On January 23, a Sino-Japanese expedition set out on camelback and foot on an attempt to cross the Taklamakan Desert from west to east along the 39th parallel. As the crow flies, the trip is 846 kilometers; on foot it was closer to 1,500. The trek took 73 days, with supplies being replenished four times.
The team comprised 29 members. The 14 from Japan included 11 elderly adventurers and three reporters from NHK TV. The oldest trekker in the group was 78 and the youngest, 54. The Chinese side had 5 regular members and 10 camel handlers. With no tour guide, the team used GPS to determine their location and kept in touch with the outside world by satellite telephone.
At Daliyaboyi, near Hotan, and the desert highway of Tazhong, three of the Japanese members withdrew owing to illness or business. The NHK reporters and two of the Chinese members also withdrew because of official business.
The expedition was organized by the Xinjiang International Travel Service, a subsidiary of the China Youth Travel Agency, and the Japanese Expedition Association.
Zheng Hui, manager of Xinjiang International Travel, said that crossing the Taklamakan Desert was a great challenge and the expedition unprecedented. The successful crossing was not only a challenge to the trekkers in extreme natural conditions, but also an opportunity for Xinjiang to explore desert expedition tourism.
Located in the center of Xinjiang's Tarim Basin, the Taklamakan Desert runs 1,000 kilometers from east to west and 400 kilometers from south to north. Its total area is 337,600 square kilometers, making it second in size only to the Sahara in Africa. In the Uygur language, "taklamakan" means "get in without coming out," so the desert is often known as the "Sea of Death."
Near the end of the 19th century, European explorers broke the first trail across the Taklamakan Desert along the 39th parallel. In the 1990s, Sino-British and Sino-US teams crossed the less-challenging southern edge of the desert.
(China.org.cn Wang Qian April 6, 2004)