the far north of China, the Great Wall stretches away into the Gobi
Desert. North of this lies the garrison town of Khara Khoto. This
was a military fort on the Mongolian border and dates back to 1032
region is known as Inner Mongolia. The word 'Inner' springs from the
Sino-centric perspective where 'inner' was nearest, and 'outer' was
furthest from Peking.
Khan, the fearsome ruler of Outer Mongolia, captured the town in the
year 1227 and established a military base there. It remained under
Mongolian rule for 145 years.
Khoto, abandoned to the Gobi sands for 500 years
1372 Genghis Khan’s influence was on the wane and China’s
new Ming Dynasty was exerting its authority. The great desert fort
was protected by unassailable walls and maintained by a formidable
army. A frontal attack was clearly impractical. So the Ming emperor
marshalled a great force to dig a canal to divert the river - and
the siege was set.
Mongol leader, Khara Bator, soon realised his fate. He dug a deep
well which failed to supply water. Fearful of capture, he killed his
own family before throwing his treasures down the well and running
on his sword. The Chinese entered the town and slaughtered the occupants.
They left the bodies unburied in the main square.The
city was never reoccupied and gained a ghostly reputation. It became
known as the ‘Black City’ and is shunned by the Chinese
and Mongolians alike.
city was claimed by the desert sands and is now only distinguishable
by it’s 30ft ramparts, crumbling temples and many bleached bones.
Dr Raymond Bird and Kit Constable-Maxwell launched an expedition to visit
this site in October 2009. They were accompanied by Philippa Treadwell
and Suzan Rae, both experienced travellers.
flew to Beijing, took an internal flight to Kashgar and hired a 4x4
vehicle from the accomplished driver/guide Jian-Hu. We set out across
the Taklamakan desert where our route was marked by 18,000ft peaks
on one side and open desert on the other. We camped in the desert
at Mazartag Fort. We followed the old Silk Road and reached the town
of Dunhuang a week later. This renowned centre hosts Buddhist paintings
and artefacts up to 1,000 years old. At the Mogao caves nearby, we
visited many historic shrines at 'The Caves of a Thousand Buddhas'.
Dunhuang we made an excursion into the desert to visit a ‘Yardang’
formation, where numerous windblown troughs carve parallel corridors
reaching far out into the sands. From here we travelled to the great
Ming fort at Jaiyuguan, a memorable tribute to medieval tactical and
week later we reached Khara Khoto where we entered the city walls,
and trod the sacrificial sands of medieval history. Our visit was
the grand finale to our long planned and long travelled journey. We
strolled through the abandoned fortifications, climbed the drifting
sands and revered the hesitant history of this great border town.
continued to Beijing and took an air flight back home. We returned
to UK in early November. A full website article will follow and a
lecture is in the course of preparation.