• Tag Archives Xinjiang
  • Before departing for the Xinjiang (or Sinkiang): A check list (2)

    Items needed until now (see previous post)

    a.) two maps, one in Western Characters and Western names (which may or may not be the local names, for instance, Nija is Minfeng, and Charqilik, Rouquiang. Plus a spare map, kept in  your luggage to be used only if needed.

    b.) a translator app to and from Chinese, and, if possible, the availability to translate spoken text. Spoken text is only translated if on line

    c.) So, when I arrived to Shanghai airport I bought a prepaid Chinese SIM card, for something like 150 RMB with 100 RMB prepaid. Although it is probably more expensive if bought in an airport (I am sure, they said 250 RMB, I said it was too expensive, and I finished getting one 200 RMB card for 150), it has the advantage than people there speaks English, and are eager to change the card you brought in your phone by theirs. They swap cards, and there you go, with all your email accounts, whatsapp contacts and everything working without any need of configuration. My phone is an iPhone, so, Apple send me a message asking me to accept operator’s change, and that’s it. I recharged my China Unicom card in several different phone shops 3 to 4 times with 100 RMB each. I did that every three to four days, and, simply, because I did not want to be without internet in the middle of nowhere.

    Did I need to recharge the card? I have no idea, I received regularly SMS with information in Chinese, but, as iPhone does not allow copy and paste of SMS (or I ignore how to do it), I was unable to copy it in the translator, so I never knew if it was necessary.

    All hotels (there are no bars) have WiFi, so, strictly, there is no absolute need to stay connected. But, if you are on a bus queue, or you want to ask for directions on the street, I prefer to have the possibility.

    d.) I had with me an Iridium tracker and SOS device. I have been cut from Internet in three occasions in my life

    1.) USA – Irak first war, that caught me in a fly from Frankfurt to Delhi, and Internet was cut for two days in India,
    2.) two earthquakes, one in Costa Rica and the other in Chile.

    These situations create anxiety at home. For the Irak war I was able to phone home as soon as I saw that I was unable to connect through Internet (cut internet access in this case was a political decision, not a technical issue), but on the other two cases, cell towers stopped working, and land lines were clogged. I needed to wait for 48 to 72 hours to be able to notify home.

    So, I have with me the Iridium tracker (Garmin inReach) which does not use cellular or land phone lines. It is able to send SMS-like messages through their own satellite system. It is not very performant (the device must “see” the sky), not very fast because the device must wait until a satellite passes to send the message (typically between 30 minutes and one hour), and wait another passage of the satellite to get the answer. But, at least, anything may happen on land, you have your lifeline with your family. Moreover, the system has an SOS button, monitored 24/7 which takes over in case of need. The tracker sends your position every 10 minutes, so, anybody with access to my web page is able to know where I am. (of course, if I authorize the access). The device is not cheap (450 USD), nor the service (25 USD/month, although it may be 10 USD if you do not need the tracking feature). It prepares a gpx of the track, that you may load in Google Earth. Send me a contact form if you are interested.

    and, last but not least

    e.) an antidiarrheic. You probably do not need to take with you an antitussive remedy, you go to a pharmacy, you cough, and they will understand you. I do not imagine doing the same if you have diarrhea

    I brought also with me

    1.) an emergency kit, with bandages, blister protection, and a thermal blanket. I did not need them, but it is light and you never know. By the way the kit did not include alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, mercurochrome… so, you need to buy these separately.

    2.) a very light and foldable bath towel. I did not needed it, but I would bring it again with me

    3.) a silk coocon bed sheet. I did not needed it, but I remenber trips to China 20 years ago, in which it would have been welcome

    4.) a rice bowl and a chopstick set. Tableware is not really clean in China, everything is eventually rinsed with the same water, and chopsticks were often somehow sticky, but I really did not dare to ask the restaurant to use mine

    5.) warm clothes. Although temperature was perfect in the Xinjiang in May (20 to 30 degrees), as soon as we arrive to Golmud, temperature drop by 15 degrees. And in the Qinghai temperature was 2, 3 degrees in the morning up to 10 in the afternoon.

    6.) a photo camera. Although a phone is discreet, and makes good photos, a true photo camera, with a powerful zoom, brings another dimension to the trip. Due to the sheer weight I left my trustable Nikon F4 (yes, with roll), and I brought with me a Leica V4. Powerful mechanic and electronic zoom, and all sort of fancy and useless gadgests. But excellent optics, and an automatic mode who is able to allow an old man affected by Parkinson disease to shoot a horse race from 500 metres without blurr.

    Taken at 100 meters, aprox. in Dulan, a Tibetan mother and his daughter which come from a school festival

  • July 1935: Keriya-Khotan by Camel Train

    July, 1st, 1935, Ella and Peter left Keriya. They left there the “Pearl of the Tsaidam”, Number 2 (the second camel, of course), and Cynara, the mare that Peter traded for Greys at Issik Pakte, when it was clear that Greys cannot continue. Their caravan was a small one, although impressive: Four donkeys, Kini’s stallion (rather sick) and a horse with old galls for Peter, plus Aziz, their guide, and Tuzun Ahun, a guard with his horse who had received orders from the aksalal in Tchertchen to convey them to Kaskgar. That was impressive!

  • Location names in Qinghai and Xinjiang

    tumblr_ltw6yuEGrs1r5dogro1_500As the followers of this blog (do they exist?) may already know, I follow the footsteps of Ella Maillard and Peter Fleming in Qinghai and Xinjiang.

