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Go in - don't come out!

The story starts in Turpan and I'm shopping for food today as we are camping in the desert for the next three nights and my group is on cook duty. The small ‘supermarket’ has some canned meat and fish – ‘mystery’ meat is always a winner. There are only two cans though, so I attempted to ask if there were anymore out the back. The woman tells me to wait, I think, and a guy disappears out of the shop.

A little later he returns on a motorbike with a few more cans from somewhere!?

On the market we bought some vegetables and a crowd gathered as we bought some meat from an open air butchers – lab I think. I paid a last visit to the dried fruit lady that I’d befriended the day before and she insisted that I try virtually everything on her stall.

Buying rice was fun... Caroline and I eventually stumbled upon another small market where they were all Han Chinese rather than Uyghur. A woman helped translate, and we ended up with a big bag of rice.


We started out early as we had to cover about 500km as we began to cross the Taklamakan Desert and we needed to get some fresh bread. It was a good job I was there too, as one of the group was arguing with a Uyghur man about the cost/number of loaves. We were in the wrong – I apologised in my best Chinese, and I think he understood.

The Taklamakan Desert - some say it means "Go in and you'll never come out" - it is both beautiful and dangerous...

Unbelievably, it rained all day... despite the rain, the Tian Shan mountains looked beautiful. Thankfully it let up by the time we found a suitable camping spot somewhere near Luntai. It was a good night with a beautiful sunset, beer and fire crackers, and later a full moon with a strange arc of cloud around it. Our lamb curry wasn’t bad either...


Woke up to find a damp desert at 6.30am Beijing-time (4.30am local time) and set up for breakfast. Andy slept on his own out in the dunes. On the road again... the Tian Shan mountain range looked stunning in the morning light.

The going was hard today as huge areas of tarmac had been removed ready for repairs. A couple of stops before lunch – bought everyone bread. We passed the remnants of a forest that had been swallowed up by the desert and stopped for lunch and to gather fire wood.

The dead trees were amazing, the wood had bleached in the sun and the branches formed eerie shapes against the white sand and clear blue sky – strangely beautiful. The dunes were now becoming more numerous as we went south – the Taklamakan dunes are awesome!

All along the sides of the highway there is evidence of the attempts by the Chinese to protect the road from the desert. They have a real battle on their hands as the desert is reclaiming what they irrigate all the time. There are hundreds of miles of irrigation pipes with pumping stations every few miles. A lonely life if you are the man who has to live in one of them – though at least one had a wife as we discovered.

We didn’t camp until 7.30pm today. Our first attempt to leave the road resulted in the truck getting sand bogged and we all had to muck in to dig it out.


By now we were a day behind because we had been diverted when we first joined the cross-desert highway due to road works. We stopped in a small town called ‘Minfeng’ to pick up more supplies for an extra night in the desert. This was a Uyghur town and very interesting walking around the shops and market taking in the sights and sounds. I also saw some intriguing women with distinctive knotted hair – I think they were Tajik. I tried out a few Uyghur phrases to the amusement of the locals and was talked into trying some yoghurt by some women selling it on the curb-side – uurrrgh!

Found a great place to camp – though we had to force the barrier out of the way to get the truck through. We’d found water and there were people coming down in their cars and enjoying the water and playing music. It was interesting to see the women literally let their hair down and bathing with clothes on (as they are Muslim) – unlike the Poles in bikinis!

The Taklamakan adventure was nearly over - Hotan next...

See China - Taklamakan Desert, Xinjiang

Taklamakan Desert Dunes Huge dune Reclaiming the desert Dust devil

Location: Taklamakan Desert, Tarim Basin, Xinjiang, China

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About Retrospective Traveller

If you like the photographs on and you're curious about the stories and experiences behind them check out my travel blog

Retrospective Traveller is my way of recalling some of my travel memories through photography… and features tales from my overland adventures.

Retrospective Traveller

Retrospective Traveller - the travel memories and other traveller tales of @retrotraveller. Mainly ‘after the event’ – a retrospective look back at journeys past. You’ll find short stories, thoughts, travel experiences (some sanitised) and plenty of travel photography too... you can also find more photography on Flickr -