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Desert Tourists Warned of Danger
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Tourists are being warned not to travel to the Hobq desert in north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, after 61 stranded visitors were rescued and one died during the May Day holiday.

Local officials reminded visitors, especially those from Beijing, to keep away from the seventh biggest desert in China, as police finished rescue work on Friday.

The desert located near Ordos City, about 800 kilometers from Beijing is the closest desert to the nation's capital.

Since Monday night, the first day of the country's week-long May Day holiday, the command centre of the Public Security Bureau of Inner Mongolia had received five "SOS" calls from five batches of visitors. A total of 62 were reportedly lost in the Hobq desert.

The first batch of visitors were 13 students from Tianjin University, who found themselves lost in the middle of the desert with inadequate food. They gave up hope of finding a way out by themselves when a student fainted under the scorching sun.

They were rescued on Wednesday morning and already returned to Tianjin, said Li Chunyu, an officer from the command center.

The next three "distress calls" almost came at the same time on Wednesday afternoon, reporting 42 people from three tourist groups had got lost in the desert.

All had been rescued by Thursday morning, but a female visitor was already dead when police found the last group of 12 people. The dead was identified as Ning Qian, 27, an employee of IBM in Beijing, according to Li.

Her parents had arrived and taken back her ashes after cremation. The cause of her death is unknown as her parents refused to take a post-mortem examination, he said.

However, doctors said she died from fatigue, as her backpack weighing some 20 kilograms might have been too heavy for her, Xinhua News Agency reported.

The other 41 tourists also embarked on their journey back home yesterday. These tourists are mostly young professionals from IT companies in Beijing, such as IBM, King Soft and China Netcom Group.

Another batch of seven tourists is from Wuhan, capital of central China's Hubei Province, who called for help on Friday afternoon. They managed to get themselves out of the desert before the rescuers arrived on Friday afternoon, said Zhang Manting, also from the public security bureau.

"These people underestimated the difficulty they might encounter in the desert and overestimated their physical strength, taking inadequate food and water with them," Zhang said.

"Because of the extremely complex geological conditions and unpredictable weather conditions in the Hobq desert, tourists often easily get lost, even though they had a detailed map with them," Zhang said.

The endless sand dunes would take even a local person two days to cross on foot, he said.

"Surrounded by endless sand dunes, their confidence would quickly wane once a sense of helplessness grabbed them," he said.

The desert extends about 400 kilometers long, 50 kilometers wide on its west end, and 15-20 kilometers wide on its east end.

Its typical desert scenery has attracted many visitors who want to challenge themselves to traverse it, Zhang said.

Zhang, who took part in the rescue mission, said one of his colleagues fell from the back of a camel which then trampled on his chest and leg during the rescue mission. The policeman is still under treatment in a local hospital, he said.

The local government of Ordos has posted banners at every possible entrance of the desert to warn visitors against entering it, Zhang added.

"For those who insist on entering the desert, we will try to arrange some veteran herdsman or local people to serve as a guide," he said.

(China Daily May 6, 2006)

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