    I thought that locating them in Google Earth should be a straightforward issue, just copying the name they wrote, pasting in Google Earth, and then, voilà, place found!.

    Well, it is not like this, there are no place names in the desert. So, our travelers asked our guide. If the guide was mongol, they got a Mongol name. Sometimes they got the Chinese name. But people in this area were essentially Uyghur, so, some names come in the Uyghur flavor. This is all? not really, because each population has their own alphabet. Well, Uyghur had no one, not two, but three alphabets, one of them being Latin, the other Cyrillic and the third Arabic.

    Mongol is a little more complex: From Wikipedia: “At the very beginning of the Mongol Empire, around 1204, Genghis Khan defeated the Naimans and captured an Uyghur scribe called Tata-tonga, who then adapted the Uyghur alphabet—a descendant of the Syriac alphabet, via Sogdian—to write Mongol. With only minor modifications, it is used in Inner Mongolia to this day. Its most salient feature is its vertical direction; it is the only vertical script that is written from left to right. (All other vertical writing systems are written right to left.) This is because the Uyghurs rotated their script 90 degrees anticlockwise to emulate the Chinese writing system.

    As a variant of the traditional script there exists a vertical square script (Босоо дөрвөлжин), also called folded script, used e.g. on the Mongolian banknotes.”.

    Anyhow, the alphabet(s) issue is of minor importance, because herders and guides were, essentially, illiterates.

    gI_113477_Middelfart-MiddlefartSo… when Peter says that they see the Ayak Kum Kul, on their way from Issik (or Issyk) Pakte to Cherchen (or Tchertchen), what place he refers to?

    They usually wrote the name of the place in their own phonetic transcription, which depends on the “landing” language, for example, what Ella (who writes in French) spells as Ou (as Ourumtchi or Doulan) is an single U. Peter does not need this, because the French OU is the English U.

    They departure name is the Mongol or Uyghur name which has nothing to do with the Chinese name. What they spell Cherchen (Peter) or Tchertchen (Ella), is written in 2000 maps as (Chärchän or Qarqan), but also as Qiemo, which is the Han name, and which will be, probably, the “official” name of the place. So, probably maps will have always the Han name, that people do not know about (or do not want to know, due to political reasons), and sometimes the local name.

    The algorithm to find the place is:
    – Try to find the place in Peter’s book.
    – Wrote it in the Search panel of Google Earth

    If it does not appear (as usual), Google it. It is worthwhile to note that Googleing unusual place names is useless, there are profiles on Facebook for each combination of vowels and consonants.

    If you do not find it, search in the US military Place names database.

    Once you find the place, you copy military coordinates (easier, as it is a single code, and not two) and you paste them in Google Earth and that’s it, you got the place.!

    [showmap address=”Qiemo” marker=”click” caption=”Cherchen” map=”ROADMAP” zoom=”12″ scroll=”1″ street=”1″ zoomcontrol=”1″ pan=”1″ mapcontrol=”1″ overview=”1″]

    Photos: Place names from the Internet
    Featured Image, Namib Desert, 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
    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

  • How to be a Caravan Master

    Ella and Peter joined the caravan of Dzoun Prince at Tangar. Two hundred fifty camels must be an impressive line.

    We will be back to Ella and Peter at the Koko (or Koukou) Nor on the next post, in the meanwhile I present a “Camel Train”, aka. a Caravan.

    A caravan is a vessel at sea, and it is as organized as a ship. A caravan is formed by different groups belonging to different owners that travel together. But all them are under the orders of the “Caravan Master”, all other participants are travelers. Under him is the “hsieng-teng” equivalent to the bosom in a ship, the official for intendancy. He is responsible when camels are stopped, he must see that they have water enough, that they can graze, that they are correctly tied. Then came the “camel pullers”, a special race of men who are in charge of camels. They do not help other travelers, their unique responsibility is the welfare of camels. They have the power to make walk any traveler instead of riding the camel, even if the traveler is the owner of the camel (On the way West (or “up”), men must walk always, they may eventually ride a camel in the way down – towards East) .

    9_Camel_train_with_tolarno_wool_1914Each camel puller is in charge of a row of no more than 18 camels (“lien”, which is considered the maximum number of animals a camel puller can manage. Each camel has a fixed place on its lien. Two liens make a “pa”, and these two lien march together always, either side by side or end-on and their camels pullers help one another to load and unload. In front of the Caravan goes the Master-Cook, who must start the camel-dung fire ASAP to have the meal prepared for the men, as soon as they have arrived, unleaded the camels, and tied them. At the front of the second lien walks an assistant to the Master Cook, then on the third the Second Cook, who is in charge of water. So, the way of promotion is easy, from camel puller (like seamen in a ship), their only job being to be in charge of their animals. Then they become Second Cook, and they will learn where to find water in the path of the Caravan, then Master Cook helper, who must learn how to distribute provisions on Road, and finally Master Cook, who organizes meals.
    Camel pullers are allowed to bring with them half a camel load of goods in the West Journey and one in the East and trade with them, keeping the benefits. Eventually, if they are the owners of camels, he may add one to the caravan, keeping benefits for himself.

    So, Caravan Organisation is:
    Caravan Master, full responsibility. <-> Ship’s Commander
    Hsiang-Teng, responsible of Caravan at rest <-> Bosom
    Master Cook and his aid: Logistics and Meal Preparation
    Second Cook: In charge of water. <-> Navigator
    Camel puller: drives a lien <-> Sailor

    By the way, a 500 camel caravan charge is the equivalent of half a charge of a byzantine vessel, who transported goods in the Red Sea.

  • 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


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