Published: August 29th 2009August 28th 2009
Silhouette of the "Imin Ta Mosque" of Turpan, Xinjiang
The graceful Imin Ta Minaret and the Iranian-style mosque in the "Silk Road" town of Turpan in the N.W. province of Xinjiang, China has invited the faithful travellers for almost 250 years. With the hot desert sun in the background, the Minaret has become the unmistakable symbol of this beautiful desert-oasis-town, Turpan.
The summer of 2009 will be the one I remember with special affection, for it took me to places that have long been in my imagination and in my dreams. These summer travels and experiences also remind me of the diversity and vastness of this amazing country called China. Much of the thanks for my unique summer adventure is offered to my wonderful College, Taizhou Teachers College, it's genteel and respected President, Mr. Xu, my dear friend, Mr. Lee, and three other travel companions, representing the college administration, Mr. Yang, Ms. Yang, and Mr. Huang. Each added so much to this satisfying journey to the NorthWest of China, tracing some portions of the ancient trade route called, the "Silk Road", linking ancient China with Medieval Europe.
I can only hope, that the attached photos and the next few entries in my TravelBlog will convery the excitement of my days in the NorthWest Provinces of China: XINJINAG and GANSU. The journey traces a portion of the ancient "Silk Road", which begins in the city of Xi'an, Shaanxi (the home of the Terra Cotta Warriors) and tretches toward the West, finally arriving in the Oasis city of DUNHUANG, GANSU. From this small
Like a chimney, though so very graceful.
Constructed between 1777 and 1779, Uighur Prince Suleiman had it built to honor his father, Prince Emin and to show his support for the Qing Dynasty, his family's benefactors.
but pleasant city, DUNHUANG, GANSU, two main routes, north and south, continued more than 4,000 miles, along some of the most inhospitable terrain to be found between Asia and Europe, finally reaching into the Roman Empire.
With my friends from TTC, I travelled along portions of the "Silk Road", while visiting sites around DUNHUANG, GANSU, the city of TURPAN near URUMQI and the capital of XINJIANG, and areas surrounding the city of YINING, XINJIANG, directly at the border of Kazakhstan.
We travelled in greater comfort than the merchants of the past could have ever imagined: airconditioned and supermodern planes, trains, busses, and cars, make it easier to connect the East of China with the more remote and exotic Western parts of China.
My focus and efforts of the next two TravelBlog entries will concentrate on these three cities: URUMQI/TURPAN in XINJIANG, YINING in XINJIANG, and DUNHUANG in GANSU. After some time-consuming research, the next entries will inform you about this historical western region of China, while the photos offer my more personal experiences, some surprises and perhaps some smiles.
Along the ancient trade routes, now known collectively as the "Silk Road", special and precious Chinese goods
Geometric patterns are created with the use of yellow clay-bricks.
I counted some 10 different geometric patterns, created by elaborately decorative brickwork.
crossed into the West, to be admired, acquired, appreciated, and often copied by the nobles and rich of earlier centuries around the courts of Europe. The term "Silk Road" became known by that name as recently as the 19th Century, when the German archeologist Baron von Richthofen coined this term.
These routes were settled by a variety of Merchants and Traders of all colors, nationalities, and religions. Many of the settlements have turned into important cities, and reflect much of the diversity of these ancient cultures.
Exotic and unique relics, structures and sights remain and remind visitors of these colorful cultures, whose descendents still live and trade, perhaps in more strained harmony, along the "Silk Road".
These wonderful sights, some overwhelmed by time and the blustering and extreme weather of the desert, others scarred by the battles of history and ideology, are now carefully protected and cared for. Many are honored as World Heritage Sites.
These regions are now explored by an ever-growing onslaught of Tourism, bringing re-newed prosperity to a region that has been lacking behind the progress from that of the Eastern Provinces of China. A visit to these distant regions of China will
The simple interior of the Imin Ta Mosque.
Special woods and the beautiful prayer rugs are the humble decorations of the Imin Ta Mosque. Now only used during special Muslim festivals, it can hold up to 3,000 faithful.
remind future generations of a glorious past, when trade between Asia and Europe offered the exotic and was a daily adventure of survival.
