Tackling the Taklamakan

Since we crossed the Torugat pass and moved out onto the Taklamakan Desert we have seen the “Desert Twisters” that the Taklamakan is famous for. There is probably a local name for it but let me describe (we have also posted a photo in the latest upload to the website).

The wind blows almost all the time in the desert and twisters that look very similar to miniature tornados fill the sky line sometimes as many as twenty are clearly visible each side of the track . Until yesterday none of the really nasty ones had been encountered as they roared across the track, some had passed well in front of the bikes some behind the bikes but none had actually hit any of the bikes. Well yesterday that all changed when Selwyn and I encountered a series of particularly ferocious twisters as we made our way across the desert to Dunhuang. There was a dramatic plunge in temperature accompanied by heavy rain, great I thought it will keep the dust and sand down which until then had been blowing across the track in an almost a continuous cloud. The rain did keep the sand and dust down until just ahead and to my left I saw a particularly rapidly moving twister picking up wet sand and dust I realised that at my current speed, it and I would meet at the same time, I braked and it roared across some 20 metres ahead of me. Whew that was close.

But luck was not with me as seconds later another looking even more menacing appeared to my left I had to make a quick decision, stop the bike and risk both me and the bike getting blown over off the road and down a steep bank or accelerated and get the bike stable and able to take a very strong side blast of wind, rain and sand? I choose the latter. I moved quickly to the centre of the road and a second later it hit. I had badly underestimated its ferocity (I estimate the wind velocity at well over 80kms) The visibility reduced instantly to zero I could just make out the front wheel I was blown to the edge of the road and my full face helmet filled with wet sand and dust, with eyes stinging I was instantly in praying mode. I accelerated the bike to where I thought the centre of the road was and as quickly as it had struck I was out the other side. How long was I in the twister? 10 seconds may be less, it felt like 10 minutes. I pulled up at the side of the road and seconds later Selwyn pulled up and we compared notes.

We decided we had been very lucky not to have been blown off the road and down the bank. The bikes, our riding gear, and helmets were caked in wet desert sand, quite a sight!! Dave pulled up and took a photo, we will upload it shortly. Marco Polo referred to the Taklamakan and it’s ferocity, he was right, it is one desert that should never be underestimated.

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