A somewhat famous region of interest within the Xinjiang-Uighur Autonomous Region is the Lop Nor, in the last two millennia a large lake surrounded by extensive marshlands, which is today a dried up and salty desert depression situated directly between the Taklamakan Desert and the even larger Gobi Desert to the East. This now mostly abandoned and more-over barren region is well known for its crucial historic importance and relevance to China's economical, social and cultural development and its contacts with Central Asia and the world as the Lop Nor, an Oasis Lake along the Silk Road.
Much more recently, as a result of European exploration and mapping of the distant lands of which the Lop Lake is part, it gained a further status and notoriety as it was dubbed ″the wandering Lake″, a lake that mysteriously changed place, and at times seemed to have disappeared only to re-appear at a later time. To date, it is the only lake on earth to show such behavior.
Furthermore, as an even more recent development, after the creation of the Peoples Republic of China in 1949 AD, the Lop Nor became the site where China tested its nuclear bombs, turning large parts of the Lop Nor Desert into a restricted Military Camp and leaving a legacy of nuclear pollution. To Date, the Lop Nor sees ongoing military activity regardless the 1996 AD signing and ratification of the nuclear test ban treaty by the Peoples Republic.
Situated across the mouth of the hexi corridor (also known as ″the neck of China″) it has borders with Gansu Province in the East, the Altyn Tagh Mountains and the Tibetan Mountain Plateaux (Qinghai Province) to the South, borders on the Taklamakan desert to the West and finally the Silk Oasis Towns of Hami (Kumul) and Turpan (Turfan) to the North.
Towns surrounding the Lop Nor Basin thus are: Dunhuang (in Gansu Province) in the East, Ruoqiang in the South-West, and Bayin Ghol (Shihezi - Capital of Bayin Gholin Mongol Autonomous Prefecture) in the North-West. Although Han migration in recent decades have altered the demographic landscape, the traditional population - mainly living in the smaller rural villages- consists mainly of Uighurs and Mongolians, intermixed with a few other local ″minorities″.
GEOGRAPHY AND HYDROLOGY OF LOP NOR LAKE:
Originally the Lop Nor was part of much larger lake, however this has slowly receded, a smaller lake with several rivers feeding into it. The main river that flows into Lop Nor (Lop Lake) is the Tarim River, the end part of which, terminating into the lake is known as the Konqi River. However, locally a few smaller streams add to the Lake.
China Report - View o/t Tarim River Delta - Lop Nor dried lake area in Xinjiang AR
Historically the Lop Nor was known as a crucial stop over point on the so called ″Silk Road″, a network of trading routes that came into existence at around the 2nd and 1st Century B.C. and, when in due course of time further developed, connected China with Central Asia, and Africa, Arabia and Europe beyond. Fed by China's 5th largest River, the Tarim, the Lake Lop Nor was a refreshing, salty but still life giving lake of a fairly substantial size which was rich in fish, bird and game that, together with the river formed the basis of what is known as the Northern Route of the Silk Road (within China).
As a fresh water lake surrounded on two sides by vast desert-like regions, the Lop Nor formed as it were, a watery bridge between two worlds. Without the lake (and the River), no Silk Road would have existed, or at least not in this region.
To the West of the Lake lay the road into Central Asian lands (territories that are now known as Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan) - a harsh journey filled with many dangers the first of which was the huge Taklamakan (never returning) desert-, and to the East of the Lake lay the road to the Chinese Border and the protection that it offered, however still 10 to 14 days traveling through inhospitable, dry and sandy expanses of the Lop Desert. In between was the lake, a wonderful green world within itself. It thus became famous in the tales and recorded writings of silk road travelers, all of whom longed to be in safety and in abundance at the shore of the blue Lop Nor Lake.
As a watery conduit or pillar of the Silk Road, naturally the Lop Nor saw its fair share of travelers,
A schematic geographic Map depicting the main pathway of the Silk Road, connecting China with Central Asia and vice versa. Marked on the Map is the location of Lop Nor Lake, of obvious strategic importance in historic terms.
This page was last updated on: July 20, 2015
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Clearly visible north of and above the large brown blot of Tibetan Plateaux lies the Taklamakan Desert in the Tarim River Basin. Lop Nor is found on the eastern side of this depression.
More specifically, The Lop Nor is the last remnant of the historical post-glacial Tarim Lake, a huge Lake which came into being at the end of the last ice age, now some 12.000 years ago, and which covered a large part of the southern half of what today is the Xinjiang-Uighur Autonomous Region of the Peoples Republic of China.
As can be fathomed from modern satellite imagery of Xinjiang-Uighur Autonomous Region and the sandswept expanses of the Taklamakan Desert, this ancient ″Lake″, in fact was nothing less a huge inland sea that covered more than 10,000 km2 (3,900 sq miles).
Today, what remains of this inland sea after the many millenia past is much smaller geographic feature known as Lop Nor.
