Footsteps in the Gobi

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Mildred Cable was the first Englishwoman to cross the Gobi Desert, in the 1930s – a time when female independence was unheard of. Along with her two companions, sisters Francesca and Eva French, and a camel cart full of bibles, she travelled back and forth across the vast expanse of the desert, visiting various oasis towns along trade routes, through Western China and into Xinjiang.

Mildred wrote a number of books about her journeys, which proved very popular with the armchair traveller back home. I came across ‘The Gobi Desert’ which became my guide, my Lonely Planet, for the journey I was to make. The hand-drawn map in the back of the book dictated my route, which I followed by train, bus, taxi and camel.

Some of the destinations I found were vastly different from their description in the book, or had ceased to exist at all. In others, the rhythm of life remained the same. Most of all, it seemed the desert landscape was identical to the one experienced by the three adventurers some 80 years earlier: immense, empty and timeless.