The "Silk Road", in existence for more than 2,000 years, opened the trade routes between East and West. It is said, the in the 2nd Century B.C., the Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty twice sent General Zhang Qian on a diplomatic mission to the Western Lands. In fact, the emperor was searching for the fabled Ferhana-Arabian horses for his army.
That part of the mission failed, though large quantities of precious Chinese Silks were transported west along these routes. General Zhang Qian brought back information of the riches he saw, which led to the developement of flourishing trade. The route not only established closer relationships in economy, but brought about an exchange and influx of new cultures. Besides silk, metallic tools, cast iron and paper-making technologies were introduced to Europe along these well-travelled roads. Eventually the Ferghana horses, special Arabian horses, did make it to China.
By 200 A.D., this transcontinental route linked the Roman Empire in the West with the imperial court of China, and the foreign traders, who belonged to neither
The Imin Ta is also known as the Sugong Minaret.
The Minaret is broad at the base and tapers toward the top. Some compare it to the shape of a ciggar. The Minaret's top is covered with green glazed tiles, on which stands the Muslim Crescent Moon.
of the two old empires, conducted commerce along the route. The overland link lost its importance, once seagoing trade developed.
Of great agricultural importance was the introduction of agricultural seeds such as, grapes, clover blossoms, safflower, sunflowers, coriander, onion, garlic, beans, cucumber, rare birds, sheep, goats, cattle, camels, and breeds of special horses.
The merchants who used the Silk Road were dealing not only in spices, silk, procelain and jade, but also in gold and silver, wool, and many other commodities. But it was silk, this mysterious Chinese invention, that particularly captivated the West.
Rome especially was a major importer of silk. In Rome, China was known at "Seres" - the land of silk. Many Roman gold coins have been found along the "Silk Road" in Xinjiang. I was searching, but could not find one of these gold coins for myself.
Buddism and the arts were introduced to the West Lands of China via these Middle Asia Routes as well, and from here Buddhism moved and flourished across China. It was from India, that Buddhism quickly spread to the East of China, and eventually became the national religion, introducing wonderful philosophies and artistic styles across the
Surrounding the area of Turpan City are steep desert mountain ranges.
The region looks foreboding, but within the Turpan region and the Turpan Depression, an abundance of water has created a thriving oasis community, that has survived milleniums.
empire. From China, Buddhism was carried quickly into Korea and Japan.
The 'hooked cross', believed to have inspired Hitler's detested swastika, can be found everywhere along the "Silk Road", but it's origin came from Nestorianism as far back as the 8th Century B.C. Other religions to make it to China along the fabled "Silk Road" include Islam, Judaism, and Manicheanism, a Babylonian religion based on the opposing principles of Light and Darkness, and may well have been the foundation of Taoism.
History has left the "Silk Road" with large quantities of cultural relics. Among them the ruins of ancient cities, tombs, the Great Wall, religious temples and fantastic grottoes. It was a visit to some of these fabled places, that made my Summer 2009 so special.
In this TravelBlog #118, I want to share photos from the city of TURPAN, XINJIANG, a major oasis and trading city along the "Silk Road". This Oasis city of TURPAN is a 5 hour car drive S.E. of URUMQI, the capital of China's most western Province, XINJIANG.
XINJIANG, China's most western province, shares borders with eight other countries, from Mongolia in the NorthEast to India in the SouthWest. This isolated
This huge thermometer keenly makes you aware of the incredible summer temperature.
Look closely at the red line rising within this thermometer. The red streak reminds, that the heat is not in ones imagination. Here it show above 50 Centigrade, well above 120 Fahrenheit.
region is largely desert and grassland and is fringed by some of the highest mountains in the world. As long ago as 3,000 years, a string of oasis towns were established along a quickly developing road (Silk Road), that skirted the northern and southern edges of the scorching Taklamakan Desert.
The trade attracted merchants from India and Europe, and the Province of XINJIANG became the meeting point of East and West, with Christian churches and Buddhist temples existing in close proximity.
Around the 15th Century, Turkic tribes repeatedly overran the region, and soon Islam was established as the main religion in the region.
