The Gobi March 2014 takes place in Bortala Mongol Autonomous Prefecture and Yili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture in northwestern Xinjiang Province. The start line is a 1.5-hour drive from Bole, the capital city of Bortala, at the foot of the Altai Mountains. Bortala, which means “brown steppe” in Mongolian, shares an international border with Kazakhstan to the north and west and is known for the colorful culture of its ethnic minorities. It is also famous for Genghis Khan, the founder of the Mongol empire, who ruled the area in the 13th century.
Along the 250 kilometers / 155 miles of the course, the terrain includes grasslands, farmlands, dirt tracks, riverbeds, rolling hills, mountain valleys, plains and plateaus. Competitors pass through local villages and across grazing lands where shepherds tend to their flocks. The course has a number of highlights, including the Mysterious Rock Valley (where the largest group of strange rock formations are located in western China), Mongolian settlements, cable bridges, views of Tian Shan snow peaks, the famous Sayram Lake and a memorial to the founding father of Mongolia, Genghis Khan.
Located in close proximity to the Tian Shan Mountains, Bole is known for alpine scenery, vast highlands, green pastures and pristine lakes. A county-level city in Xinjiang, Bole has a population of 400,000 and many ethnic groups, including Mongol, Uyghur, Kazakh, Hui, Kyrgyz and Tajik.GOBI DESERT
The Gobi Desert is the largest desert region in Asia and the fifth largest in the world. It is also the windiest non-polar desert in the world. The climate that the area experiences varies greatly depending on the specific location due to the topography, which varies from plain, desert and mountain climates. The area annually experiences temperatures of up to 40°C / 104°F in the summer and has been known to drop to -24.4°C / -11.9°F in the winter whilst receiving only 27mm / 1 inches of rainfall annually. The area selected for the Gobi March 2014 has been closely guarded by the Chinese government due to its border position and distance from Beijing and as a result there have been very few outsiders freely exploring the area.
The Gobi March was founded in honor of three missionaries: Mildred Cable and sisters Francesca and Eva French. Mildred Cable and Eva and Francesca French were Christian missionaries who began their work in China around the turn of the century with the China Inland Mission. After more than 20 years of doing routine missionary work in China, the trio headed northwest - to the Gobi Desert and beyond. Many of their colleagues were shocked. Some wrote, saying in more or less parliamentary language, 'that there were no fools like old fools.'
The women were not deterred, traveling for months by ox cart before arriving at the City of the Prodigals, the last city inside the Great Wall, named for its reputation for attracting criminals. Here they set up a base where they spent winters. The remaining eight months of the year they evangelized, traveling the vast trade routes of the Gobi Desert in Gansu and Xinjiang Provinces. They made a point of visiting the poor, feeding orphans, healing the sick and educating girls. More than once they were assailed by bandits, and were caught up in local wars and even the occasional blinding blizzard.
Mildred Cable once said: "Only a fool crosses the great Gobi without misgivings." But with every painstaking step Mildred took, she was to see parables for life … a life that embraced the message she had come to bring. "In this trackless waste, where every restriction is removed and where you are beckoned and lured in all directions… One narrow way is the only road for you. In the great and terrible wilderness, push on with eyes blinded to the deluding mirage, your ears deaf to the call of the seducer, and your mind un-diverted from the goal."
Upholding a community of thought with these pioneers and their maverick determination, RacingThePlanet held its first 4 Deserts event, the Gobi March (China) 2003, in the very same region of the Gobi Desert that this trio traversed more than a century before. Like Cable, who had "become part of its life" after crossing the length of the desert more than five times, so does each participant of the Gobi March (China) become a part of the history and legacy of this majestic land.
A special award, the Cable-French Trophy will be presented to a competitor who best exemplifies the characteristics of Mildred Cable and Eva and Francesca French.
Competitors will obtain a rich cultural experience as the course passes through numerous villages and homesteads of the local community. Minority ethnic
groups include the Mongol
and many more. Brief descriptions of some of these cultures are provided below.
The Mongol culture is one of generosity and hospitality. Historically nomadic pastoralists, Mongols consume milk - from sheep, horses, deer and camels - and meat as their daily staples. Tender, boiled mutton, is representative of their traditional food.
Mongols in China adopted many of the values and political structures of local culture even while preserving their own culture and heritage. Mongol rulers took many steps to preserve the rituals, ceremonies and flavor of traditional Mongol life. For example, the ritual scattering of mare's milk was performed every year; and before battle, libations of koumiss (alcoholic drink made of mare's milk) were poured and the assistance of Tenggeri (the Sky God) still invoked. Traditional Mongol shamanism was well supported, and shamans had positions at Khubilai Khan's court in China.
Many Mongols continue to wear their native costumes of fur and leather, extravagant feasts in the Mongol tradition were held on Khubilai Khan's birthday and the birthdays of other great Mongol leaders, and the sport of hunting, a quintessential Mongol activity originally designed as training for warfare, flourished. And when a Mongol princess entered her eighth or ninth month of pregnancy, she continued the custom of moving to a special ger or yurt (the traditional Mongol home) to give birth.
