• Category Archives 2016
  • Dry-run of the trip

  • Where in hell is the Boron Kol?

    qiemoYes, rivers flow in the desert and became lost in the sands. In China, where everything is bigger than in Texas, even lakes do this.

    As we have already seen, Kini and Peter were in Teijinar were they meet Borodishin, and with his help they departed southbound towards a high mountain pass in the Altun mountains, following the “Gorges du Boron Kol”.

    But, when we look for it in the Gizi map, this river does not exist. A Google search does not give an answer for the Boron Kol, nor the USA military Index of Geographical names.

    Has the Boron Kol disappeared, swallowed in the sands? Did it ever exist? This is not strange in an area where not only rivers, but also lakes disappear. A full lake, the Lop Nor, with historical existence, with a big city (Lou-Lan) on its shores was not there when Sven Hedin passed by… only to reappear 30 year later. As soon as Sven hear about the mysterious lake comeback, he bought a kayak in Beijing (!), added it to his expedition gear (I imagine from here the comments of his camel master – it should be difficult to put anything as long as a small kayak in the humped back of a camel), and here he goes, with the camel train (those were men, anyway!) and the kayak protruding, to have the photo taken… but I will go back to the “Wandering Lake” history, and the Beauty of Loulan, 0016eca4c78f098e542212 a blond-haired mummy found nearby, just keep posted!.

    There is no Boron Kol to be found, but from Tajinar a river flows due South, pass some gorges (their caravan goes through the gorges on the afternoon of the second day, more or less 50 km away from their departure point, and the gorges on the map are 60 Km from Urt Moron ), and then takes a NW-SE course, exactly what Peter says. So, the Boron Kol is the Narim Gol!

    And Issyk Pakthe was (or is ) in the Altun Mountain Natural Reserve areas near the Ayyakum Hu lake.

    We are on their tracks! The map is centered in Cherchen, Issik Pakthe is on the North shore of the central lake due East

    Altun-Mountains-Reserve_608x344

    Photos: Lost river in the Sands (near Cherchen)
    Sven Hedin on his Kayak
    Last Photo: Altun Mountains
    Feature Image: Ayyakum Hu
    (all photos from the Internet)


  • Salgari in the Ayyak Kum Kul

    boron kol_10“Aujourd’hui, 15 Novembre, nous partons vers l’inconnu, vers le Sud”

    “Today, November 15, we depart towards the unknown, Southbound”. And this is how Ella starts one of the best passages of her book, a description that may fit in any Salgari’s or Verne’s book, with snow storms, sick horses, narrow river gorges, lost water springs… with of course, some tongue-in-cheek (or not) romantic moments: “Should I write a best-seller, it is now or never that the two heroes of my history, thrilled and grateful, would fall in one other’s arms, after having saved themselves from poisonous food or fatal fogs” says Ella.

    And, the couch traveller wonders the exact place of these adventures… where were the Boron Kol Gorges, and Issyk Pakte, and the Ayyagkum Koul (or Ayak Kum Kul)?

    Well, let us try to follow their path, until they reach Issik Pakte where Boro has friends. He will return from there “to his isolated yurt in the Tsaidam” and Peter and Niki will continue their journey towards Cherchen.

    So, here I am, sitting on a couch, my laptop on my lap, three or four books about the area, a 1:2.000.000 map that I recommend: “Gizi Map Series China 5”, labelled “Tibet Autonomous Region”, and, of course, Google Earth, centered in Xi Taijnar Hu, which means East Lake of Taijnar. Of course, there is no lake there…

    Google Earth is fine to find what you know that must be there, but it is not the right tool to navigate, it’s continuous change of scale make almost impossible to see the whole picture. So we take the Gizi map, we locate Teijnar (D-20), from Kini and Peter maps we know that they reach Tchertchen (Qiemo, C-12) and they avoid Charkilik (C-15) on an almost straight path. They must avoid the Mangnai Zhen pass, so they depart due South (Kini) or Southwest (Peter), following the Boron Kol river upstream.

    But… where does the Boron Kol flow?… does this river even exists?

    34b4c074b69680b7c244c186bc4a0b6a

    Photos: Caravan in the Boron Kol Valley (Ella Maillard)
    Others: From the Internet


  • If Gorumu is Golmud, where is Teijinar?

    10735402_288687784671317_111488443_aKini and Peter are near Teijinar, but Kini writes it Teidjinar, with the keen interest of the cultivated French to show that the “orthographe” lacks secrets for them. Why, for God’s sake, Ella wrote this silent -d- in the middle of the word?.

