Charklik / Ruoqiang in Xinjiang outline mapCharklik / Ruoqiang - Ancient Kingdom and Outpost Gateway

Table of Contents

Uyghur: Charklik چاقىلىق
Chinese: Ruoqiang 若羌

Telephone prefix: 0996
Population: 30,000 in Ruoqiang County (2002)

Charklik / Ruoqiang is the easternmost town of any size on the southern rim of the Taklamakan Desert.

There are no famed points of tourist interest to see in or very near Charklik / Ruoqiang. Instead, the town presents an opportunity for visitors to see the everyday life of mostly Uyghur people and some Han Chinese people in a rural town with a growing but still quite small Chinese center with a surprisingly large central square. The paved roads from Korla, 490 km north, and Cherchen / Qiemo, 315 km east, were completed after the year 2000, so the town has been isolated and only open to non-4WD traffic since then.

There are some ancient Silk Road sites to visit northeast of here. Miran is nearby. Farther is the legendary but much more expensive-to-visit ancient city of Loulan.

Otherwise, the Charklik / Ruoqiang itself is mainly known to travelers, modern and ancient, as a transit point or gateway. In ancient times until just the last few centuries, Charklik / Ruoqiang was along the main connection route between Mongolia and Tibet, both great powers with strong ties. A Mongolian ruler installed the first Dalai Lama on the Tibetan throne. A less well-known but significant Silk Road route went southeast from Miran to Koko Nor, now Xining, from the fourth to ninth centuries.

From Charklik / Ruoqiang, you can go north to Korla and Urumqi, west to Cherchen / Qiemo, Hotan, and Kashgar, east -- albeit with a serious four-wheel caravan -- to Dunhuang, southeast then east by public transport through Qinghai to Dunhuang in Gansu, or further southeast to Xining or Golmud in Qinghai and on from Golmud to Lhasa in Tibet.

Marco Polo came through here in 1273 when the town was called Lop. Much earlier, it was once the capital of the ancient kingdom of Shanshan after the capital was moved from Loulan and then Miran, respectively,in the first century BCE and the third century CE.

A Note on Names and Spelling

Charklik, pronounced char-kleek', is the Uyghur name. The Chinese characters are 若羌; the pinyin with tone markings is Ruòqiāng. It is pronounced, approximately roo-oh-cheeang'. Because both names are frequently used, and both Uyghur and Chinese are official languages in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, the author uses both names always.

Charklik is sometimes spelled Qarklik or Charkilik or Charkliq. (Charklik is not to be confused with Karghilik / Yecheng, another town on the southern Taklamakan rim much closer to Kashgar.) Ruoqiang is sometimes spelled Roqiang. For other names the town has been known by, see the Falling Rain web page for Charklik / Ruoqiang.

Photos at Flicker Site

Large versions, up to 600 pixels high or wide, of the author's photographs at this site can be seen by clicking on the thumbnails. Even larger versions of the author's photographs, up to 2000 pixels high or wide, and additional images of Charklik / Ruoqiang and the routes through Qinghai described on this page can be found at the author's Flickr site. Images of the town and area itself are in the Charklik / Ruoqiang collection. Images of the trip from Xinjiang into Qinghai Province are in the Qinghai collection.

Several of the images and all the quoted text on this page are the copyright of people other than the author. To the extent that copyright, ownership or source is known to the author, it has been noted. If not owned by the author of this page, but ownership is not known, "Source: Unknown" is listed. All other material is copyright © centralasiatraveler.com. The copyright, noted at the end of this page, applies to the author's photographs and text but does not extend to these images and text belonging to others.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION
  A Note on Names and Spelling
ORIENTATION AND MAPS
  Weather
INFORMATION
SLEEPING
EATING
SIGHTS IN TOWN
  Town Square
  Small Town Wandering
SIGHTS FARTHER AFIELD
MIRAN
LOULAN - Loulan, Xiaohe, and Qäwrighul
LOP NUR
LOP NOR WILDLIFE CAMEL NATIONAL NATURE RESERVE
ALTUN MOUNTAINS NATURE RESERVE
YARDANGS OF DRAGON CITY
GETTING THERE AND AWAY
  West to Cherchen / Qiemo or North to Korla
  Overland Directly East to Dunhuang
HEADING SOUTHEAST FROM CHARKLIK / RUOQIANG
    INTO QINGHAI AND ON TO DUNHUANG, GOLMUD, OR XINING

First Leg: Charklik / Ruoqiang to Shimiankuang
  Shimiankuang
  Mangnai Zhen
Second Leg: Shimiankuang to Huatugou
  Huatugou
Third Leg: Huatugou to Dunhuang, Golmud, or Xining
  Huatugou to Golmud and Golmud to Huatugou
  Huatugou to Dunhuang and Dunhuang to Huatugou
  Huatugou to Xining and Xining to Huatugou
  Closed Towns and the Alien Travel Permit
CONTACT US

ORIENTATION AND MAPS

Charklik / Ruoqiang is an oasis town near the southeast edge of the Taklamakan Desert and the southwest edge of the Lop Desert, part of the much larger Gobi Desert.

Street map of central Charklik / Ruoqiang, Xinjiang, ChinaSatellite image of central Charklik / Ruoqiang, Xinjiang, China, © GoogleTo the left is a street map of central Charklik / Ruoqiang. To the right is a satellite image matching the map. Click here for a higher-resolution PDF version of the street map.

The town center is quite small, focused around a large plaza, with mainly Han Chinese buildings covered in white tile. The Uyghur neighborhoods lie just beyond, as do agricultural and pastoral areas. There are several hotels and hostels in town, and some basic restaurants and food stands. Most of the small grocery stores are clustered around the bus station northeast of the plaza, on a wide street with four lines of trees. The central wide two-lane strip is reserved for cars, trucks, buses and motorcycles, while the side two lanes, each shaded by trees on both sides, are reserved for bicycles and donkey carts, and sidewalks for pedestrians.

The town is 980 km south of Urumqi, Xinjiang's provincial capital, and 490 km south of Korla on a highway that generally follows the dividing line between the sandy Taklamakan Desert to the west and the rockier Lop Desert to the east. Coordinates: 39°01'20"N 88°09'49"E; Elevation: 888 m.

The image below left shows the southeastern rim of the Taklamakan Desert in southern Xinjiang. Charklik / Ruoqiang is 956 km east of Hotan, 351 km east of Cherchen / Qiemo, and 1,475 km east of Kashgar along Highway 315.

Satellite image map of southeastern Tarim Basin, Xinjiang, ChinaCharklik / Ruoqiang is also 966 km northwest of Golmud / Ge'ermu in Qinghai, the springboard to Lhasa, and 999 km west of Dunhuang (routing southeast through Qinghai Province), with its famed Mogao Caves in Gansu. Xining is 1,451 km southeast. See Getting There and Away (below) for more information on transport options.

There are no trains to Charklik / Ruoqiang. The closest and easiest train access is in Korla, via the new, sealed asphaltHighway 218.

Charklik / Ruoqiang is the county seat of Charklik / Ruoqiang County. Charklik / Ruoqiang County is the largest county in all of China, with 198,318 sq km, and neighboring Cherchen / Qiemo County is the second largest. Both of these counties are in the Bayangol / Bayingolin Mongol Autonomous Prefecture, which is the largest prefecture in all of China, with 462,700 sq km. Korla is the capital of this prefecture.

Bayingolin, also spelled Bayingholin or Bayangol, is the westernmost prefecture in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Bayingolin Mongol Autonomous Prefecture -- 巴音郭楞蒙古自治州-- is sometimes abbreviated by locals in Chinese to Bazhou (巴州, the first and last Chinese characters). The 'Mongol' in its name reflects the large local ethnic Mongol population and reminds one of the area's strong historical connection to Mongolia. Just south across the provincial border in Qinghai is the Haixi Mongol and Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, bringing to mind the ancient strong connection between Buddhist Mongolia and Buddhist Tibet for centuries after Buddhism had largely disappeared in China.

 

Charklik / Ruoqiang town, satellite image, Image source:  Google

 

To the left is a satellite image of the town of Charklik / Ruoqiang, along the Charklik River. (Image source: Google.)

Charklik / Ruqiang oasis, Xinjiang, China, satellite image, Image source:  Google

 

To the right is a satellite image of the Charklik / Ruoqiang oasis along the Charklik River. (Image source: Google.)

Cherchen / Qiemo, Charklik / Ruoqiang, Miran, Lop Nor in Xinjiang and Huatugou in Qinghai, China, satellite image, Image source: Google

 

To the left is a satellite image of southeastern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and northwestern Qinghai province, with Cherchen / Qiemo, Charklik / Ruoqiang, Miran, Lop Nor shown in Xinjiang and Huatugou shown in Qinghai. (Image source: Google.) In the upper left quadrant is a corner of the vast Taklamakan Desert. Across the center diagonally are the Kunlun Mountains in the west and the Altun Mountains (Altyn Tagh / Arjin Shan) in the east. Along the right edge toward the top is part of the Qaidam Basin (also written Tsaidam, Chaidam and Chaidan Pendi).

 

Weather

The three main weather conditions of interest to the traveler are heat, cold and sand.

Playing dead in the heat of the Taklamakan Desert, Xinjiang, China - © L Joo, virtualtourist.com
Playing dead on
Taklamakan Desert
© L Joo

Being near the desert, Charklik / Ruoqiang is very hot in summer and very dry in winter, and very dry all year round. See Climate Charts on Charklik / Ruoqiang to see the average climatic conditions.

Charklik / Ruoqiang is also subject to frequent sandstorms. As many as 40% of days in a year will have 'dust weather' to some extent.

Sandstorm, Cherchen / Qiemo, Xinjiang, China

Sandstorms are especially frequent in spring, less so in summer and minimal in the fall, which is the best time to visit. Most sandstorms are minor and merely annoying to the visitor. One can expect the sky to be hazy here for most of the spring, but this is sand, the breath of the yellow dragon, not smog. Some sandstorms have a bit more punch and can last for days, though sights and restaurants remain open and transport continues to operate.

A few fierce sandstorms each year can bring the area to a standstill for a couple of days -- and a big one far away north in Korla might cancel your departure bus even while you are under sunny skies. It's advisable to leave an extra day or two of flexibility in your schedule when traveling in this region.

In the winter, the weather is quite chilly, especially fierce at night. However, there is virtually no rainfall or snowfall the entire year, and sandstorms are at their minimum. So if you wear warm clothing, it's still a good time to visit. All transport is still operating around the Taklamakan Desert, so you can go north to Korla on onward to Turpan or Kucha, or west to Cherchen / Qiemo and on to Hotan and Kashgar. However, the 'public car' into Qinghai stops running in winter, the one that goes through the canyons and over the nearly 4,000 meter pass into Shimiankuang, Qinghai, as described further below, on your way to Dunhuang, Xining or Golmud. This same route is also subject to delays of several days from June to September when the snow melt gets the rivers running, the bed of which the dirt track crosses several times in a narrow river canyon.

