Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Kashgar - The Taklamakan Desert and Camel Trek, Part 4

Sometime in between putting the tents up, and getting a roaring fire going, we stopped for a moment to ask our guide about the impending evening’s weather. 

           “So how cold do you think it will be?” We asked, quite reasonably.
                “Don’t know. You want sleep bag?” He replied in a heavy accent.
           “Well that’s what we want to know. Do you think we need them?”
                “Don’t know. Maybe not. You want it?” I don’t think he understood the situation.
           “Okay,” we tried a different approach, “if you think we should have them, then yes, we want them.”
                “So you want them. No?” He was getting impatient.
                “Ok.” He shrugged.

Hang on. What just happened?

We didn’t know if we were getting sleeping bags. We didn’t know if he even had any. Maybe he did the tent-math again and only brought three sleeping bags for four people. And by the way, when we approached him about that he laughed heartily and then gestured between me and my male (platonic) travelling friend and then kind of bobbled his head and wiggled his eyebrows and then swaggered away. It was grotesque.  Amusing and condescending, yes. Butalso grotesque. And kind of off-putting.

Anyways, like I said, by the time the fire had consumed all our hard-scavenged wood, we were totally freezing cold right through, and pretty much ran back to our tent. I mean, I should have expected it, but some part of me still just presumed that, well, to be honest, I had just presumed we would have sleeping bags. I know I know. How can I still think in this silly manner where I expect things to go comfortably according to plan…

Well. We got into the tiny tent, zipped it up, lay down, and promptly realised that is was SERIOUSLY FUCKING COLD!!! Yeah yeah yeah. Surprise surpise. A desert in winter – cold! Shut up. We all make mistakes. Whatever.

So the next thing to do, naturally, was to try and find those damn “sleep bags”. Tom ducked out of the tent and ran to the pile of equipment near the camel saddles, and came scampering back with – yeah you guessed it – one sleeping bag. We were giggling like fools trying to unzip the damn thing and figuring out how to get the most warmth-retention from it possible. I suspect that by this stage, the cold had begun to infect our minds, and we were getting a little ridiculous. Fidgeting and shivering and giving yourself early onset arthritis by getting into the tightest curl of a fetal position humanly possible.

We had, at least, realised that it was the sand underneath us that seemed to be sucking the warmth from our blood. It was as though (to overuse the metaphor) we were sleeping on a semi-solid ocean. Seeing as how there was the equivalent of a piece of cling wrap between us and the outside (read: tents were so so so super shit) every time you moved an inch, the sand circulated and freezing cold grains seemed to replace the ones your body had just labored to warm. Like swimming in the ocean. No such thing as being able to warm a special spot and stay there. The fully opened sleeping bag gave us just enough protection from the sand underneath, and we fell into a shivering, giddy, restless sleep.

For about an hour. You know, until the temperature dropped again.
          “Are you awake?” A whispered across to Tom,
                “Yeah, and I’m-“
           “Fr- Freezing?” I stammered out.
                “So. Fucking. C- Cold.” He replied.
Yeah. In the time from 2:00 to 3:00 the temperature must have dropped by several degrees, because it was now just totally unbearable. Actually painful. My body hurt from the cold.
           “What do we do? There aren’t any more sleeping bags?” I asked him – he was on the side of the tent that opened, ergo, he was in charge of reconnaissance missions.
           “Hang on. Be – I’ll Be right back.” I heard him swearing as he squirmed out of the tent and ran. 

Ran? What else was there? My crazy head began imagining all kinds of cozy warm things. He was going to come back with an electric heater. Yes. And some hot water bottles. Yes, that was it. Also some puppies to cuddle. Yep. That is what Tom is going to come back with. No doubt. Small puppies.

What Tom actually came back with was, upon first glance, no less welcome. He had two massive thick blankets folded in his arms.
          “Where did you get those from?!?!” I asked incredulously. I might have even yelled it out, but in my defence, I thought that maybe I was actually imagining things. Then at the same moment he replied–
          “From the camel saddles- ” he shook the first blanket out, and immediately I was somehow completely overwhelmed with camel-ness. My nose was screaming at me –
          “BRI! A THOUSAND CAMELS JUST STAMPEDED INTO YOUR TENT!” That’s what my nose was telling me. The stench was unbearable. It was like being smothered in camel. What does a camel smell like? Like eight trillion wet dogs who all just vomited. That’s what camels smell like. And that’s what the blankets-from-their-backs-that-are-never-washed smell like. It is a testament to how damn cold that night was, that I covered myself in that camel blanket. Letalone appreciated it.

There is a certain humble lesson that comes to you, when as a matter of survival, you must get really smelly.

So now, with the addition of aforementioned pack-of-camels-blankets, we could sleep. It wasn’t good, it certainly wasn’t comfortable, have you ever tried sleeping on sand? Its not that comfy at all. But it was sleep. And we got a solid four hours of it.

The next morning came around, and we moved quickly to avoid to sun getting too high. Bread and apples and cookies for breakfast, then taking down the tents, kicking sand on the fire, and taking some last photos before we left. I thought for a minute about how I would never, ever in my life, return to this place. Strange feeling. Another feeling, was getting back on my camel and being sore before the riding even began. I had bruises and wobbly knees already! I felt like I’d already earnt my going-home pass, but actually I still greatly enjoyed the trip back. More time to just think and look and appreciate, and that kind of time is always welcome.

The end.


  1. moral of this story? get naked and lay on your clothes. :P

  2. hey, i tried to read from part 1 to part 4 of taklamakan desert experience but i had difficulty in finding the part 1 of the the post, i wonder whether you haven't posted or i couldn't find it?
    sorry to hear your cold experience at night.


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