We made this 900 Km in three stages:
– Hetian – Minfeng (Niya) 300 Km by bus
– Niya – Qiemo (Tchertchen, Charchan) 287 Km by private car, although we made a 500 km detour through the desert
– Qiemo – Ruoquiang (Charkilik) by bus
None of these cities is interesting in itself. Of course, everyone of them has a mosque, a bazar and a main square (and a lot of Police stations), but nothing really that “must be seen”.
But.. I wanted to see the desert, I love them. And this trip is 900 Km of desert. Different kinds of desert, of course. The sand of the Takla Makan is like flour, so, there is sand everywhere as soon as there is a little breeze. Dunes are everywhere, quite high, some of them swallow electricity poles, and bury the wires
But really, outside the desert, there is nothing to see…
In Qiemo a policeman asked us what we were doing there, Qiemo was a small and quiet town and tourists never went there. I told him that I loved deserts, and small towns, and do not liked tourist places. He was half convinced by my answer, because in the afternoon I received the visit of a Police Officer (with a Police card) and a translator who asked me to show all my electronic equipment. They verified the photos stored in my phone and my computer, and left. So, if you travel there, be careful, no photos of
– police posts
– armoured vehicles
– official buildings
– airports and train stations
– people begging in the streets (there are not a lot, but poor people are everywhere)
Said that, I was not really interested in the cities in themselves, nor in ruins, or mosques (after my experiences in Iran, I prefer skip this sort of visits).
So, this part of the trip was, essentially, what I remember of Ella’s book, and this part is what we see:
The road that slowly transforms itself from a road in the desert
to a poplar bordered road in the oasis (here, entering Nija)
or the tamarisks area where the kid (wawa) of the gold diggers was lost (yes, in Ella expedition the tamarisk field was near Golmud, but I am sure it was identical).
It is while going to walk with Peter to visit abandoned fortifications I understand how our oasis is dangerous, for miles of tamarisk bushes rise, all identical. The paths made by the sheep cover the ground with a real network, and in this labyrinth there is only the compass which can serve as a reference. There is only the Demon of the Sands, an opaque whirlwind of dust, an immense column that flares out towards the sky, whirling on its base, almost compact, with a disturbing rustle
I love deserts, so we hired a shared taxi only for us (900 RMB, 110 € for the full day and 500 km) to go from Minfeng (Niya) to Qiemo (Tchertchen) via the new Cross Desert Road, that goes to Kuka. From Niya this road goes North, and, after 220 km, it meets a road that gives service to the Tazhong Oil Field, and from there it goes to Qiemo. It is a kind of inverted Y, the two branches being Niya and Tcherchen, and the cross is Tazhong.
(see the map which opens this post)
Our taxi driver wanted to be sure that he would not have problems driving foreigners through this area, so, we went to the Police station in Niya before leaving and we went again before turning towards Tazhong and Qiemo. We did not have problems, although each control took something like 15 to 20 minutes while they checked our passports, register them in books (it seems that computers are not widespread, at least on isolated Police posts), they take some mug photos, and afterward, eventually, take also some selfies with us. Of course, for the sake of safety, I did not asked them to take a selfie with my camera to keep memory of them… and it was a shame.
Definitively (if you like deserts, of course) I must recommend the detour through the Cross Desert Route. The branch from Tazhong to Qiemo was not finished in my Gizi Map but it was on my Chinese map. The Cross Desert is well maintained and it is irrigated all long with bushes planted to stop sand to invade the road. The Tazong Qiemo branch has not it, so, probably in case of wind (even light) the road would be closed.