The space originally taken up by the ancient inland sea is clearly visible on satellite images and maps as a very large depression in the south of the Xinjiang Region. It is officially known as the Tarim Basin and named after the largest remaining river traversing it circumference. It is however more clear to simply point out that the ancient lake filled most of what can now easily be recognized as the Taklamakan Desert, a vast almost eliptoid desert region, which is nearly entirely surrounded by high mountain ranges. This huge space and depression, is hydrologically endorheic, which means that it is landbound and due to the surrounding mountain ranges and the Tibetan Plateaux to the South, there is no place for water to flow and escape to an even lower point. Thus, after the last ice age was over and temperatures began to rise, huge volumes of water collected themselves in this spot rapidly forming massive inland sea.
Overtime, as the centuries and millennia progressed and less melting waters came down from the surrounding mountains, the large inland sea receded, leaving a variety of larger and smaller rivers flowing down to the lowest point of the remaining depression where there was a lake. This lake, was Lop Nor.
The Lop Nor then is the the lake system into which the Tarim River, China's 5th largest river empties. Apart from the Lake being fed by the Tarim River, the southern part of the basin also receives water from another river of glacial melting water, the Shule River.
Lop Nor can found within the eastern confines of the large Taklamakan Desert depression (the Tarim River Basin) and naturally is situated near and around its lowest point. The current lake and surrounding marshes are part of the Bayin Gholin Mongol Autonomous Prefecture of the Xinjiang Autonomous Region, and -for
various reasons- is considered one of the remotest and least visited historical Peoples Republic. However, due to its overwhelming history and the many thrilling tales to be told about Lop Nor and it surroundings, some degree of public interest always remains.
As much as a result of human activity as of climatic changes, in the last 5 to 7 decades the lake Lop Nor has progressive shrunk, often disappearing entirely in the hot summer months. Especially dam and irrigation projects have severely altered the water supply of the Tarim-Konqi system to the entire lake area. As recorded, between 1921 and 1952, Lop Nor Lake still had a watery surface covering 2,400 square kilometers (926 square mi), yet since 1964 AD all of the Lop lake has been totally dry, except for years of unusual precipitation and then only seasonal. After the construction and completion of a final dam in the up-river segments of the Tarim River basin, creating the Tikanlik Reservoir of the Tarim River, all of the Lake and smaller remnants have been devout of water.
Today, in the best of circumstances lop nor is not more than a collection of small salty desert lakes, found inside the abandoned and empty lake bed. As a result of the drying of the ground, masses of sand dunes have started migrating across the emptiness and the desert has spread to all but the center and lowest point of the lake. Obstruction of the feeding rivers combined with the rise of the sand have shifted the lowest point of the depression, and thus the Lop Nor lake system, some 30 to 40 kilometers (19 to 25 miles) westwards during the past 40 years.
As a secondary result of the disappearing of the Lop Nor Lake as well as most of the Tarim River, the once green oasis' in Xinjiang (and neighboring Gansu Province) progressively shrank and the already sparse population found itself living at the edge of sustenance. Slowly the people trickled away to places of better living. Civilization retreated.
Since the advent of the Peoples Republic of China (P.R.C.) the Lake Lop Nor has mainly be known a desert rather than a Lake. It is recorded that in the 1990's, when a large scale Government scheme was launched to refill the Tarim River (and thus theoretically parts of the Lop Nor), the once famous Oasis towns of Khotan and Cherchen had reverted to dust blown towns, threatened to be overrun by the desert sand, inhabited mainly by the hopeless or patient who had to remain behind. All other, especially the young had left the parched grounds in search of a better life.
Since one of the causes for the advancing of the desert has been the cutting of the poplars and willows found growing in and around the lake marshes for use as firewood, this has now been expressly forbidden. Furthermore, in the year 2003 the Government established a 3,520 km2 (1,360 sq miles) nature reserve in which to regrow enough poplar and willow to help stabilize the shifting sands. The trees are also used as a reservoir available for replanting elsewhere.
Meanwhile, nothing much is publicly known nor said about the Nuclear Legacy left at Lop Nor Lake and Desert. Clearly, the detonation of over 40 atomic bombs and several hydrogen bombs, many being exploded in the open atmosphere, must have left a wide-spread radio-active pollution of the lands and wider regions.
Although the Central Government led by the Communist Party have for long flatly denied any negative health effects caused by atmospheric nuclear testing and other nuclear activities in the Lop Nor Region, local citizenry have been of a different opinion. Rumors of cancer epidemics, birth defects and other diseases likely caused by the secretive nuclear activities have circulated for long and persist to this day. In the 1990's, finally some of the truth has been brought to light by a brave and (illegally operating) team of reporters working (among things) for the British Broadcasting Cooperation (B.B.C.). Through their work, the lid has finally blown of this case, showing that especially the south of Xinjiang has a much higher rate of cancers and other diseases known to be caused by nuclear pollution and exposure.
