Taklamakan Desert

The Taklamakan Desert, located in the center of the Tarim Basin in Xinjiang, is the largest desert in China and the tenth-largest in the world. The entire desert is about 1,000 kilometers long from east to west, 400 kilometers wide from north to south, and covers an area of 330,000 square kilometers. Encircled by tall mountains near the geographic center of Eurasia, the Taklamakan Desert is deprived of moisture from all sources—monsoonal, westerly, and the Arctic. Consequently, precipitation is scant, less than 100 mm a year in most areas. Here, pyramid-shaped dunes stand 300 meters above the plain, which compose its unique landscapes, and the strong winds can blow sand walls up to 3 times their height.

According to Travel Guide China, Taklamakan means in the Uyghur language “you can enter it but can never leave it”, so it is nicknamed the “Sea of Death”. We can’t verify whether or not the translation is accurate, but the label fits such a large, dry, dangerous place for humans and most animals.

Here, temperatures range from plus 50°C in summer to minus 40°C in winter. In the eyes of most specialists, it is the most hostile in the world since even scorpions, lizards and other beetles cannot find refuge there.

Faced with this growing desert, the Chinese government has implemented a vast replanting program on the outskirts. Poplars, willows, pomegranates, and mulberries have been planted to block the sandstorms that rage in the region.

Currently, there are two roads that cross the desert: the first was 522-kilometer and opened to traffic in 1995. And the second was made in 2007.

Every year, quite a few adventurers try to cross the desert on foot. The best time to cross the Taklamakan Desert on foot is from the end of October to mid-November, for there are fewer sandstorms, fewer insects, and less water in the Hetian River. This is also the time when the poplar leaves located in the Tarim Basin turn yellow and color the landscape.

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