I was under the weather today, having developed a bit of an eye infection, possibly from the constantly blowing ash, sand, construction debris and dirt in Kashgar. So we decided not to bike from Kashgar to Yecheng as originally planned, which is the first part of the 500km journey from Kashgar to Hetian, the part that is west of the great Taklamakan Desert.
The Taklamakan is one of the largest sandy deserts in the world, ranking 18th in size in a ranking of the world’s largest non-polar deserts. It covers an area of 270,000 km2 (100,000 sq mi) of the Tarim Basin, 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) long and 400 kilometres (250 mi) wide. It is crossed at its northern and at its southern edge by two branches of the Silk Road as travelers sought to avoid the arid wasteland.
As a result of our not biking today, Jason and the driver decided to make the entire drive to Hetian in one day. We crossed the southern edge of the desert, seeing numerous piles of dirt in a conical shape, marking the graves of buried people. While we were driving, Tali even saw a family that had driven out to the desert, preparing to bury a deceased relative, wrapped in a white shroud!
We arrived in town at about 9:30pm, and started to look for a hotel. Because the downtown is compact, we walked around the central square, and spotted a neon sign with the “H” logo of the Hilton Hotel chain. It turned out to be a West Lake Hotel, which is a Chinese chain not related to Hilton at all…that I guess picked up the Hilton logo because the “H” could also stand for Hetian! It still seemed to be the nicest hotel in town, and we were just happy to have a comfortable bed to fall asleep.