Especially blood cancers (leukemia and lymphatic cancers), lung cancers, birth deformities and mysterious degenerative disorders of muscles and nervous system occur at an alarmingly high rate in towns surrounding Lop Nor and the Chinese nuclear testing sites. This information is however actively suppressed by the Government.
For full information on the nuclear history of Lop Nor, and the current malan Nuclear Testing Facility, please refer to:
Xinjiang-Uygur Autonomous Region Satellite Map 1A
A Satellite Image overview Map of Xinjiang-Uygur Autonomous Region entire and parts of neighboring Nations of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, The Tuva-, Khakassia- and Buryatia Republic of the Russian Federation, The Republic of Mongolia, as well as Chinese Provinces and Territories of Gansu Province, Qinghai Province and Tibet Autonomous Region.
This Map Includes Cities and Towns (shown by size), the Irtush River Valley, the Dzungarian Basin of Xinjiang AR, the Taklamakan Desert in South-Central Xinjiang AR, a variety of border passes in the Karakoram Mountain Range and the Tian Shan Mt. Range, plus main waterways, rivers and lakes of this large region.
among whom some who became famous and sometimes left records of its existence and the life of the people and civilization(s) that grew and fell along its shorelines.
To name but a few, the famous Monks Faxian (337 AD - 427 AD) and Xuanzhang (629 AD - 645 AD) who brought Buddhist knowledge from India, the latter thus becoming the Chief Religious Teacher (Shi Fu) at the famous Great Goose Pagoda in Xi'an (Chang'An), a renowned Chinese Cultural attraction in itself, both traversed the desert and camped along the shoreline of the Lop Nor. As did several centuries later the now well-known European traveler Marco Polo. Both travelers who left thrilling accounts of their journey, in which particular attention was given to the perilous trek across what by then was already known as an especially barren region. As a result, the name of Lop Nor resounded far beyond merely the regions, or China alone.
As may be deduced from the above explanations, originally, when the first humans settled in the Tarim Basin and found Lop Nor, it was a giant inland sea. This Sea sustained life of generations of people who lived long before the opening of the Silk Road, gradually spawning sophisticated Civilizations over time. For millennia the Tarim Basin and within it the Lop Nor were a lush green zone, with a comforting climate and abundant resources to sustain life and more. However, as time went by the climate conditions slowly changed, slowly shrinking the abundance into smaller and smaller lakes and interspersed Oasis.
open route out of China in the year 138 BC, and it would be what most silk road
travelers that followed in the next 2000 would grow accustomed to and deal with.
FOR THE FULL HISTORY OF LOP NOR LAKE & DESERT, PLEASE CLICK THROUGH :
FAMOUS LANDMARKS IN AND AROUND LOP NOR:
1) Malan Nuclear testing Facility.
2) Xiaohe Tomb Complex, also known as the Little Tomb for its modest appearance. Discovered in 1910 AD and first archeologically excavated by Folke Bergman (and Sven Hedin) in the year 1934 AD.
3) Ruins of the Lost Kingdom of Loulan.
4) Ruins of Miran+ Miran Archeological Relics Site (near Ruoqiang)
4) Ruins if the Niya historical and archeological site (near Ruoqiang)
5) Silk Road Oasis Town of Turpan (Turfan) famous for its history, culture and caves with buddhist frescoes.
6) Multi-ethnic Oasis Town of Hami (Kumul) populated by Uighurs, Hui and Kazakhe.
Furthermore, in the recent years (since the year 2009) a number of new structures have appeared in the Lop Nor. Desert. Visible clearly by Satellite and so appearing on Google Maps in the year 2011, the apparent constructions of these structures has raised many questions among the internet
An older Satellite Image taken in the infra-red spectrum, showing clearly the deserted depression left by the receding and drying Lop Lake. In the North the sands that ultimetaly shifted the Tarim River can clearly be identified by the windblown ridges formed.
NAMING OF LOP NOR :
In modern times the use of the name Lop Nor can be confusing. That is, the name is not only used for the Lake (which has disappeared), but also for the larger Lop Nor Depression that surrounds the original lake as it was described in the the above mentioned accounts of early travelers. In this way the term Lop Nor can mean either the Lake or the featureless desert.
Furthermore, the current topography in the region can also be confusing as Chinese maps will show a city named Lop Nur (or Yuli) situated on the Konqi (Kunque) River, a small river that feeds into the lake bed (now only during rainy times) that feeds the lake. A second town known as “Lop” is a village in Kara Buran, the southern basin of the wandering Lop Nor Lake.
YouTube Video: Introduction to lop Nor and historic sites, as part of the Classic Documentary ″The Silk Road″.
public and Government officials alike. Although one might deduce that some of these structures may be related to the Chinese Nuclear program or perhaps its ballistic missile program. so far not much is known about them.