 

INFORMATION

Cultural Relics Bureau

0996-7102909. No English spoken.

文物wén wù - wen wucultural relic / historical relic
hǔ - shuoffice / bureau
文物署wén wù shǔ - wen wu shu Cultural Relics Bureau

The author did not visit this office, and does not know the address. It seems likely one could arrange for a permit here to visit the ancient Miran ruins, which the author has read costs Y350. They likely do not speak English. They may be able to assist you to find a car and driver to go to Miran. Read more about Miran below.

Bank

The town has an Agricultural Bank of China branch. But it is of no use to foreigners. It does not have an ATM. Even if it did have an ATM, Agricultural Bank of China ATMs do not accept foreign cards anywhere in China. Further, even inside the bank, the staff will not be able to exchange foreign currency and cannot give a cash advance on a credit card. The closest places with banks useful to foreigners are Korla, 490 km north, Hotan, 956 km east, Dunhuang, 1,047 km east, or to Golmud, 983 km southeast. Bring all the RMB you'll need with you in this area.

Internet Access

There is at least one Wang Ba (Internet cafe) in Ruoqiang, next to the Xin Xin guesthouse, which is across the street and a bit south of the bus station.

Bus Station

The bus station is one block east then one block north from the central square.

 

SLEEPING

Shower head with dropletWater Limits

As in many small Chinese towns, especially in the desert, the water supply is a challenge. Water may only be available certain hours of the day. Be sure to ask your hotel staff when cold water and hot water are available in your room during your stay. (When asking about times, find out if your contact is referring to Xinjiang time, which a majority of folks use for most of daily life, or official Beijing time, which the government requires for all official purposes, such as bus schedules.) However, even when water is turned off, hotels always have a stash of large thermoses with boiling hot water available for each guest room.


Xin Chuan 心川 Hostel, Charklik / Ruoqiang, Xinjiang, ChinaXin Chuan Hostel, Charklik / Ruoqiang, Xinjiang, ChinaXin Chuan Hostel

心川 (Heart River) 招待所 (Zhao Dai Suo - Hostel) 0996-7105015, 0996-2639729
This basic hostel is on the bus station grounds just to the right after walking out of the bus station. The cost was Y25 for a moderately clean but very basic room with two beds, a tiny TV, ceiling and bed lights, and a key to the room. The hostel has separate men's and women's bathrooms, each with a flush, squat toilet, wall shower, and sink. A working washing machine in the women's bathroom and many sheets hanging on the clothing line give one comfort about the cleanliness.


Tian Ran Ju 天然居 Guest House, Charklik / Ruoqiang, Xinjiang, ChinaTian Ran Ju Guest House - Lobby, Charklik / Ruoqiang, Xinjiang, ChinaTian Ran Ju Guest House

天然居 (Natural Residence) 宾馆 (Bin Guan - Guest House) 0996-7105566
Tian Ran Ju Binguan is a multistory, mid-range, new hotel at the end of the block if one turns to the right after walking out of the bus station. 120Y is the listed price (likely negotiable) for a very nice, large, clean, new room with two large beds and a large TV, with bathroom with a flushing seated toilet and shower stall. The author didn't ask if there were dorm rooms and there weren't any on the price list, but often in China they are available upon request. Two cages of parakeets chatter in the lobby. Listed prices: Deluxe suite Y260, suite Y180, standard room with bath Y120.

Xin Xin 鑫鑫 Guest House, Charklik / Ruoqiang, Xinjiang, China

Xin Xin 鑫鑫
Guest House
photo: © ellyse

 

 

Xin Xin Guest House

鑫鑫
Between these two above options, geographically and pricewise, is the Xin Xin guest house. It is across the street from the bus station but a bit closer to the center of town, and is in between the above two options in price and quality. Clean twin with ensuite bathroom for Y70 per night. Two-bed dorm for Y20 per person.

(The complex Chinese character 鑫 (xin) is a tripling of the character 金 (jin) meaning money or gold. This xin character is only used in names but gives the sense of wealth or abundance.)

EATING

Zui Shan Ju Jiu 醉仙居酒 Restaurant, next to bus station, Charklik / Ruoqiang, Xinjiang, ChinaZui Shan Ju Jiu Restaurant building, Charklik / Ruoqiang, Xinjiang, ChinaZui Shan Ju Jiu Restaurant

醉仙居酒 0996-7105580
This pleasant, large, new, clean Chinese restaurant, with a large bar, is in the four-story building just to the right after walking out of the bus station. The long menu is only in Chinese, with most dishes 10-25Y. The staff are quite attentive; when the author asked for soy sauce and they had none, they rushed out to a store to buy some. (Most Chinese restaurants in western China have vinegar rather than soy sauce at the table.) Very nice staff, but they speak no English.

 

Sichuan Restaurant, next to Xin Xin guesthouse, Charklik / Ruoqiang, Xinjiang, China, Image: © ellyse, http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/1d57/

Sichuan Restaurant
photo: © ellyse

Sichuan Restaurant

Fruit seller by grocery stores, near bus station, Charklik / Ruoqiang, Xinjiang, ChinaYou will find a Sichuan-cuisine restaurant next to the Xin Xin hotel.

 

 

Uyghur Food Stalls

Shops near bus station, Charklik / Ruoqiang, Xinjiang, ChinaThere are some simple Uyghur stall restaurants close by the bus station if you turn left after leaving the bus station, and probably many more elsewhere in town. Near the bus station are several tiny grocery outlets with snack foods and water, and produce vendors nearby outside.

 

Eating in the Center

There are likely several restaurants in the town center south of the bus station. Turn right as you exit the bus station.


INTRODUCTION
  A Note on Names and Spelling
ORIENTATION AND MAPS
  Weather
INFORMATION
SLEEPING
EATING
SIGHTS IN TOWN
  Town Square
  Small Town Wandering
SIGHTS FARTHER AFIELD
MIRAN
LOULAN - Loulan, Xiaohe, and Qäwrighul
LOP NUR
LOP NOR WILDLIFE CAMEL NATIONAL NATURE RESERVE
ALTUN MOUNTAINS NATURE RESERVE
YARDANGS OF DRAGON CITY
GETTING THERE AND AWAY
  West to Cherchen / Qiemo or North to Korla
  Overland Directly East to Dunhuang
HEADING SOUTHEAST FROM CHARKLIK / RUOQIANG
    INTO QINGHAI AND ON TO DUNHUANG, GOLMUD, OR XINING

First Leg: Charklik / Ruoqiang to Shimiankuang
  Shimiankuang
  Mangnai Zhen
Second Leg: Shimiankuang to Huatugou
  Huatugou
Third Leg: Huatugou to Dunhuang, Golmud, or Xining
  Huatugou to Golmud and Golmud to Huatugou
  Huatugou to Dunhuang and Dunhuang to Huatugou
  Huatugou to Xining and Xining to Huatugou
  Closed Towns and the Alien Travel Permit
CONTACT US

SIGHTS IN TOWN

The author's research tells of no particular sightseeing destination for tourists to see in the town itself.

Town Square

There is a large square or park a block south then west of the bus station. One source indicated it may be called People's Square (人民 rén mín people 广场 guǎng chǎng public square).

Small Town Wandering

Most tourists who come this far, unless they are simply coming from or going to Qinghai, Gansu and Tibet, are looking for a taste of rural small-town Uyghur daily life, usually as a counterpoint to the assembly-line mass tourism industry of the northern road around Xinjiang. It is a good place for peripatetic joy. From the satellite view, it appears there is an agricultural area just a block north of the the bus station (turn left as you exit the station).

If you take any pictures of the square, the author would appreciate the opportunity to include them in this page, with credit, as well as any pictures of the following (along with their location on the street map):

Once a year, in mid-September, the town holds a Hongzao (Red Jujube or Loulan Date) Festival (红枣 - hóng red, zǎo jujube, 楼兰 lóu lán Loulan). You can see two videos of music and dancing at this festival at youtube.com here and here from the author of the blog The Opposite End of China. See an image of a musician at the festival here.

 

SIGHTS FARTHER AFIELD


Charklik / Ruoqiang and Miran, Xinjiang, China, satellite image, Image source:  GoogleMiran ancient ruins, Charklik / Ruoqiang County, Xinjiang, China, Source: © GoogleMIRAN

米兰 milan 遗址 yí zhǐ Ancient Ruins
Fee not fixed. Y350, Y500, or Y1,000.

The ancient site of Miran can be visited, though this author did not go. 39º13'36"N, 88º58'15"E, 933 m.

Most folks go by private hired car. One can take a bus as far as the modern town of New Miran / Milan (daily, 75km, 17:00-19:30, 15Y). This bus is listed in the Charklik / Ruoqiang bus station schedule as going to 36团. The 36 stands for No.36 Regiment Farm, described below.

Building ruins at ancient Miran, Charklik / Ruoqiang County, Xinjiang, China, Source: A Grand View of Xinjiang's Cultural Relics and Historic SitesTamarisk cone growing at ancient Miran site, Charklik / Ruoqiang County, Xinjiang, ChinaSeveral tour companies include a trip toancient Miran on their itineraries of Xinjiang. The tour agencies may also include a visit to No.36 Regiment Farm, a former prison camp, one of 185 such camps that were used to help populate Xinjiang in the early decades of New China since the 1949 revolution. Modern Miran (New Milan) is the settlement populated by the descendents of this farm's residents. These people are almost exclusively Han Chinese, while elsewhere in the county, the population is overwhelmingly Uyghur or Mongol.

4WD vehicle on track to ancient Miran from Charklik / Ruoqiang, Xinjiang, China, Source: cr_road-to-miran_www.users.ku.pc.kyoto-udac.jpThe author was told one needs a 4WD to reach the ancient ruins, which many folks in New Miran likely have, so you might be able to save money by taking the bus to New Miran and hiring a 4WD there. However, then you'd have to spend two nights there, since the bus schedule seems designedfor folks from Miran who want to come into Charklik / Ruoqiang for the day, leaving Miran in the morning and returning from Charklik / Ruoqiang in the afternoon. The author has no information about lodging in Miran.

Prior permission from the Cultural Relics Bureau is needed to visit ancient Miran, however, with a steep fee, discussed below. It is also likely that an official guide from the CRB will likely need to accompany you; there may be an assigned person you can meet in New Miran or a person may need to accompany you from Charklik / Ruoqiang.

Shrine, bldg m.ii, f120, ancient Miran, Charklik / Ruoqiang County, Xinjiang, China, Source: 'Ancient Khotan,' SteinThe author has seen quotes of two, seven, and twenty kilometers for the distance from the town to the ruins. On a satellite maps, it looks like the ruins are quite close to modern Miran, just southeast of town, with two or seven more appropriate estimates.

