Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Kashgar - The Taklamakan Desert and Camel Trek, Part 3

So putting the philosophical ramblings on hold now for just a minute, I want to (more for my own documentation than anything else) actually want to describe what happened once we were on the camels.

It took about an hour of steady plodding along before we were out of earshot of the sand-dune-rally-car things, and once we were, it was totally quiet. It happened almost instantly, too, one moment we could hear the snarling engines, and then the next we couldn’t. Surprisingly, we passed a small river at around that time. It shouldn’t have been a surprise, I suppose, considering that big lake thing I talked about, but it still was, purely because I was on a camel on sand. If I ever see pictures of camels and there is some kind of body of water in the photo, I always think its fake. Naturally, the presence of that smaller river worried me, you know, is this really even a desert then? Is this some big scam? Did they just dump a heap of sand in a normal place? There were also some goats there.

No, they didn’t, and yes, it’s a real desert which is really big and naturally sandy and dry and all things desert-like. In all seriousness though, after about an hour of riding after that small river, you could not have imagined it to be possible. That such a vast and dry expanse of sandy hills could co-exist within such a (relatively) short distance from a source of running water. I wish I knew more about geography, you know, so that I could perhaps understand the way deserts and oases (plural of oasis?) and special kinds of ecosystems work. I digress. It was a real desert. Let’s continue.

So I’ll skip past the talking-about-the-riding, because in writing, the scenery gets kinda repetitious. In my head, well, you can read all about that in the last post. So I’m going to skip to the part where we stopped. I remember it very clearly because – oh wait. No I don’t. We had been riding for hours then just abruptly stopped. No catalyst. There were no markers. There were no stars to go by. There sure as hell weren’t any landmarks. So far as I could see, we went over a big sandy hill, then around a big sandy hill, and had arrived at the bottom of – oh look! – another big sandy hill. Apparently, though, this was the place we were predestined to camp at. Upon further investigation, I saw a little outcrop of crappy grass, and some sticks poking up from the ground about 500 meters away. I know, I know, it should have been obvious.

The camels got down, one by one, in their wondrously challenged way of doing so. Just to remind you of how intensely baffling these animals are, I want you to watch this youtube video of how they get up and down. I KNOW. TOTALLY WACK. Anyways, there wasn’t much light left in the day by the time we demounted, and so we thought it best to set the tents up first. (You know, as oppose to ALL the other stuff we had to do…) We were told that our guide would bring the tents, and so we didn’t give any thought to the whole actual-equipment thing. As it turned out, he had some tents. Yes. Technically they were tents. What they were not, was hardcore. What kind of tents did we need? We needed hardcore tents, dude. Why? Because in the desert in winter you get hardcore weather, dude. SO – IT IS NOT OKAY TO BRING SMALL BRIGHTLY COLOURED PLASTIC SHEET TENTS THAT ARE ONLY SUITABLE FOR A HIPPY FESTIVAL. Holy shit. I couldn’t believe it. The temperature was dropping rapidly and the sun hadn’t even set. I’m serious. These things were completely pathetic. We sent one up, and less than a minute later the wind had picked it up and swept it a few feet away. To make matters worse? The clever boy had packed three tents for four people. RARGH. Not impressed. The saving grace was that we had worn super duper warm clothes, but this was quickly turning into one of those scenarios where I get flashback memories to my impending death on that horse trek in Songpan. Not okay. SO. TOTALLY. NOT. OKAY.

Some pics from Tom's camera.

We finished setting up the third piece of tent, and decided to make the most of the dwindling light. Eerily enough, there was no real sunset. But that didn’t stop us from sashaying to the top of the nearest dune, laying out my big scarf as a blanket, and having ourselves a desert picnic. It was absolutely perfect and wonderful!!! We had all different kinds of breads and then apples and water, and some local cookies. There was something that just felt correct about eating simply at that time. In fact, the whole time we were in the desert I just had this feeling (that lasted for several days after, too) that I just didn’t want any intense food. I didn’t feel hungry like usual. I didn’t want to drink anything other than water, and I not once craved for chocolate or saltiness or oils. I almost unconsciously gave myself a kind of detox. I just really appreciated being able to appreciate the simple things. And the other senses. It sounds silly now, even to me, but it was part of the experience. It really was. 

But back to the picnic itself. About how perfect it was. I want you to do me a favour. And actually do it. I want you to think about what the word ‘perfect’ means. Really. Think about it now. For however long it takes you. To me, it means 100%. It means that there was not a single thing wrong. It means that it couldn’t have been better. In life – in the real world – no such thing exists. Ever. We make allowances, however small and subconscious they may be, and only then may we trick our brains into conceptualizing anything perfect. And that, my friends, in itself, is a miraculous thing. Our desire for happiness so strong that we might temporarily blind ourselves. My point is, in that picnic moment, I felt like things were perfect. I blinded myself to the fact that we were a little cold, and that the bread was a little stale, and that we missed the sunset. Only now, when I think back to it, can I identify these missing things that actually render that time less than perfect. When I was breathing that moment, none of it occurred to me. In that moment in time. Munching on bagels in the silence. I felt like things were perfect. 

Later on, when our bellies were full of bread and apples, it occurred to us that there was, just a few meters from our tents, a strange and small kind of outcrop of dry burnt sticks. The obvious thing to do, of course, was to; collect the sticks, make a fire, take cool long-exposure photographs, smoke a ton of cigarettes, and have deep and meaningful conversation until we couldn’t feel our fingers or noses.

So we did!

A point I would like to add here, is that I make an excellent fire. Not in a pyromaniac way, I mean in a way that I actually build the pile of sticks to make a fire. There really is a method and skill to it. It must be those hundreds of weekends spent out in the bush with my parents. (Holy shit I’m so Australian.) I don’t have too many really distinguishable or actually useful skills, but I’m going to claim this one, you know, if only because I think that fire would have even made Bear Grylls proud. You know how I feel about Bear.

Now, when I say “couldn’t feel our fingers or noses” that is totally what I mean… and it only got worse. But I just ate a MASSIVE bowl of porridge and I’m way tired, so I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow. Night!


1 comment:

  1. Wow, these are beautiful pictures! I've always wanted to ride a camel before -- love the picnic you had with it. :)

    Fashion Translated


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