Monday, November 7, 2011

Kashgar - The Taklamakan Desert and Camel Trek, Part 2

So what happened next?

We rode the camels.

And then, after a while, the situation was that we were still riding camels.

So we rode the camels further into the abyss.

Then after about two hours of riding the camels, we were still riding camels.

And then after that, we rode the camels for about another two hours.

And then I totally cramped up and couldn’t feel my legs or ass, and nearly fell off my camel.

Here is what I learnt from the experience: don’t ride a camel for four hours straight if you’ve never ridden a camel before in your life.


So I guess I’m at a bit of a loss for what to say about the desert. You know, as a destination. 

      “What is it like, Bri?”
Well, it’s sandy.
      “Cool. Anything else?”
Okay. Seriously then… it’s mesmerising.


When you descend one dune, and have not yet risen the next, and there is nothing around you but sand, you feel that feeling you get when you look up at the stars. Absolute insignificance – like the sand could swallow you up in any second, and you would be powerless to stop it. Every dune comes together to create this insurmountable area of void where there is so little life, and yet so much power.

When the wind blows and the dunes move they become waves, and you feel as though you are on a boat, in the middle of a vast and frightening ocean. You’re camel carries you in a slow, rocking motion, and you must look up to the sky to guide you. The similarities are uncanny. One place constructed of water, and the other devoid of it. Perhaps the strongest feeling to connect the two, however, is that as a human being, you are in a place almost completely out of your control. To an untrained eye, the wind can swoop in, or the moon can pull the tide out, and you’ll be gone. Just as the water and the deep planetary magnets control the ocean, the sky and the sand rule together to create the desert.


It is a place of serenity and yet absolute danger. Being in the middle of it is like a long, slow-motion sky dive. You’ve  jumped, and you’re pretty sure that the parachute will open, but something about the experience still makes you question your existence. What if it doesn’t open. The last few seconds of a falling skydivers life - don’t we always wonder what they think? Being in the middle of the desert gives you hours to think about it. As though those few seconds could be pulled like toffee, until you had plenty of seconds. Enough second, even, to come to certain realisations normally reserved for those near to death. 
It’s the deep kind of self-reflective thought that only a long train ride can induce, but intensified a thousand-fold, because there is nothing else to look at. As far as the eye can see - nothing but sand dunes that move like puzzles, and the sun that moves across the sky, and the occasional small lizard that scampers with silly hot feet. There is no external stimulation that can be pinpointed for the origins of the thoughts that arise when you are thinking in the desert. There is no catalyst for the wonderings, aside from your very self. The things you think about in themselves are definitions of who you are, let alone what you think about those things. Do you sit in the desert and deconstruct a failed romance? Do you sit in the desert and deconstruct your life goals? Do you sit in the desert and deconstruct Derrida and the creation of the very language with which you think and deconstruct? The desert confronts you with yourself. And at no time is this more true, than at night.


As though the desert itself wasn’t enough to make you feel small, the desert as a carpet with a thick velvet ceiling twinkling the brightest you have ever seen anything, will make you feel as though you never even existed at all. Aside from being in the middle of the ocean, there is not place in the world where you will see brighter stars, than in the desert on a clear night. They shone down, and to look at them was like looking into thousands of tiny midday suns. Even the smallest ones were definite in their shine. And the bigger ones burnt so bright they could have been flaming planets.

If I’m honest, I was kind of crying when I looked up at it. I just felt so at peace. It was as though I could feel the centuries, and I could feel the story of the earth, and I could feel time, and everything made sense. All of it was perfectly clear. There was nothing in my head to confuse the message because I just knew absolutely nothing. It was all feel. Like something much more important than myself.


I’m glad the notion didn’t strike me in a chapel, or I might have been “born again”, to coin that awkward religious phrase. As it stands though, I came away from the experience with a wonderful assurance of how profoundly ignorant I am. There is nothing that I, as a human, could ever even begin to truly comprehend about the universe, other than that which pertains to relatively insignificant and regular human existence.

It’s a miraculous thing, to be reminded of how small you are, and I recommend it to anyone suffering from a feeling of being cluttered-in-the-brain.

You don’t necessarily have to go to the middle of nowhere. Take a trip to the beach and swim in an ocean that might drown you. Take a drive into the countryside that could envelope and disappear you. Then wait until night time, and look at the stars until you can’t bear it. I can guarantee that something profound will happen to you – even if it’s just an actually good night’s sleep for the first time in a while.


  1. BRI, I want a DESERT. A piece of cheesecake. And a wonderful description. Thank you.

  2. Hi , nice pictures and description. If you want to fly on the coast Californians, visit my blog. Frances


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