Desert Journeys – 15/3/17

Desert Journeys 11

March 15th 2017

We travelled in deserts on a trip exploring the Silk Route about four years ago.  We went through part of the Gobi Desert and we touched on the fearsome Taklamakan desert.  It is there we heard the stories of the lost cities of long ago which had been buried by sand storms in the sixth and seventh centuries.  We travelled by train for miles through the Gobi, seeing the track of the Silk Route running alongside.  Sometimes the sand dunes seemed to be as high as hills, and on one occasion we could see that the hills were covered in snow. Sometimes we would stop to see ancient trading towns as well as fortresses.  Even at 8.30 in the morning, the intensity of the sun was strong enough to provoke later attacks of heat stroke (as I discovered to my cost).  The desert was, then, a fearsome place.  But it has an extraordinary kind of beauty and intensity.  The air has a purity so delicious that one wants to stay there forever.  The colours are rich and deep and vibrant.  I will never forget seeing sunrise in the Gobi.

And in among the terrifying brutality of this elemental place was exquisite beauty. Merchants of the sixth, seventh and eighth centuries built temples on their way out of or their way into the Taklamakan, either to give thanks for having survived it or to request the gods for protection.   We saw some of the Mogao caves, hollowed out of the soft rock with the most beautiful and awe-inspiring figures of the Buddha in them.  Further on, we saw a tiny family tomb with a space in the back for just the farmer and his wife.  Pictures of daily life – gathering mulberries, taking a pig to market – were there. The atmosphere was deeply peaceful. All along this harsh route were instances of man’s belief in the afterlife.

What relevance has this to our Lenten preparation?    For me, it is the fact that amidst both physical austerity and emotional or spiritual darkness, there is also great intensity of experience; there is life and hope and survival, together with evidence of man’s belief in God and life after death.  The farmer’s tomb which has survived eighteen centuries is an example of this depth of faith, and for me, at least, is a source of consolation and inspiration.
Kate Price

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