Map of irrigation channels in ancient Miran, Charklik / Ruoqiang County, Xinjiang, China, Source: Xinjiang Museum, UrumqiIf you are planning an independent trip, the local Cultural Relics Bureau said, by phone in Chinese, that permission to visit, from the Cultural Relics Bureau in Charklik / Ruoqiang: 0996-7102909, costs 500Y and can be processed the same day. It seems that the price is per group rather than per person. The author has also read of the permit price quoted as Y350. Elsewhere in the region it has seemed that the entry fees for such sights is not officially fixed, so it might be best to have someone who speaks Chinese do your bargaining for you. One can also get the permit in advance from the Cultural Relics Bureau in Urumqi, but there it is said to cost 1,000Y.

Miran / Milan is a smaller site than the more famous Loulan (below), but it is much less expensive and easier to visit. The site was excavated / pillaged by archaeologist Aurel Stein in 1906, 1907, and 1914.

The site "consists of the ruins of a huge circular fort—occupied between the eighth and ninth centuries by Tibetan troops—a stupa, a temple and a few other structures...Here Stein unearthed not only manuscripts written in Tibetan, Chinese, Brahmi, Miran battlement in fort, Miran ancient ruins, Charklik / Ruoqiang County, Xinjiang, China, Source: theorientalcaravan.comKharoshthi and even a Turkic runic script, but also magnificent Buddhist murals dating from the 3rd century AD. Stylistic influences include Gandhara and the eastern Mediterranean area." Source: The Silk Road - Xi'an to Kashgar, Judy Bonavia updated by Christoph Baumer.

Miran stupa, Charklik / Ruoqiang County, Xinjiang, China, Source: A Grand View of Xinjiang's Cultural Relics and Historic SitesMiran was the capital of the kingdom of Shanshan during the first century BCE, and it came to have a vibrant Buddhist culture, with a large monastery and several temples. At some point during the first centuries CE, the capital of Shanshan was moved to near what is now Charklik / Ruoqiang. During the third century, climate change made the northern Silk Road more popular. Miran declined and was abandoned until expanding Tibetan forces established it as garrison town in the eighth and ninth centuries, when the fort was built.

In between these two periods, the area around Charklik / Ruoqiang was controlled during the fourth to seventh centuries by the Tuhuyan, a tribe of the Qiang peoples who had lived since before the opening of the Silk Road in what are now southern Gansu and northern Qinghai Provinces. Although Miran was not re-populated at that time, considerable trade went through this area and through Qinghai to Koko Nor, today's Qinghai Lake and Xining and from there into the southern Chinese kingdoms, as an alternative to going through the Hexi Corridor to the northern Chinese kingdoms.

In the Tibetan language, Lop Nur was called "Nob" and Large Shanshan City [Charklik / Ruoqiang] was called "Nob-Chen" and Small Shanshan City [Miran] was called "Nob-Chung." (Large Shanshan City means Ruoqiang and Small Shanshan City means the old city of Milan, during the times of Tibetan rule here during various periods in the eighth and ninth centuries.)

Winged being fresco, now in Delhi, India - removed from Miran ancient ruins, Charklik / Ruoqiang, Xinjiang, China, Source: 'Ancient Khotan,' SteinGriffin fighting man, fresco, removed from ancient Miran, Charklik / Ruoqiang County, Xinjiang, China, Source: 'Ancient Khotan,' SteinMiran is famous for its frescos, from the earlier period of occupation, though the visitor today can see none of these at the site. Many of them were removed by explorer Aurel Stein and are on display in the National Museum in Delhi, India. Those that remain on site have been reburied under tons of sand and dirt to protect them against the elements and vandals. A few images are shown here. The many winged geniis or angels, in a style more likely from Iranian mythology than Christian, and a griffen, dated to the third century CE, show the unmistakable mixed Greek, Bactrian and Indian influence of the Gandhara Buddhist art style of the Kushan Empire (from what is now India, Pakistan, Afghanistan) that was imported into Xinjiang via Hotan. Many other scenes show the Buddha preaching to disciples. Many Buddha statues were also found.Documents were found written in the Brahmi script as well as Kharosthi script, both of which entered Xinjiang from what is now India. No excavations have been undertaken at Miran since Stein's last visit in 1914.

In the Tibetan fort, Stein uncovered a wealth of documents, mostly on wood and primarily in Tibetan script, and some in a Turkic runic script, evidencing. The subject of most documents, as expected, are of a military or administrative nature. After the Uyghur defeat of the Tibetans in about 860, the site was again abandoned until the establishment of the No.36 Regiment Farm.

Silk flowers, removed from ancient Miran, Charklik / Ruoqiang County, Xinjiang, China, Source: 'Ancient Khotan,' SteinTibetan writing, on wooden tablets, 8th-9th cent, now at Delhi Museum, India, removed from ancient Miran, Charklik / Ruoqiang County, Xinjiang, China, Source: 'Ancient Khotan,' SteinThe site of ancient Miran is next to New Milan, also known as No.36 Regiment Farm. This is one of 185 large, government-run, Han Chinese farms in Xinjiang. Also called No.36 Regiment of Production and Construction, it was many decades was a prison work camp after the 1949 Revolution. Most detainees were never allowed to return home from here, so now their third and fourth generation descendents still live here. Official folks might be a bit sensitive about independent travelers going out here.

See GETTING THERE AND AWAY for public transportation information. The site cannot be visitied without a permit from the Cultural Relics Bureau. This permit to visit ancient Miran could be gotten in Urumqi (Y1000), Hotan (Y350), or in Charklik / Ruoqiang (Y500). The permit fee is not fixed in any location and these prices are quotes the author was given and may be negotiable. The contact information for the Charklik / Ruoqiang Cultural Relics Bureau is given above under INFORMATION

 

LOULAN

罗兰 lúo lán

Loulan site, Charklik / Ruoqiang County, Xinjiang, ChinaLoulan site w stupa, Charklik / Ruoqiang County, Xinjiang, ChinaDriving 260 kilometers northeast of Charklik / Ruoqiang will take you to ancient Loulan. That and thousands of dollars for a permit. Plus camels or serious jeeps in a caravan, including extra camels to carry food and water for the camels.

Loulan and Niya (farther west) are the two largest and best preserved of the ancient Silk Road cities in Xinjiang, so access is severely restricted. To visit Loulan independently, you need to get quite pricey permission from the Cultural Relics Bureau 家文物局 – 20,000Y from CRB-Urumqi or 10,000Y from CRB-Charklik / Ruoqiang – and mount an expedition with four-wheel drive vehicles or camels to reach it.

Loulan stupa, Charklik / Ruoqiang County, Xinjiang, ChinaEven Loulan temple, Charklik / Ruoqiang County, Xinjiang, Chinathough the reader is unlikely to visit, the author provides some information regarding the site and its history, because of its fame and historical significance in the region. (Without visiting this or other archaeological sites in the area, the traveler can take tours to visit the dry bed of the famous nearby Lop Nor Lake which had sustained them. See Lop Nor Lake, below.)

More information is provided here on three of the more famous ancient sites in the area, Loulan, Xiaohe, and Qäwrighul. Only Loulan is open to visitors, and then only with a very expensive permit and an expensive expedition. Expeditions for Loulan generally leave from Urumqi or Korla, though the site is physicaly in Charklik / Ruoqiang County..

Loulan

Loulan doorway, Charklik / Ruoqiang County, Xinjiang, ChinaThree branches of the Silk Road – from northern, central, and southern Xinjiang – meet up in Loulan. The single ancient Silk Road then continued east to Dunhuang, through the fierce Desert of Lop.

Loulan was an established trading city, likely for long before it was mentioned by the Xiong Nu leader in a letter to the Chinese emperor in 176 BCE.

Loulan wood building ruin, Charklik / Ruoqiang County, Xinjiang, ChinaHistory shows that China's interest in and ability to control Loulan and lands further west waxed and waned over the centuries. The Xiongnu and later the Tibetans each took control of the area for a time, and for extensive periods it was ruled by local kings.

Loulan was the Chinese name since the Han dynasty for both the city and kingdom which was known locally as Kroran or Kroraina, based on documents excavated at the site and elsewhere in Xinjiang. While the Chinese kept the name of the city here as Loulan, in their records dating from 130 BCE, the kingdom was renamed ShanShan by the Chinese in 77 BCE, when the Chinese killed the local ruler and the kingdom became a puppet Chinese state and the Chinese moved the capital to Miran, keeping Loulan as a garrison town.

Loulan carved wood, Charklik / Ruoqiang County, Xinjiang, ChinaThe Loulan site was abandoned in 330 CE due to lack of water when the Tarim River changed its course dramatically and began filling a different lake 100 km to the southwest.

Swedish explorer Sven Hedin rediscovered Loulan in 1900 and surveyed the site, but Aurel Stein was the main excavator. He and later explorers took everything they could find, including a fragment of a woolen textile featuring the Greek god Hermes, showing the cultural influence of the Greco-Bactrian kingdom in what is now Afghanistan and Pakistan. Later art showed a strong Gandhara artistic influence of the Kushan Empire which conquered the Bactrians and also came to control much of today's India, Iran, and the western and southernTarim Basin. The Chinese, in the decades since Stein, have moved everything else movable that they have excavated – mummies, coins, jewelry, inscribed wood strips, wooden figures and pottery shards – to the Xinjiang museum in Urumqi.

Silk fabric w animals and Chinese characters, 1st-3rd cent, Loulan, Charklik / Ruoqiang County, Xinjiang, ChinaIn the area there are actually many separate sites, labeled L.A. to L.Q. scattered over a large area, all to the west or northwest of Lop Nor. The main sites are L.A., the walled city with the 12 m stupa, and L.E. with fortifications, that is older than L.A., and L.K. to which the Chinese moved their military garrison after abandoning L.A.

Bolts of silk, 3rd-4th cent, Loulan, Charklik / Ruoqiang County, Xinjiang, ChinaThe government has been in a race against tomb looters to explore and protect Loulan and the tombs and other sites in the area. See an article about the problem: Loulan Mausoleum Remains Lost. The sites had previously been protected by the very remoteness of the region, but roads built for the nuclear tests and, more recently, for oil exploration have allowed pillagers easier access.

So if you had several thousand dollars to invest in a visit, what would you see there? Several Buddhist stupas including one 12 m high, fortification walls, wooden poles as remains of homes and official buildings, and rows of dried tree trunks that were once orchards.

Xiaohe Cemetery

Xiaohe is not open to visitors. In the same region, but dating back earlier than Loulan, in 2005, researchers rediscovered hundreds of 4000-year-old tombs, at a site they the Xiaohe (or Little River). This cemetery was originally discovered in the 1930s and described in 'Archaeological Researches in Xinjiang' by Folke Bergman, who worked with Sven Hedin on his later excavations in the region, but the site was never fully explored until the last few years. This site is not open to the public.

