In the very early hours of Day 8 (we’re talking 06:30 in the a.m.), we were rolling gently on a camel headed towards the Ming Sha Sand Dunes. And you’d have thought we were in Egypt with all the desert sand around.
The sand is very smooth and fine, lovely to play with. Might have been fun to roll around in it, but definitely not a good idea. It sticks like snow, but doesn’t melt! We had to wear these orange shoes protective sacks to keep the sand out.
We were on our way to catch the sunrise, which would be gorgeous against the undulating sand dunes. First the camel ride, then a trek up a vertical 150m slope, then hopefully, sunrise!
To Time Zone or No
Ah, isn’t that a little late, you may ask. Well, let’s talk a little about China time zones. Namely, there isn’t any.
Yup, China may span 5000km from East to West, but there’s only uno time zone: the Beijing Time Zone. So what if it means getting up in the pitch dark and going to bed in the light when you’re out West? There are no confusing ‘what time is it now?’ questions, no fiddling with watches, no messing about with who gets New Year first. It’s all the same, UNIFIED.
Even so, I think they should have different time zones. It’s kinda hard on the body waking up in the dark and going to sleep with the sun still shining. But that’s just me.
China did have time zones in the past, see below from Wikipedia:
In 1912, the Central Observatory of the Republic of China in Peking (now romanised as Beijing) divided the country into five time zones, namely Kunlun Time Zone (GMT+5.5), Sinkiang-Tibet Time Zone (GMT+6), Kansu-Szechuan Time Zone (GMT+7), Chungyuan Standard Time Zone (GMT+8), and Changpai Time Zone (GMT+8.5). These time zones were ratified in 1939 in the standard time conference of the Ministry of Interior of the Executive Yuan.
These time zones were no longer in effective use after 1949, when the PRC was established on mainland China, as the new government had its own policies regarding the time zones on mainland China.
One of the great things about this trip (which definitely had its ups and downs moments), is getting to ride various beasties of burden. Tried horses the other day (verdict: bumpy!). And now, hopping on a camel.
Well, you don’t hop. The camel obligingly kneels down and you climb up onto a well padded seat between the humps. The ride is quite comfortable, a gentle rolling motion in slow speed. And we didn’t get to do any gamboling since we were tethered 5 to a team. The only jolts were when the camel stands up and kneels down with you on the back. It’s like going down a waterfall and hitting rocks on the way, kinda rattles the teeth.
Otherwise, camels are the RIDE. Very comfy indeed. I now understand why silk traders of yore used camels instead of horses. Of course, they didn’t actually ride the camels, thems are mullah earning animals baby. The traders can walk, thank you very much.
I wonder, is it the bigger the animal, the comfier the ride? Would elephants beat camels in my estimation of comfiest beasty of burden? Will have to go Thailand next and get proof!
Ming Sha Sand Dunes
Here’s a little intro of the sand dunes, courtesy of chinahighlights:
Dunhuang has a spectacular natural scene: Mingsha (Sighing/Echoing) Sand Dune. The dune, a sand crusted hill of dozens of meters high, is 40km east to west, and 20km south to north. In fine days, sand roars like thunder which can be heard in the city, hence the name. when visitors climb up to the dunes and slide downward from the summit, the sand can collapse with them and give out a pearl of loud sound.
How the Mingsha Sand Dunes were formed and what has brought about the phenomenon singing sand? So far, no body has provided a satisfactory answer. According to some Japanese experts, there are probably ancient palaces under the duns while the Russians deem that quartz content in the sand is the main reason. Chinese scientists have carried out the study on the cause of the singing of sand for years and they believe that it is a phenomenon of resonance.
What can I say, it’s beautiful; no, it’s utterly gorgeous. Definitely the highlight of this trip.
And K told me why we had to go there at the ungodly dawn hours. It’s all about shadows baby. See those lines on the edges of the dunes, they’d look flat and uninteresting without the slanted light of dawn or sunset. With shadows however, the sand dunes were accentuated into beautiful lines and curves.
Ooohhhh… I see. Sometimes it’s a real hoot being married to a photographer, you never know what you’re gonna learn.
Hey, we walked up there
We huffed and we puffed up the sand dune. I mean, I’ve done some hill-top trekking, I’ve walked up 1000m slopes. But this 150m one was tough! Maybe we’d been eating too well in the trip. And it was so early in the morning. And, the sand! It sucks you down and makes you lose 1 step for every 2 you take. Phew.
But the view, well, it was worth it.
Crescent Moon Lake or Crescent Spring
Once we caught our breaths back, we could take a good look at the Crescent Moon Lake down below. Here’s an intro, courtesy of travelchinaguide:
Just as oil and water don't mix, so do springs and deserts. But Crescent Spring is an exception. About 6 kilometers (3.73 miles) south of Dunhuang city, and surrounded by the Echoing-Sand Mountain, Crescent Spring can be called a natural wonder in the Gobi Desert. Some say it reminds them of the eye of a beautiful woman, lucid, beautiful and amorous. Some say it looks like the mysterious, gentle and seductive lips of a pretty woman, or a slice of lush, sweet and crystal cantaloupe. Actually, it resembles a crescent fallen down into this desert. Having been lying among these sand dunes for thousands of years, although given many surprise attacks by sandstorms, Crescent Spring still gurgles clear, and still remains worthy as the first spring in the desert.
Mysterious, gentle and seductive lips of a pretty woman? Er, no, it didn’t look like that. The lake/spring has sorta extended its boundaries, and now looks more like an… extended thumb. It’s beautifully clear though, reflects the sky and clouds like a mirror.
Next: Hami, Xinjiang and Balikun Grassland