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413-china-travelTWO ancient cities which played important roles as hubs on the Silk Road are enjoying a revival of interest from international visitors.

During the days of the centuries old trade route, Yarkhoto was considered a multicultural nexus. Tourism is breathing new life into the Turpan prefecture in Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.

Referred to now as a “dead city”, Yarkhoto was once a global village with about 2,500 years of history, but intolerance made it a mass grave.

It was a prosperous hub for around 1,600 years, until Islamic Mongolian conquerors incinerated Yarkhoto to enforce religious homogeny in the 13th century.

This left what Hungarian-British archeologist Aurel Stein a century ago called “a maze of ruined dwellings and shrines carved out for the most part from the loess soil”.

This legalcy is now attracting a growing plethora of international travelers – to Yarkhoto and the nearby ghost city of Qocho.

These ancient trade hubs were vital nodes of the 5,000-kilometer Tianshan Silk Road corridor linking China with modern Kazakhstan and Kygryztan.

Today’s Turpan is poised to become a central nexus of China’s New Silk Road strategy – a major project ro revive the ancient trading route through investment in infrastructure that was propsed by President Xi Jinping in 2013.

Centuries ago, silk, lacquerware and iron implements traveled from China to Central and West Asia, and even the Mediterranean. These regions transported horses, walnuts and grapes eastward via the route.

The revived link will not only send goods but also people, including tourists, in both directions.

Yarkhoto’s visitors can explore the remnants of the cave storage units in the “warehouse” district, as well as the central avenue and temple district that comprise two-thirds of the 680-hectares settlement.

The religious compound contains more than 80 structures, including seven small cave temples, the Grand Central Pagoda and the Grand Buddhist Temple, which were built in the 4th century.

Also largely intact are the southern gate, city walls and three-story court houses. Cemeteries fringe the cities.

A plank platform overlooks the government complex, including courts, office, cave rooms and passages , enclosed in a rectangular barricade.

Yarkhoto is 10 kilometers from Turpan city, and often overshadows Qocho’s smaller and more distant ruins due to its proximity and larger size.

413-pingyaoBut Qocho is also worth a visit. Also known as Gaochang, it is a 198-hectare city situated 30 kilometers from Trupan and narrates a similar saga with an almost identical conclusion. Qocho was also charred in the same religious war after prospering for more than 1,000 years.

It is perhaps ironic that it was torched at the foot of the Flaming Mountains. But not everything was destroyed, and some Buddhist manuscripts and murals can still be seen.

Other survivors include items from the Nestorian and Manichean faiths. Nestorian is a branch of Christianity that started in present day Turkey in the 5th century and spread across Asia in the following centuries, while Manichaeism was a religion based on the teaching of the 3rd-century Iranian prophet Mani and was briefly a rival to Christianity.

Silk blankets were Qochos medium of exchange in the 4th century, when they were traded for Chinese, Eastern Roman or Persian coins.

The settlement was predominantly ethnically Han during the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) but also hosted Sogdian, Turkic, Qiuci, Yanqi and Sindhu people, who wrote in languages including Chinese, Brahmi, Sanskrit, Persian and Sogdian.

It became a Uygur kingdom in the 9th century, when the primary religion was Manichaeism. Residents later rconverted to Buddhism.

Qocho later became a vassal to the Mongolian Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). This allegiance led to its demise, when the rebellious Mongolian Islamic Chagatai Khanate destroyed city around the 1390s.

The city wall, moat, religious buildings and residences are preserved. So is Khan Fort – also known as the Imperial Palace – which served as the government seat. A pagoda stands in the compound.

Qocho’s eerie stillness is even headier than Yarkhoto’s, and it’s difficult to imagine how a once-bustiling metropolis could have become so barren.

Both Yarkhoto and Qocho were added the prestigious UNESCO World Heritage List last year, helping to boost their appeal to travelers even more.

The dominant sound to be heard in the dead city of Yarkhoto is the wind. It hisses through once grandiose buildings that remain as monuments to a moment when xenophobia and intolerance vanquished diversity.

The wind seems to whisper warnings through the ages. [CHINA DAILY| AUGUST 21-27, 2015,  words by : ERIK NILSSON erik_nilsson@chinadaily.com.cn ]

420-china-travel# Ruins of ancient structures in the Zinjian Uygur autonomous region’s Turpan prefecture.

#A Uygur man in Turpan

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