Cemetery at Qäwrighul / Gumugou cemetery, Charklik / Ruoqiang County, Xinjiang, ChinaQäwrighul Cemetery

Qäwrighul / Gumugou (古墓沟), northwest of Loulan, is not open to visitors. Dating back two thousand years earlier, Qäwrighul was inhabited from the Bronze Age. Many tombs have been found here, some with extensive systems of circles and rays made by tree posts. (The site is also written Qawrighul or Chawrighul, but is not the same at the Charwighul site, several hundred kilometers away and a thousand years younger.)

The most famous resident from this site has been dubbed the Loulan Beauty, whose DNA has been dated to 3800 years ago. Included here are images of this mummy as well as a reproduction of what she may have looked like when alive. The mummy's skin was white when found, but turned very dark after cleaning. Also included is an image of thebasket with cover that was found beside her. She was wrappped in a blanket and was wearing shoes and a cap adorned with a large feather.

Loulan Beauty, skin darkened by cleaning, 1800 BCE, Qäwrighul / Gumugou site, Charklik / Ruoqiang County, Xinjiang, ChinaFor more than a thousand years, from at least 2000 BCE, DNA results confirm, the only settlers in the Tarim Basin were caucasoid peoples. These came east into Xinjiang in the vast Indo-European migrations all starting from the area between and north of the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, the border between Europe and Asia. While they came east, their cousins went west, into all parts of Europe as the Europeans, and south into Iran and India as the Aryans. After that time, a very few non-Europoid remains have been found in Xinjiang for the next several thousand years, and almost all of these were Mongolians or Qiang (a proto-Tibetan people), but essentially no Han Chinese.

Loulan Beauty mummy - reconstruction of appearance in life, 1800 BCE, Qäwrighul / Gumugou site, Charklik / Ruoqiang County, Xinjiang, ChinaBasket and cover found with Loulan Beauty, Qäwrighul / Gumugou site, Charklik / Ruoqiang County, Xinjiang, ChinaSome artifacts dated to nearly 5,000 years ago. The cemetery is called Qäwrighul, though the Chinese call it Gumugou 古墓沟. Many mummies were found here. The best-preserved, and one of earliest, of these is the famous 'Loulan Beauty' dates from 3,800 years ago. Some source incorrectly refer to these peoples as neolithic, but these peoples seem to have entered Xinjiang from the Tian Shan already making and using bronze. The site is not open to the public. The Loulan Beauty can be seen on display in the Xinjiang Museum in Urumqi, along with her basket and other grave items.

The mummies in Xinjiang are often called the Tarim Mummies or the Xinjiang Mummies or the Mummies of Urumqi. There were several distinct groups of Europoid residents in this vast area, which is larger than Alaska. There were also large differences between the settled peoples, such as the Loulan Beauty's people, and the nomadic peoples. Western academics, such as Mair and Mallory, refer to the most ancient settled peoples, who likely ranged in an arc from Loulan to Niya, as part of the 'Kroran culture.' Some Chinese sources refer to the earliest known residents of the region, such as the Loulan Beauty, as members of the 'Peacock River Culture', since the characters used to transliterate of the Uyghur river name, Konche (Uyghur meaning 'Sand River'), are 孔雀 kǒng què, which happen to mean 'peacock' in Chinese.

 

LOP NUR (or LOP NOR)

罗 布 泊 luó bù bó

Lop Nur dry lake bed, Charklik / Ruoqiang County, Xinjiang, ChinaLoulan is just west of the Lop Nor lake, also often spelled Lop Nur. Other old Chinese names for the lake were Puchang Sea and Yanze. Lop Nor was the final remnant of the Tethys Sea, which enveloped the south of Asia before the Indian subcontinent collided with Asia. The sea continued to shrink as the Himalayas and other mountain ranges were uplifted -- Mount Everest was once on the floor of the Tethys Sea. Before it shrunk to become Lop Nor, the entire Taklamakan Desert was covered by the Tethys Sea.

The lake was historically famed for dramatically changing its location on a few historic occasions -- most recently in 1933 -- because of changing routes of the glacier-fed rivers through the desert due to the build-up of silt. The lake has been completely dry since 1972 because most of the water from several rivers of Xinjiang that used to feed it has been diverted for irrigation and increasing human habitation.

The center of Lop Nor is sometimes called Da'erduo 大耳朵 Lake or Big Ear Lake, because the gradual drying of the lake resulted in a concentric series of rims that, from the air, resembles a human ear.

Several travel agents arrange group tours that include Lop Nor. As an example, China Supreme Harmony Travel (cnadventure.com) offers: An Exclusive 4X4 drive to Lop Nor Lake and Challenging Self-Limit. (This is not a recommendation, rather just a sample page found in a web search.)

If you go to Lop Nor, you are likely to encounter the tomb of famed Chinese explorer Yu Chunshun 余纯顺. He died of thirst in 1996 while exploring solo, as he preferred to do, looking for a lost oasis. His body was found only two kilometers from his next buried cache of food and water.

Some portions of the Lop Nor area ( north and east of the lake but not in the lake bed itself) were used for Chinese nuclear testing and are thus off-limits. The first was exploded in October 1964 and between 40 and 50 devices were tested. The main area, one source listed, was generally between 87.12E/42.14N and 87.52E/42.15N. Read more about the nuclear testing at Nuclear Threat Initiative page about the Lop Nur Weapons Test Base.

 

LOP NOR (or LOP NUR) WILDLIFE CAMEL NATIONAL NATURE RESERVE

Wild Bactrian Camels, © John Hare, SIUCN, wildcamels.comCamel 骆驼 (骆, luò, camel 驼 tuó, humpback)

Another, overlapping large area in this region is set aside to "protect one of the largest remaining populations of the world's only wild camel species." The wild camel was only discovered to be a genetically distinct species from the domesticated Bactrian camel in 2001, according to this UNEP report.

A source says one can get permission to visit the fringes of the reserve, but the author wasn't able to find which organization one should petition. But the above link shows a map for the reserve which includes the entire Lop Nor lake bed, so a visit to the lake will automatically take one into the reserve.

Originally 15,000 square kilometers in 1986, it was expanded to 65,000 square kilometers in 1999. Some sources say it was also organizationally linked at that time with the existing Altun Mountains Nature Preserve (below), under the auspices of the Xinjiang Environmental Protection Bureau. In any case, since there are only about 800 wild camels in the region, and they are enormously shy of humans, a visitor is unlikely to see one.

See a map of the reserve, which also shows the route of a recent expedition to search for camels.

Go here for information about the critically endangered wild Bactrian camel.

 

Altun Mountains, Xinjiang / Tibet / Qinghai, China,© www.lotour.com/imagessnapsot/20061124/b012957320.jpgALTUN MOUNTAINS NATURE PRESERVE

ئالتۇن تاغ Altun Tagh
阿尔金山 Arjin (A'erjin) Shan

Prezewalsky's Horse aka Takhi, Xinjiang, ChinaHigh entry fee, amount unknown.

The Altun Mountains are also called Altun Tag or Altyn Tagh in Uyghur and Arjin (Arji'in or Aerjin or A'erjin Shan or A-ehr-chin) in Chinese. This range is east of the Kunlun Mountains that border the southern rim of the Taklamakan.

The Altun Mountains Nature Preserve is south of Charklik / Ruoqiang. Founded in 1964 or 1985 (sources differ), and encompassing 45,000 square kilometers (17,300 square miles), its purpose is to protect populations of wild camels, chiru (Tibetan antelope), kiang (Tibetan wild ass), goitered gazelle, Argali sheep, blue sheep, and wild yak. A 4WD is needed to visit, as is advance permission, but the author was not able to find out what specific organization can grant this permission nor, therefore, what it costs or how to get it. One source indicated the price was quite high for entering the reserve, even for mountaineers who are just passing through on their way to climb Ulugh Muztagh peak.

Wild yak, Kunlun type, Xinjiang & Tibet, China, ©  Lu ZhonglinTibetan antelope"It was here in the 1880s that the great Russian explorer, Nikolai Przewalski, discovered the only existing species of the original horse, which was named Equus Przewalskii or Przewalski's Horse." (Source: "Silk Road", Bonavia / Baumer.) Today, this horse is increasingly frequently called the Takhi.

"Huge Arjin Shan Reserve, high, flat, remote, uninhabited, a 17,375-square-mile (45,000-km2) wilderness, is one of the last places in Asia where large herds of hoofed animals such as Tibetan wild yaks (some 10,000 of them), wild asses (30,000), Tibetan antelopes (up to 75,000), and gazelles can graze unimpeded over large areas, followed by predators like lynx, wolves, snow leopards, and steppe cats, surrounded by towering peaks which are home to ibexes and blue sheep." Source: Nature's Strongholds: The World's Great Wildlife Reserves by Laura Riley and William Riley.

See an outline of the Altun Mountains from Microsoft's Encarta.

 

THE YARDANGS OF DRAGON CITY

Yardan or Yadan 雅丹
Dragon City - long cheng 龙城

yardangs / yadan,  Dragon City, Charklik / Ruoqiang County, Xinjiang, China, Source: © kepu.gov.cn/kply/yadan/yadan.htm"A yardang / yardan is a rock ridge feature caused by wind and water erosion. The word itself is Uyghur, meaning ‘steep bank.' Yardangs are found in dried-up riverbeds and may also be found in deserts. They may form very unusual shapes and some resemble various objects or even people. Yardangs are elongate features typically three or more times longer than they are wide. When viewed from above, they resemble the hull of a boat. Facing the wind is a steep, blunt face that gradually gets lower and narrower toward the lee end...Mega-yardangs can be several kilometers long and hundreds of meters high." Source: Wikipedia on yardangs

About 180 km north of Lop Nor is a particularly striking collection of yardangs. The Chinese have called Dragon City (龙城 long cheng) because of their long, rolling shapes. Most tours to Lop Nor also make a stop at Dragon City, which is 3,000-3,500 square meters in size.

If you have a further yen for yardangs, about 160 km outside of Dunhuang, in Gansu, is the Yadan (Yardang) National Park.

"Occasionally [the yardangs of western China] take on shapes so distinct and so unnatural that it is hard to believe they are not the crumbling remains of man-made structures. Among a fleet of big yardangs at Miran, for example, south of the Lop desert, are rough-hewn square masses on circular bases which mimic the giant Buddhist stupas that stand nearby. Others look like badly worn versions of the Sphinx at Giza, while the whole agglomeration reminds one of some ruined city. But these phantoms are simply the result of erosion over aeons. When land is pushed up in desert areas and exposed to an interminable, uni-directional wind, the softer material is etched away, leaving outcrops of harder stuff. The aeolian erosion is what carved out the improbably mass of Ayers Rock, the freak mountain in the central Australian desert. At Miran the confusion between natural and man-made is enhanced because many of the smaller yardangs were burrowed out by the early inhabitants to make pottery kilns. The shards still lie in heaps at their mouths." "Wild West China: The Taming of Xinjiang", Christian Tyler, p 12.