The Uyghur nationality is mainly distributed in the Xinjiang Province. Uyghur people speak Uyghur, have their own writing characters, and are largely Islamic. Uyghurs have absorbed many different aspects of Arabic, Asian and European cultures to forge their own unique legacy and tradition. Uyghur men wear doppas, a cap varying in shape and size between cultural minority groups in the region - the particular doppas Uyghurs don are usually square. The Uyghurs were renowned for their advancement in medical and engineering capabilities, sharing much of their knowledge through the gateway of the Silk Road to provide the best of the East and West fusion. Cuisine, art, medicine, technology, literature and music were just some of the outlets of this eclectic expression.
Despite having been considered part of China since the mid-19th Century, the Uyghur retain vestiges of their cultural autonomy in small ways, such as keeping their time zone 2 hours apart from the official Beijing Time. Their households are characterized by flat roofs with trap doors on them. One of the most idiosyncratic and memorable things about this region, is how each homestead painstakingly decorates the entrances and doorways of their properties, no matter how humble or remote they may be, with exquisitely decorated niches, carved from plaster.
The Uyghur nationality attaches great importance to clothing – they are always tidily dressed with ornate jewelry and headpieces. All the Uyghur people wear small four-corner flower hats, and are famous for their delicate and labor intensive use of embroidery and other handiwork on much of their clothing.
There are about 1.1 million Kazakhs in China, about one eighth of the size of the Kazakh population in Kazakhstan. The Kazakhs have traditionally been organized into clans that have later turn into tribes. Important Kazakh tribes in China include the Kereoy, Naiman, Kezai, Alban and Suwan. The Kazakhs make up about 7 percent of the population of Xinjiang. They are excellent horsemen and have generally kept their nomadic ways of life. There are not many roads on the grasslands and horses are still the ideal way to get around. The Kazakhs enjoy freedom and their settlements are often far away from others.
The Kazakh diet and the diet of most minorities in Xinjiang includes mutton, nan-bread, and tea mixed with sheep or horse milk. Mutton is often eaten in big chunks by hand and nan-bread is dipped into tea with goat's milk. Unlike Chinese, the Kazakhs produce dairy. Yogurt, milk dough, cheese, butter and fermented horse’s milk is part of their everyday meals. The Kazakhs raise sheep, horses and cattle. Meat is preserved by curing and smoking.
Of Persian descent and tradition, the Tajik people are an eclectic population of more than 42,000 in Xinjiang Province alone. Since ancient times, the Tajik people have lived in the Tashkurgan area in the Pamirs, which was both a gateway to China's western frontier and a key communications center between the West and inland China. They speak the Persian branch of the Indo European language family as well as the Uyghur language.
Over the centuries, the Tajiks have adapted their style of dressing, eating and living to accommodate the harsh highland conditions where they reside. Men wear collarless long jackets with belts, over which they add sheepskin overcoats in cold winter. Their style of headdress is usually a tall lambskin hat line with black velvet and decorated with embroidery. The women adorn themselves with long aprons and sometimes wear a head covering that is rectangular in shape and white.
The Tajik people were originally herdsmen and hunter-gatherers, viewing it as taboo to eat the flesh of animals that died of natural causes. The Tajik are a very sensitive culture, with festival rites and rituals strictly observed, as are dress etiquette rules and regulations.
The Tajik nationality had a strong influence in Chinese culture and folklore. In 643, when the Monk Xuan Zang of the Tang Dynasty brought home Buddhist scriptures from India, he stopped over in what is today's Tashkurgan and listened to local Tajik fairy tales. Later he recorded these tales in his 'Notes on the Western Region of the Great Tang Dynasty.'
With a name that defies translation, the Kyrgyz people are known to have existed for thousands of years, since 109BC. The word Kyrgyz is thought to have originated from folklore to mean “forty,” as in “forty tribes” or “forty girls” in reference to a heroic tale of the Epic of Manas, a Kyrgyz poem twenty times longer than Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad combined. Often recalled at Kyrgyz festivities, the Epic of Manas is the classic centerpiece of Kyrgyz literature and is a tale of morality and philosophy.
An alternative translation of the name for this fascinating people is “imperishable.” Although never quantified, the perseverance of many of the Kyrgyz rites and rituals over time bares testament to the resolve of these people. Similar to other minority groups in the Xinjiang Province, the Kyrgyz are of Turkic descent and share archaeological, historical, linguistic and ethnographic traits with idiosyncratic differences unique to their own culture. Traditionally, the Kyrgyz dress evolved into an eclectic clothing style adapted to both sedentary and nomadic lifestyle. Western and Eastern influences such as felting, weaving and quilting are used to great effect. Particularly interesting, was the adoption of Western style such as Western dresses (for women), suit jackets and trousers (for men) combined with embroidery commonly found in India. The Kolpok hats remain some of the vestiges of the Kyrgyz traditional dress, and even these can vary in shape and size to include tall, short, brimmed and also brimless.