Our next stops are not for the faint-hearted: Devil City on the Sea, Ghost City of Orku, Karamay, and the Kalamaili Nature Reserve.
Devil City on the Sea.
(Albert, put down the garlic garland. With that smell, you’re more likely to be kicked out of the chopper than met the devil.)
Of course there are no real ghosts here. The desolate and daunting landscape is the result of the wind.
You are looking at a yardang, which is a series of protuberances carved out of bedrock by wind abrasion.
The Devil City sits on the east coast of Jili Lake.
Despite the forbidding environment, life thrives here. Birds build their nests on the steep cliff face.
The Ghost City of Orku is about 300 km away, in the Jungar Basin.
Flora and fauna that lived here billions of years ago are still here, though in a different form—crude oil.
The Karamay Oil Field.
I bet the oil workers there have a story or two to share, about the city that howls at night.
The workers live in the city of Karamay, which has the largest GDP per capita in Xinjiang, and in some years, in all of China.
As the helicopter turns east, we enter the second largest desert in China— the Gurbantünggüt Desert.
These golden-coloured leaf veins are actually sand dunes with a height of more than 10 metres.
The sand dunes stretch on for over ten km.
It looks as if a giant prehistoric tree had been felled here.
Further to the east is a stretch of land that looks no different than the desert.
But that’s only because the ones who live here are experts at camouflage.
The coat of the Mongolian wild ass is almost the same colour as the sand dunes.
Until you look closer.
Wave to the asses. (A sentence I never thought I’d say.)
They are listed as Near Threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. There were only about 450 of them left when the Kalamaili Nature Reserve was founded in 1982. Two decades later, their number has grown to about 4,000.
One of the reasons for their small population is the inherent curiosity of these herbivores, who like to roam near hunters’ tents and look around.
In winter, they form flocks and follow the leader.
Their speed can exceed 60 km per hour.
Faster than wolves.
These two that separate from the flock are not lost. They are sentries who will run in an opposite direction than the flock to draw the predators away.
These hooved animals you are looking at are not wild asses.
They are a team of horses, reputedly the only true wild horse species left in the world.
Przewalski’s horse, named after the Russian explorer Nikołaj Przewalski. Also called the Mongolian wild horse.
You can tell them apart from the wild asses by the black colour of their legs.
They kind of look like donkeys, with their stocky build and short stature.
They were once extinct in the wild, reintroduced after conservation efforts.
What, you want to know what wild horse meat tastes like? Go ahead and try, if you don’t mind five years in prison for poaching a Class One protected animal.
I know you are all hungry. Let’s head back to the yurt where smoked horse meat sausages are waiting. We have to hurry, though. There’re rumours of a sausage thief lurking nearby.