A Chinese tour brochure describes: "To leave Dragon City to the site where Mr.Yu Chunshun died, the famous Chinese adventurer. In June 1996, Mr.Yu Chunshun got lost here and died of thirst ... only 2 km away from the spot where he buried water and food. After visiting the tomb of Yu Chunshun, go to the dried center of Lop Nur Lake where the tourists often leave memorials; Cross the center of Lop Nur lake known as Da'erduo Lake (Big Ear Lake) to south bank of Lop Nur Lake and camp there."

 

WAXXARI

On the road from Charklik / Ruoqiang to Cherchen / Qiemo (closer to the former), you will pass through the village of Waxxari / Washixia 余纯顺. The highway goes through as the main street in town. Buses will stop to leave or take on passengers near the bazaar. Fare from Charklik / Ruoqiang is Y11.50 and a daily bus leaves at 10:00.

Near the village of Waxxari is the ancient site of Waxxari, which archaeologist Stein called Vash Shahri. It was most well known as a Chinese city from the seventh to twelfth centuries as part of the kingdom of Shanshan. A glass-making factory was operating at the city's height during the Song dynasty, as the kilns attest. The author does not know if this site can be visited and, if so, what the cost of the permit is or what can be seen if you visit, except for kiln remains.

INTRODUCTION
  A Note on Names and Spelling
ORIENTATION AND MAPS
  Weather
INFORMATION
SLEEPING
EATING
SIGHTS IN TOWN
  Town Square
  Small Town Wandering
SIGHTS FARTHER AFIELD
MIRAN
LOULAN - Loulan, Xiaohe, and Qäwrighul
LOP NUR
LOP NOR WILDLIFE CAMEL NATIONAL NATURE RESERVE
ALTUN MOUNTAINS NATURE RESERVE
YARDANGS OF DRAGON CITY
GETTING THERE AND AWAY
  West to Cherchen / Qiemo or North to Korla
  Overland Directly East to Dunhuang
HEADING SOUTHEAST FROM CHARKLIK / RUOQIANG
    INTO QINGHAI AND ON TO DUNHUANG, GOLMUD, OR XINING

First Leg: Charklik / Ruoqiang to Shimiankuang
  Shimiankuang
  Mangnai Zhen
Second Leg: Shimiankuang to Huatugou
  Huatugou
Third Leg: Huatugou to Dunhuang, Golmud, or Xining
  Huatugou to Golmud and Golmud to Huatugou
  Huatugou to Dunhuang and Dunhuang to Huatugou
  Huatugou to Xining and Xining to Huatugou
  Closed Towns and the Alien Travel Permit
CONTACT US

 


GETTING THERE AND AWAY

Heading West or North

Bus station, Charklik / Ruoqiang, Xinjiang, ChinaThe bus station in Charklik / Ruoqiang is in a nice part of town. Many green trees line the street, gracing the sidewalks and the two divider sections between the car lanes and the side lanes – making the street very safe for bicyclists and the donkey carts, as well as quite leafy and attractive.

Northbound, there are four daily buses going 490 km north (north-north-west) to Korla, 490 km. The seat buses depart at 10:00, 12:00, 14:00. One source says the sleeper bus leaves at 16:00; another source says 18:00. The seat buses take 8 hours and cost 72Y. The sleeper takes 6.5 hours and costs 93 lower / 83 upper. The road to Korla is called Highway 218, which continues northwest to Kazakhstan. (On older maps, it is called Highway 109.)

Tree-lined bike lane near bus station, Charklik / Ruoqiang, Xinjiang, ChinaOn Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, a sleeper bus goes to Urumqi, 953 km north. The bus station schedule says this bus leaves at 19:00, but it may be delayed until it fills up.To Urumqi costs 170 lower / 160 upper. The author was told it takes "more than 10 hours." Since it's about twice as far as Korla (463 additional km), and the sleeper to Korla takes 6.5 hours, 13 hours is a good estimate, especially since the road beyond Korla is a larger highway.

Westbound, there is one daily bus to Cherchen / Qiemo that leaves at 10:00, takes 5 hours to cover the 351 km and costs 58Y. (One source wrote on that there is a night bus to Cherchen / Qiemo leaving from the night market in Charklik / Ruoqiang, but this is not listed on the bus station schedule. The author has no information or confirmation of this, but it could be a private service.)

Plastic Palm Tree and decorative street lights, Charklik / Ruoqiang, Xinjiang, ChinaThere are no direct buses heading west from Charklik / Ruoqiang that go to destinations past Cherchen / Qiemo. One must take a bus to Cherchen / Qiemo, and catch another from there to points beyond. (From Cherchen / Qiemo, a daily, luxury, mid-sized seat bus leaves for Hotan / Hetian at 10:00. It stops in Niya / Minfeng at 13:00 (53Y, 351 km), Keriya / Yutian at 18:00 (70Y, 429 km), and Hotan / Hetian at 21:00 (97Y, 605 km).

A daily bus goes at 17:00 northwest to modern Miran (New Milan). This seems to be the new name of the No.36 Regiment Farm, which the bus station destination schedule still lists as 36团 (tuán regiment).

No schedule is listed in the bus station for the public car that leaves from in front of the bus station daily at 08:00 into Qinghai as far as Shimiankuang, nor does one buy tickets from the ticket counter. But if you ask at the ticket office, the staff can give you information about it. This route is described in great detail below.

Overland from Charklik / Ruoqiang to Dunhuang Directly East via Miran

Satellite image with Charklik / Ruoqiang, Xinjiang and Dunhuang, Gansu, and Huatugou and Daqaidam, Qinghai, Image source: GoogleMarco Polo described the area of the eastern Taklamakan as the "Desert of Lop" which took 30 days to cross from Loulan to Dunhuang, the "worst stretch of the southern caravan route."

A few companies that do an organized tour that goes by camel for a part of the route directly from Charklik / Ruoqiang to Dunhuang. (An easier route is described in the next section.) The tour follows Highway 313, on the road that goes to Miran / Milan and passes Baxkorgan 巴什库尔干群, Xorkol, Lapaiquan, and the Yumen or Jade Pass into Dunhuang. From Charklik / Ruoqiang to Dunhuang on this rough route is 822 km. Even though these places have names, many places are completely deserted and the population is said to be extremely sparce, mostly shepherds and mining trucks.

Some tour companies could arrange a package or custom crossing. Xinjiang Grandworld International Tours, in Urumqi, for example, offers a 15-day Adventure Southern Silk Route tour that includes a four-day jeep safari to Dunhuang across Highway 313. (This is not a recommendation, but simply a web link found.) Another tour offers a trip via 4WD vehicles until Xorkol, where one changes to a camel caravan for three days, getting back into vehicles in Lapeiquan.

Here's a link for two men to did a bicycle ride twelve years ago along this route. The only people they saw, other than a few people in a tiny village, were a few shepherds and mining-truck drivers.

Salt crust, devil's golf course, Death Valley, California, USAAncient trade routes in the early days of the Silk Road went northwest from Charklik / Ruoqiang to Loulan on the shores of the now-dry lake of Lop Nor. They then headed east, across the mountains, to Dunhuang. That route is extremely dry and punishing, with a rough, sharp salt crust desert rather than sand. Rather than the gentle sands of the Taklamakan, the ground is rough and sharp, similar to this salt crust landscape in Death Valley in the United States. It would severely cut the feet of camels, so that leather would have to be sewn onto their feet, and often they would be injured by breaking through the crust into hollows. But at that time, the climate was milder and there were a few springs, which gradually dried up.

Going this route via Lop Nor today would involve an even more serious expedition, almost entirely off-road.

Most non-expedition-minded folks, however, take neither of these two routes. Instead, they go (1) northwest to Korla by bus and from there, by train, east to Hami and southeast to Dunhuang by train, or (2) southeast to Shimiankuang, 6+ hours by public car, then by minibus 1.5 hours to Huatugou in Qinghai, and then north by bus to Dunhuang. The first is longer in distance and less authentic historically, but simpler, faster, more reliable and more comfortable, and is available year-round. The second route certainly gives one bragging rights as an adventure and is described below in detail.

HEADING SOUTHEAST FROM CHARKLIK / RUOQIANG INTO QINGHAI AND ON TO DUNHUANG, GOLMUD, OR XINING

Outline map showing Qinghai Province in ChinaThis Map of Qinghai Province, China section describes the complicated process of traveling from Xinjiang into Qinghai Province, shown here in outline in China on the right and in some detail on the right. Qinghai is part of the traditional extent of Tibet, as is much of Sichuan Province and parts of India. Most of the province's population is ethnically Tibetan. The great plateau lifted up by the collision of the Indian subcontinent into the Asian landmass, between the Himalaya Mountains and the Kunlun Mountains is now called the Tibet-Qinghai Plateau.

From Charklik / Ruoqiang, one can head southeast into Qinghai Province.  Destinations in this direction include heading east to Dunhuang in Gansu Province (1,047 km) or southeast to Golmud (Qinghai) (956 km) to catchthe train south to Lhasa or east to anywhere in China. You can continue further southeast by bus to Xining (Qinghai) (1,463 km), which itself is 150 km west of Lanzhou (Gansu).

From Dunhuang, Golmud and Xining, you can rejoin the Chinese train system. From Golmud, you can take the train to Lhasa in Tibet.

However, by public transportation, none of these destinations can be reached in a single bus ride from Charklik / Ruoqiang. All of the routes, by public transportation, involve at least three legs, the first two of which are identical. As far as known, the author provides information on taking this route in both directions.

If you have a private vehicle, only the first leg, described below, requires a 4WD vehicle. All the rest of the route are paved roads, with some sections better than others.

The map of northwest Qinghai, below left, in Chinese with some English added, shows this route from Charklik / Ruoqiang as far southeast as Daqaidam and northeast to Dunhuang. Below are some distances along these route. Most of this area is in the Haixi Mongol and Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture 海西蒙古族藏族自治州 Hǎixī Měnggǔzú Zàngzú Zìzhìzhōu. This route used to be the connection between Mongolia and Tibet, which had strong ties at different points through history.

Km Route
241 Charklik / Ruoqiang to Shimiankuang
10Shimiankuang to Mangnai Zhen
55 Mangnai Zhen to Huatugou
428 Huatugou to Iqe / Yuka
202 Iqe / Yuka to Qinghai / Gansu provincial border
101 Qinghai / Gansu border to Dunhuang
43 Iqe / Yuka to Daqaidam
196 Daqaidam to Golmud
676 Daqaidam to Xining
983 Charklik / Ruoqiang to Golmud
1,047 Charklik / Ruoqiang to Dunhuang
1,463 Charklik / Ruoqiang to Xining
The Ancient Qinghai Route

Qinghai Route map, 5th-9th cent, Source: Digital Silk Road, http://dsr.nii.ac.jp/rarebook/07/

A lesser-known route of the Silk Road bypassed the Hexi Corridor and instead went southeast from Miran, just as you will go on this route.