In the 18th Century, the Chinese took control and have maintained their rule ever since. Almost 50 percent of the population is comprised of ethnic minorities, and in 1955, in deference to the large Uighur population, the area became the "Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region", with Urumqi as its capital.
Using Urumqi as a base, we were able to enjoy special visits to the Tian Shan Mountain Range, to the Heaven Lake known as Tian Chi, and to the Silk Road city of TURPAN.
Let us first visit the desert/oasis city along the
Clay is the construction materal of choice and has been so for thousands of years.
It is hard to believe we are in one of the most dreadful deserts in Asia. But this small area within the Turpan Depression seems to have an abundance of water, supporting the greeing of this Oasis, making life quite comfortable and productive.
"Silk Road" known for centuries as TURPAN:
This oasis town on the northern "Silk Road" lies in the Turpan depression. This land depression is the second-lowest area on earth (Death Valley in the USA being number one), and is largely settled by the Uighur minority. Descending from nomadic Siberian tribes, the Uighur settled in the region around the 9th Century and later converted to Islam as they quickly spread across Central Asia.
TURPAN is an easy-going place, famous for its sweet grapes, mud-brick houses and dusty streets. With the help of thriving tourism, great improvements in transportation and strong financial help from the Chinese Central Government, a new and more modern part of the city is developing quickly.
Several fascinating sights will impress any visitor to TURPAN! Among them:
1. The "Imin Ta Mosque", also known as the "Sugong Mosque", with its beautiful and unique Minaret,
2. The "Jiaohe City Ruins" which occupy a spectacular position on a steep plateau,
3. The Underground "Karez Irrigation System", bringing fresh water below the desert to the agricultural fields,
4. The "Grape Valley Oasis" offering some of the best grapes in the world, and
5. The "Flaming Mountains" made famous
The homes are constructed very low, to keep the living area cool.
The living quarters withing the oasis have not changed much with time. Almost every home is topped by a clay silo, ventilated and used to dry the grapes into raisins.
by the novel "Journey to the West".
In this entry I will offer some photos of each.
By the way, the summer heat in TURPAN is hard to imagine, at times reaching beyond 50 Degrees Centigrate, more than 125 Degrees Farenheit, but for me it was a part of this exceptional travel experience.
1. The IMIN TA MOSQUE/ SUGONG MOSQUE AND MINARET:
The Sugong Minaret attached to the mosque is 44 meters high, almost 140 feet, and was built with yellow-clay bricks in 1778. It displays many geometric patterns. The top of the Minaret is covered with green glazed tiles, topped by the iron "Kubo" and Crescent Moon.
Seventy-two (72) steps lead up the spiral staircase, but as of 1989 it has been closed to visitors. The tower has been designated a historical monument and is unique and magnificent, a grand and impressive cone-shaped structure. It is the highest Islamic tower in China.
Attached is the spacious mosque, with arched ceilings, that can hold up to 3,000 faithful. It is now only used during important Muslim festivals.
The Minaret was built to honor and show loyalty to the Qing Dynasty by Turpan's noble rulers,
The wonderfully sweet and seedless grapes dry in the well ventilated, special clay structures, usullay found on top of the living quarters.
and took 3 years to complete. The ruling family of TURBAN had received a number of important titles during Emperor Qianlong's reign in appreciation for their loyalty. The Mosque and the Minaret have become the symbols of TURBAN.
2. The JIAOHE CITY RUINS:
These fantastic ancient city ruins date back more than 2,000 years and were built high on a plateau on a sharp curve of a river, making it a natural fortification. It is believed, that Civil wars and lack of water at the time of Mongol rule in the 13th Century brought the town to its demise.
Some of the ancient ruins are still well defined, and the street-plan is clearly visible. Jiaohe City was once an important Garrison town along the "Silk Road", and occupied a spectacular position on a steep plateau, making it a city that needed no walls. In the 6th Century it came under Uighur jurisdiction, but was abandoned centuries later, most probably because of failing water supplies.
3. The KAREZ IRRIGATION SITE:
This imaginative irrigation system has been used throughout Xinjiang for centuries, and is still in use today. The Karez Irrigation System is one of the three ancient engineering
The homes are simple and are constructed with the material of the desert.
