Korla is the capital of the Bayangol Mongol Autonomous Prefecture which occupies an area of 478,700 square kilometer in the southern part of Xinjiang. Situated on the northern fringe of the Tarim Basin and at the southern foot of the Tianshan Mountains, which is 471 kilometer from Urumqi, covers an area of 7,449.7 square kilometer at an average elevation of 933.2 m.
At the beginning of the Han dynasty, this prefecture was the place where 11 kingdoms of the 36 in the Western Region were located. During the Sui and the Tang dynasties, the government of the Western Region, the Yanqi Superintendent's Office and the Quli Superintendent's Office were established here. In 1884, in the tenth year of the Qing dynasty Emperor Guangxu, when the province of Xinjiang was founded, first Karashar Prefecture directly under the administration of the central government was established in the Korla area and then was upgraded to Yanqi Prefecture.
Under the Republic of China, the prefecture of Yanqi and Yanqi Administrative Area were set up.
The prefecture has a population of 800,000, of which the Han nationality makes up 53.92%, the Mongol 4.99%, the Uygur 35.27%, the Hui 5.32%, the Tibetan 0.13% and other nationalities 0.24%.
Dominated by a continental climate, the prefecture is dry with light rainfall, a high evaporation rate, lots of sun and a huge temperature disparity between day and night. The wildlife in the prefecture includes the snow leopard, takin, marmot, snow cock, brown bear, red deer, wild camel and Asiatic wild ass, as well as the endangered species of swan and wild duck. The prefecture has a great variety of Chinese medicinal herbs such as the snow lily, Chinese groom well, fritillary, codonopsis pilosula, licorice root and ophedra.
57 kilometer northeast of Korla, Bosten Lake is the largest freshwater lake in Xinjiang, which serves as a natural reservoir. The lake, covering over 1,000 square kilometer reflects the beauty of the southern countryside with luxuriant vegetation. It is also a large fishery where a variety of fish grow.
The lake is known as the Oriental Hawaii of Xinjiang because of its unique and beautiful scenery in the Gobi desert. To accommodate developing tourism, recreational facilities have been gradually set up around the lake. Motor boating, water-skiing, diving and fishing are becoming popular. After a day of fishing, tourists can enjoy delicious bullhead and blunt-snout bream which are produced in the lake.
Bayinburuke, a vast highland prairie about 270 kilometer northwest of Korla, is home to the descendents of Mongols who returned here from Russia 100 years ago. The natural splendor of the area testifies to the accuracy of its Mongolian name which means "Rich Fountains". Bayinburuke's considerable water supply supports the luxurious grasslands, numerous varieties of multihued flowers, and hundreds of thousands of cattle and sheep. Bayinburuke is the second largest grassland in China encompassing an area of 23,000 square kilometer.
Bayinburuke has the distinction of having the only nature reserve for swans in China and one of the largest swan reserves in the world. Here, thousands of swans from many different species live, play, and breed providing a uniquely wonderful opportunity to observe large flocks of graceful swans.
This habitat area has a lake named Swan Lake. It is comprised of hundreds of small connected ponds that are fed by springs and streams and covers about 300 square kilometer. Swan Lake with its sparkling water, reedy marshes, and adjacent grasslands make it a perfect haven for swans and a visual delight for all people. Against the backdrop of the lake, its marshes, and the rich surrounding grasslands, visitors can observe the spectacle of thousands of swans in flight across the vast open sky.
Nowhere else can you have this breathtaking experience of seeing the sky fill with a cloud of swans. Engaging a local guide who can help you navigate the sometimes tricky marshes and share interesting stories of the area will add greatly to your enjoyment of Swan Lake. Swan watching is at its height in May and June. If you can, you might consider planning your trip to coincide with Nadam Fair.
Nadam Fair is an annual grand Mongolian event, held at Bayinburuke (Its date varies somewhat each year as the time of the Fair is based on the lunar calendar). Nadam Fair attendees are entertained with horseracing, wrestling, dancing, and singing, as well as having the chance to see and purchase local foods, crafts, and other commercial wares that are specialties of this area.
Lop Nur, lying east of Korla and covering 3,000 square kilometer, was an important station on the Silk Road and once a very large lake. In the Han dynasty, Lop Nur was such a vast lake that it was often mistaken as the source of the Yellow River.
However, over deforestation and environmental deterioration caused by human activity curtailed the lifespan of the lake andduring the 4th century AD codes and regulations had to be introduced to control the use of the insufficient water. When Marco Polo reached Lop Nur in 1275 he found nothing more than sand. Its contraction continued and Lop Nur finally disappeared in 1972.
On the west bank of Lop Nur Lake, which is now a lake of sand instead of water, the Ancient City of Loulan was founded in the second century BC in an oasis with rich water network. It suddenly waned into the history after about 800 years flourish. The city, once the capital of State Loulan which was one of the 36 Western Regions states, occupied very significant position on the Silk Road. However it simply vanished in the middle of the 6th century AD. At the beginning of last century, a Swedish explorer Sven Hedin accidentally discovered the city buried in desert in his exploration. Discovery startled the world from then to present.
The city has already totally collapsed into dust. The only recognizable structures are a pagoda which is the largest structure in the ruins, and a seems-to-be office which still has painted timber traces.
Archeologists believe there was once a water tunnel running through the city and dividing it into 2 functional parts. Large amounts of potsherds, wood pieces, coins, jewelries and wood slip documents are listed in the archaeological finds, which provide us many clues of the ancient city.
Recently there were greater finds around the ruins. Archaeologists found the graveyard which was lost after its previous discovery. On a giant sand dune, there are densely distributed wood stakes which are apparently arrayed around a column like genital. Hundreds of cymbiform coffins scatter around, while most of them are broken, with mummies lying around. Among one of them, one coffin contains a well-preserved mummy female with Caucasian features.
Archaeologists also found colorfully painted and crosshatched coffins, remaining new. A real size wood statue with clear female characteristics, though cracking and crippled, proves that early Loulanese could produce fairly good artistic workpieces. The graveyard is, archaeologists believe, a holy place where early Loulanese prayed for strong reproductive ability.
The discovery may explain why the active and flourishing oasis vanished. It is discovered early Loulanese preferred Sun Tomb which consists of 7 circles of logs which become thicker and thicker from the center to the outer circle, radiating like the sun. The unique and spectacular burying form prevailed and undermined Loulan's existence. Large amount of trees was consumed before Loulanese realized and legislated to control wood consumption and to protect woods and trees. However it seemed to be late and the city swallowed by the fierce desert.
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