Riding Camels in the Taklamakan Desert
We arrived in Kashgar early Monday morning after 16 hours of sleeping, reading, and chatting with friends. We met our tour guide, Tudajin, who was a local Uyghur. During the next few days, he would take us to the famous Sunday market, Id Kah Mosque, Shiptons Arch and the Ancient town of Kashgar. But one of the first things in the week was our visit to the Taklamakan Desert.
Starting off, we drove for about an hour and half seeing dry climate to thriving crops, both with mountains painting the background. It was interesting seeing how different people were making use of the different desert environments. At our first stop, we went to a local knife shops where I purchased a smaller knife and case for 140RMB, which I had bargained down from 200RMB J.
After traveling for another hour or so, we went to a local restaurant in莎车 (sha che) or Yarkant in Uyghur, that had a menu including no veggies. Luckily, there was plenty of naan and noodles for those who had dietary restrictions. The others of us feasted on naan, meat soaked naan, lamb and chicken. One of the best meals I had ever had. 很好吃delicious！After lunch, still in Yarkant, we visited Sultan Sayida Khan’s tomb, had natural ice cream for 5kuai a piece and got some pictures with the locals.
We had one more stop before making it to the rim of the desert and riding camels, which was to pick up food for the night’s dinner from a market along the way. From the bus, I watched Tudajin, our guide, pick out some fruit and naan and load it on. Once we arrived to the starting point, we saw our guides beginning to prepare the camels for us to ride into the Taklamakan. It was about 530 p.m. now and we had been driving for almost 4 hours just to get here. As we all got out and began to unload things, a policeman came by and has a word with Tudajin. Originally, the group was planning on riding camels into the desert for a couple hours, setting up camp, collecting wood for a fire, enjoying a meal with the Uyghur people, and then end the night camping in the desert. But, unfortunately, this policeman claimed we were missing an essential document that made us unable to stay overnight.
Nonetheless, the group dropped our supplies there at the sight and hopped on our camels for a short ride into the desert. Though we were not finding a place to stay overnight, this was an event I will keep with me forever. We ventured on camels with a lead close by into the desert for about an hour, where we then paused and played games with one another. One classmate had brought a Frisbee, so we were taking turns tossing it back and forth and diving in the sand. Then, the Uyghur people challenged us to a contest. The contest was a sand dune jumping contest where we began from a running start and jumped off the edge of a dune and see who lands the furthest. As this took off, I had the time to think about exactly where I was, what we were doing, who we were doing it with, and how much fun I was having. It was one of the best experiences of my life and encapsulates one of the main questions in the program, “what does it mean to be human and alive?” In that moment all the mattered was smiling and loving the time with these people.
After wrapping up our fun and riding back to the starting point, we had a wonderful dinner of naan, lamb skewers, and an assortment of fruit. We sat on a mat around a fire and shared this meal with the Uyghur people. Some were able to communicate with those who knew Chinese, but most of them couldn’t understand. I mostly was communicating by handing them fruit and smiling back in enjoyment. After the dinner died down and many of the Uyghur left, our group started to get into our own conversations. One of the main things I was originally going to do if we stayed the night was venture out on my own and just lay in the sand, so I took this time to go out into the desert and do that. After some time, I came back, we cleaned up and then headed to a hostel for the night.