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The Oriental Caravan's 

Postcard from the Taklamakan Desert


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more photos from this trip

TRIPS for 2011…

Part of our camel caravan - we had 12 Bactrian camels in total Yurts in snow en route to the Tourgut Pass in Kyrgyzstan
Setting off in the early morning desert mist Map of the trek route - click to enlarge Gathering camels before loading in the morning
It was a 2 day drive over sand dunes from  the nearest town, Yutian, to the trek startpoint En route to Karadong ancient city Karadong, a fortified checkpoint, inhabited between 100BC and 400AD has been visited by only a handful of people since its 'discovery' in 1898 by Sven Hedin. Climate change some 1500 years ago lead to many such sites being swallowed up by the sands.
Local from Tonguzbasti, part of the Lost Tribe of the Taklamakan, who were fortunate enough to remain unknown to the Chinese authorities until the 1980s Some of the many, many dunes! Diversifolious poplar (Populus euphratica)   trees dot the desert close to the Keriya River. The Taklamakan Desert was once a sea and if you dig far enough down, 10 meters or so, brackish water can be found
A rare white rainbow One of several mummies discovered in the Tarim Basin some of whom are evidently of 'Celtic' origin Scene from Karadong. For a partial account (odd pages only!) of Stein' visit, click here
En route from Yutian to Tonguzbasti, one of very few houses, with no neighbours for 50 miles and architectural style and materials barely changed for 2000 years Goat on sale at Kashgar animal market Romanticised image of Uighur classical musicians performing muqam
Bactrian camels Shadows of Bactrian camels Another day, another dune...
Due to the dry atmosphere many of the desert's trees remain despite having died over a 1000 years ago Sheep bottoms on display in Kashgar Camel at dawn

In the centre of the desert many dunes are 100s of metres high - hard going! A camel tick, once fully gorged on blood, drops off its host, to die alone in the sand Goats being herded at the remote village of Tonguzbasti

Caravaneers forging their way through the desert day Chief Caravaneer Phil with our three cameleers, Ibrahim, Daman and Aziz Daman and the lead camel
We saw the prints of the desert fauna but not the animals themselves. These are hare prints. There are also foxes and the usual smaller rodents as well as a fair amount of birdlife near the Keriya river. Ephedra, from which ephedrine is derived. grows on the edges of the desert and was often found clutched in the hands off the Tarim mummies. It is believed to have been part of the ancient Soma cult At Kashgar animal market, Uighurs - the first of the Turkic nomads to settle to a pastoral existence more than a thousand years ago making Xinjiang their home,

Uighur tradesman at Kashgar Market Diversifolious poplar Uighurs in Urumqi rose up in July 2009 resentful of recent massive Han Chinese immigration into Xinjiang

Ancient methods of silk production still continue near Khotan Uighur inhabitant of the Keriya area Kashgar 'market street'[ in 2010. Click here to see how the street has changed since 1992
Uighur inhabitant of the Keriya area Khotanese boy Uighur inhabitant of the Keriya area
Entrance to a desert house Camel caravan Though days were intensely hot, the desert nights were freezing - minus 5°C. Mornings began with shaking the ice from tents before setting off across the frozen dunes...

Uighur inhabitant of the Keriya area Tash Rabat - a15th century stone caravanserai near Naryn, en route to the Tourgut pass At home in the desert

Crossbeam at Karadong Shop in Tongguzbasti (click for satellite map) Group and staff safely arrived at the end of the crossing

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more photos from this trip

That's all, folks! With best wishes for a merry festive season and happy travels for 2011,

 from Phil and all aboard
The Oriental Caravan
    Chief Caravaneer, Phil Colley, out in the midday sun


TRIPS for 2011…

JAPAN - Hokkaido:  join us for the Sapporo Ice festival and an unforgettable winter adventure in the snowy lands of the Ainu in Japan’s far north.
A Caravan through the Land of the Ainu - starts February 6th 2011.

JAPAN - Honshu:  an exciting new off-the-beaten-track trip loosely themed on the story of Saigo Takamori, the real life ‘Last Samurai‘.
In Search of the Last Samurai - starts April 8th 2011.


TAIWAN - Swim in the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean and enjoy all the friendliness and culture that this fascinating, unspoilt island has to offer!
A Caravan to the Beautiful Isle - starts March 6th, October 16th, October 30th 2011.
JAPAN - Kyushu:  Our classic tour of the best that Japan has to offer sets off again next Spring just in time to catch the glories of the cherry blossom.
The Land of the Rising Sun - starts March 25th, October 3rd 2011.
JAPAN - Shikoku: For those looking for something different this unusual and singularly relaxing journey through Shikoku is scheduled for May.
In the Footsteps of Pilgrims - starts May 7th 2011.
TIBET - Ütsang: as well as exploring Lhasa, travel off the beaten track visiting some of Central Tibet’s most impressive pilgrimage sites.


The Hidden Monasteries of Tibet - starts Kathmandu 3rd September 2011


JAPAN - Tohoku: no other trip around Japan offers such variety of interest or the chance to hear Matsuo Basho’s poetry recited on location!

The Narrow Road to the Deep North - starts October 5th 2011


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             Revised and last updated: November 20th 2013. Links