Kuqa

Kuqa (Kuche) Travel Guide, Xinjiang

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Overview

Kuqa (pronounced ku-cheh, and known to the Chinese as Kuche ) about one day by bus and 400km to the west of Ürümqi, is a good place to break the long journey from Ürümqi to Kashgar. It's a small town with a long history, and a largely Uigur population. The fourth-century linguist and scholar Kumarajiva , who came from here, was one of the most famous of all Chinese Buddhists. Having travelled to Kashmir for his education, he later returned to China as a teacher and translator of Buddhist documents from Sanskrit into Chinese. It was in large measure thanks to him that Buddhism came to be so widely understood in China and, by the early Tang, Kuqa was a major centre of Buddhism in China. The fantastic wealth of the trade caravans subsidized giant monasteries here, and Xuan Zang, passing through the city in the sixth century, reported the existence of two huge Buddha statues, twenty-seven metres high, guarding its entrances. The city even had its own, Indo-European language. With the arrival of Islam in the ninth century, however, this era finally began to draw to a close, and today only a few traces of Kuqa's glorious past remain.

There's little evidence now of Kuqa's past wealth; today the city is dusty and poor. It is effectively in two parts, the old (to the west) and the new (to the east), lying a few kilometres apart. The new city, largely Han-populated, contains all the facilities you'll need - hotels, banks, post offices and the long-distance bus station, while the old city, largely Uigur, is peppered with mosques and bazaars and has a Central Asian atmosphere very different to Chinese towns. To reach the old city, take any bus heading west along Renmin Lu, the main street on which the bus station is located, until you reach a bridge across the river - the old city lies beyond the river.   

Highlights
Subashi Ruins / Kilzil Thousand Buddha Caves

Getting there and away

There is no rail line to Kuqa. Flights connect the city with Ürümqi and Korla (but not Kashgar) and the airport is a very short taxi ride east of the new city. The bus station is in the far southeast of the new city, with connections to and from Kashgar, Khotan, Yining, Ürümqi and Turpan, though all of these journeys take between one and one-and-a-half days. For tickets out of Kuqa, and for booking tours of the sites outside the city, it's worth paying a call on the friendly Kuqa CITS (daily 9.30am-1.30pm & 4-8pm; tel 0997/7122524), in the Qiuci Hotel. The woman here speaks some English and is delighted to help you.

Accommodations

There are a couple of hotels right outside the bus station, but this is a rather distant corner of the town. To reach the hotels in the new city, catch a bus from just in front of the station, heading west. Get off at the second stop and take the next road north, Jiefang Lu. Motor-rickshaws also operate from the station, or it's around a twenty-minute walk.

The Minmao (tel 0997/7122998) on the southwest side of the intersection between Jiefang Lu and Wenhua Lu, is a convenient place to stay. A five minutes' walk farther north up Jiefang Lu is the Kuqa Hotel (tel 0997/7122901; dorms Y30-75, std. rm Y100-150), a big, bright and good-value place set in its own gardens, offering 24-hour hot water and doubles with or without bath, as well four-bed dorms.

Kuqa is not a great place for eating , though one nice place in the new city is the tiled building on the main Renmin Lu, more or less facing the south end of Jiefang Lu. You can sit under an awning with some friendly Uigurs and have a bowl of laghman washed down with authentic Uigur tea, with great rough sticks and leaves floating in the cup. A few yards west of here is a man selling delicious baked kaobao and samsa, dough packets stuffed with meat and vegetables, baked and fried respectively. In the other direction, on Xinhua Lu, a little east of Jiefang Lu, is a busy, smoky night market full of the usual kebabs and roast chickens, as well as plenty of fresh fruit in season. For Chinese food, try the restaurant in the Kuqa Hotel.

Attractions 

  • Kilzil Thousand Buddha Caves
    73km west of Kuqa, the oldest caves dedicated to Buddhism in China, once (before being plundered) a Central Asian treasure trove, a mixture of Hellenistic, Indian and Persian styles with not even a suggestion of Chinese influence. The spectacular murals in these caves can be compared with those of Mogao Grottos in Dunhuang, Gansu province. Those caves were first chiseled in the 3rd century. Over the 500 years, dynasties rose and fell; artist of each period contributed. Thousands of such caves were carved out of the craggy sand stone cliff. However, years of war and natural erosion have destroyed quite a few of them and now there are over 236 grottos, which houses approximately 10,000 square meters of mural paintings.

    Historic documents prove that these caves were once so popular among worshippers that it's always shrouded with the smoke of burning incense and monks living there reached hundreds of thousands.   

  • Subashi Ruis / 苏巴什故城
    23km north of Kuqa, the Subashi Ruins occupy a relatively large area, divided by Kuqa River into eastern and western areas. The temple, built in the first century and reached its peak during the 6th-8th centuries in the Sui and Tang dynasties, witnessed the development and the height of splendor of Buddhism in this land.

    In the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907), on passing by on his way to India to obtain Buddhist sutra, the hierarch Xuanzang was so impressed by the splendor of the temple and the popularity of Buddhism in this area that he stayed for more than 2 months. During later years, the temple had over 10 thousand monks and many hierarchs came from the interior of China to promote and develop Buddhism. Unfortunately, wars of the 9th century destroyed the temple, and it never recovered. It was finally abandoned in the 13th-14th centuries when Islam was introduced to Xinjiang and began to prevail.

    Today only the ruins of this temple remain. The pagodas, murals, walls and archaeological discoveries bear witness to the years of change, the stories of Buddhism and the development of civilization in this vast land.

    Getting there - to visit these sites, it's necessary to rent a car, which, from Kuqa CITS, will cost around Y300/day

  • Kuqa Great Mosque
    The second largest mosque in Xinjiang, only next to the Id Gar Mosque in Kashgar. The mosque is believed to be constructed in the 1500s. The adobe architecture was renovated into a wooden structure in 1700s. In the subsequent dynasties, the mosque was reconstructed and renovated for many times with its basic style remained without many changes.  The mosque is an Islamic-style building with green surface and a dome on the top. The prayer hall is about 1,500sqm and can hold as many as 3,000 persons. Inside the mosque, a ruin of a religious court is visible.

  • Taklimakan Desert
    The Desert in northwest China fills the expansive Tarim Basin between the Kunlun Mountains and the Tibetan Plateau to the south and the Tian Shan (Celestial Mountains) to the north. It is china’s largest sand desert and one of the eight biggest deserts in the world. The Taklimakan’s rolling sand sand dunes stretch out over 3, 376, 000 square kilometers.

    This desert is located farther from the ocean than almost any other place on Earth. As a result, some parts of the region receive less than 10 millimeters of precipitation a year. The Taklimakan is known as one of the world’s largest shifting sand deserts. Eighty-five percent of the area consists of shifting, crescent-shaped sand dunes that may be as high as 330 to 660 feet (100 to 200 m) and have almost no vegetation. Temperatures vary by as much as 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius) from day to night and about 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius) from summer to winter.

    Camels live in very dry areas and can withstand extremes of heat and cold. To keep out sand and dust, camels are able to seal their slit-like nostrils closed. Despite of its extremely tough weather condition, the humans-inhospitable desert is home to a great variety of wildlife-the last refuge of wild camels, and one of the last homes of Asiatic wild asses.

    Tips: Be prepared for some severe climatic conditions. This is the driest and warmest desert in all of China. On a clear day, an observer might see eight or ten tornadoes from a single viewpoint, and sandstorms in April and May can darken the midday sky until it looks like night.

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