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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Panjin’s Red Sea

Probably the only famous part of Panjin (aside from the Panjin Crab dish, apparently) is the red seaweed that grows in late summer and fall. The seaweed in the wetland reserve begins to grow in April but turns red in the fall.

Despite what you might think, it’s totally natural and happens every year. It also covers a huge area so you can take your time as you visit. You can also check out the slightly-horrifying figurines that look like monsters turned into straw. (Let’s hope they don’t come back to life…)

To be perfectly honest, while the sights are unusual and picturesque (on sunny days) I wouldn’t recommend making a special trip just for the seaweed. Transportation out of Panjin isn’t as reliable as you’d think, and it’s not guaranteed to have the big swathes of red you might hope to see.

That being said, if you’re in the area, it makes for a pretty cool sight. It certainly put me in an autumnal mood to see fiery colors, straw monsters and all.

Fengdu Ghost Town/丰都鬼城

(下面有中文版)

I probably wasn’t supposed to enjoy this as much as I did, and most Chinese tourists riding the Yangtze River told me that it was “fantasy history” and therefore useless, but enjoy it I most certainly did. Imagine, if you will, a combination of one of those state fair haunted houses from the 90’s, Willy Wonka’s factory, and the underworld. This is Fengdu Ghost Town in a nutshell.

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Enter, if you dare!

The main area has lifesize depictions of Hell, complete with the giant entrance gate, the Home-Viewing Pavilion (where newly-deceased could have one last look at their mortal life), the Bridge of Helplessness, sometimes “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” (no, not the Simon and Garfunkel song — a bridge spanning a river of blood with demons writhing within), halls of judges, gnarled statues of demons gnashing their teeth, and more. I personally enjoyed the rows of ghost-statues, which included the “Lust Ghost,” the “Drunkard Ghost,” demons eating hands, with eyes all over them, and plenty of other things to give you nightmares. You can follow a tour guide as he/she walks you through Hell and the three tests for making it through: passing that bridge, going through King of Hell Lord Yama’s torture chamber, and then (perplexingly) a stone on which to stand for three minutes — though this will be all in Chinese.

Most visitors stick with this, but I kept exploring, discovering a side corridor by the Hall of Judges, in which some inspired artists had made statues depicting the various torture methods in surprising detail.

Further afield, is an addition made in the 90’s, which is where the haunted house impression comes from. Whereas the main area took you through what felt more like a historic reenactment, this one turns Hell into an amusement park, complete with a small roller coaster, Day-Glo paint along the walls, rickety dolls falling apart, and a reincarnation funhouse.

As I said, most Chinese tourists I met scoffed at this place, but if I’m being honest, it was probably one of my highlights from my trip to Chongqing. Where else can you find something so bizarre?

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很多人可能觉得丰都鬼城不值得被喜爱,但是我还是挺喜欢这个地方的。你想想一下:一种九十年代的鬼屋、威利·旺卡工厂和地狱的结合,这就是真正的丰都鬼城。

主要的观赏点有与原物一样大小的地狱雕像、大厅,大门口,望乡台,奈何桥,恐怖的地狱法官,咬牙切齿的魔鬼等。我个人最喜欢魔鬼的雕像,比如“欲色鬼,”“酒鬼,”吃手的鬼,有无数眼睛的鬼,还有很多让你做噩梦的魔鬼。你可以跟着导游走,而且他会带你去看进入地狱的三个审判官:经过奈何桥,挨过阎王的刑堂,然后三分钟站在在石头上(我也不太明白这一点)。

大部分的游客感觉游完这部分就够了,而我却会继续探索丰都。我发现了一个小小在大厅旁边的走廊,里面有令我惊讶、很细致的雕像,都展示各种痛苦。让我不禁遐想……到底是什么样的艺术家才会有这样创作呀?

再往里走,有一个新建的地方让我想到九十年代的鬼屋。在这里有现代的过山车,幻彩萤光漆,破旧的雕像,给我的感觉是这个地方就像是那些魔鬼在轮回的游乐园。

我就是想说:大部分我见到的中国游客都在吐槽丰都鬼城,但说实话,它是我在重庆最喜欢的地方之一。哪里还会有那么独特而奇异的景点呀?