• And the Oscar to best supporting actor goes to: Borodishin

    Qinghai-Hexi-Corridor--Tsaidam-Basin-6-Gobi--DesertBorodishin, or Borodichine as Ella calls him is the best performing actor in our history. Boro was sergeant in the Russian white army under General Annenkov, who entered China with his decimated troops. After staying with him in the Sinkiang, he decided not to follow him further away (it was a good move, as Annenkov was betrayed by a Chinese warlord Feng Yu-Hsiang, known as the “betrayal general” and also the “Christian general” – I hope that the two appellatives are not related -. Feng returned Annenkov to the Russians, who shot him). They split, and while Annenkov left the Sinking to meet his fate, Borodishin joined the Smigounovs in the Tsaidam.

    Two years later, the Smigs left Teijinar with Narim, due to the complex situation of the region, while Borodishin remained in Tsaidam. Was it because he was “on the hills, buying yak’s tails” – as Peter says -, when they departed, and nobody told him? Did he find the Smigs yurt empty when he returned of his journey?

    I prefer to think that he stayed in the Qaidam waiting for his wife and his children from who he had lost contact. His letters became abruptly unanswered when his family was already traveling towards the frontier to meet him. Did Boro stayed in the Tsaidam expecting their arrival, knowing if they finally arrive to Teijinar, and he had departed, it will be impossible that they meet again? Probably, as Peter says

    He still yearned for them, still (sometimes) had hopes he would see them again

    Qaidam_basin2

    We were the first Europeans he has seen for two years; his was a terribly desolate life. With us he was always cheerful, or at any rate tranquil; but you had an awful feeling that maybe his heart was broking slowly

    Boro recommends them to avoid the main road, and follow an almost forgotten, barely negotiable path. They will find no guides for this region, and he proposes to go with them until they reach Issik Pakte, twelve marches towards the West. He cannot go further because he had no papers of any sort. And Boro helps them to buy four camels, and to get all the supplies for the march, which is not easy because people in the oasis have an economy of subsistence. They have almost nothing to trade. Boro must travel long distances (people live dispersed) to complete the stock they need.

    During the eight days while Boro organizes their departure, Peter and Kini live a relaxed life in the luxurious yurt of the Smigs. Reading, hunting, waiting. Peter killed an antelope, from which she made shashlik on the cleaning rod of the rifle (this is strange, nobody made shashlik there? there had no other metal rod?).

    The next day at noon, when the trio Ella, Peter and Boro departed towards Issik Pakte, no Mongol went with them.

    Boro was a good fellow, cheerful and a good companion (a “brave homme”, as Kini says)

    After something like two weeks they arrived to Issik Pakte, enduring snow storms, being lost without water, and eating samba with melted mutton fat and a little Worcestershire sauce. Once there, Borodishin negotiated with two Turki to guide them through the 12 stages needed to reach Cherchen, and helped them to trade Greys, Peter’s horse, for a young mare, “more amphibian than equine”

    And finally, after two days, they parted. Borodishin,

    At dawn he left with the Mongol, riding back along the way we had come, hunched on his camel, eternally sucking at his long Chinese pipe, his sad loyal eyes staring across the empty lands before him. As I watched him go I tried not to think in the two grubby yurts at Teijinar, were the redshanks called and he and Wang Sun-Lin took it in turns to go it and fetch fuel, and nothing ever happened

    Two years later, he was murdered by bandits. Probably he felt relieved

     

    Photo credits: from the Internet


  • To be or not to be in Sunday’s Market: Kashgar or Hotan?

    2006-04-10 at 15-22-48The traveler needs to take difficult decisions all the time: Avis or Hertz, MacDonald or Burger King, Sunday market in Kashgar or in Hotan? Because both cities are not far away (well, if 485 Km is not far away) and both have a reputed Market on Sunday.

    So, it has any sense to see both markets, and wander for one week into the Chinese Far West? Probably not, so, let us read the guide: “No visit (to Kashgar) is complete without a trip to the livestock market (…) The day begins with Uighurs farmers and herders trekking into the city from nearby villages. “. Well, it seems interesting, but … “tour buses usually arrive in the morning, so consider an early afternoon visit”.

