One of the great mysteries in Chinese history is the disappearance
of the ancient city of Loulan. The city was located about 300 km
(186.4 miles) northeast of Ruoqiang County, Xinjiang Uygur
Autonomous Region and adjacent to another early city, Dunhuang in Gansu Province. Like Pompeii in ancient Rome which drowned
in a sea of volcanic ash, Loulan fell victim to an incredible
natural disaster that transformed the once beautiful city into a
barren and perilous desert landscape. This inexplicable event has
whetted the curiosity of archaeologists and other scientists over
the years. Tourists, too, have been intrigued by this site and many
venture there despite adverse weather and terrain conditions.
Loulan was established as a kingdom in 176 B.C. and flourished for
over 800 years. The city was like an oasis traversed by a limpid
river and situated next to a bountiful lake. The city had a
population of over 14,000 including an estimated 3,000 soldiers
guarding the safety of the kingdom. Many residents made a living
fishing and hunting. As one of the major stops on the old Silk Road, the city was a center for the trading of silks, teas, fruit and
jewels with the inland. Merchants also used Loulan as a stopover in
their travels. In short, the kingdom was booming economically while
serving as a peaceful and paradisiacal environment for its citizens
Roughly around the year 630, Loulan suffered a natural disaster of
epic proportions. Due to humans' unceasing deforestation, raging
sandstorms covered the region, rerouting the waterways and
literally transformed the city into a desert wasteland. To this
day, the terrain is barely navigable and there are severe weather
fluctuations. In the summer, the temperature has been known to
shift from below 0 degrees C. to over 30 degrees C. from the night
to the daytime. The region is extremely arid and continues to be
subjected to frequent wind and sand storms. Conditions are so harsh
that the area has become known as the 'Death Sea.'
Only in recent years have archaeologists ventured into Loulan.
Because of the dangerous environment, some actually have lost their
lives. However, those that were able to conduct a successful dig
found priceless treasures. The store of cultural relics included
stone and jade tools and stone arrowheads dating back to the Neolithic Age (10,000 BC-5,000 BC). They also found manuscripts from the
Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) as well as silk, pottery, bronzeware,
glassware, and ancient currency. So rich were these troves that
researchers from around the world have dubbed this area 'Treasure
Land of the Desert' and 'Museum Left by History.'
Perhaps the most famous discovery at the Loulan site is the Sanjian
Fang, a three-room building said to be the yamen of the area's
governor, and a pagoda with 10.4 m. (34.12 feet) high, the tallest
building in the city. They also found a woman mummy, the called
'Loulan Beauty', in the Loulan ancient tomb ditch. The sere corpse
is still reserved well after over three thousand years.
Travel Tips: Because of the difficult elements, Loulan is also known as
'the forbidden zone.' Bring lots of water, warm clothes, necessary
medicines, handi-wipes and eyedrops. Be prepared for high
temperatures and dust. The road to the ancient city is extremely
difficult and it is advised that visitors travel in groups.
Visitors should also be reasonably fit. There are sightseeing buses
in Ruoqiang County, but they cannot enter the archaeological site.
If you want to go to the location of the cultural relics, you will
need to either walk or ride a camel.