The Gobi Desert. Ever since I was a little girl, those were words of wonder for me. Back then, it was a vast, far-away place that had reluctantly yielded some of its ancient treasures – dinosaur eggs and bones – into the hands of modern scientists. Back then, my mother would bury bones from our dinner and we would go on expeditions – finding fierce creatures in the backyard garden. When I grew up, I resolved that I would someday go to the Gobi.
I have spent the better part of the last week or two in various parts of the desert of my childhood dreams. Some parts are hard and forbidding, others are lush with oases where ancient or modern irrigation systems bring precious ground water to the surface. In some areas, deep but dry canals have been cut by the Spring floods from the melting mountain snows.
As to food, I’ve had yak, horse and donkey not long off the hoof in delicious dishes with mixed vegetables, spices and chilies – LOTS of chilies. I’ve eaten and endless array of noodles and had fresh Chinese elm flowers cooked with leeks and an array of wild Xinjiang mushrooms sautéed with chilies and garlic. Did I mention the fresh pomegranate juice? Even from last fall’s crop, the juice from a just split fruit is like remembering a lost love from one’s youth. Apples, tiny sweet oranges and apricots are everywhere as are the best tasting and most varied raisins I’ve ever eaten.
I had a lesson in Uyghur tea culture to explain the uses for the various herbs, roots and animal parts. Gecko or certain other reptiles if you are “cold”, antelope horn to reduce cholesterol, and potions for sleep, calm nature and overall well-being.
I’ve been in a sandstorm or two . . . or three. One of the storms swept through like an off-white wall of grit when I was taking a respite in an ancient oasis of grape vines and mulberry trees. Another felled several fully grown willows, all in the matter of a few minutes.
I’ll be wending my way home soon and will be full of tales of singing sand dunes and flying asparas as well as stories about the foods, peoples and cultures of the Silk Road from the Gobi, Karakorum and Tashkorgan. It’s been a great trip. (Words and Photo of Sand Dunes in Urumqi, China by Laura Kelley.)