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Six Rules for Off-Roading in China

Golmud: somewhere in the desert, apparently close to a army base

  • Rule #1: when you’re hurtling through the desert trying to make up for lost time – stick to the road.
  • Rule #2: if you do decide to go off-road maintain some kind of awareness where the road heading.
  • Rule #3: don’t take photos of anything unless you’re absolutely sure it’s not an army base.
  • Rule #4: don’t assume the Chinese military hasn’t figured out how to hide an ‘army base’ in the middle of the desert.
  • Rule #5: when you do eventually decide to turn back, try not to run into any army patrols.
  • Rule #6: pack a driver who can go toe to toe with uniforms, mirror shades, black metal and attitude.

It was only supposed to be a short detour – a ~500km sprint from Golmud across the desert to Donhuang necessitated by police officer officer’s reluctant to issue the necessary travel permit to travel directly to Kashi. With only two major turn-offs the entire journey – one leading to Xining in the east, the other to the Taklamakan desert to the west, both a good day’s drive away, you would imagine it would be difficult to get lost. Which makes the ‘short-cut’ proposed by the driver that much less logical.

Admittedly the road was under reconstruction, we’d been sitting behind a 12 wheeler rig for 30 dusty minutes, and yes, that side trail did look smoother than the alternative. But it’s no excuse.

I pretend to sleep whilst the driver pretends to be humble to the soldiers who pretend to be annoyed. Everyone plays their role to perfection. An hour of the driver being grilled under the desert sun and 400 RMB (40 Euro) in fines/bribes later we’re free to go.

Maybe you can spot the army base, I sure as phuck couldn’t.