Itinerary today: the Taklamakan Desert, the Tarim River, Lop Nur, the ancient kingdom of Loulan, and the Jiaohe ruins.
The largest desert in China—Taklamakan.
It has an area of 337,000 square kilometres, slightly smaller than the entire country of Germany.
Some call it the Place of No Return.
It’s not just because it’s dry there. It’s a desert that moves. Over 80% of the sand dunes keep shifting with wind.
Over the past 1,000 years, the entire desert has shifted for about 100 km to the south.
Just looking at all that sand is making me thirsty.
Good thing we are going to a place with water next.
The Tarim River is the longest inland river in China, over 2,000 kilometres.
About half of the population in Xinjiang live near the river basin.
Tarim Euphrates Poplar National Park.
The Euphrates poplar, also known as desert poplar, is featured in Zhang Yimou’s movie, Hero.
They thrive when there’s plenty of water.
But even when it gets extremely dry, they still survive. Although these gnarled trunks look like they are dead, the roots underground are still functioning.
Their “corpses” have been known to revive when there’s sufficient water.
(Jerry stop looking so bored. I know your favourite plant is bamboo but isn’t it good to expand your knowledge base?)
Another hardy species that calls the desert home is the camel.
They can plod on for a week without a drink of water.
As a kid, I (along with everybody in my class, or at least, those that were paying attention) was misled about how camels store water.
They don’t store water in their humps, which are actually reserves of fat. (Which should have been obvious: if water is really stored in humps like hydration packs, shouldn’t the humps shrink as the camel uses up the water?)
Instead of having a special organ to store water, camels are just really good at using it. They have oval-shaped red blood cells which allow them to take in a large amount of water without causing the cells to rupture.
The body fluids of a 500 kg camel contain at least 125 kg of water.
The black-tailed gazelle, without the special red blood cells of the camel, have to adapt to the water shortage in another way.
Duck! We’ve been spotted.
They rely on snow in winter, and rely on their own legs in summer. They have to keep running to find the next water source.
This bluish green water contains salt.
Salt crystals form when the water evaporates under the sun.
Most of Lop Nur has dried up, leaving behind the Lop Desert.
This alien-looking landscape is the former Lop Nur.
The ancient kingdom of Loulan used to exist on the north-eastern edge of the Lop Desert.
The kingdom was already known around the 2nd century BCE, when Zhang Qiang was sent on an expedition to the Western Regions.
It became an important stop on the ancient Silk Road, but was abandoned around the 6th century CE.
Many theories have been proposed, including a water shortage, war, and natural disaster.
The disappearance of a Chinese explorer, and the discovery of a 4,000-year-old corpse dubbed the Sleeping Beauty of Loulan, have only added to the mysterious allure of the ancient city.
Jiaohe used to be the capital of the Jushi kingdom.
It’s over 2,000 years old.
The city was built on a large islet in the middle of a river.
The buildings were constructed with raw earth.
The streets and underground rooms were also carved out of raw earth.
Xinjiang is home to numerous other ancient cities and ruins.
Ruins of the Subashi Temple.
City of Stones.
Yes Jerry I know you’re hungry. We’re going to eat soon. There’s no need to bang your bowl.