The front looks small, but behind these doors is usually a compound with a courtyard, backed by the lush vineyards, for which this region is so famous.
projects in China, the other two being the Great Wall and the Grand Canal.
The Karez Well consists of 4 parts: The vertical shaft, the underground ditch, the open ditch and the waterlogged dam. With the deepest vertical shaft being more than 90 meters or more than 280 feet, each of hundreds of wells stretch along a length of 3 to 5 miles.
This ingenious system of irrigation taps into natural underground water sources by using a network of subterranean tunnels, which channel water below the desert to the fields. Wells, dug at intervals along the length of the tunnels, bring water to the surface.
This quite fantastic underground irrigation system, known as the "Karez Wells", takes the melting snow from the mountains and channels it to the oasis over long distances, underground, to prevent the water from evaporating in the desert heat, using only the force of gravity. The subterranean canal system is over 1,800 miles long, over 3,000 km.
4. The GRAPE VALLEY OASIS, (PUTAO GOU):
This surprisingly beautiful desert oasis, just north of Turpan is also known as "Putao Gou". I will never forget this unique wonder of nature.
We were so
The ancient road leading into the Jiaohe City Ruins.
Outside of the present day town of Turpan are the remains of a once thriving garrison town know as Jiaohe. It's location made it a natural fortification.
lucky to visit the oasis during the summer, during the grape harvest. August and September are the months, when the trellises here bulge with sweet, yellow, ripe grapes. I have never tasted more delicious fresh, sun-yellow, seedless grapes anywhere in the world.
The vineyards are sprinkled among beautiful, ancient, clay homesteads, topped by hundreds of brown-clay brick silos for the drying of the grapes. Many offer lunch to visitors, and our lunch was very special, as you will note in the attached photos. We also visited the winery nearby combined as a museum, and tasted some of the delicious wines produced here.
5. The FLAMING MOUNTAIN (HUOYAN MOUNTAIN):
On the road through the desert leading East, a few miles from Turpan, stretches "one" mountain 100 kilometers from East to West. Known also as the Red Stone Mountain, its maximum width is 10 kilometers. Here, a special historical site has been constructed to remind of ancient travels along this stretch of the "Silk Road". (The site also is the location of the "Giant Thermometer".)
We passed this spectacular sandstone mountain, made especially famous in the novel, "Journey to the West", a fictionalized account of the journey and adventures
The ruins of Jiaohe are still well defined and the street plan is clearly visible.
The ancient city occupies a spectacular positon on top of a steep plateau, surrounded by a curving river. Much of the housing area was actually underground, protecting from the scorching heat of the desert sun.
of the pilgrim monk, Xuanzang, to India. He returned bringing with him hundreds of Buddhist scriptures, and will forever be revered in China. TV shows and movies detailing his adventures have long entertained audiences in China and around the world.
In the book, the mountain, known as "Huoyan Shan", is described as being on fire, and at certain times of the day, a combination of sun and shadows turns the mountain a brilliant red, and makes them seem to flicker as though glowing red-hot and on fire.
In the center of the tourist structure stands a giant thermometer, indicating the temperature at the moment. Take a look at my photo near this thermometer, and check out the temperature above 50 Degree Centigrate on the day we arrived.
From the desert heat of TURPAN near URUMQI, in the most western-most Province of China, Xinjiang, travelling the fabled "Silk Road", let me end the first part of my journey along this ancient trade route, as it winds through China to the West.
I feel honored to have had the opportunity and the experience during this summer of 2009 with my friends from Taizhou Teachers College, and thank them
There is a reason the Putao Valley is also known as the Grape Valley Oasis.
Ms. Yang admires the main crop of the Grape Valley Oasis, ripe and ready for the picking in the August desert sunshine.
for inviting me to share these adventures.
I am pleased to be able to share Part One of this journey with you, and look forward to your comments, thoughts, suggestions and questions and even corrections. Let me urge you, especially in this journal entry, to enlarge the 105 photos for their wonderful details.
PLEASE EXCUSE THE QUALITY OF SOME OF THE PHOTOS. SOME WERE TAKEN IN A MOVING CAR AND MAY SHOW A BLURR.
There are more photos below