The route entered what is now Qinghai and continued to Koko Nor, what is now Qinghai Lake and Xining. This route was most popular in the fifth to ninth centuries when the Tibetan tribes — first the Tuyuhun and then the Tubo — controlled much of what is now Tibet and Qinghai as well as the southeastern Tarim Basin, including Cherchen / Qiemo, Charklik / Ruoqiang and Miran.

The Tuyuhun provided an important conduit to the southern Chinese kingdoms when the China was split into north and south. The Tubo eventually came to control all of the Tarim Basin from the mid-eighth to mid-ninth centuries, evicting China completely. The Tibetans were only ousted when the Chinese called for the aid of the Uyghur peoples. After defeating the Tibetans, the Uyghurs continued their major migration into what is now Xinjiang from their kingdom in Mongolia.


Qinghai Route map, 5th-9th cent, Source: Digital Silk Road, http://dsr.nii.ac.jp/rarebook/07/

"Recent excavations ... have found that the region had also played an important role in connecting Central Asia and China as another Silk Road. Almost neglected for a long time, the Qinghai route has now been gaining attention. The new theory suggests that the route running from Central Asia to China was divided into two at Mīran: the Hexi Corridor through Dunhuang, and the Qinghai route through the Qinghai region. Starting at Mīran and going through Altin Tag to the west of the Qilian Mountain Range, the Zaidam Basin, and Lake Qinghai, the Qinghai route led to the valley of HuangShui, which is around Xining today. From HuangShui, the route then led to the Wei Basin to the east or the Sichuan Basin to the southeast."

Read more about the Qinghai Route's history at Qinghai Route at Digital Silk Road.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

First Leg - Charklik / Ruoqiang to Shimiankuang

Map of northwestern Qinghai Province, ChinaFor any of these destinations in or through Qinghai, the trip from Charklik / Ruoqiang starts with the first leg, 241 km, to Shimiankuang. The route is rough, mostly on corrugated dirt and some off-road sections. The route goes through the desert, winds along a narrow river canyon, switchbacks up along sheer cliff faces, crosses over a pass at nearly 4,000 m, and emerges into wider mountain valleys on the Qaidam Plateau (Chaidan Pendi).

This first leg is subject to delays and closures due to weather, such as rain-caused landslides and high river flow, especially during the snow-melt in June to September. The author was also told the public cars stop running for some period during the winter due to snow over the pass.

The Chinese government may keep the road open for strategic reasons and one blog indicates that some private 4WDs and trucks use the road in the winter. The author does not know if you may be able to find an SUV driver in Charklik / Ruoqiang willing to take youover privately in winter. The road conditions would likely be dangerous, though, and if you have problems, there are few more remote places than a winter road between the hinterland of Xinjiang and the hinterland of Qinghai, both of which are themselves hinterlands.

Public car, 4WD SUV between Charklik / Ruoqiang, Xinjiang, and Shimiankuang, Qinghai, ChinaOn public transportation, this first leg, from Charklik / Ruoqiang to Shimiankuang, is by "public car." Apparently, a public car is a 4WD SUV which is a government vehicle or at least semi-official, with official printing on the doors. But is not part of the Transportation system; perhaps it is a mail car.  It departs from in front of the bus station, but you don't buy tickets at the station and instead pay the driver when you reach your destination. The fare is Y100. 

The public car leaves Charklik /Ruoqiang daily, if not cancelled, at about 08:00 Beijing time (which is 06:00 local time). Sometimes, depending on demand, the author was told, a second car will leave about 11:00 Beijing time. Either of these are subject to delay as the driver waits for the car to fill up. Going the other direction, a car leaves Shimiankuang at about 11:00. (There might also be an earlier car from Shimiankuang, perhaps based on demand. If you find out, please let the author know.)

Charklik / Ruoqiang to Shimiankuang, Xinjiang, and Huatugou, Qinghai, China, Satellite Image The SUV tends to get seriously overcrowded, Since demand outstrips supply for this route. EIght to ten passengers is not uncommon. Sardines would complain. Arrive early and grab a seat next to a door and guard it fiercely against all attempts to dislodge you, or you could find yourself in the center of the middle seat with five passengers. Gesturing a tendency to motion sickness might help you hold your position. Resist the temptation to escape the cramped seat by hopping into the far back area if it's empty when you leave the bus station, because the car will likely pick up several more passengers along the way. The most comfy front passenger seat may seem inviting, but the driver may hold that for a special passenger and you could find yourself consigned to the luggage area, and not alone, so might I suggest you try the back seat.

River canyon, road from Charklik / Ruoqiang to Shimiankuang, Xinjiang, ChinaIf you are with a group, the folks at the bus station might be able to help you find a driver to charter your own vehicle to Shimiankuang or even slightly beyond to Huatugou. Figuring 8-10 passengers as a full load, you might be able to hire the car for Y800-1000. (Since the driver might not be able to get a car load coming back, this price may not be possible.) Be sure to have agreed very clearly, preferably in writing, that your group will be the only passengers.

Road along cliffs, November, Charklik / Ruoqiang, Xinjiang, to Shimiankuang, Qinghai, ChinaAll luggage is tied to the top, so have out some water and food in a small bag to take inside with you. This is a long ride through complete wilderness and subject to delays, so bring extra water and food. And though you may be leaving a hot desert in Charklik / Ruoqiang, have out some warm clothing, because the nearly 4,000 m pass is guaranteed to be chilly and Shimiankuang is in a mountain valley at nearly 3,000 m.

This public car traveling the 240 kilometers to Shimiankuang takes at least 6 hours, more if there are delays. There are no settlements anywhere along the way, and the only vehicles you are likely to see are trucks ferrying sheep or workers. If you need a toilet break, notify the driver, and he'll simply stop by the side of the road, where the women passengers go to one side of the car and the men to the other.

Public car at pass near 4000m, in November, on road between Charklik / Ruoqiang, Xinjiang, and Shimiankuang, Qinghai, ChinaThe route starts off nicely on the asphalt highway in the desert but turns off after about 20 km onto a corrugated road as the green rim of the oasis recedes in the distance. At the foothills of the mountains, about 50 km from Charklik / Ruoqiang, the route wends through a deep, narrow river canyon, crossing the river track repeatedly. The river is dry much of the year, but can cause delays or cancellations if it is flowing, usually from snow melt in June to September.

Landscape west of Shimiankuang, Qinghai, ChinaThe route then winds up into the Altyn Mountains (Altun Tagh / Arjin Shan), a northern spur range off the Kunlun Mountains. The road has many switchbacks along steep embankments and climbing over a high pass at nearly 4,000 m. Charklik / Ruoqiang is at 848 m, so some people may experience issues with altitude, and some motion sickness as well.

The route then heads down into mountain valleys in the north of in the Qaidam Basin (Chaidan Pendi), technically separate from but related to the vast Qinghai-Tibet plateau. The terrain is bleak and rocky the entire way, with only the barest of plant life. You can read about a bicyclist's impressions of this route at Up and Out of Xinjiang: The Road to Golmud

Shimiankuang

Shimiankuang Asbestos Mine and Mangnai Zhen town, Qinghai, China - Satellite imageAfter descending from the peak, you begin to drive through a white, dusty landscape which is just at the provincial border with Qinghai. (The author saw an article that indicated Shimiankuang had recently been rezoned to be in Qinghai Province rather than Xinjiang.)

Approaching Shimiankuang, Qinghai, from the eastThe public car route ends in the tiny mining hamlet north of the mine called Shimiankuang (石绵矿), 38°15'00"N, 90°52'00"E, 3,200 m. Shimiankuang is a large, surface-level asbestos mine. You can see a satellite image of Shimiankuang (left) or you can play with the image by going to Wikimapia and typing in the name or entering the geographic coordinates. Shimiankuang is Chinese for Asbestos Mine: 石绵 shí mián - asbestos, 矿 kuàng - ore / mine. Tash pahta kan is Uyghur for asbestos mine.

Though the asbestos is certainly deadly for most of the workers, many of whom seem not to be wearing masks of any kind, it may not be dangerous for the visitor to just drive through. However, if the idea concerns you, you may want to avoid this route. Asbestos is a form of the mineral actinolite, which is also the chemical basis of the nephrite jade in the Kunlun Mountains.

Asbestos tailings landscape, Mangnai Asbestos Mine, Shimianquang, Qinghai, ChinaSetting up bazaar, Tuesday, Shimiankuang hamlet, Qinghai, ChinaThere is no bus station per se in Shimiankuang, but instead a wide dusty area among the small buildings of this tiny workers mining hamlet. There are a couple of tiny shops and at least once a week a few trucks come in and set up a bazaar for the day. (A bazaar was being set up on a Thursday when the author was there.)

The author was told that the minibus from Shimiankuang to Huatugou (see Second Leg below) generally waits for the public bus to arrive before returning to Huatugou. But if your public car is significantly delayed, you may need to wait quite a while for the next bus or even spend the night.

There is very basic accomodation in Shimiankuang for about Y10-15 per person, which can also provide a basic hot meal. Ask the driver and s/he can point you to the place.

Asbestos mining operations, Mangya Asbestos Mine, Shimianquang, Qinghai, ChinaYou might prefer to check if there is a taxi which can take you at least to the tiny nearby oil-refinery town of Magnai Zhen (see below), about 10 km southeast. The town has concrete buildings, paved streets, less air-borne asbestos, and less primitive lodgings. Or you could pay a lot more for a taxi (one traveler said Y70) all the way to Huatugou, 65 km east-southeast, a larger (but still small), modern Chinese oil-extraction town with a larger hotel.

Asbestos factory building, Mangya Asbestos Mine, Shimianquang, Qinghai, ChinaFrom Shimiankuang to Charklik / Ruoqiang, a daily public car leaves Shimiankuang at about 11:00, after the arrival of the minibus from Huatugou. It may be delayed for quite a while for the car to fill with passengers. As noted above, stake your claim to a window seat in the car and guard it. The price to Charklik / Ruoqiang is Y100, which you pay to the driver upon arrival, and it will arrive some six hours later. There may be another public car that leaves Shimiankuang much earlier in the morning.

The author was told different public cars ply the route from Shimiankuang to Miran (about 75 km east of Charklik / Ruoqiang), via an even rougher track via Xorkol, Baxkorgan and Hongliugou), as you can see on the northwest Qinghai map, above.The author doesn't know the price or schedule to Miran.