    Anyhow, we know that on April 28 they were at Gorumu… so, let us Google “Gorumu”, and we find hundreds of thousands references, because a Goromu is “a creature that comes in different shapes and sizes”. And Gorumu Qinghai, or Gorumu China does not give anything (well, on a blog there is a reference to Peter’s text).

    But as we have arrived there plotting the route, stage by stage, bivouac by bivouac, we know that they arrive not to Gorumu, but to Golmud from Nomo Kanthara. And searching in a map, we see that Golmud is also called Kermo. Because in this area places have two (or even three) names, the Han (Chinese) name, the Mongol name and the Uighur name. But, of course, this is only the beginning.

    BauerBecause the spelling changes too… the old “Pekin” became Beijing not so long away when, in 1949, Chinese authorities decided to use the pinyin for the transliteration of Chinese to Western Alphabet. But, old names remain, for instance airport codes (IATA) for Beijing is PEK, and for Guangzhou is CAN, the old Canton of the Opium wars.

    And Ella and Peter try a phonetical transliteration that produces funny results, because Ella, who writes in French, uses French phonetics, while Peter English phonetics. So, the Borodishin yurts are at a place called Arakshatu by Peter and Arakshatou by Kini

    Minor worries? Arakshatu is 2 hour march away from Teijinar. And where is Teijinar? Well, on a 1.200.000 map (yes, not Google Earth, nor a complex Geographical name database, but on an old-fashioned, printed map), we find, NW of Golmud, two lakes, “Dong Taijnar Hu” and “Xi Taijnar Hu”. As we know that Dong means West and Xi means East, and Hu means lake, and the two lakes are on a WE line, we are all set. We have found Teijinar, or Teidjinar, 160 km NW of Golmud.

    But Teijinar is not a city, it is an oasis, and rather large one.

    And Borodishin was at Arakshatu, two hour walk away heading west. But from where?

    Where in the hell is Arakshatu? The problem may seem minor but this lack of certitude will make very complex the plotting of  the 10 day march from there to Issik Pakte (Issyk Pakté for Kini, of course, why use “i” when you can use “y”?)

     

    Photos:

    Featured image: Ruta 5, near Atacama, Chile, from the author

    Gorumu from the internet

    Caravan from Ella Maillard Book, it is their caravan on the journey Arakshatu – Issyk Pakté


  • Two new arrivals: Jean Bouathier and Ella Maillard correspondence

    IMG_0130I must welcome the arrival of two books, Jean Bouathier “Aux confins de la Chine” (on the confines of China), and Ella’s correspondence book edited to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of her birth.

    I am immersed in Jean Bouathier’s book. Bouathier is a French guy, with an Ethnology Diploma, and he studied in the “Institut National des Langues et des Civilizations Orientales” (Langues’O) which should be a guarantee. Jean speaks Turkish and Tibetan (but no Chinese), and, in June 2002 he starts an expedition in a rented Toyota Landcruiser, with a chain-smoker Chinese driver, and an interpreter, for a total amount of 25.000 Yuan (3.250 Euros). Well, as usual in China, nothing happens as he expects, the interpreter was not waiting for him at the airport, the “all-included” price did not include permits, driver had no idea on how to use a 4-wheel driven vehicle… and his international credit card was refused, leaving him stranded in Xining. Yes, definitively is better to avoid Xining trap 🙂 (more on it in another post)

    IMG_0135Of course, as often in China, this apparently unmovable obstacles are moved, and trip starts… but Jean does not like Chinese food! or at least, the food served along the road, he is fed up of mutton and noodles. And Jean does not like Chinese music that goes on an on at full power inside the Toyota. Not he likes the blend of tobacco smoke and fuels fumes that seep from additional drums which are inside the vehicle.

    But Jean has read Sven Hedin, Maillard and Fleming, he knows about the Lost Cities, and he follows the path Xining-Qinghai-Dzhoun, Golmud, Teijinar, and beyond. He talks about history, Hedin discoveries, people who has traveled this road, he references the places with texts from Hedin, or Maillard… well, the book is easy to read, and interesting.

    And… “Voilà Jean”, disguised as an Indiana Jones in sandals 🙂

    IMG_0142

    But, what happens to him, places where he sleeps, red tape problems, sand storms, roads that are only in the maps, rivers that are not in the same maps, makes my projected trip to seem impossible. Of course, 2002 China is not 2017 China, it has open somehow, but probably not enough. But, as Orlandini says, when someone talked about the unrest in Singkiang, with two civil wars acting simultaneously, plus the Big Game between Soviet Union, China and UK, plus Chang-Kai-Chech war against communists, plus Japanese invading Manchuria: “If one should listen to all “it is said”, one would never start a trip”.

