Desert dreams: Why the Gobi is the latest tourist hotspot


In the immensity of the gobi desert, this
oasis appears like a mirage. Dunhuang, a major stop on the ancient Silk Road, has hosted caravans for centuries but this has now been taken to a new level. Today, it’s hordes of tourists who are flocking to the desert to experience riding a camel. During the high season, this site receives at least 30,000 visitors every day. “It’s not a worry to have so many people. Even if it is tiring, this is how we make a living.” More than a thousand camels and just as many tourists treading in each other’s footsteps on the four kilometer trail. “This is a relaxing place. I’d rather follow the traffic this way than in a car.” “It beats pollution in Beijing.” There are few complaints. In a country of 1.3 billion people, many of them prefer being in large crowds. “You know in China we’ve got very little holiday and no matter where you go there are always lots of people.” “I feel like I’m in a fairy tale and my girlfriend is a princess in the Arabian Nights.” The reality is a lot different from the fairy tale, not only because of the vast crowds. Added into the mix are quad bikes, as well as gliders brought in by the authorities to attract the mostly Chinese tourists. There are even six helicopters that cost 89 euros for a flight of barely five minutes. And for those who don’t have such deep pockets, sand sledging is another option that costs just three euros. Dunhuang is
open to the public year-round but most visitors arrive during a three-month period. As for much of the rest of the time, the area is covered by snow. In recent years, Chinese tourists have been increasingly heading overseas for their holidays, but with sites like this, the government is hoping to keep them spending at home.

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