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Camel Trains in the Desert

The camel is known as the "boat of the desert." in the past two thousand years, caravans on the silk Road transported silk, tea, pottery and lacquerware from China to the western regions and pearls, jade, herbal medicines and perfume from Central and West Asia and Europe to China.

Peasants in Minqin County raise camels in their spare time. in summer they milk camels and collect camel hair and in autumn, they earn money by using camels to transport goods.

Camels do not like hot weather. Usually camel trains do not set off until the cool autumn comes around. in the 1950s, a railroad was built in the Hexi Corridor, and highways radiated in all directions. Since then, camel trains for long-distance transportation has disappeared. Caravans are now used only to transport grain, tea, cloth and other goods to the herdsmen in the deserts. Usually the camel train sets off in the afternoon. Before its departure, the grooms load goods on the camels with the head camel carrying tents, grain, kitchen utensils and water. When everything is ready, the grooms link the camels by tying the rope tied on the camel's nose onto the saddle of the lead camel. Four grooms will travel in a group, leading a caravan of 28 camels.

First of all the camel train will walk in between two bonfires. in the past, when travelling in the desert, grooms often met natural and man-made calamities, such as storms, dry weather, wild animals, illnesses and bandits. Powerless, the grooms could do nothing but pray for good fortune. They believed that if they walked in between two bonfires, all disasters and illnesses could be driven off.

The bells accompanying the camel caravans in the desert have provided interesting themes for poems, paintings and music. instead of being hung on the camel's neck, bells in the shape of an iron bucket are hung on a stick on the saddle of the last camel. in the vast and silent deserts, the sound of slow and rhythmic camel bells is the only music for the grooms. However, the real purpose of using the bells is to prevent camels from being lost. Camels are very timid. Even when a hare passes by, it will be frightened and jump. To avoid breaking the camel's nose, a knot which can be undone by a pull is tied on each camel's nose.So a startled camel may leave the caravan without the groom's knowledge. But if grooms who walk ahead of the camel train don't hear the bells, they will know that the camels are lost and will look for them.

In addition, the bells can be used as the signal of the camel train. in the past, bandits often robbed goods on the way. When approaching dangerous spots, grooms would hide the bells. Without hearing the familiar sound, camels would know that their masters wanted them to keep on without making noise.

The bells can also be used as alarm bells. Upon hearing the bells, foxes, hares and gerbils that come out to look for food will escape in a hurry or hide in holes. Thus they will not disturb the camels.

Camels are loyal companions and guides to desert travelers. Before a storm, alert camels will lie on the ground. The grooms stay close to them to avoid the onslaught of the storm. in addition, camels often guide grooms to water sources. Therefore those who raise camels look after them well as they depend on them for survival at times. For example, as camels do not like hot weather, grooms often start their journey at nightfall and stop travelling at midnight in order to avoid the scorching sun of the day. For fear that the hard stones of the roads will hurt the hooves of the camel, they often carefully choose good roads, and even take the trouble of walking through deserts. If camels by tying soft sheepskin onto them.

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