Crescent Lake; China


At the end of July 2008, I spent a week trekking the Dunhuang area in China. My trekking group spent several of those days exploring the nearby sand-dunes. The dunes were considered the eastern edge of the Taklimaken Desert.

The Dunhuang, China area map

The Taklimakan Desert is a vast area of red, wind-blown sand. It covers an area greater than the size of the United Kingdom. the word “Taklimakan” means “if you go in, you won’t come out,” and travelers in camel caravans on the ancient Silk Route, between the Mediterranean and the East, avoided it.

A portion of the “Taklimakan” Desert sand-dunes. (Part of the Gobi Desert).

Confronted by great, pyramid-shaped sand dunes 300 m high, and even greater piles of sand when hurricane force winds pushed the sand even higher, the merchants traveling the “Silk Road” , skirted the area, relying on oases, such as Dunhuang and Crescenet Lake, on the eastern edge of the desert.

Walking the sand-dunes in the “Taklimakan” Desert in China; 2008

Echoing-Sand Mountain, known as Mingsha Shan in Chinese, is 5 km away from the city of Dunhuang, China. Seen from afar, the mountain is just like a golden dragon winding its way over the horizon (Pictured below).

Mingsha Mountain near Dunhuang, China

Pictured above, as we approached, we become aware that the sand has many colors ranging from red to yellow, green, black and white.

Posing in front of Mingsha Mountain, July of 2008

On days when a strong wind blew, the fast shifting sand roared; but when the wind was little more than a light breeze, the sand produced gentle, dulcet sounds akin to music. It is the same when we were sliding down the mountainside. At first, the sand under our feet whispered; but the further we slid, the louder the sound until it reaches a crescendo like thunder or a drum beat. Some say that the sand was singing, while to others it is like an echo and this is how the mountain gets its name, (pictured below).

The Singing Sands of Mingsha Mountian near Dunhuang, China

Unlike most sand particles, which are coarse and irregular, the particles of the Mingsha “Singing Sands” are round and smooth. In dry weather conditions, these particles of sand rub against each other, creating an eerie musical sound.

The Singing Sands of the Taklimakan Desert, China

The dunes extend for some 115 km across the southern Taklimaken (Gobi) Desert. One of at least 30 singing sand sites in the world, they are sensitive to pollution, which can micro-coat sand grains and kill the sonic effect.

The “Silk-Road Dunhuang Hotel”

While spending a week within the area of the sand-dunes, my trekking group stayed at the “Silk-Road Dunhuang Hotel”. Dunhuang is situated on an oasis in the Gansu-Xinjiang desert region. Dunhuang is at the far western limit of traditional Chinese settlement along the Silk Road across Central Asia. Dunhuang was the first trading town reached by foreign merchants entering Chinese-administered territory from the west.

The oasis atmosphere of the “Silk-Road Dunhuang Hotel”

The Dunhuang area is also famous for it’s “Crescent Oasis”. The Crescent Lake is also known as the Crescent Spring, Crescent Moon Spring, or Yueya Spring. It can be considered a natural wonder of the Gobi Desert.

The Crescent Lake near Dunhuang, China 2008

Just as its name implies, the lake appears like a crescent moon and with its crystal clear water, resembles a turquoise or pearl inlaid in the vast desert. Some say it reminds them of the eye of a beautiful woman, lucid, beautiful and amorous. At 4 to 10 m deep, the lake is suspiciously deep considering its isolated location in the middle of a sun-scorched desert.

From above Yueya Spring, next to Crescent Lake

Research shows that the mysterious crescent landform was the result of a natural wind created depression. As the cross-ventilation theory states, sands falling from the surrounding mountains would be blown to the other side of the nearby Echoing-Sand Mountain. Thus, the sands do not smother the spring. This natural phenomenon keeps the sand dunes and spring in a harmonious and almost paradoxical existence.

I’m posing above the famous “Crescent Lake” near Dunhuang, China 2008

The crescent shape of Crescent Lake has been considered as one of the “Eight Great Sights in Dunhuang” since the Han Dynasty (202BC-220AD). Having in existence among these sand dunes for thousands of years, the Crescent Spring survived many sandstorms and still retains its position as the No. 1 spring in the desert. However, there was a time when the water level was lower than 0.7m. Hence, the Crescent Lake Oasis might face a possibility of disappearance due to severe soil and water loss.

The Crescent Lake Spring, China

Pictured above, increasing attention has been paid to Dunhuang recently because its famed Crescent Lake has been rapidly shrinking into the desert sand due to groundwater depletion, and because of the inter-basin water allocation programme in the Shule River catchment including Dunhuang Basin. Crescent Lake has dropped more than 7.5 m in the past three decades, while the groundwater table elsewhere in the basin has fallen by as much as 10 m, and the central government has indicated a national priority to rehabilitate this important and historic area.

Selfie from an Camel a “Singing Sands” of Dunhuang, China

Our trekking group had decided that the best way to explore these sand-dune were to hire and ride a Bactrium Camel.

My hired “Domestic Bactrium Camel”

The Bactrian camel, also known as the Mongolian camel or domestic Bactrian camel, is a large even-toed ungulate native to the steppes of Central Asia. It has two humps on its back, in contrast to the single-humped dromedary camel. Its population of two million exists mainly in the domesticated form.

Our Camel trek into the Singing Sand-dunes of the Taklimaken Desert 2008

We were able to witness the variable scenes of the dunes from early sunrise to sunset; such as the soft glow of sunrise and dusk.

Our camel ride on Mingsha Shan, near sun-down.
Mingsha Shan near Dunhuang, China, (time for meditation).
Joined by a trekking buddy in meditation while the sun goes down.

It is during the sun-down time that the Crescent Lake reflects the rosy clouds and golden dunes of the surrounding glowing orange dunes. In the evening, the blue neon light encircles the lake resembling the moon on the ground.

A look west across the Gobi and Taklimakan Desert; July of 2008

The Echoing-Sand Mountain is listed as a key national scenic spot. We climbed it on foot and on the back of a camel. Our visit was complete as we appreciated the splendid environment consisting of golden sand, a wondrous mountain, a tranquil lake and a beautiful sunset.

A look northwest towards the Tienshan Mountians of the “Silk Road”.
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