Where Is the Taklamakan Desert?

By Ferdinand Bada on May 12 2018 in World Facts

Dunes in the Taklamakan Desert.
Dunes in the Taklamakan Desert.

Location and Description

The Taklamakan Desert, which may also be written as "Taklimakan" or "Teklimakan," is a desert located in the northwestern region of China, which is part of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The desert is bordered to the south by the Kunlun Mountains, while the western and the northern sides are bound by the Tian Shan and Pamir Mountains. The east is bordered by the Gobi Desert.

Some sources claim that the desert's name may be derived from the Persian word “tark,” which means "to leave behind or to abandon." Others claim that tark means “Place of No Return.” Another possible theory could be that it originates from the Turki word “taqlar,” which translates to “a place of ruins.”

The Taklamakan Desert has an approximate area of 130,000 square miles, making it almost as big as Germany. The Tarim Basin, which is 620 miles long and 250 miles wide, is also a part of the desert.The historical Silk Road also passes through the desert. The desert ranks second in the world in terms of the size of shifting sand deserts. Around 85% of the desert is composed of flowing sand dunes. On a more general scale, it ranks 16th in the world in terms of area. Two routes that cross the desert, the Luntai and the Tarim Desert Highway, have been constructed by the government of the People’s Republic of China.


Lying in the rain shadow of the Himalayas, the desert has a typical cold desert climate. Also, its close proximity to Siberia’s cold air masses make winter temperatures nearly unbearable. Therefore, plant and animal life is extremely scarce. It is extremely difficult for plants to grow since the sand is constantly shifting. The only plant life found in the desert include thin tamarisk thickets, reeds, and bushes of nitre. However, there is a bit more vegetation along the edges of the desert.

Animal life is limited to a small number of species. However, like plants, there is more diversity on the edges of the desert. On the periphery, animals such as gazelles, wild boars, foxes, and wolves can be seen. In the past, tigers also existed, but disappeared at the beginning of the 20th century. Some of the rare animals also found in the periphery include Siberian deer in the Tarim River Valley and wild camels. Other animals include rabbits, jerboas, mice, gerbils, hedgehogs, bats, and larks.


The virtual absence of plant life makes the desert virtually uninhabitable. The Chinese government has tried advocating for agricultural activities to be introduced, but the results have been extremely disappointing. Overgrazing by farmers in rural areas has also contributed to the increasing desertification, which further discourages farming activity.

However, an exploration into Korla at the Takla Makan, revealed the presence of oil. Despite tough conditions in the desert, the oil deposits have been exploited. The perilous shifting and has made traversing the desert even trickier, but it is still being done.

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