Urumqi, 5 September 2012

The flight started early in the morning in Beijing. It was raining hard as the airplane took off, and we climbed up through a milky whiteness. Finally we broke through and started our trek westward to Urumqi, capital of Xinjian. The cloud cover began to tear over Inner Mongolia, and through the gaps I could see wooded hills with cultivated valley bottomland. And so it went on until we came to the Ordos Loop, where the Yellow River, after flowing north-east from Langzhou for 600 kilometres, turns abruptly to flow east for 300 kilometres, and then just as abruptly turns again, flowing south for another 600 kilometres, before doing one final abrupt turn east to flow on to the sea. The northern part of the Ordos Loop over which we were now flying is home to the Ordos Desert. On cue, as if sensing the harsh land below, the clouds suddenly banked to a halt, and in the now clear sky I could make out far below me the muddy waters of the Yellow River as they started making their turn to the south. And suddenly I spied one small, round, little, cloud, wispy to the point of invisibility, bravely clinging to its space above the desert floor. I watched, fearing that it would evaporate before my eyes, unable to resist the furnace heat below. But no, it was still defiantly there when it dropped out of sight behind me. And now the southern reaches of the Gobi desert rolled into view, with not a cloud in sight to soften the hard edges of the stone plains and rolling dunes, which accompanied me all the way to the mountains that guard the eastern marches of Urumqi.