From Golmud, which was a delicious surprise (we may be the sole travellers who find that Golmud is a charming city (of course, charming to China standards, do not expect to find Siena in Golmud), we continued our trip towards Xining and the end of the voyage. But we should not skip of course, the Koko Nor (Blue Sea in Mongol), so we look how to reach the lake from Golmud, and Dulan was only a speck in the map, but conveniently placed, so, we decided to stop there. And we left Golmud in bus, under heavy rain. We almost did not see anything of the countryside, which should be beautiful.
- Tag Archives Golmud
Rough and ready, Qinghai is classic off-the-beaten-track territory, often as a last frontier feel to it. Traveling here can be both inconvenient and uncomfortable, though China’s rapid development plans have begun to touch the province, with huge railways and new rail lines under construction.
Despite that, Qinghai still delivers a high dose of solitude among middle-of-nowhere high-plateau vistas, Martian-like red mountains and encounters with remote communities of China’s ethnic minorities”
Kini 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.
Because 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”?)
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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
Borodishin, 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
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
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Photo credits: from the Internet
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.
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”:
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 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.
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