    Well, this is the decision, do we really pinpoint a Sunday in Kashgar to have a “complete” visit, in coincidence with the Tourist Tours? or even, God forbids!, taking a “Morning Market Tour with Typical Samsa breakfast” ?. Not in my opinion, anyway. Markets are picturesque when they are genuine 2008-01-27 at 03-11-33. Traveler may not like what he sees, one of the more nightmarish visits that I have done is to the Guangzhou market in the nineties, but I do know that my interest on Kashgar market transforms in relative if I need to be there in the afternoon, when all deals are already done, to avoid hordes of tourists jumping off the cars.

    So, let us skip Kashgar Market on Sunday, and try to be in Hotan on Sunday: “The covered market bustles every day of the week but on Sunday. (…) most interesting parts are the doppy (skullcap) bazar, the colorful dyed, handwoven silk cloth market or the gilim (carpet) bazar. Nearby Juma Lu is filled with traditional medicine and spice shops.

    The small but authentic Sunday livestock bazar…

    Well, it is clear. I will never see the Kashgar Sunday Market. I feel like going to Pisa and not seeing the leaning tower.

    2006-04-10 at 17-05-01

    Image Credits
    =============
    Featured Image: Market in Chongking (1999) by Author
    two other photos:
    selling kittens: Guangzhou Market (1990)
    selling hens: Chengdu Market (1995)


  • Leaving Dzoun for Nomo Khantara, or jumping from the pan into the fire

    potd-camel_3349231kThe back of our heroes was against the wall in Nomo Khantara.

    Ella and Peter after a four day rest in Dzoun had left for Teijinar (at least, they thought so), ten camel stage away, or 300 km. With them goes their helper, interpreter and somehow friend, Li, and the camel master, an unnamed mongol. At the end of the first stage after Dzoun they learn that the four camels, already weakened because they are moulting (it is well known issue with camels), will not go further than Nomo Kanthara, two stages away, and as a consequence, they will need to hire another set of animals. And they learn also that it will be difficult to find camels, because summer arrives and the herds are already grazing in some remote pastures.

    When they reach Nomo Khantara, they find someone they knew from the caravan of the Prince of Dzoun, who had already arrived; this guy, the chief of the gold diggers, had left Dzoun earlier, with the aim to overtake Peter and Ella at the Hertz camel shop at Nomo Khantara. Anyway, nobody got camels, nor the gold digger, nor Peter, nor two very holy lamas that were waiting for two weeks already. And if the very holy lamas do not get camels, nobody can get them in the whole Sinkiang.

    And Li says that he will not continue to Teijinar oasis, because they are already in Teijinar, Nomo Khantara being the first oasis belonging to Teijinar. The fact that they have hired Li to go with them until Teijinar does not bother him, and I suspect that Li hired the camels in Dzoun to go to Nomo Kanthara. He did not need going further, as Nomo Kanthara was his home.

    And the child of one gold digger was lost in the desert.

    And mosquitoes did appear.

    They were in deep shit.

    2011-01-09 at 11-51-11

    Photo credits

    Camel moulting from Internet

    Author: Somewhere in South Africa, and view of the Andes


  • Kashgar: Ready, Steady and go (with the flow)

    train south xinjiang We are ready to start! Who? you may ask. I do not know yet :), but I hope that my enthusiasm will convince other travelers.

    Let us start easy! There is a train line that runs from Kashgar to Hotan (485 Km) in 8 hours. It departs Kashgar at 10:16 and arrives Hetian at 18:26.

    But the aim of this trip is not “going to places”, but  “flowing into places”. We are not in a hurry to get Hotan, isn’t it? Let us stop one day in Kargilik. There are caves with Buddahs, a mosque, and, sure an open market.

    Or … what about Yarkand? Any choice means that other places will be skipped. Decisions are difficult. If some reader has suggestions, please, use the comment field, I will try to add information about where to stop

    This place will be the first immersion in the flow that will drive us towards East, the Oasis and the Desert.

    This will be the easier leg of the trip.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Featured image: from Internet www.Christopherpitts.net


  • Xinjiang Travel: where to start?

