooking the main square and also I was using "zoom".
Early morning in Khotan
|Tai Chi to wake up|
|and everybody is at it .............|
|& dogs do Tai Chi too! And very obligingly there is piped musak to do the exercises to!|
|This is the statue that I refer to. My photo of this was not good enough to post however Phil Colley, Chief Caravaneer at The Oriental Caravan (http://www.theorientalcaravan.com/) has kindly given permission to use the one from their website.|
|Gives a little hint about the pollution levels. You can make out the statue on a plinth in front of the white building with the windows on the left hand side of the photo.|
So leaving Khotan behind we headed off to cross the Taklamakan Desert from South to North. When Charles Blackmore wrote his account of crossing the Taklamakan in 1993 the road that we took had not even been built (see Charles Blackmore - The Worst Desert on Earth - a fascinating account of endurance by a British/Chinese/Uyghur exploration team who set out to cross the Taklamakan desert mainly on foot but also with the support of some camels.) There are huge reserves of natural gas and petrol to the north of the Taklamakan and probably underneath it as well. So as such it is a strategic resource for China which also explains the political difficulties with the Uyghur people who do not see themselves as Chinese at all and furthermore that that they belong in the region and the Chinese do not.
See the following links for more information:
We travelled along the road to the south of the Taklamakan through lots of small towns in the oases which skirt the desert. Photos taken through Archie's windows and rather dirty at that! But I should not complain there were days when I was on "window washing duty" and they were dirty! Very hard to keep Archie's windows clean with all the dust in the desert.
|A typical Uyghur farm on the outskirts of a village|
My diary for 26th May reads:
"Left Khotan and headed out in the desert. Lots of small towns in oases. Stopt. for lunch and a group came to see what we were doing & a man offered us green dates. Then into the everchanging desert. The road north is fascinating. A wide strip either side is regularly irrigated with pumping stations every 5k. 2 of the pumping station men joined us for our night camp. The sat with us and chatted through John (our guide) J (fellow traveller & farmer) asked them a lot of questions about the upkeep of the road and the irrigation system. They were happy to share information and I suppose gratified that we took such an interest in what could be a very lonely job." As the pumping stations was a government scheme the men working them were state employees and Han Chinese - not Uyghur.
I also write a bit about the desert; "Sand blew into the tent until everything was covered in a fine layer of sand - The sand blow always seems to co-incide with us leaving the truck! As soon as we set up cook group the wind starts up carrying the sand. The Taklamakan is a desert desert - sand dunes which shift & change shape like huge hills with wind ripples all over them. The road north has pumping stations every 5k & irrigation pipes the whole way along & is lined with bushes in a band about 15/20 feet wide. This is to keep the road open so that there is access to the oil fields & natural gas fields further north. There is a gas pipe installation about 1/2 way along the road as there is a gas field. The road after Hotan was atrocious but is being upgraded into a 4 lane highway. This means that it will far easier to access into the Uighur Autonomous Region - such as military or Chinese influences. Also far easier access to the rather unstable border- ie. Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, etc. But it must also have and impact on the Uighur who may feel somewhat threatened - as up to now the poor communications s of the Taklamakan may have helped to keep some degree of distance from China. As we move eastward the Chinese appear more in numbers & Uighur less. Although there is a great emphasis on the surface on Uighur culture."
There were also some jokes about the quality of the sand in the Taklamakan for it must not be forgotten that the Chinese use the desert near Lop to try out various nuclear tests - and in travel terms Lop is not that far from the Taklamakan and as the winds blow I, along with all my fellow travellers, probably inhaled some leftovers from various testings. But despite this I would not have not gone through the Taklamakan for the world.
Some more desert landscapes
|The Taklamakan Desert - a desert's desert - sand and dunes|
|The irrigation band complete with pipes!|
|One of the many pumping stations as we whisked past|
|And another one hidden behind the bushes.|
|And a third one - high on a hill.|