Friday, September 23, 2016

Echoing Sand Mountain and Crescent Lake.

Crescent Lake

We spent the morning at a place that I have been looking forward to visiting ever since I decided to come on this trip.  The dunes sounded so unique.  Walk on them and you can hear them echoing ergo their name - Echoing Sand Mountain.  Well, the whole echoing thing didn't happen probably because the place was mobbed with tourists but it was still a fun experience hiking up and down the dunes and see the lake which has never dried up.

It was a very short drive from our hotel to the park that encompasses Echoing Sand Mountain (known in Chinese as Mingsha Shan) and Crescent Lake (known in Chinese as Yueyaquan).


Those little dots in the sand are people!

Cathy got our entry tickets to the park and then we had a decision to make - how we wanted to make our way to the top of the dunes.  We could walk but one look at the sheer size and steepness of the dunes and I knew that option was not for me. We could take a Jeep up.  I didn't like that idea much either.  Or we could ride a camel.  Yes....camel for me!  I handed over 100 yuan for the ride.


You can also take ultralight gliders but those were not available from the park.  That would have been so amazing to see the dunes from above.



The other three decided they wanted to to do the Jeep option so Cathy got them settled first.  Before we all split up, Cathy instructed us on where to meet back up with her.  The dunes were located some distance away so she also told us where to pick up the tram to get to the meeting spot.  With all that information in mind, we went our separate ways.  I waved goodbye to the ladies and wished them a good time on their ride.   She then took me over to the corral where literally dozens of camels were at the ready for riders.



There were also literally dozens of people gathered in the corral area so I wasn't sure if I would have to wait or not but to my surprise, there was an available camel for me!  I've ridden a Bactrian camel before so I knew exactly how to hang one while it rose to its feet.



I had seen some pretty long camel trains  (at least 10 camels and 10 riders) walking along the dunes.  Luckily, I was just in a 4 camel train and I think the handler noticed my dSLR camera so he put on the last camel which allowed me to get in some nice shots of the three camels and riders in front of me.

We set for our ride to the dunes.  It was flat at first.  Very gentle ride.


I found myself riding atop a super friendly camel who wanted nothing more than to walk alongside the camel in front of it so I was pretty much side by side with the man in front of me for much of the ride.


It even knew how to nudge the man to get a pat on the head.  He was the sweetest camel I've ever been on - completely defying that stereotype that camels are mean and do nothing but spit at you.


Every so often, it would nudge his head against the man's thigh so he could receive a gentle pat on the head.  I think if it could've sat on the man's lap, it would've :-)



There were dozens if not hundred plus camels and riders on the dunes which are so massive that even though people are walking on them, they are so small to the human eye, they are like pin pricks.   Can you see the people in the photo below?





Soon, we started to make our way uphill.  I didn't see any camel trains at the upper most ridges of any of the dunes so I figured we would only get part way up on the camels.  That was fine with me as I was looking forward to doing a bit of hiking up as well.



At one point, we stopped for some photos.  It seemed like a common stopping point for the camel trains.  Our handler took photos of the four of us in turn.

My ever so friendly camel was not about to be left out of the photos so he nudged his way to stand alongside the man in front of me. 


Eventually, it was my turn.  Cathy had told me that he would be expecting tip to take photos so I decided to give him 10 yuan and handed him my camera.  It was obvious he had taken countless photos with all types of equipment because he had no difficulty using my dSLR.  He made me do several poses including the favorite Chinese one where you throw up your hands and last but not least, he insisted that I stand up in the stirrups.  Okay, I got my 10 yuan's worth though he seemed to be having fun with my camera!








He even took a shot of the entire 4 camel train.  I do like this shot.


We then had a chance to get off the camels and hike up to the top of the dune.  The handler decided he wanted to take even more photos so he had me pose alongside my camel who could've cared less about being in a photo.



I followed the two ladies, who were riding with me, up the hill.  Notice the one carrying the Thermos?  She had been carrying it the entire ride.


In fact, I noticed a lot of people walking with Thermoses and glass bottles holding tea.  No one was carrying a plastic water bottle!   That made me very happy to see!




Proud of the Chinese for not having plastic bottles and for the most part, the dunes were free of trash....except I did see a few convenience drink containers polluting my view.  Not happy about this at all.  I should've have carried the stuff back down the hill with me.