    So, let us go there and hope for the best.

    Title Image: Dakar Rally bivouac in the Atacama Desert (detail) from the author


  • Setting sails towards South Silk Road in Spring 2017.

    ussr in construction_kamele KopieNow that we left Ella and Peter in the mysterious Dzoun, and while Li tries to get some camels to continue towards Teijinar, and Nija and the Karavansara Reading Challenge (link), somewhat delayed in Xining by winter storms and power failures, reaches us, let me do some homework to reinforce my own trip.

    Well, I have found two (and a half) possible trip partners. While there is no commitment by anybody (not even by me!) to set sail together, starting in Xining in one year and one month, and traveling through the “Forbidden Oasis” I continue looking for people who may be interested in travel outside the confort area, without entering the danger area.

    Each person has its own perception of danger, I agree, and whilst for some travelers – like me – a street market in Guayaquil or Ciudad de Mexico is not more dangerous than a stroll in the Ramblas (and probably less), for other people danger start as soon as they leave their hotel room. But I may say that I have not entered (deliberately) in danger situations, sometimes, stranded in the sands of Atacama, or in a Subway Station at Bronx, I should have preferred not to have started this particular trip, but… I enjoyed every minute of it. Afterwards, of course

    Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbHAutosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH_33_0576
    No, they are not vultures! 🙂

    So, I went to the “Thorn Tree”, Lonely Planet Forum, and I wrote this entry:

    I am planning a trip through the South Xinjiang (Teijinar, Qarqan, Endere, Nija) in April to May (4 to 6 weeks) following the steps of Ella and Peter. I plan to find local transportation if possible, if not, eventually, to rent a car with a driver (as far as I know, this is the only way to rent a car in China without a local permit), and essentially to look to scenery places in subdued light whenever possible. I have been several times to China for business, but always in executive trips (aka. five stars hotels, interpreter, driver…)and I search now some “roads less traveled”. I do like deserts and photography, I have been already in Sahara, Namib, Atacama and I look eagerly to be in the Taklamakan. I have no budget, I am not planning to travel on a shoe-string nor to rent a limousine or go to luxury hotels (this is not an actual danger in Xinjiang anyway :). I would like to find other travel companions. Should you be interested, even if you are not planning to do this trip, leave me a message, and I will supplement the information.

    I have no great expectations, but anyway, I let you know

    2011-01-09 at 17-30-24

    Photo credits
    Internet: Camel Train
    Author:
    Market in Chongqin
    Ravens at a pose in Atacama (you do not even imagine the difficulties of raven’s training 🙂
    Laguna verde, a High Altitude (4.200 m) lake in the Andes


  • Qinghai lake and wild donkeys or empathy is not a Chinese word

    I imagine than more or less we all know some wild donkey. Someone who is dumb and unpredictable… May I recommend Carlo Maria Cipolla’s Essay “Basic Laws of Human Stupidity”. Cipolla was Italian, born in Pavia in 1922, and was professor of Economics in Italy and Chairman in Berkeley, and wrote, tongue in cheek, one of the essays that made him famous, that included the “Laws of Stupidity”:

    qinghai-tibet-railway-map

    1.) Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.

    2.) The probability that a certain person (will) be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person.

    3.) A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses.

    4.) Non-stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid individuals. In particular non-stupid people constantly forget that at all times and places and under any circumstances to deal and/or associate with stupid people always turns out to be a costly mistake.

    5.)A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person.

    So, going back to the title of my post… How many “wild donkeys do we know”, people who causes losses to other persons, without getting no benefit?

    This wild donkey affair comes from Ella and Peter trip following the south bank of Qinghai lake, then through a mountain pass arriving to Chakayan Lake

