Lakes in the Desert/沙漠里的湖

(Hannah originally published a version of this article on Atlas Obscura here)

(下面有中文版)

This is not a mirage, it’s an example of a spring-fed lake in the Badain Jaran Desert. Do you understand why it’s there? Neither have many others who have visited them over the years.

Nestled in-between “Megadunes” (aka some of the largest sand dunes in the world) near Alashan Youqi, Inner Mongolia, is probably one of the strangest sights you’ll find: almost 100 lakes plopped right in the middle of a desert! It’s one of nature’s greatest contradictions: sheep graze and birds swoop toward the salty water while it reflects the yellow-brown dunes all around.

Many researchers agree that the lake water probably came from concentrated groundwater beneath the sand. They say that this can form springs, which then become deeper lakes. Despite the groundwater, however, most of the lakes have a pretty high salinity level. Meaning: roughly 50% of the lakes in the Badain Jaran Desert are salt lakes.

Other researchers say it’s because of precipitation and snow melting in certain areas. You know what I say? We need more research! Luckily, this is being done to figure out where the water comes from, and why in some areas it’s disappearing.

Whatever the reason, you can still go and have a good time. To get there, go from Zhangye (张掖) in Gansu Province (on the Lanzhou-Xinjiang railway line), then get a bus to Alxa Youqi (阿拉善右旗). A driver can take you to the desert entrance, but to fully experience the desert, you’ll need a guide. A jeep for two days, one night is around 2,000 RMB, and can hold up to 4 people. Bargain liberally.

Oh, and small tip: the jeep is very much worth it. It’s not for the faint of heart, but if you like the idea of mixing Aladdin with Mario Kart, then this is the place for you.

这个场景并不是一个幻想,而是一个自然发生在隔壁沙漠里的湖。你明白为什么存在吗?其实,很多过来看湖的游客也都不知道。

这种意想不到的场景是处在超级大沙山之中,就是世界上最高的沙山之一,在内蒙古的阿拉善右旗附近。没错,沙漠里有一百多个湖!应该就是大自然最大的矛盾,因为你在看羊慢慢地吃草与小鸟飞到湖边的时候,也同时能看到湖面影射的沙山。

大部分研究者觉得这么多水应该来自地下水。这种水可以变成泉水,然后变成湖。但是虽然有地下水,湖里的盐度很高,换句话说这个沙漠的百分之五十的湖都是盐湖。

其他研究者认为这些湖是因为降水或者融化的雪而形成的。我呢?我以为我们应该多研究研究吧!辛运的是还是有研究者在深究这个地方为什么有湖,而且为什么有些湖慢慢地在消失。

但是,你还是可以过去玩一下。你要从甘肃的张掖出发,然后坐车到阿拉善右旗。可以找一个司机带你去沙漠的门口,但是如果要进去你应该要跟一个吉普赛车。一个吉普赛车两天一晚大概要2,000块钱(车里可以做四个人)。我应该不用说你要多讲讲价。

哦,还有一个小点:吉普赛车很好玩,但是要胆子大点才能坐。如果你很想把《阿拉丁》与《Mario Kart》结合起来,那你就过来玩吧!

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Hannah’s Top 5 Chinese Provinces/中国排名的前五省

(下面有中文版)

When you’ve been to as many provinces as me, it’s hard to list Top 5 or Top 10 Places, since there are just too many to choose from. Do you list cities? Attractions? Local food specialties?

For me, it’s none of the above. I’m going to share with you my Top 5 Favorite Provinces.

5.  Xinjiang
Because Xinjiang is just so different from other places I’ve seen in China, it’s automatically special. The language is different (and not everyone even speaks Mandarin!), and there’s a huge range of natural scenery. You’ve got mountains, a huge desert, ancient rock fortresses, and even lavender fields way up north. What did it for me, though, was Kashgar. I could hear the call to prayer every day from the rooftop of my hostel, and got to spend afternoons strolling through the International Bazaar. Though not easy to get to, definitely a personal favorite.

4.  Sichuan
Sichuan should be on everyone’s Top 5 list. Like Xinjiang, it also has a huge range of scenery. It’s home to many Tibetan nomads, and mountainous, western Sichuan is actually a great place to go if you want to experience Tibetan culture, but can’t get to Tibet Autonomous Region. The capital Chengdu is one of my favorite cities (and this comes from someone who generally doesn’t like big cities). You can see baby pandas here, and as any Chinese person will tell you: eat lots and lots of delicious snacks (if you don’t mind your lips going numb from the spices).

3.  Gansu
This might seem like an odd choice for some. But, with its important place along the Silk Road, and bizarre scenery, it has a special place in my heart. In Gansu, you can find rainbow-colored mountains. You can go mountain trekking. You can see (and hopefully interact with) Tibetan nomadic culture. You can go to the end of the Great Wall and look out into what ancient Chinese believed was the beginning of nowhere. Then, once you venture into Nowhere, you can go to the Dunhuang grottoes and play around in sand dunes like it’s a normal thing.

