We have left Hotan for a further 250 kms of desert road inter spliced with the oases fed by the Tibet Plateau. Our goal is Minfeng, and as we later discover it is the Milton Keynes of Xingiang, a new town with wide three lane boulevards in both directions and government missives broadcast from the roof of the local administrative buildings. -on the way we have our usual entertaining assortment of obstacles and modes of transport.
The dust and lower atmosphere pollution prevents us from seeing what should be the ramparts of an impressive range of mountains to the south of us. We know they are close but are they occluded by a desert breeze that picks all the crap from the Kaliimakan and swirls it in front off us. We get glimpses of big sand dunes, desert rivers and then periods of green poplars where the water has been tamed and irrigated to provide shade and agriculture for a small town. Primitive buildings perhaps but make do ariels show that everyone is plugged into the local TV:-
Between the desert stretches sections the local population fire up their fine chariots
Others less fortunate just walk ( this maybe some hardy European who has decided to walk from London to Beijing- we never found out!)
Xingiang Provence is mostly desert but still there great volumes of water flowing through it.
Over the years these streams have been contained and channeled to form fingers of green, like the fertile land either side of the Nile, stretching for miles along the water courses. We rush from the searing bright heat of desert to jade coloured avenues of poplars. My camera cannot cope with the changes in light intensity and shuts down for short periods.
The guys on the bikes are whizzing through air at temperatures between about 28 and 38 deg C . This in fact ideal for them. At 40-60 mph they can evaporate loads of sweat and keep very cool. They carry tanker loads of water or electrolyte based fluids to rehydrate en route. I however am lucky I sit in the cool of an air-conditioned cab. When we shoot the tunnels of poplars there is a stretch of cool shade which is an added bonus for the bikers. Out in the hot bright air they stand on their pegs to get a full frontal of dry desert wind which turbo s the evaporation and also to give their legs a stretch.
Only problem is that when standing, the mirrors point in the wrong direction – you can see Dave looking back to check that I am still there and also to see if it safe to pull out round that sheep truck.
Back into the extreme haze and heat . More local travellers cart their wares more or less successfully to the next market
Just when it is getting really hot and dry -another stream and suddenly you have what looks like paddy fields!?
We get stopped at a police road block. Initially I am singled out and told to pull over but suddenly, having spotted the Uk plates I am waved on but Paul and gerry our guides get stopped. They are charged with not wearing seat belts and are required to go 10 miles back to the previous town and pay at the police station.Paul argues that they always wear their belts and the only reason that Gerry was not was because the policeman had asked him for his licence which was in his hip bag which he couldnt open without undoing his belt. There was an enormous row which went on for over an hour. eventually the police rang head quarters and the fine was rescinded!
The last stretch to Minfeng- very hot and dry. Frequent twisters are being generated by the heat of the desert sand. In the morning they were about 10 metres across but by midday have doubled in size and can give the van and the bikes quite a wrench.
These twisters like to creep up you too, as Dave finds as he suddenly gets engulfed.
At 2.00 pm everyone is tired and since it is impossible to find a quiet place in the oasis towns we stop in the open desert for a break. Paul and Gerry erect a tent as quick as you like and have some coffee on the go. We wrench open a couple of tins of sardines and having quaffed a couple of swimming pools of water and coffee we remount for the final two hours into Minfeng.
Quick kip before supper in our simple government hotel and a relatively early night in preparation for the trip northwards on the “ new Desert road “ as the map proudly describes . We have 700 km before we are out the other side.