Vast desert region of Central Asia in the independent state of Mongolia, and Inner Mongolia, China. It covers an area of 1,280,000 sq km/490,000 sq mi (800 km/500 mi north-south and 1,600 km/1,000 mi east-west), and lies on a high plateau 900-1,500 m/2,950-4,920 ft above sea level. It is mainly rocky, with shifting sands and salt marshes at lower levels. The desert is sparsely populated, mainly by nomadic herders. It is rich in the fossil remains of extinct species and Stone Age implements.
The exact limits of the Gobi remain undefined. It stretches from the Pamir ranges to the Hingan Mountains which separate the desert from the northeast of China. The Republic of Mongolia bounds it on the north, and China on the south. The western portion between the Tarim Basin (Yarkand Daria) and Lop Nur is called the Taklimakan Desert; east of Lop Nur is the Great Gobi. The name Gobi is Mongolian for ‘waterless place’. The Chinese call the desert Hanhai, meaning ‘river’ or ‘sea of sand’.
The surface is predominantly bare rock, though some parts are composed of masses of loamy, coarse, shifting sands and there are also residual mountains. In the east there is some vegetation. Much of the Gobi is a basin of inland, and mostly underground, drainage, as its streams, the most important of which is the Tarim River, are normally seasonal and have no apparent outlet to the sea.
Caravan routes cross the Great Gobi, the chief being from Altanbulag in the Republic of Mongolia to Beijing, through Urga and Zhangjiakou (or Kalgan). Nomad Buddhist peoples live in the interior of the Great Gobi and are dependent mostly on animal herding, which is made possible by tapping underground water supplies. All permanent settlements are towards the north. Remains of previous civilizations have been found in the sandy areas.
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