    duplicate (3528)
    and from there to the Dulan desert and its wild donkeys. Probably the sight of some wild donkeys is not enticing, but the trip is about going through roads less traveled.
    .
    Originally my trip plan consisted in staying for two or three nights at the Ta’Er lamasery, near Xinning, and going for one or two days to Qinghai Lake, in an organized tourist tour. My guide said that there are one day tours from Xinning to Qinghai Lake. You can stay overnight, or just go for a quickie :), rent a bicycle and see the dilapidated torpedo base, or take a trolleybus to visit a “Chinese-style” sightseeing village.
    Image 15-3-16 at 14.54
    My previous plan was to take a High-Speed train to Golmud (the Sky Train, the trains which goes to Lhassa) and stay for several days in Golmud, radiating from there towards East (the caravan route), South (to see I do not know what), and then Northwest, towards Teijinar and the Desert Oasis. So, essentially, a disguised business trip. No adventure, major ports of call booked in advance.
    .
    But really, tourist buses and high-speed trains to follow Ella and Peter are not exactly what I dreamed for during 20 years.
    .
    So, right now I consider a Plan B, which consists in trying to find if there is some kind of public transportation along Road G109 (Qinghai Lake and Chakayan Lake and the East Bank of Dulan Desert). Really I doubt it, because one of the problems of Deserts is the lack of people who lives there :). And where there is no people… there is no public transport.
    .
    This opens a line of thought: what kind of travel I want to do? : A trip (not the “Taklamakan-tour-riding-a-bactrian-camel, plus-extra-night-in-a-mongol-yourt-with-traditional-mongolian-BBQ-and-dance-show” anyway) with fixed stops in major cities or a truly open trip, with a sleeping bag and no plans?
    .
    This is a major question, because empathy is really not a Chinese word, and I may lay stranded in some remote village: “this is a military zone, you must remain here until Beijing tell us what to do with you” (all this in Chinese, of course) with hotels forbidden to Gwailos (deprecatory for foreigners, ghost man) and sleeping in a dilapidated caravansary
    .
    One of the questions open right now, is: “How to go from Xining to Golmud, other than by camel caravan?”
    .
    But the truly important: “Will I really dare to forget how to travel as I have traveled all my life, the executive way”?
    .
    .
    Photo credit: Panoramio: Wild donkeys in Dulan Desert
    Central photo: a salted pond in Atacama, from the Author
    Last photo: Panoramio, entering the Tsaidam Basin near G109


  • Xining, the city that has nothing to show

    Probably I should change my travel guide. I have always spoke bad about imaginary guides, guides based in what you are supposed to see and do, instead on what you actually see and do. My first experience was with Fodor’s Guide to Iran:

    The water mirror at the Sahn (central courtyard in a Mosque) reflects the four Iwans that surround it, offering, to clever photographs, the inverted image of their arches. The South Iwan, sided by two minarets, gives access to the prayers room. This room is simply a pure wonder of unexpected lightness and elegance under a dome of these dimensions”

    (Masjed-e-Chah)

    Well, one expect this:

    2009-10-27 at 11-04-48,

    although, what you see is more similar to this:

    2009-10-27 at 11-37-02

    or to this

    2009-10-27 at 11-34-08

    Moreover, on the first photograph you may see the green color of the water at the rinsing pool. This green is lime, an in the pool water you may see all kind of trash. So, it is better if you maintain the correct distance to take the photo.

    So, when I read in the Lonely Planet Guide

    ” Though many travelers use Xining as a jumping-off of landing point in the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, it’s also a wonderful place to explore the province’s varied cultures: Muslim (Huí, Salar and Uighur), Tibetan and Han Chinese, – specially the dynamite culinary mix that these groups bring together”

    and that the almost only thing to see is the Provincial Museum of Qinghai with old potteries and the Tibetan Culture Museum, which scores the longest (618 meters) thankga (tibetan scroll), which took 400 artisans to paint, and that was completed in 1997, well, I am confused. I do not expect the Guides to lie to me, but I do expect they show at least some interest.

    So, let us skip also Xining and head to the Ta’er Monastery. Well, this is worse.

    It is of enormous historical importance – said the guide – and hundreds of monks still live there but, perhaps because it is such a big tourist draw for this part of Qinghai, the atmosphere can, at times, feel a bit overrun

    And when I read that, with the “Grand Hall of the Golden Tiles”, the other worthwhile thing to see is the “Yak Butter Scripture Temple” with contains human figures, animals and landscapes carved out of yak butter… well, I wonder if I should skip Ta’er too

    … or change my travel guide 🙂

    All photos, but for the last one, are mine (Isfahan, around 1979)

    buttersculpture


  • Bye, bye, Lanzhou

    My trip to Xinjiang was supposed to start “officially” in Lanzhou. So, I went to the sources, and when a guide says:

    “Lanzhou is an important communication node. In 1990 it was considered the most contaminated town in Earth. Although it has some destinations interesting around the city, it has little sense to lengthen the stay for more time than the time needed to extend your visa or buy a train ticket” (Lonely Planet)

    It means”do not stop here!”

    I will not see the Yellow River rafts, nor the water wheels in the Water Wheel Park 1024px-Lanzhou-011

    nor I will take a Gondola ride in some themed hotel

    marilyn-and-colin-take-a-gondola-ride-lanzhou

    Bye, bye, Lanzhou, happy not to have seen you!