Crescent Lake, Dunhuang.

I rode a camel! A quite respectable beast, it didn’t spit at me or even attempt to bite me. It’s two humps were comfortable to lodge between, it was an almost relaxing ride. Terror of course as it lurched perilously close to a sheer drop of two hundred feet but it was only sand so I figured it might be a soft landing. The point of the camel ride was somewhat elusive, I thought I was riding up, and up, the massive sand dune to gain an aerial view of the famous Crescent Lake far below. But no sooner had we reached the Dune’s summit where the view might have been possible we, the camel and I, turned around and headed down again. Wretched thing. All was not entirely lost however, we came to the camel turnaround where I genteelly alighted after the massive lurch of the camel kneeling and set off down the path in search of the elusive lake. I found it. It has survived the ravages of the desert for hundreds of years due to its unique position amongst the massive dunes which apparently flow round it with the prevailing winds, rather than over it. It is fed by a spring. At lake level it was quite pretty but for the full “wow” factor it was clear that I would have to climb one of the aforementioned massive dunes and take in the whole scene. Hyperbole you might think it is but when I say massive these dunes were huge, enormous, gigantic, and of course, they were made of sand. Not easy climbing. I sat at the bottom of one dune and contemplated my fate. Others were climbing but they appeared to be students, vacationing, and out for a lark. I didn’t notice anyone like me, I mean not only in accumulation of years but also home base. Nobody from the West at all, not one. Come on me, don’t let the side down, we can show ’em, so off I went, UP. There were short poles on the surface joined together with rope which did actually make some sort of purchase for my shoes and at least prevented me sinking into the sand up to my knees. Steep though, very steep, almost vertical and I soon had to stop. As did the little group I found myself leading. We sat in a huddle gasping, smiling and gazing upward, can we do this? Onward with cries of Let’s Go, and on we went. I think they were mimicking me, not sure, but we ascended and our group grew. Another rest, more smiling and gazing upward, I began to feel a bit Forrest Gumpish. It took two more rests to reach the summit, we all made it and yes, the view was spectacular, well worth the climb. A sort of international camaraderie developed in the group and we all took photos of each other as well as the Lake far far below. The people looked like ants down there and we all sat around in the sand watching the crazy sledders careening down the slope, the ultra lights circling overhead,  the rich people in their choppers and the ever changing shadows on the dunes as the sun set. I have been fortunate to see a few beautiful lakes about the place, Maggiore, Tahoe,  Lomond, Como, Windemere, Ness, Neagh, Superior even, and the like, but this was unique. It was like a painting that constantly changed. I was transfixed and took far too many photographs.

We all sat there until almost dusk, more people came up, gasping, sweating but laughing as they reached the top. At the market in the parking lot brightly colored scarves were sold and, purchased by the ladies to keep the sand out of their hair, eyes and ears they all made a colorful show. Off road vehicles appeared to ferry the sledders down, I was really tempted to offer money for a ride back down. That was a concern, discussed with enormous difficulty, how do we get back down! We can’t possibly follow the short poles back down, it would take forever and be way too difficult. People were actually doing it, awkwardly and dangerously, there were frequent and inelegant sprawls. Casting around for a solution I came across an early experience in the Scottish Hills with my sister, scree jumping. It can’t be that much different. Shoes off I tried it. It worked. So we set off, leaping and bounding, leaning backwards in case of falls, and running so we didn’t sink into the sand. It was hilarious. People clapped. So much fun.

    Looks like I have used up all your time so I’ll stop now. Hopefully there will be an opportunity to tell you some of the other delights of Dunhuang in another post. This train ride has mostly been across the desert tho which one is a bit of a mystery.  Some guide books suggest it is one of the Gobis, yes, there is more than one, the Greater and the Smaller. Others say it is the Taklamakan, the largest in China. I don’t know, but a desert it is. For over an hour we passed through a wind farm, an hour. That suggests that it was some sixty miles long and I have no idea how wide, the windmills stretched to the horizon and out of sight. Maybe someone read the memo about pollution and coal fired power stations.
I know this "thumbnail" looks a bit dark. If you right click it (Windows) or Control click (Mac) you should be able to view in full screen. Quite a pretty vista.