The mobile number of one of the public car drivers between Charklik / Ruoqiang and Shimiankuang is 13779662096; another's mobile number is 13999617850. The author doesn't know if there is a mobile telephone antenna in Shimiankuang.

Mangnai Zhen (Mangya or Mengzhen)

Approaching Mangnai Zhen from the east, Qinghai, ChinaThe asbestos mine company's name is Mangnai. Mangnai is not a Chinese name; it could be Mongol or Tibetan. The Chinese version of the name is Mangya or Mangyai (茫 máng - vague / vast, 崖 yá or yái - precipice).
Mangnai Zhen, Qinghai, China - Satellite image
The word Mangnai is also in several area place names: the village of Mangnai Zhen, the county of Mangnai, and the town of Lao Mangnai.

Mangnai Zhen, or Mangnai town (茫崖镇 Mangya Zhen, sometimes Mangya Chen or Mengzhen), at 38°15' 20"N, 90°18'40"E, 2,945 m, is an oil-refinery town about 10 km southeast of Shimiankuang, in Mangnai County. You can see a satellite image of Mangnai Zhen by going to Wikimapia and typing Mangnai Zhen.

Brick building in Mangnai Zhen, Qinghai, ChinaHuatugou is the county seat of Mangnai County (technically the Mangya Administrative Committee 茫崖行政委员会).

Lao Mangnai (老茫崖), or old Mangnai town, 179 km southeast of Mangnai Zhen, at 37°49'60"N, 91°46'00"E, 2,877 m.

Landscape between Mangnai Zhen and Huatugou, Qinghai, ChinaAll of northwest Qinghai, including Golmud / Ge'ermu, are part of Haixi Mongol and Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture 海西蒙古族藏族自治州, which makes up about a third of Qinghai Province.

 

Second leg - Shimiankuang to Huatugou

Road between Shimiankuang and Huatugou, Qinghai, ChinaThe second leg of your journey is a short one. Your public car will likely be met in Shimiankuang by one of the minibuses that run twice daily the 65 km on good roads between Shimiankuang and Huatugou (花土沟) in about 1.5-2 hours for Y15. The telephone numbers on one of the minibuses are 13639774406 (mobile) and 0977-8753954.

Minibus at bus station, Huatugou, Qinghai, ChinaThe route out of Shimiankuang winds several more kilometers through the mine, where you will see the mining equipment in operation, trucks and tractors at work, and rows of 50 kilogram bags of asbestos. Eventually, you emerge onto a paved road. You'll drive through a flat,bare valley, stopping briefly in Mangnai Zhen. You'll pass through some low hills and then across a broad flat bare valley all the way to Huatugou.The official departures of the minibus from Huatugou to Shimiankuang are 09:00 and 17:00. This implies that the departures from Shimiankuang to Huatugou are at about 11:00 and 19:00. Between Shimiankuang and Huatugou, the minibus stops in Mangnai Zhen which, as noted above, is an oil refinery town.

Huatugou

Huatugou, Qinghai, China - Satellite imageHuatugou and Gaz Hure Hu Lake, Qinghai, Satellite Image, Source:  GoogleHuatugou (花土沟) is a small oil-drilling town at 38°08'60"N, 90°52'00"E and 2,859 m. Perhaps there was more of a boom time in years past or hope of a boom yet to come, because many three-story concrete buildings stand empty.

There doesn't seem to be anyone who speaks English. The PSB station is a block to the right after exiting the bus station.

The town is near a small salty lake called Gaz Hure Hu. In the low hills near town, if you go wandering, you can see oil derricks, as oil is the economic mainstay of the area, and perhaps small black pools of thick tar seeping to the surface.

Room at hostel near bus station, Huatugou, Qinghai, ChinaIn Huatugou,there is a very basic lodging across the street from the bus station for about Y20. Another traveler asked a cab for a three-star (三星 sān xīng) guest house, and was taken to what he was told was the 'Petroleum Guesthouse' (石油 shí yóu 宾馆 bīn guǎn), which serves as the offices, restaurant and hotel for the oil company.

There's a very basic restaurant just to the left after exiting the bus station, with soup, noodles and baozi, a restaurant at the Petroleum Guesthouse, and a small assortment of other eating establishments in town.

Third leg - Huatugou to Dunhuang, Golmud or Xining

Charklik / Ruoqiang, Xinjiang, to Xining, Qinghai, China - Satellite image

Landscape along Highway 315 east of Huatugou, Qinghai, ChinaYou can catch daily buses from Huatugou to Dunhuang, Golmud, and Xining, each of which stop at points in between. These are full-size buses. This is a statement only those who have just made the journey here from Xinjiang would fully appreciate.

As recently as 2000, most of these roadways, which go through vast, largely-unpopulated regions, were mainly corrugated dirt track, but most of the route is now paved with asphalt.

On some maps, two paths are shown between Huatugou and Golmud. Buses don't take the bad road on the shorter route. The main Highway 315 takes the longer (but much easier) route to the east, via Iqe / Yuka (where it joins Highway 215 from Dunhuang) and then south to Daqaidam and Golmud, while Highway 215 splits off again at Daqaidam and head southeast to Xining.

Daqaidam center, Qinghai, China Daqaidam

Daqaidam Lake, Qinghai, ChinaDaqaidam (大柴旦 da chai dan, 37°51'N, 95°21'E, 3173 m, also written Da Qaidam) is 471 km from Huatugou, 346 km from Dunhuang, 196 km from Golmud, and 676 km from Xining. It is named for the nearly evaporated salt lake to its west which, in turn, is named for the large Qaidam Basin (Chaidam Pendi, also spelled Tsaidam) at the northeast corner of the Tibet-Qinghai plateau.

Buses between Huatugou or Dunhuang and either Golmud or Xining will make a stop of some length in Daqaidam. Perhaps even the Huatugou-to-Dunhuang buses make a 43 km detour to stop here, since its the largest town in the area; perhaps a reader who takes this route could let the author know.

Shops near bus station in Daqaidam, Qinghai, ChinaThe Golmud-Huatugou bus stops in Daqaidam for about 45 minutes for a dinner break -- check with the driver about Huatugou-to-Daqaidam-to-Golmud, satellite image, Source: Googlewhen you should be back. Everyone has to leave the bus and the driver locks it up. Right next to the bus station, there are a number of tiny restaurants for a hot meal and several tiny grocers if you want to self cater. Going the other direction, the bus likely makes a stop for dinner also, but the author doesn't know where, when, or how long. Most buses likely stop long enough for a bio break. The pit toilet in the bus station grounds is located in the far back enclosure against the right wall.

If you try to spend the night in town, you will likely get a visit from the local PSB, since this is a closed town. So if staying in Daqaidam is in your plans and you're coming from Xining, Golmud or Dunhuang, ask the PSB there to include this town on your Alien Travel Permit. See below under Closed Towns and the Alien Travel Permit.

Bus for Huatugou in Golmud bus station yard, Qinghai, China

Bus station, Golmud, Qinghai, ChinaHuatugou to Golmud and Golmud to Huatugou

Golmud (格尔木 Ge'ermu, 36°22'N, 94°55'E, 2809 m) is 667 km southeast of Huatugou, 542 km south of Dunhuang, Gansu, and 983 km southeast of Charklik / Ruoqiang, Xinjiang.

In Mongolian, Golmud means place of many rivers. The main industries are mining for minerals in the regions many salt lakes and oil refining.

Train station, Golmud, Qinghai, ChinaBus schedule - 11-2006, Golmud, Qinghai, ChinaFrom Golmud, one can take the train south 1142 km to Lhasa or east 830 km to Xining and onward to all parts of China.

The daily bus from Huatugou to Golmud leaves about 15:00. It costs Y175 and is a basic sleeper bus. It is officially scheduled to arrive in Golmud at 08:00 but it always arrives many hours earlier, in the middle of the night. The schedule discrepancy is probably because the roads have been significantly improved over the past several years, shortening the trip considerably, but the official schedule has not been changed.

Taxis meet the bus in Golmud even in the middle of the night to take you to your destination. The Golmud Hotel is a reliable option.

Golmud Hotel, Golmud, Qinghai, ChinaGoing the other direction, the daily bus from Golmud to Huatugou leaves at 15:15. If you leave from Golmud, you will need to get an Alien Travel Permit from the PSB in Golmud before you will be allowed to buy a bus ticket. See 'Basic room, Golmud Hotel, Golmud, Qinghai, ChinaClosed Town and the Alien Travel Permit' below. It is scheduled to arrivein Huatugou at 08:00, but almost always arrives much earlier, like 03:00. See the section on Huatugou (above) for information on accomodations there. Then return in time the next morning for the 09:00 minibus to Shimiankuang.

There are two daily buses from Dunhuang to Golmud (542 km), a seat bus at 08:00 or 09:00 and a sleeper at 19:30. There are two daily buses in the other direction, but the author doesn't have the schedule. The cost is Y89-98, depending on the type of bus, and it takes about 9 hours. If you are headed from Golmud to Dunhaung, the staff at the bus station will show you a hand-written sheet in English stating that you need an Alien Travel Permit to buy a ticket. See below under "Closed Towns and the Alien Travel Permit."

Huatugou to Dunhuang and Dunhuang to Huatugou

Carl Parker (see below) says the highway from Daqaidam to Dunhuang (敦煌) has smooth pavement.

Dangjin pass, 3680 m, at border of Qinghai and Gansu in China, © PentiumD at panoramio.comSatellite image with Charklik / Ruoqiang, Xinjiang and Dunhuang, Gansu, and Huatugou and Daqaidam, Qinghai, Image source: GoogleThe author saw one source that says a daily morning bus from Huatugou to Dunhuang leaves at 08:00. But it may be that one takes a Golmud or Xining bus as far as Daqaidam, and there transfers to a Dunhuang-bound bus from Golmud or Xining. If you go this way and find out, please let the author know.

The route between Huatugou and Dunhuang goes over Dangjin Pass (当金山口, 3680 m, 39º19'14"N, 94º16'11"E) at the provincial boder between Qinghai and Dunhuang which runs along the crest of the Altun Moutains. One source says that the road rises from 1000 m to the 3680 m pass in just 20 kilometers. The author does not know if this pass stays open in winter. One traveler reported being told in Dunhuang at Chinese New Year (February) that the bus was not running because of icy road conditions; the author doesn't know if this meant a temporary storm closure or a seasonal closure. If you find out, please let the author know.

If you start from Dunhuang, you will likely be asked, at the bus ticket window, to get an Alien Travel Permit at the main PSB office in Dunhuang before you will be allowed to buy a ticket to Huatugou or Golmud. See 'Closed Towns and the Alien Travel Permit' below.