But I digress.  Back to my dune experience.  Walking up a steep sandhill is not easy so they've attempted to make it easy by providing a ladder of sorts which does help but it's still a steep climb.



I didn't make it all the way to the top - just enough to get a good view of the awaiting camels below and the dunes around me.  You can see the endless line of camel trains coming up!




Yes, either I tipped my handler too much or else he was really enjoying taking photos with my camera because the moment I sat down on the sand, he reached out for it and took some more shots!  I do like this one with pretty much just sand behind me.


While I was enjoying myself on the dunes, so were the other three.  I got this shot from Mal afterwards.  They most certainly had fewer people around them than I did though I did enjoy the camel ride.  There's something very peaceful about being atop one and feeling it clopping its way on the sand.


Soon, it was time to head back down the dune and once again, my camel was not about to be the one  bringing up the rear so I was riding alongside the man who was suppose to be in front of me.  Too bad I don't speak Mandarin and it was obvious he didn't speak English.  Otherwise, we could've had a nice bit of conversation on our ride through the dunes.


We eventually made it back to our starting point.  Before leaving my camel behind, I had to take a portrait.  It's face seems oddly crooked; lovably imperfect.  I already had a soft heart for this gentle creature.  It's now even softer. 


From the camel corral, it was a short walk to Crescent Lake.  That's when I noticed all the people with the orange booties.  Apparently, you can rent those if you want to keep the sand out of your shoes but I had my hiking sandals on so I was fine with getting sand between my toes.



In my pre-trip reading, I had seen several images of the lake and pagoda taken from high up.   I saw the steep dune and I decided that I would climb as high as I felt I could so I could have that view from above.


Much, much, much easier said than done.  I swear every few steps and I had to take a break.  You feel like for every 10 inches you move forward, you slide 5 inches back.  As I was struggling my way up, two young women were climbing up in my direction.  With their bright orange jackets and ID cards, they looked to be either guides or service workers.  In any case, I don't know exactly how it happened but they decided to help me up the hill; each one held my arm, under my elbow and pulled me along.  I have to say, I made it quite a way's up thanks to their help!  At one point, I realized that I was probably slow them down so I waved for them to continue without me.


I had been so preoccupied with making it up the dune that I didn't even notice how high up I had climbed until I looked back down at the lake.  What an incredible view!  I sat down for a few minutes just to take it all in.


I had to keep a close watch on time so I didn't linger long.  Getting back down the hill was much easier than climbing up and a whole lot more fun as you just get to sink down in the sand past your ankles.


I decided to walk over to the pagoda itself.  I never got the name of the place but presumably it has been here for quite some time.




The place was awfully crowded so I didn't even bother going inside even the view mght have been nice from one of the balconies. 


I had to pause to look back at the dune I had just climbed back down from.  I think I made it about two thirds of the way up.  Had I had more time and more energy, I would've pushed my way all the way to the top of the ridge.  Yes, it would've have been a struggle but I would've done it!


I made my over to the area where the trams pick up people to take them back to the park's entrance.


On the ride back, I snapped my last shots of the dunes.  I did enjoy my short time here but it would've have been a much more pleasant experience - definitely not as noisy and therefore, more tranquil, had there not been so many people around.  Damn those tourists! :-)  If I ever have the opportunity to come back, I would make the effort to come as soon as the park opens up to avoid the crush of people that inevitably happens when you show up late morning.





Back at the entrance, I made my way over to the pavilion that Cathy had told us to meet her at.  I spotted her as well as the other three.  We were all glad to see each other and even though we experienced the dunes in different ways, it seemed like everyone had a good time. There was a performance going on, on the stage, at the pavilion so we hung around to see the show.

When I arrived, a trio of kids were performing an acrobatic routine demonstrating strength and extreme flexibility.





They were followed by a very elegantly dressed singer.  She gave it her all and the crowd gave her a good round of applause.



Then came a  pair of comedians. The audience laughed at the jokes except for those of us who don't speak Mandarin.



Last was the most entertaining performer for me....the juggler.











On our way out of the park, we passed a display of sand sculptures. At first, I thought they were stone carvings until we took a closer look. Makes sense that they are carved from packed sand given there are giant sand dunes just a short walk away :-)




We're done with Cathy for the day so we have to figure out how to fill our afternoon. But first....lunch!