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The Land of Dunes: Dunhuang

Posted by on Aug 8, 03:49 AM
Filed under , | Comment [7]


SomethingThis post is being composed in the humble home of a Tibetan family on the high plateau during a stormy, cold, wet day.

I again took the road less traveled on my way east from Urumqi, to the north of the Tian Shan rather than the hot highway to the south, which passes through Turpan, an oasis town in the second lowest basin on Earth. Having visited the Dead Sea on this trip, the first lowest point, I felt no need, especially during the hottest period of the year, when the mercury can hit 50C (that’s 122 degrees F!) in Turpan, to visit. Hence, I passed through the vast aricultural areas of the desert which are fed by Kazakhrivers from the eastern reaches of the Tian Shan mountains to the south until I came to more real, empty desert. It was not so hot at 2000 meters. I often stayed with Kazakh and Mongol nomads, who, though I was keen to camp in the ideal night air, insisted each time that I stay inside with them, not able to comprehend that my tent and Infant Kazakhsleeping bag were more than adequately warm and comfortable. For fear of being mistaken as ungrateful, I conceded each time, but honestly would have slept better outside.

Also, the Chinese that I have met continue to amaze me with their friendliness and hospitality. It has been a very rare occasion that I have paid for a meal in a restaurant. One night I was going to camp at a Mongol-yurt restaurant and was approached by one of the diners, who asked all of the usual questions, and after that he invited me to eat with his friends at a big round table. It was a weekend Yurtsfeast in which they had ordered each a stewed and roast leg of mutton along with several delicious Chinese vegetable dishes. Before long the brandy and báijiǔ (Chinese white liquor) was uncorked and we toasted again and again to I don’t know what, but the night was fun, loud and full of laughter and jesting. This happened again in Baleicun a couple More Kazakhsof days later with a group of school teachers on their weekend holiday. Every time I stop in a town or village I can count on a curious person or group to invite me to eat with them and flat-out refuse monetary compensation! If I stop to beg water from road workers, who are invariably friendly fellows, it is a certainty that I will be invited for a tasty meal with them. It’s happened on many occasions.

Tent v. YurtWhen I finally returned from several days in the higher country to the low desert it was hotter than ever. I only stayed in Hami (famous throughout the country for it’s mellons) for one night and then hightailed it into no man’s land, and the day was brutally hot—perhaps 47C. I spent the afternoon in the shade of some road workers’ dwellings, who, of course insisted on feeding me before I left in the evening and sent me away with a plastic Oldybag of freshly fried eggs. On my way up to a cooler altitude I ran into a pair of touring cyclists. One, a Brit named Sarah, has been riding for three months and put in 10,000 kilometers since she left London, and she intends to do the entire trip around the world by human power. She will padle the isles of Japan and row across the Pacific and Atlantic oceans solo. She is one tough cookie, to be sure. Her riding partner is a Chinese from Urumqi who, with only one days’ notice and no equipment or touring Chinese dinnerexperience, decided to accompany her to Beijing. Gao’s brother told him that if he could buy all of the necessary equipment that day, he would pay for it. So he did.

HaircuttingAfter more hot days on roads under construction and full of dust and trucks (this is the main highway in Xinjiang), I made the turn to the south into the Gansu Province and into some very hot, low desert for the important Silk Route crossroads’ city of Dunhang. The dry wind felt like a furnace, but it was behind me as I approached the trees of the oasis on the horizon. I could just make out through the dusty air beyond the outline of the Noodle makingQinghai Plateau. Dunhuang is polished agro-touristic town with a long history. I did not expect it to be even half as aesthetically pleasing as it turned out to be. Where the green fams end, barren, beautiful sand dunes rise majestically from the earth, and the city center is full of classical architecture and clean steets. In town I spent a couple of nights at a new youth hostel, a very smart place full of guests from the wealthy cities of eastern Self portrateChina playing with their iPads. I had contacted a Chinese host there named Kyle, an English major in the university, and every day I visited his family’s apartment for a delicious, home-cooked meal. He was able to host me for my third night in this lovely city. We went to climb the sand dunes that morning before the mid-day heat descended upon area. It would have been easy to pass a week or more in Dunhuang, but my legs were ready to climb to a higher, cooler place: Qinghai, the northern extension of the Tibetan Plateau!


  1. Ahhh! Great photos!

    — Randall · Aug 8, 05:41 AM · #

  2. I’ve always tried to imagine the locales and peoples along the Silk Road. Beautiful.

    Thanks for the evocative photos (and rich descriptions) in your travelogue!

    — Jordan Viray · Aug 8, 11:21 AM · #

  3. Hello, Andrew, remember an old fellow parishoner from Edmonds? Ran across an interview with you and Randall on La Porte Latine today and have been reading through your blog with interest and delight. Congratulations on a job well done! Union of Prayer. P. S. You and Randall are very good writers!

    — Marci Vigil · Aug 9, 11:23 PM · #

  4. …enjoying your writeups as usual…. and the kids still pray everyday, “God bless the bikers.” I must say, God certainly granted you with the gift of adaptable stomachs and high endurance. Have you ever thought of making a published photo journal to be sold as an ongoing fundraiser? You guys have a great eye for noticing God’s beauty in the world, great and small.
    PS: number 4 on the way

    — DJ and JDT in KS · Aug 12, 08:11 AM · #

  5. Just my periodic checking in comment. Daily check to see what new adventure you are describing and photographing. I’m amazed and uplifted by God’s hand in all you two are doing.
    Blessings and God speed,

    — LeRoy · Aug 12, 09:15 AM · #

  6. Congratulations DJ and JDT! Andrew and I have spoken of publishing a photo journal — maybe a coffee table book, and perhaps a series of calendars and postcards. What do you think? Feasible?

    Thanks, all, for keeping up on the blog!

    Andrew will undoubtedly get back to each of you if/when he has internet access again. Cheers!

    — Randall · Aug 12, 10:29 PM · #

  7. And…I’m back. First of all, you continue to motivate me to keep this blog up with your encouragement. Thank you so very much, all! I don’t feel like I’m just throwing this content out into empty space when I receive so many heartfelt comments.

    Marci, I’m very glad you found us! And, DJ and JD, congrats on #4!

    My best wishes to you all!!

    — Andrew · Aug 14, 02:36 AM · #

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