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Oasis on the Silk Road, China

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Oasis on the Silk Road, China
Oasis on the Silk Road, China

Oasis on the Silk Road, China!

Yarkand, in Xingiang, the Uyghur region of China, is another of those semi-lost enclaves and somewhat overshadowed by the fame of Kashgar, which line the Silk Road.

This is an oasis city, and our idea was to use it as a gateway to the Taklamakan desert to spend a night in its dunes. With no greater objectives than this since we did not have many days to enjoy the area. 

(Oasis on the Silk Road)

Market day at Yarkand oasis

We are in an oasis next to the Taklamakan desert. It is fed by the Yarkand River , which comes from the Pamir Mountains. Many things are grown here: cotton, corn, fruits such as apricots or pomegranates, and walnuts.

It turned out that it was market day and even against our Uyghur guide, who considered it not a “safe” place for tourists, we decided to stop and take a ride. The supposed insecurity was that here Islam is more orthodox and they are not used to visits from foreigners.

(Oasis on the Silk Road)

Contrary to expectations, the walk through the market was great.

We found that the locals looked at us full of curiosity and did nothing but show kind and hospitable gestures towards us.

Being a market perhaps more humble than that of Kashgar , it is not without its interest. More so when one reads that the caravans from Kabul arrived here ready to continue to the kingdom of Cathay . They were organized as long as they got permission to enter the distant and powerful kingdom.

(Oasis on the Silk Road)

It was also a stopover and inn for those who came from the other side and wanted to rest here before entering Kashgar. Or before going directly to the Karakorum to cross it and follow the route to the West.

Surely many things have changed since those times, but there are still customs and ways of those then.

In the area of ​​fabrics, where women strive to choose, haggle and finally take their goods to make those colorful dresses and household items that they use there.

The area of ​​spices, sometimes crossed by tractors of the year of the Polka that spit smoke and pure diesel.

And the area of ​​the animals, with those Marco polo” sheep (so-called because this great traveler described them in his story, or the equines, which are directly examined, bought, sold and transferred to the family vehicle with a big smile.

(Oasis on the Silk Road)

At that point it was already very hot and at one point we decided to stop for a bit in the shade.

Immediately the people who were sitting there, all older, insisted on giving us their stools despite our protests. With big smiles and delicacy. I took some photos that I then showed them and with which they were delighted. I will never forget the frankness of their looks. 

Yarkand’s great past

Yarkand had even more to show us.

The Altyn Mosque , in the center of the city, with its extensive cemetery full of tombs of the Khans of Yarkand, is considered a place of archaeological interest for its decoration, apparently unique in the region.

Inside, the tomb of a woman stands out. She is the poet and musician Aman Isa Khan or Amanisahan (1526-60), the wife of one of the local khans. Revered today.

(Oasis on the Silk Road)

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The night in the Taklamakan desert

Finally, with some delay due to these stops, we headed to the outskirts of the oasis to go to the desert that started right there.

We even had a small meeting with one of the peasant families of the place. Simple, curious and endearing people .

Later, aboard donkey carts, we take our things for dinner and some sleep until the beginning of the dunes. We had dinner right there and set off when the sun was setting, with a local guide. We walked about an hour and a half through the dunes, by the light of the lanterns. Through that desert on which many legends circulate.

They say that the disappearance of caravans and even large armies in the Taklamakan was not strange . Nor would it be now if someone wanted to cross it. The djin or geniuses get up at night and disorient travelers with their strange noises, the swirls of sand that they are capable of raising even without the wind, and especially their ability to drive men crazy with their howls and hoots.

Our Uyghur guide, while still hitting good slugs on a bottle of a liquor of more than 60 degrees typical of the area, told us the odd story of this kind to the love of the fire, before going to bed.

They say that buried cities are easy to find . In fact there are, but little research has been done. And skeletons of entire caravans, with their animals and their men.

But those who venture out to look for them run a very high risk of not coming back and ending up like them. 

Stories to give atmosphere to the night, at least!

Personally, this little piece of Taklamakan that I stepped on did not seem particularly attractive. The sand was rather white, there were many bushes (for a desert ) and perhaps the weather was not good.

But I know that there are other much more interesting corners in this vast sandy area and surely later, in the future, I will end up visiting them 😉

(Oasis on the Silk Road)

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