In the 20th Century, Xinjiang, a magical land located in the heart of China's rugged northwest, drew a constant stream of adventurers including explorers, archaeologists and geographers. With the extension of the Gobi desert "footprint" ever encroaching on Xinjiang, astounding discoveries - one after another - were uncovered and made known to the world.
Middle Kingdom's "Pompeii"
Loulan, an ancient city in the Lop Nur, was first "discovered" by Swedish explorer Sven Hedin in 1900. The finding of Loulan brought about new and unexpected glory for the ancient history of the Central Asia and thus began a prelude to the exploration of the Taklamakan Desert.
The City of Loulan is renowned both in China and throughout the globe as the Middle Kingdom's "Pompeii" in the desert and one of the cradles of the civilization. It wasn't hard to imagine how excited Sven Hedin must have been when he was awarded the Victoria Medal by the Royal Geography Association. From that point forward, the mysterious veil of Loulan was gradually lowered and was no more a silent unknown hero but became an instant worldwide sensation. Adventurers from America, Britain, Japan and Sweden, including Huntington, Stein, Otani Kozui and Bergman set foot here for several times. In the 1930s, Chinese archaeologist Huang Wenbi came here for the first time and made a survey of this area, which was found even then in terrible conditions due to wanton excavation with many exquisite cultural historic relics carted off to distant foreign lands.
In 1979, a group of tombs called Sun Tombs, known for their unique and spectacular burial forms, were excavated in the Gumugou Graveyard, the public graveyard of the Lop Nur inhabitants in the Bronze Age. In early 1980s, in the Tiebanhe River Delta area of the lower reaches of the Peafowl River in Lop Nur, a female mummy dating back some 3,800 years was unearthed and was dubbed by the Japanese as the "Loulan Beauty". This set off a wave of current exploration of the Silk Road.
The archaeological excavation being currently conducted in the Xiaohe (Small River) Graveyard is now the focus of the world's academic elite. The Xiaohe Graveyard, 175 km west of the City of Loulan, is located in the lower reaches of the Peafowl River in the Lop Nur. When the Graveyard was found, it is said that there were some 1,000 coffins. It is large in scale with sand dunes as high as eight metres, on which approximately 140 wooden stakes in various shapes were densely erected. These burial customs are, to say the least, unusual ... with the unearthed relics dated back to China's most ancient days.
Situated on the eastern edge of the Tarim Basin and northwest of the Lop Nur area, the Loulan Kingdom is now a lifeless zone with endless "forests" of mounds rarely seen in the world. The scene here is desolate with the ruins of the Silk Road scattered about while hidden deep within the Earth are vast petroleum and mineral resources ... all shrouded in mystery. Clearly this is the lure which attracts people from all corners of the globe.
The ancient city of Loulan was the capital of Loulan Kingdom during the Han and Jin Dynasties, spanning 100,000 sq. metres. Inside the city, there were ruins of government offices, civilian dwellings, Buddhist pagodas and temples. In the suburbs there were remnants of meandering dried rivers, ditches and farmland and in the north of the city today one can see scattered ancient tombs, stupas and beacon towers. Around this city are dozens of temples, residential houses and graveyards. In the ruins of the City of Loulan, a substantial amount of cultural relics were unearthed, including wooden slip documents written in both Chinese and Kharosithi; Han Dynasty and Kushan Kingdom coins; bronze mirrors; lacquer ware as well as fragments of brocade of Han Dynasty and woolen fabrics in Greek and Roman style as well as exquisite wooden carvings ... all reflecting the then flourishing social status of Loulan and the constant cultural and business exchanges between East and West.
In the distance is the wind-swept, snowcapped Kuluktag Mountain, presenting a marvelous panorama. While at the foot of the mount and at the ruins of ancient times, the pace of life continues to flow. The fragments of early civilization lie scattered over the ground seem to whisper tales of time long ago with the rise and fall of the Loulan.
One can only imagine its glorious past.
(Source: csnnews.com / photos: baidu.com)
How to get there: A trip to the Ancient City of Loulan is not recommended to tourists because the journey is difficult and Loulan's remote location and harsh natural environment can prevent help reaching you in the event of an emergency. But if you are determined to go, please read the following tips carefully:
1. The Milan 36 Tuanchang, located 74 kilometers West of the county seat of Ruoqiang, is the best place from which to begin a Loulan exploration. You need to drive North-East for 222 kilometers and it will require constant use of GPS and a compass to stop yourself from getting lost. The condition of the ground makes driving very difficult, so your speed at points might be limited to about 3 kilometers per hour.
2. Vehicles can go no closer than 18 kilometers to the ruins of the ancient city, and you will have to finish the rest of the journey by foot or by camel.
3. The best time to visit Loulan is during mid-April and mid-October, when it is less windy in the desert.
4. You must have company and several off-road vehicles to go to Loulan. Other necessities include car-repair tools, GPS, satellite phone and medicine, as well as water and food that can last for at least 15 days.
5. The temperature gap between the daytime and night can be huge in the desert, so make sure you have appropriate clothing. And it is a good idea if your clothes and tents are in a striking color so rescuers can easily spot them in an emergency.
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