no normality...

Hami Travel Blog

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never ending dessert

I told myself we'd crossed the gobi when we saw the mountains in the north. We were to ride west at the foot of these 5000 meter giants and the snow on top of them aided the illusion that the Gobi was finished. But the southern slopes and foothills are barren and windblown and i knew we were to embark on another 420 km of dessert. About 130 of those would be desolate with no villages.

'Our' motorway now separated itself more from the 312 and with some apprehensiveness I watched the line of trucks disappear, as we headed behind some hills. Here there was nothing. Sometimes we rode on the left lane and sometimes on the right lane. It didn't matter -it was like travelling in one of those peopleless dreams.

A sprawling ghost city unfolded.

Black dessert
Rockformations stand like towers and terraces; Alley ways seem to lead of into the leftovers of a once lively city. Although the area is rich in ancient cities, here where there is no water people never settled. This is natures own eerie game of wind and sand, creating pretend life amidst the desolation. Some of these places are so well sculpted they are hard to tell from the ruins of real human life.

Paul theroux tells how the ancient chinese were scarred of the Gobi and on returning from expeditions 'told of rushing rivers cutting their way through sand, an unfanthomable lake hidden behind dunes, of sand hills with voices like thunder and of water wich could be clearly seen yet was a deception.' A world situated somewhere between reality and illusion.  

As we descended into the valley that lies between the hami and the turpan basins it indeed, did feel like we tumbled deeper and deeper into the Gobi of the ancient chines. This time however the beauty itself illiminated my terror of solitude. To our left was a jagged ridge, almost entirely swallowed by grand yellow sand dunes and to our right table shaped mountains dropped of into a valley infront of us. The mountains had taken on the grey colours of the night and the valley rested silently in their cool, bluish shaddows. Dusk had removed all perspective of deepth and distance and the plato infront of us was like a theater scene of layered, blue papercut mountains. Next to this theater of distances the Turpan basin began: A massive wall of dark ocean blue stretched over half of the horizon infront of us. It was impossible to tell whether this wall of blue was sloping upwards or downwards or indeed was and ocean.

As a brief call back to reality we crossed the 312 once more and then we rolled about 20 km down into our own peacefull blue world behind the table shaped mountains. There amidst the moonscapes of the Gobi we camped...right beneath our vertical ocean.

We had ridden 184 km that day. It is light late here and after only 6 hours sleep i crept out to cook our porridge.  As i sat under the stars preparing the stove I couldn't but appreciate and love the silence and solitue. But it is no place to take long breaks on a bike. The wind can turn any time and we still had about 100 km to the next village ahead of us. But this time we were lucky and the dessert remained calm. Through its mountains, it's 30 km ups and downs and through it's grand views and deceptions, it again managed to impose all its remote and powerfull beauty on us.

After some hours the landscape as well as the road changed. We had meet the 312 again and trains rushed past us 1 or 200 meters to our right. We past a few deserted villages and an oil refinery and soon towering pylons revealed the direction to civilisation. First a few cars and then the trucks found their way through the barriers onto 'our' road. Because it has been out of official use for so long, this stretch has its own rules: It has the speed of a motorway but other than that it is more of a highway with both sides being used for both directions. This was very unnerving when two trucks, clearly in motorway mode would roar up behind us and then suddenly a farmer in a tracktor would come towards us in the outer lane of the road.

The villages too had changed, from east asian to central asian. But we had ridden 170 km and I was to tired to appreciate it. When we finally stopped in a dusty pit I realized i became dizzy from lack of movement. Like after a long train journey, it seemed my sense of balance had adapted to riding. Daren knew how tired I was and cooked our noodles and hot drinks, he ushered me to bed, cleared everything away and woke me with steaming hot coffee in the morning.

It was still another 70 km to Turpan but the oasises started to occur more frequently. But they also continously let of and several times we found ourselves surrounded by sand and stones again. This day the air was filled with thick yellow dust and every time an oasis stopped I felt how Hans (Out of Brother Grimms Hans and gretel) must have felt when he realized birds had eaten the thread of breadcrumbs that was to lead him and his sister out of the forrest.

However we both had a feeling that we finally had made it out of the Gobi. From Turpan in is about 200 km up into Urumuchi. These 200 km lead up through the famous bottleneck. It is remote and uninhabitable and it is a place where a furrious wind has nowhere to go. It is also there that the train was blown of its tracks in 2007. But we ignored that for now and settled on having crossed the gobi.

It is a place that took me away from the more 'sane area' of the emotional spectrum and instead allowed me to the outher fringes. When the wind slowed us down to walking speed, it's constant howling and dust and the owerblown leftovers of life we passed, it's vastness and it's barrenness were all, at times, crippeling to my mind. Those days it seemed like we had landed amongst a private party of evils and the sheer amount of time we spent truding slowly through this environment drew out the darkest thoughts in me. At times it was like my own demons felt at home here....However I know myself well enough and I have done enough to let this darkness roam and then pass through me. 

 On the other hand, just as i am able to give the dark thoughts their freedom i can allow the Gobis beauty, it's wilderness, it's out of this world scenery too penetrate deep into me, to release reserves of strengh and to set free an overwhelming happiness and love for life. So with it's bad days certainly the good days came too. It just doesn't seem to be a place where normal days and thoughts flourish well.

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never ending dessert
never ending dessert
Black dessert
Black dessert
photo by: sarah55