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The Taklamakan desert is the second largest sand-shifting desert in the world and is 33700 square km. I have heard that the name means “Who is going in is not coming out” and that is not a very inviting name. But the Chinese have found oil and gas in the middle of the desert. One oil field is in production and rumours have it that they have found more. In any case they first built a highway across the desert, north to south, and to the oil field. That highway (G165) started to the east of where we stayed. But quite recently a new highway (G217) was opened from Hutan, where we were, to Kuqa. That caused confusion, misunderstandings and angry people in the group. And that because the group leader had an old map without the new highway and told us that we should drive the G165. He had got information from the local guide about length and expected time, but for the new road, something he had not understood. So of course when we checked the map on “his” road we found that the length was wrong, it was much longer and then of course the time must also be wrong. And the difference was big 960 km versus 600 km. So we claimed it was not possible to make it in over the desert in one day, and was it safe to ask the driver to stay for so long at the wheel in a monotonous landscape. After a long time and unnecessary bad atmosphere the situation was clarified by asking the local guide which highway we should use. We asked that we had a break every two hours, and that turned out to be a good idea.
We got in the bus, that was not decorated according to the surroundings. The standard of the road was impressive, excellent surface, gentle curves and no sand on the road. It was resting places with intervalls and masts for cell phones every 5-10 km. This also gives an idea about the landscape.
The problem with the resting places was that they were in the sun and it was about 40 centigrades, so when lunchtime came we looked for shade. There were just a few trees around, but we found one and had our lunch with nan bread and fruit in the shade of that lonely tree. The square pattern in the sand was on both sides of the road and stretched 30 meters to each side. It is from a mesh that is meant to keep the sand from getting into the road and it was used on the whole distance. In addition the road itself was built on a membrane that should stabilize the ground. Apparently it was an expensive road and of course raised the question: why did the Chinese build the road? and the answer was probably OIL.
Of course we saw and experienced sand also in our shoes.
We made it safely across and I had never thought I would ever cross the Taklamakan. I have read about it before I came and the reputation after Marco Polo and Sven Hedin was not the best. I really enjoyed it, it was a great experience and another item on my bucket list is checked out.