Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Sand Sand Everywhere!

Greetings from the Gobi Desert!  We landed here last night in the most authentic airport I have ever visited.  It was essentially a large paved area for the planes to land on with a teeny tiny building to receive luggage in.  When we exited the plan we walked from the tarmac into the building and comically watched as they drove our luggage right past us to the little building.  We were a bit concerned that we might night find the right luggage carousel, but it turned out there was only one in the airport XD

Airport tarmac with nothing but desert surrounding

The entire airport

The flight here, though was stunning.  As we approached our destination, the city of Dunhuang, all that could be seen in any direction was sand.  In the far distance, though were the edge of the Himalayan Mountains, complete with snow covered peaks and all.  These distant peaks are actually visible in most areas of the town as well.  This is my first time ever visiting a desert, and what a desert it is!

Last night we visited this beautiful area of mountainous looking sand dunes where we had the opportunity to ride camels up the dunes.  It was both thrilling and unrealistic.  To think that I was actually riding a camel through the Gobi Desert with a group of wonderful teachers an friends was beyond comprehension, but it was happening.  Also, I finally understand the concept of dry heat.  The temperature here is near what it was in Xi'an, but with little to no humidity, I barely sweat at all.  It's beautiful!!

My camel!

After the memorable camel ride, I wandered over to the Crescent Moon Lake.  This lake was truly a site to behold.  A small buddhist temple was built around the moon shaped lake, which is a natural source of spring water rising up from the ground.  It was small but satisfactory for the monks who lived there.  The lake was truly breathtaking.  Something about the small pagoda, mixed with the lake and the sand dunes in the background just brought everything together in the most remarkable way.  While others went off for sand adventures like riding ATVs or climbing a dune.  I sat in the beautiful little oasis for quite some time.  It was peaceful and the perfect place to sit and reflect on my journeys.

Naturally, this town is all about the Silk Road, just as was our visit to Xi'an.  Today we really travelled far into the desert.  About two hours, actually.  Most of the ride was not even on a road, just a sand path that had been lined with rocks as a marker.  The bus held up very well even under the tough conditions.  Our tour guide referred to this as "real China" because we were seeing the remarkable landforms without the crowds and the tourist stuff.  This part of the Gobi Desert had two major passes, over 2,100 years ago,which were checkpoints for explorers and traders traveling along the Silk Road.  These checkpoints were in large fort-like fortresses.  In an almost unimaginable truth, remains of these checkpoints still survive today in their original state and location.  The two we visited were Yumen Pass and Yangguan Pass.  In fact the area we were in today is actually Inner Mongolia.  A location I never in my life would have expected to visit!

Yumen Pass remains

Yumen Pass

Yangguan Pass remains

We also made one other stop today at a different ancient ruin.  This part of the country, during the Han Dynasty, needed protection.  The reigning emperor declared that a portion of the Great Wall be built through the desert to keep out unwanted enemies.  Portions of the wall still remain today out in the desert, which is quite a testament to their craftsmanship back in 111 B.C.  The wall was built with materials that are not especially viewed as strong.  Things like clay, mud, and straw were the main constructions materials.  While DRASTICALLY different from the portion of the Wall I saw last summer, this section was even more powerful to see because of its remote location.  It showed just how strongly the emperors wanted to keep their people in and everyone else out.

Remains of the Han Dynasty portion of the Great Wall

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