Hotan, the Taklamakan and Walnuts


On the train again…a 5am train ride from Kashgar to Hotan that skirts the Taklamakan Desert deposits me after 6 hours in this Uyghur city on a chilly rainy day. BE48A65C-1B1B-4D9D-92FC-9FB4D7DE117DThe driver said it was most unusual weather as the summer is hot and dry. I wondered from where this cool air came but had no luck with my inquiries so I just accepted the fluke of weather conditions was to my advantage and enjoyed the cool day, particularly as I was headed into the Taklamakan Desert (tark, “to abandon” + makan, “place”)to visit Rawak Vihara, a ruined Buddhist stupa (a commemorative monument representing the passing of the Buddha) and monastery complex c. between the 3rd-4th centuries CE located northeast of Hotan.


. According to the archeological accounts, sand covered the temple and entire area.


“Rawak means “high building” or “steep house” in Uyghur, and vihara is the Sanskrit term for “monastery.” *



In Stein’s accounts, “the stupa walls were completely covered with sculptures of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, life-sized or a little larger. The coloring of the sculptures was of a deep red.” *


Reconstruction of what the original stupa might have been. It was covered in sand when Stein began excavating.

Between 1901 and 1906 Aurel Stein excavated this and wrote about his remarkable finds at this temple on his first trip to China. He found relics that showed the influence of Buddhist religion and Indian cultures. He hid his findings to one day return and when he did return most of what he hid had been stolen. (Read: Foreign Devils on the Silk Road for more information about the excavations of Stein. *Above information from

Hotan is the modern city within the ancient Kingdom of Khotan that is on the southern edge of the Taklamakan Desert in the Tarim Basin of modern Xinjiang Provence. C39803BF-3A56-4A5F-929C-805FF1290FC1Kingdom of Khotan was one of the many small states found in the Tarim Basin that included Yarkand, Turfan (see Foiled at the Finish), Kashgar. To the west were Central Asian kingdoms of Sogdiana and Bactria ( see Sogdians and Soviets). China and Tibet were powerful neighbours. In antiquity, and especially before the rise of Islam in the 9th-10th centuries CE, the region of Khotan was Buddhist for over 1000 years and mainly populated by East-Iranian-speaking Saka tribes until it was conquered by Muslim Kara-Khanid Khanate in 1006. (Read more at

Built on an oasis, Hotan mulberry groves allowed the production and export of silk, in addition to the city’s other major products such as its famous jade from the White Jade River.


White Jade River where most of China’s jade comes from over centuries

Hotan was once famous for its silk  production. Unfortunately, sericulture is no longer a lucrative business for traditional techniques of making silk textiles. In Xinjiang Provence preparation of silk for weaving is called ‘atlas’. This technique is used throughout Central Asia. The textile design is called  ‘ikat’ which is when  cotton and silk threads are combined the material is called ‘adras’. If the textile is purely silk, most often, the name is ‘atlas’. Ikat adras and atlas have been practiced throughout Central Asia for a 1000 years. It is an expression of material cultures that spread from (modern-day) Uzbekistan to Xīnjiāng Provence. The inspiration of the designs is from the shapes of flowers, leaves, and fruits, pomegranate the most revered. The process in Hotan silk factory is the same as explained in the Obelisque article : The Ikat of Uzbekistan

The 1300 year-old walnut tree attests to walnut cultivation over millennia. Here, walnuts are revered for not only health benefits but also walnuts were used as trader-travelers moved across trade routes from China to the Mediterranean Sea.


1300 year old walnut tree!

6E4F6C48-8448-4A1B-A3AB-7CDFD55D571F21B4B1ED-F4E9-4E6E-B89E-D53253094388Along these routes travelers planted the nutritious and portable walnut. Hotan climate, water resource and fertile land was ideal to grow walnut trees. 

Hotan night market topped off my stay in Hotan with sweet tangzaza (sticky rice with syrup and yoghurt). Some night market delights:6483EC37-9F0A-4269-BB34-6F2CFF0F98D9

In the video, the song asks, “What makes you happy?” The refrain, “The night market makes us happy.”

Want more information on Uyghurs and Xinjiang Province in China, go to Josh Summers: Far West China. It is excellent!

(all rights reserved, copyright 2018 .To copy or re-produce photography and/or writings, written permission from Lesley Lababidi is required)

6 thoughts on “Hotan, the Taklamakan and Walnuts

  1. Fascinating, as usual. Hotan night market looks like a place in which I would be in heaven.
    The white corn starch bars in the picture are the ones I found in my Ashlan Fu in Kirgyzystan. That is perhaps not that surprising given that I’ve been told it is a Dungan recipe. Do they have it in Hotan too? All the best, Stefano

    • If I remember my guide saying some are from corn starch, rice starch ( flour?), wheat, barley,. But this area is 95% uyghur ; however could be migration of recipes as people moved around or intermarried. That would be my guess. Thank you for your comment. L.

  2. I wish walnut can be farmed in Nigeria. Eat much of it before you return to Nigeria. Really fascinating… the desert, the weather… Thank you for the post.

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