I know this “thumbnail” looks a bit dark. If you right click it (Windows) or Control click (Mac) you should be able to view in full screen.
Quite a pretty vista.

A close up, but I think it is better with the jaw dropping background.

A close up, but I think it is better with the jaw dropping background.

In the foreground is the lip of the dune I climbed.

In the foreground is the lip of the dune I climbed.

Part of the merry band!

Part of the merry band!

I liked this one though it was nearly dark by then.

I liked this one though it was nearly dark by then.

Shadows lengthen.

Shadows lengthen.

That was 'my dune'. You can see the route.

That was ‘my dune’. You can see the route.

A photo from a rest stop.

A photo from a rest stop.

Partial view.

Partial view.

Early on the climb.

Early on the climb.

What a team!

What a team!

Crescent Lake or Yueyaquan in Chinese, Dunhuang.

Crescent Lake or Yueyaquan in Chinese, Dunhuang.

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12 responses to “Crescent Lake, Dunhuang.

  1. Not to worry Dad, your words always create a very vivid picture! I can see you now leading the way up the dune, the amazing views from the top and scree jumping down, much I am sure to the delight of all around. Sounds like a truly magical day!!

    • Thanks Nat.
      It was though a bit depressing not to be able to upload the photos in a timely fashion.
      Yes, a truly magical day but I am wondering when the slight ache in my legs will go away.
      Hope you like the pictures which I was finally able to post tonight.
      xx

  2. I took your advice and have Googled the Lake. It really does look a wonderful spot.I agree with Nat, you ‘painted’ a very good picture of your adventure. Well done, you must be getting very fit! Photos please when you are able.
    Mother

    • Good Googling there!
      Not sure about the fitness however, I feel a bit creaky today.
      I am waiting for my ride to the station for the midnight train to Lanzhou.
      Maybe a good night’s sleep will restore my aching limbs.

  3. Is this the same man who once lived across the street from me? Riding a camel, climbing up the slippery slope of dunes and then sliding down with international strangers?? Wow, great story, even better adventure, and I suspect, just a day in the life of a traveller. Finally drizzled here in Marin county, lovely respite from a long hot summer. Look forward to some pics to follow up your blog!

    • Yes, just the same old me, not much has changed!
      I really did enjoy the adventure but it took a couple of days to recover.
      Happy to hear about your drizzle and I hope it does something for the fires in the State.
      Yes, we all have our faults, but I do not believe that this public forum is the place to discuss them.
      Thanks.

  4. Another great adventure, a bit of Lawrence of Arabia in you I think. I really hope you are going to print these blogs so they don’t disappear into cyber space. Hopefully we will see some photos of the beautiful lake. Very warm here today 25C no rain for weeks now so Autumn is looking beautiful.

  5. I can only echo the previous comments – I was thoroughly entertained over my breakfast this morning! You certainly conjured up the scene brilliantly, a mixture of sheer drama, bravado and yes, Forrest Gumpish comedy. Can’t WAIT to see the photos! (And I totally agree with Victoria – you must publish!)

  6. Fabulous post and I will sneak in here that I did a similar thing in NZ this year …… shockingly difficult climb up which left me huffing and puffing like an old steam engine but we had sleds to come down by. Great fun. Sand hills! Very difficult to climb. Off to see your photos now.

    • Climbing sand dunes has got to be the most exhausting climb ever, two steps up and slide back down one.
      There were sleds back down but didn’t feel comfortable leaving the team, plus it looked a bit scary!
      Well done you.

  7. Those sand dunes sound pretty amazing. Like the idea of the camel but only the idea. Leaping and jumping down the dune? Your legs must have ached! Stay safe. x

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