Hotan’s Mazar Tagh: Picture of the Week

October 1 | 9 Comments

A beautiful view of Hotan's Mazar Tagh in Xinjiang, China

Khotan’s Mazar Tagh by Mitchell van Grieken

This gorgeous photo displays one of the lesser-known historical Xinjiang sites found on this map in the middle of the Taklamakan. A description from the photographer:

Mazar Tagh (Cemetery Mountain) is in the middle of the Taklamakan Desert, about halfway along the Hotan cross-desert highway, then west across the Hotan River. However Kurban at Hotan CITS had to organize a 4WD along the old road to the west of the swollen river on a very hot day. I came across it while procrastinating on Google Maps; I find Xinjiang amazing because there are such extremes in topography caused by the convergence of the Indian and Asian tectonic plates. I really loved going there because it’s such a contrast to the tropical rain forests of north-eastern Australia that I’m used to. There’s an old Buddhist fort and a slightly more recent Muslim grave atop the mountain guarded by a family who enjoys swimming and fresh, clean groundwater.

More details from the ever-helpful website on all things southern Xinjiang, Central Asia Traveler, who quotes Christoph Baumer:

About 180 km north of Hotan, a [200-m high] mountain range with a reddish hue rises up from the desert plain. … On a rocky ledge about 150 m high, the well-preserved Mazar Tagh fort proudly looks down on the [Hotan] River and watches over the former trade route. The position of the fort was almost impregnable. … Within the wall and at 60 cm intervals a layer of tamarisk and poplar wood separated the rough clay courses from one another, lending additional stability to the construction in an extremely dry climate. … Below the fort thin poplar poles project from the sand.  … Here was the Buddhist temple. … The tower is certainly the most ancient structure and could date from the third or fourth century [C.E.] … The Tibetan conquest of Mazar Tagh must have occurred in 790 or 791. … The Tibetans reconstructed the fort and extended it. … [Mazar Tagh was abandoned] when [the Tibetans] lost control of the Tarim Basin around 850.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

If you are interested in contributing a photo to FarWestChina’s Picture of the Week series, please contact me and send in your Xinjiang-related photo. All photos must be originals and will be credited to you and/or your personal website.

About Josh Summers

Josh is the author of Xinjiang | A Traveler's Guide to Far West China, the most highly-reviewed and comprehensive travel guide on China's western region of Xinjiang. He lived, studied and run a business in Xinjiang, China for more than 10 years, earning recognition for his work from CCTV, BBC, Lonely Planet and many others.

Continue Reading:

Leave a Comment

  1. I visited Urumqi, Yili Yining and Horgos recently for an official opening of the Horgos Cooperation Center. I spent about 12 hrs in Urumqi, 30 hours in Yining and about 4 hrs in Horgos.

    I love your photos. Unfortunately I was not equipped nor was I ready to do pictures since my visit was a bit of a performance.

    I did very much like what I saw and experienced while I was in Xinjiang!


    Josh on October 2nd, 2010 at 1:32 am

    Great! Glad to hear that Xinjiang was such a pleasant trip for you. This time of year the weather is just perfect for travel and I hope you saw what you wanted to see while you were here.


  2. To Josh or whom who knows:
    I have a bundle of questions:
    (1) Who built the Buddhist temple? Did Tibetans build it?
    (2) It seems that Tibetans conquered that area before the arrival of the Uyghurs. Whatever happened to the Tibetans? Did they voluntarily leave or were forced out by the Uyghurs? Not much about the interactions between the two group is found in the literature.
    (3) What about Han settlements in that area if there were any? What was the interactions between the Hans and Uyghurs?


    Mitch on October 5th, 2010 at 7:02 pm

    G’day Arjun.
    I’ll try to you tell what the tour guide told me, otherwise the museums in Xinjiang are a great source of info.
    (1) Tibetans have ruled vast areas outside of modern day Tibet, including the Taklamakan Desert and the Uighur people (Uighurs arrived before the Tibetans). Unfortunately I don’t know if it was actually built by Uighurs or Tibetans, but it is ‘Tibetan’.
    (2) The Tibetans were driven out by the Muslims (Muslims from the west but don’t know where or who exactly) around the turn of the 1st millenium. The religous and military leader of the muslims is buried up there because that’s where he died. So the Uighurs converted from Budhism to Islam and the Tibetans left.
    (3) Han Chinese entered the picture much earlier with Zhang Qian in the 2nd century BC. He was held captive at first, then took Budhism back to China. The rest of the history of Han in Uighur lands is too messy for me. Wikipedia has quite a lot of info.


    Josh on October 5th, 2010 at 8:29 pm

    Thanks for sharing!

    Arjun on October 7th, 2010 at 8:58 am

    Thanks, Mitch. The unidentified Muslim group may well have been the Kirghiz people. It was the Kirghiz who defeated the Uyghurs, went south and named the Karakoram Mountains. Marco Polo was also said to have encountered the Kirghiz during his journey. But today, the Kirghyz and particularly the Tibetans have virtually disappeared from that area.

  3. Does anyone know about the Imam Asim festival celebrated in Khotan. I read something on National Geographic about Uyghurs travelling to this particular Mazar of an 11th century Imam.Thanks