Western China Roads, © Carl Parker, www.carlparker.com/WC_roads.html

West China Roads © Carl Parker carlparker.com

To the left is an image from 'Crazy' Carl Parker at his very helpful Western China Motorcycle and Travel Photography site. It shows roadways, and their conditions, in Xinjiang, Tibet, Gansu, and much of Sichuan. His map is just a few years out of date in this area, because the roads east and southeast of Shimiankuang are mostly 'new and smooth.' But the stretch between Charklik / Ruoqiang and Shimiankuang is still 'dirt and severe road works.'

Huatugou to Xining and Xining to Huatugou

There is one daily bus each direction going the 1,147 km between Huatugou and Xining. It is a luxury sleeper bus and the transit time is about 20 hours and it costs Y225.

From Xining to Huatugou, the bus departs at 10:15 and arrives in Huatugou about 06:00, several hours before the first minibus from Huatugou to Shimiankuang at 09:00. The author does not know the schedule for the bus from Huatugou to Xining, but it likely also leaves in the morning.

In Xining, you may be requested, at the bus ticket office, to get an Alien Travel Permit before you can buy a bus ticket. See 'Closed Towns and the Alien Travel Permit' below.

One traveler coming from Xining to Huatugou in summer said the earliest ticket she could get was for a departure two days later.

Closed Towns and the Alien Travel Permit

Huatugou is a closed town. A closed town means that foreign visitors are not allowed to travel to or through the town without first getting a permit from the Aliens Entry and Exit Administration (AEEA) office of the PSB station in the town from which they will be traveling to the closed town.

Actually, many of the towns in central and northern Qinghai are also closed, including Daqaidam, so you also need a permit to get a bus ticket from Golmud to Dunhuang. The author does not know the reason why many towns in Qinghai are closed. It may be related to the large number of prisons in Qinghai, or a number of sensitive military installations such as the nuclear missle base somewhere near Delhi / Delingha (地令哈).

Alien Travel Permit, ChinaGetting an Alien Travel Permit (ATP) is usually a straightforward process. All cities and most towns of any size have an AEEA office inside a central PSB (public security bureau or police) station. The AEEA office is also where you would go to get your visa extended. In smaller towns, the AEEA office may be closed for two hours at lunch and may be closed on weekends.

The AEEA officers are usually friendly and usually know a bit of English. Let the AEEA officer know you want to go to Huatugou on your way to Xinjiang. An ATP costs Y50 and lists the nearby closed places you want to visit. Unless you're planning on stopping in other places along the route longer than a bus meal break, just listing Huatugou should be sufficient. You get a folded form about the size of your passport; the front of one is shown here. The permitted destinations written inside in Chinese only.

In Golmud, the bus station will not sell you a ticket to Dunhuang or to Huatugou unless you have an ATP. Similarly, the bus station in Dunhuang will not sell you a ticket to Golmud or Huatugou unless you have an ATP. (Dunhuang is not itself a closed town, but the route to Dunhuang goes through a number of closed towns.) Some travelers have reported success in flagging down the bus just after it left the station and paying the fare on board without having a permit. There are several checkpoints on route, but travelers report that buses are rarely stopped.

Lodging staff in closed towns are required to report foreign guests. This seems to be generally overlooked in a transit hub like Huatugou, but you'll likely be reported if you stay in any other town in the area or if you stay in Huatugou for more than a day. If an official finds someone without a permit, travelers report they usually claim ignorance of the rules and are usually scolded and then restricted to their lodging and closely watched by hotel staff until they get on the next bus out of town. If your are belligerent with the officer, or if s/he has had a bad day for some other reason, you may be required to take a bus back in the direction from which you came.

At this point, travelers starting in Xinjiang may find themselves wondering about getting an ATP in Charklik / Ruoqiang. It turns out Charklik / Ruoqiang doesn't have an AEEA office. Nor does Cherchen / Qiemo nor Niya / Minfeng. The closest AEEA offices are in Korla, 490 km north, and Hotan, 956 km west.

As a result, in years past, many foreign travelers in Charklik / Ruoqiang were simply not allowed in vehicles heading for Shimiankuang, with travelers reporting getting some official explanation in Chinese that they didn't understand. Some drivers, though, accepted foreign passengers. Most of these travelers got through, but a few reported being removed from the vehicle by police at checkpoints and being sent back in the next vehicle, again, not understanding the reason why. However, the author has found no reports in the last few years of travelers encountering official problems along this route.

LINKS

Links Within This Site

Kunlun Square, Cherchen / QiemoChildren, Keriya / Yutian

Southeastern Rim

The home page for this web site will be an overview of the Southeastern Rim of the Taklamakan, with more specific information on the Taklamakan Desert and the jade which has been the region's lifeblood for at least 3,500 years.

Other sights in this area include 2,600-year-old mummies, museums, nature reserves, handmade silk and carpet workshops, jade mines, oil field, rock carvings, shrines, mosques, bazaars and twisty old towns to explore, as well as desert sand dunes and the extensive Chinese desert-control systems trying to keep them at bay.

Chairman Mao Monument, Niya / Minfeng, Xinjiang, ChinaNiya / Minfeng

Decorative courtyard door, Niya / Minfeng, Xinjiang, ChinaA small town with a big reputation as the gateway to the most famous Xinjiang archaeological site of ancient Niya. Today, more famous as the southern terminus of the Tarim Highway across the heart of the vast Taklamakan Desert, providing access to the enormous oil reserves there. The monument with the quote from Chairman Mao is the most obvious tourist sight, and the main bazaar is on Sunday. But the visitor pleasures in town are mainly access to the daily life of the rural Uyghur people in this oasis town, wandering Uyghur neighborhoods, agricultural roads and sheep pastures. A short taxi ride can take one to sand dunes for the visitor to climb like the caravans of yore.

Restaurant and lodging details are provided, along with bus schedules north, south, east and west, and Internet access.

Ninety kilometers north of town, and five kilometers north of an isolated hamlet in the desert, is an Islamic shrine, Mazar Imam Jafar Sadiq, famed as the Mecca of Turkestan, though the site likely has Buddhist and even pre-Buddhist roots as a sacred space. Information is provided on Tazhong, the rough oil field town near the derricks and pipelines.

Mosque Gateway Brickwork DetailLangmen Noodle MakerKeriya / Yutian

Visit the mosque with its intricate brickwork in this town 180 km east of Hotan. Wandering the winding Uyghur neighborhood along the river, inhabited since Han dynasty times at the dawn of the Silk Road as the Kingdom of Jumi. Eat at a Uyghur restaurant while watching the langmen noodles pulled by hand at the next table.

View the statue of an elderly Uyghur electrician who is the only person to share a monument with Mao Zedong in all of China. For a contrast, first wander the new Keriya International On-Foot Street shopping mall and then cross the street to explore the traditional Uyghur bazaar. For the expedition minded, visit the ancient cities buried in the desert, Karadong and Dandan Oilik.


Produce vendor on cartCherchen / Qiemo

Zaghunluq MummiesAt the Cherchen / Qiemo page, you'll read about seeing fourteen 2,600-year-old mummies in the Zaghunluq Ancient Mummy Tomb and learning their history, visiting the Toghraklek Manor Museum with displays of 100-200 year old household and farming implements and 2,000-3,000 year old funerary offerings, walking a large central square and in rural Uyghur neighborhoods.

Nearby you can see Bronze Age rock carvings, a 60,000 hectare wild animal nature reserve, an international hunting park. You can take a two-day working jade mine tour in the Kunlun Mountains or plan an expedition to the nearly 7,000 meter Mount Ulugh Muztagh. Also, you can start from here to take an oil field tour -- because of the nearby highway spur, Tazhong is closer to Cherchen / Qiemo than to Niya / Minfeng.

Spinning and Dying SilkBazaar, HotanHotan

The page on Hotan describes the vast array of delights in this largest city on the southern rim. See silk made by hand in the ancient tradition from cocoon to the colorful King of Silk as well as, on the other side of town, the entire process in a modern, mechanized factory. Watch carpets tied by hand in millennium-old patterns. Observe jade being carved into fantastic shapes, and paper being made from mulberry bark and desert plants. Wander the Sunday bazaar rivaling Kashgar for the largest in Central Asia.

Visit an excellent museum in its newer, larger site that brings together the region's 5,000 years of human history on the crossroads of Indian, Central Asian, Chinese, Russian, Middle Eastern and even Greek cultures, a corridor for and center of shamanism, Buddhism, Christianity, Manichaeism and Islam plus an entire floor more recent cultural treasures of jade, jewelry, musical instruments and Uyghur traditional medicine.

Modern Building with Offices and Supermarket Uyghur Balcony

Beat the heat along more than 1,500 kilometers of shady grape corridors, or in one just outside your hotel door. Wander around neighborhoods with traditional Uyghur architecture. Watch nightly Uyghur traditional music and dancing and eat polo from a bottomless cauldron in a packed Uyghur restaurant and nibble your way along the stalls of an ancient night market.

Or dance the night away at a score of flashy night clubs, grab a burger or fried chicken at a Chinese chain, wander the endless aisles of three enormous supermarkets, pick your live seafood for dinner from two walls of tanks more than 2,500 kilometers from any ocean, or watch the world pass by from your table at a number of modern coffee bars or internet cafes.

 


Hotan GuesthouseSpend Y20 to Y2,000 per night on a range of accommodations. Visit aSunday bazaar that rivals Kashgar's for size, or head Melikawat Ancient Ruinsout on Thursday to a weekly tiny bazaar and festival in the desert at an ancient sacred site of pilgrimage. Visit one of several nearby ancient ruins from the fabled Silk Road.

If your travel planning requires information about the above towns before the web page might be available, you can contact the author at centralasiatraveler@gmail.com for an advance draft copy.

 

INTRODUCTION
  A Note on Names and Spelling
ORIENTATION AND MAPS
  Weather
INFORMATION
SLEEPING
EATING
SIGHTS IN TOWN
  Town Square
  Small Town Wandering
SIGHTS FARTHER AFIELD
MIRAN
LOULAN - Loulan, Xiaohe, and Qäwrighul
LOP NUR
LOP NOR WILDLIFE CAMEL NATIONAL NATURE RESERVE
ALTUN MOUNTAINS NATURE RESERVE
YARDANGS OF DRAGON CITY
GETTING THERE AND AWAY
  West to Cherchen / Qiemo or North to Korla
  Overland Directly East to Dunhuang
HEADING SOUTHEAST FROM CHARKLIK / RUOQIANG
    INTO QINGHAI AND ON TO DUNHUANG, GOLMUD, OR XINING

First Leg: Charklik / Ruoqiang to Shimiankuang
  Shimiankuang
  Mangnai Zhen
Second Leg: Shimiankuang to Huatugou
  Huatugou
Third Leg: Huatugou to Dunhuang, Golmud, or Xining
  Huatugou to Golmud and Golmud to Huatugou
  Huatugou to Dunhuang and Dunhuang to Huatugou
  Huatugou to Xining and Xining to Huatugou
  Closed Towns and the Alien Travel Permit
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