2.  Yunnan
Many would consider this a top choice, and I can’t blame them. Yunnan is like Pandora’s Box: once you’ve opened its doors, there’s no closing them: You rarely go there just once. Whether it’s the chill, artsy town of Dali, the staggering heights of the Tiger Leaping Gorge Trail, rippled rice terrace fields, the stone forest outside of Kunming, or even the tropical Xishuangbanna, you’ll defintely fall in love with something. I guess the only reason this isn’t in my #1 spot is just because transportation can be iffy at times just because of the mountains, and some spots can get quite touristy during peak seasons. But, it’s still the rare kind of place where just about anywhere you go, it’ll be almost postcard beautiful.

1.  Inner Mongolia
Are you sensing a theme? Indeed, I love big swathes of nature, and Inner Mongolia is exactly that. Inner Mongolia still maintains a sense of wildness, while also being fairly accessible for travelers. (I say “fairly” because it’s friggin’ huge, almost spanning half the width of China). Not only that, but it’s not yet being overrun by tourists outside of public holidays. If you go out east by the Russian border, you’ll be met with sprawling grasslands. In the west, the Gobi Desert (and the Badain Jaran Desert, where there are LAKES IN THE DESERT!) I’ll admit that I’m a bit biased, since I did my epic hitchhiking trip and desert jeep-riding here. I’ve also been told that Inner Mongolia’s climate is most similar to my home-state, Minnesota. All the same, of all places I’ve been in China, Inner Mongolia has left me with the deepest impression.

That’s all for now! What about you? What are your favorite places? Let me know in the comments below. And if you have questions/want travel advice, don’t hesitate to ask!

如果你像我去过了好多省,你会发现其实很难去选五、十个最好的地方,因为地方太多了!要选城市吗?景点?特色菜?

对我来说,不能根据所提到的几方面而选。我要给你们分享我最喜欢的五个省。

五、新疆
因为新疆跟我去过的中国的好多地方完全不一样,就是很特别的。语言不一样(而且有些当地人并不会说普通话!),也有各种各样的自然风景。有高山,茫茫的沙漠,远古的石头构建的小村,北方也有大大的薰衣草花田。但是给我最大的印象就是喀什。我每天从我青年旅社的顶楼上能听到清真寺的宣礼,白天可以去国际大巴扎逛逛。虽然有点麻烦到这个地方,我还是挺喜欢它的。

四、四川
四川应该在每个人的五大最喜欢的地方之一。像新疆也有各种各样的自然风景,但是四川也有很多藏族文化,所以如果你去不了西藏自治区但是还想体验藏族文化,四川的西边是个很好的选择。四川的首都成都是我最喜欢的城市之一(要记得我不那么喜欢城市,所以成都就是很特别的)。在这里你可以看到小熊猫,而且像我每一个中国朋友也告诉我,可以多吃点四川小吃(如果你可以接受麻辣的考研)。

三、甘肃
有些人可能觉得这个选择有点奇怪,但是因为甘肃在丝绸之路的重要位置与它奇怪的风景,对我来说还是在我心中。在甘肃,你可以找到彩虹色的山,去爬山,接触藏族文化,甚至去长城的末端看到茫茫的沙漠,我听说古代人以为那里什么都没有,像天涯。你就可以进去这所谓的“天涯”到敦煌看石窟,然后去沙山玩耍。

二、云南
大部分人肯定会觉得这就是最喜欢的省,而且我可以理解。云南像潘多拉的小盒子:你一打开它的门,你很难去关上,换句话说你肯定不会感觉只去一次就够了。不管是文艺的城市大理,还是高高的虎跳峡,或者是荡漾的天梯,或者昆明附近的石林,或者热带雨林西双版纳,你一定会爱上云南。为什么不是第一个呢?因为对我来说这个天堂有两个缺点:一,因为山太多交通没有那么方便,二,旺季的时候游客超级多。但是云南还是挺了不起,因为到处都像明信片上的图片一样美丽。

一、内蒙古
感到一个主题吗?没错,我就是比较偏爱大自然的地方,所以肯定最爱内蒙古。在内蒙古,你还是能感到一种野性,但是基本上交通还可以。(我说“还可以”因为内蒙古毕竟超级大,是中国宽度的一半!)现在,节日以外游客也不是很多。如果你去内蒙的东边,就靠近俄罗斯,到处都是草原。去内蒙的西边,就是戈壁沙漠(也有阿拉善右旗的沙漠,里面有湖!)其实我会承认我爱内蒙是有点有偏见,因为就是在这个省当中我做了我超级好玩的搭顺风车游记也是我坐吉普车进去沙漠的地点。我在去之前就听说内蒙的温度比较像我的家乡,美国的明尼苏达州。但是,从我的经历来看,我还是感觉内蒙古给我的印象最深刻。

就写到这里吧!你觉得呢?你最喜欢哪一个地方?可以给我留个言。还有,如果有类似于中国旅行的问题,可以随时联系我。