    ChinaSilkRoadMap8
    Traditionally the Silk Road direction East (“downwards”), arrived to Kashgar (at the left on the map). In Kashgar travelers must decide either go NE, towards Aksu and Urumqi, or SE, towards Yecheng, Hetian and Qiemo. This is the “Forbidden Oasis” route Ella Maillard followed,

    Peter and Ella went “upwards” (Westward). Once in Xining, they should either travel NW through the Gansu Corridor (the traditional route), towards Dunhuang, where they would be probably stopped and sent back, or, avoiding Dunhuang, cross directly, due East, from Xining to Qiemo (Tchertchen). This area had no roads then, and now there are few. For instance there are no roads marked on this map in this area, but they exist, although they may lack traffic…

    So, what is in between Xining and Qiemo? Qinghai Lake, Chakayan Lake, Dulan Desert, Dzoun…

    And this is the road that we must follow if we want to follow Ella’s steps, as well as avoid too touristic tours.

    But once in Xining, how to find a transportation on an area were there are no roads marked, in a city in which few people understand English? Xining is one million people city. Where to start if one plans something else than Qinghai Lake tour or Ta’er monastery? How tell someone than the plan is to reach Dulan, and from there Golmud?

    It is important to point that Golmud (200,000, inhabitants, not in this map) is half-way between Xining and Ruoquiang. And if there is some way to cross this area, it should better be found in Golmud than in Xining.

    So, probably I would consider starting the trip at the West, in Kashgar (350,000). There are buses (Lonely Planet dixit) that follow the South Path from Kashgar to Golmud. Probably it would be worthwhile to go by train to Aksu, and then find a bus to go due South to Hetian. Once there, take buses from one oasis to the other, until arriving to Golmud

    In Golmud starts the most wild part of the trip… how to reach from there Dulan and Xining? well, we will see once there !

    And, if there is no transportation we may revert to the train, Golmud is a train station in the Xining – Lhassa Sky train.

     

    DSC_9375

     


  • 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


  • Following camel shit (called argol) from Targar to Dzounchia

    The difficulties to follow the path of a caravan.

    I must start by an anecdote. The Paris-Dakar is a race divided in two kind of participants, professional drivers, cars “full equipped”, Air conditioned motorhome to receive a massage before a good night rest, and the others, purely amateurs, who have nothing of that. And several years ago, professional drivers had a GPS (but without waypoints a GPS is, more or less, a compass), but not amateurs. In one of these navigation stages, in the Sahara, an amateur, from Madrid, arrived more than half an hour earlier than the professional riders who had become lost, all together in the dunes. And this guy navigated perfectly, with a mere compass and a watch, not only this time, but in general. And the journalist interviewed him, and he said: ” it is not so difficult, you must follow camel dung, and you follow the path of the caravans”.

    Well, this is what I did today, not with camel dung (in the Takla-Makan they use it, when dry, as combustible, argol, so probably I had not find a lot), but with the beads that Peter Fleming left in his “News from Tartary” book, as well as the information everybody (at least, Peter, Ella, and Lattimore) shares: a caravan starts at 6 in the morning, and walks for 8 hours approximatively, doing 30 km per day… well, this is not exactly true, average is less than that (due to cold, to water points, or for no stated reason), but sometimes they put two stages in one day (a four hour stop, and a night march) so they increase the average.Etapa 2

    They made an approach from Tangar until meeting the caravan of the Prince of Tzoun, near the East bank of Qinghay Lake (Stage 4, Valley of Daotang River). Their second stop was a Lamasery, that can be found on Google Earth with Panoramio
    Image 14-3-16 at 20.54

    They walked three days on the South Bank of Kinghai Lake, roughly in a NW direction, until Stage 7, then they take a SW direction passing on the North Bank of Chakayan Lake (the Salt Lake in Peter’s text, Stage 10), and, after two mountains passes, they arrive to the Tsaidam (after a few hours of Stage 13), and they cross the Dulan desert (Stages 14, 15 and 16) partly at night, because they are already near their goal.

    With all this background I located Dzhounchia,(Stage 17, they arrived there on April 12, 1935), which is at

    36°10’44.97″N
    97°18’44.24″E

    and this position agrees with the three camel days that Li, their interpreter, says are needed to reach Nomo-Khantara, which is 80 km away

    This is the link to the caravan path:

    (a new window will open with a file. You click and a window of Google Maps will open)

    link to stages

    note: I may upload also the Google Earth file, with includes the distance between stages, but I am searching a Map application.