New paths forward

Walking around in the Taklamakan takes a bit of work. This vast desert that sprawls over Gansu and Xinjiang Provinces is dubbed “the place from which you cannot return” – so what on earth makes people want to dive in?


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The Silk Road used to fork around this enormous desert, snaking along its northern and southern fringes, to reconvene in the town of Dunhuang. I’d arrived at Dunhuang at about eight in the morning, in order to spend the next two days exploring its dunes, slipping down their sides, and pushing myself to imagine what it might be like to be lost here.

The desert is more sea than land – more of a void than a geographic space – and, as legend seems to insist, it can threaten to pull you deeper inside itself through charm alone.

 

Taklamakan Trio

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Bienvenue Taklamakan! This desert is deemed the “Place From Which You Cannot Return,” which may not work on the brochures, but to the Silk Road traders of yesteryear, it was enough to set the hearts of weary merchants fluttering.

The Taklamakan Desert could swallow the whole of Britain and France, if it got the chance. In the meantime, the sweet little town of Dunhuang is nestled bravely along the desert’s western fringe, just four miles from where this picture was taken.