View of the Taklamakan desert
The Taklamakan Desert // (Chinese: 塔克拉玛干沙漠; pinyin: Tǎkèlāmǎgān Shāmò, Xiao'erjing: تَاكْلامَاقًا شَاموْ; Uyghur: تەكلىماكان قۇملۇقى ; Dungan: Такәламаган Шамә), also spelled "Taklimakan" and "Teklimakan", is a desert in southwest Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, northwest China. It is bounded by the Kunlun Mountains to the south, the Pamir Mountains and Tian Shan (ancient Mount Imeon) to the west and north, and the Gobi Desert to the east.
The name may be an Uyghur borrowing of the Persian tark, "to leave alone/out/behind, relinquish, abandon" + makan, "place". Some sources claimed it means "Place of No Return", more commonly interpreted as "once you get in, you'll never get out" or similar. Another plausible explanation suggests it is derived from Turki taqlar makan, describing "the place of ruins".
The Taklamakan Desert has an area of 337,000 km2 (130,000 sq mi), making it slightly smaller than Germany, and includes the Tarim Basin, which is 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) long and 400 kilometres (250 mi) wide. It is crossed at its northern and at its southern edge by two branches of the Silk Road as travellers sought to avoid the arid wasteland. It is the world's second largest shifting sand desert with about 85% made up of shifting sand dunes ranking 16th in size in a ranking of the world's largest deserts.
The People's Republic of China has constructed two cross-desert highways. The Tarim Desert Highway links the cities of Hotan (on the southern edge) and Luntai (on the northern edge), and the Bayingol to Ruoqiang road crosses the desert to the east. In recent years, the desert has expanded in some areas, its sands enveloping farms and villages as a result of desertification.
The Golmud-Korla Railway (presently, under construction; expected completion time, 2019) will cross the Taklamakan as well.
Because it lies in the rain shadow of the Himalayas, Taklamakan is a paradigmatic cold desert climate. Given its relative proximity with the cold to frigid air masses in Siberia, extreme temperatures are recorded in wintertime, sometimes well below −20 °C (−4 °F), while in summer they can rise up to 40 °C (104 °F). During the 2008 Chinese winter storms episode, the Taklamakan was reported to be covered, for the first time in its history, entirely with a thin layer of snow reaching 4 centimetres (1.6 in), with a temperature of −26.1 °C (−15 °F) in some observatories.
Its extreme inland position, virtually in the very heartland of Asia and thousands of kilometres from any open body of water, accounts for the cold character of its nights even during summertime.
The Taklamakan Desert has very little water, therefore it is hazardous to cross. Merchant caravans on the Silk Road would stop for relief at the thriving oasis towns. It was in close proximity to many of the ancient civilizations — to the Northwest is the Amu Darya basin, to the southwest the Afghanistan mountain passes lead to Iran and India, to the east is China, and even to the north ancient towns such as Almaty can be found.
The key oasis towns, watered by rainfall from the mountains, were Kashgar, Marin, Niya, Yarkand, and Khotan (Hetian) to the south, Kuqa and Turpan in the north, and Loulan and Dunhuang in the east. Now, many, such as Miran and Gaochang, are ruined cities in sparsely inhabited areas in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region of the People's Republic of China.
The archaeological treasures found in its sand-buried ruins point to Tocharian, early Hellenistic, Indian, and Buddhist influences. Its treasures and dangers have been vividly described by Aurel Stein, Sven Hedin, Albert von Le Coq, and Paul Pelliot. Mummies, some 4000 years old, have been found in the region.
Later, the Taklamakan was inhabited by Turkic peoples. Starting with the Han Dynasty, the Chinese sporadically extended their control to the oasis cities of the Taklamakan Desert in order to control the important silk route trade across Central Asia. Periods of Chinese rule were interspersed with rule by Turkic, Mongol and Tibetan peoples. The present population consists largely of Turkic Uyghur people and ethnic Han people.
Atmospheric studies have shown that dust originating from the Taklamakan is blown over the Pacific, where it contributes to cloud formation over the Western United States. Studies have shown that a specific class of mineral found in the dust, known as K-feldspar, triggers ice formation particularly well. K-feldspar is particularly susceptible to corrosion by acidic atmospheric pollution such as nitrates and phosphates. Exposure to this pollution reduces the ability of the dust to trigger water droplet formation. Further, the traveling dust redistributes minerals from the Taklamakan to the western U.S.A. via rainfall.
In popular culture
The desert is the main setting for Chinese film series Painted Skin and Painted Skin: The Resurrection. The Chinese TV series Candle in the Tomb is mostly spent in this desert as they are searching for the ancient city of Jinjue (see Niya (Tarim Basin).)
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