I grew up in a small village at the edge of the Gurbanttinggnt Desert. When l was young, I used to like sitting on a haystack, looking north toward the desert for a bit and then south toward the Tianshan Mountains for a while. Sitting between these two, I had a sense of being trapped. From where I lived, the Manas River wriggles its way northwest along the edge of the desert, before finally disappearing into the desert. It is the dividing line between desert and oasis. I never went to the end of the river. By the time I grew up, it had almost vanished, its course intercepted by several dams along its upper and middle reaches. All that now remains of the famous Manas River is just a dry riverbed left as a spillway.
The Gurbantfinggt Desert is the northwest wind's masterpiece, the image of the invisible wind on the ground. From west to east, a northwest wind, as wide and as long as the desert, lies in the Junggar Basin. I have taken National Highway 2 1 7 from Kuytun to Urho and Hoboksar many times. Along the route, the Karamay Gobi is certainly the start of the Gurbantnngt Desert, as it is here that the strong northwest wind starts blowing up sand and making dunes.
The start of a large desert is not as grand as you would think: there is endless desert, but no high dunes, just an occasional small dune standing on the desert, like a solitary animal facing east. When the wind blows, it seems to run. but it is still there when the wind stops. But perhaps what we now see is not the one that was there originally. The sand. filling everything between earth and sky, runs, runs and Funs, forming the awesome Gurbantfinggtit Desert not far away.
In Qitai County where the west wind abates. the sand drops. forming larger dunes than elsewhere. Connected with the hills of the Jiangjun Gobi, vegetation there thrives. A mix of saksauls, purple willows, agriophyllum pungens, camel thorns, and diversiform-leaved poplars grows upon the dunes.
When it reaches the Jiangiun Gobi. the northwest wind is blocked by the Baytik Mountains between China and Mongo1ia. and turns south towards Hami(Kumul). The desert expands southeastward. following the wind. Once past Urho, known as the "devil's city", the wind turns to another famous Xinjiang "devil's city"-Longcheng-and enters Lop Nur.
The Karamay Gobi and the Jiangjun Gobi represent the head and tail of a huge desert. and the start and end of the strong northwest wind. The Shawan area in the middle of the Gurbanttinggtit Desert where I used to live is the most mature part. The dunes here are full of regular and stable. And because of the all-year-round. Ceaseless northwest wind£¬they all face east. This fact is a very important piece of desert lore; if you get lost in the desert, you Call take your bearing from the dunes. If you know the dunes all face east, you can climb a high dune, and figure out the direction.At the entrance to our village, the Manas River makes a bend, leaving a small lake, bordered by the dunes.
Great swathes of purple willow grow on the banks, covering vast areas. When the purple willows come into bloom, their red fire spreads from the water's edge right up to the sky. Nowadays, thanks to a ban on tree-felling and grazing, the vegetation has started to recover and Mongolian gazelles, Asiatic wild asses, wolves, wild boar and other animals come here in great number to drink. Several years ago, an oil prospecting team built a road from east to west in the heart of the desert. Regular cross-country vehicles can use it.