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China: Tuyoq Old Town

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Tuyoq Old Town | China | Asia

[Visited: July 2010]

After seeing the early sunrise over Ayding Lake, and driving further east, I arrived in Tuyoq which was still quiet. My driver for the day parked his car, and I decided to first explore the canyon north of Tuyoq. Before reaching the canyon, I walked past the mazar, one of the holiest places for Muslims in China. I visited the small cemetery, an area with very modest graves around which I found stones with red ribbons around it. But the mosque was closed, and I decided to continue hiking to the canyon, which I reached pretty soon. I walked always closer to the edge, to get a better view of the narrow canyon below. On the other side of it, a layered and multicolour rocky wall reached down all the way to the bottom of where I could not even see. I saw trails running down the hill, and went always further down. At a certain moment, to my surprise, it looked that I could actually reach the green bottom of the valley. But after struggling to move down the steep hill with its loose stones, I reached a point above an irrigation channel, and realized I was too high to jump down. After gesturing that I should climb up again, workers on the other side of the river eventually came to my rescue, and after walking around, crossing the fast-flowing river, I hiked back to Tuyoq. Unfortunately, the Thousand Buddha Grottoes, used since the third century CE for meditation by Buddhists, turned out to be closed; officially, this side of the canyon was not open for visitors.

Picture of Tuyoq Old Town (China): The spectacular Flaming Mountains near Tuyoq

I walked up a hill rising steeply above Tuyoq, I reached a point which offered a great view over the old town. The adobe houses seemed even closer than from the viewpoint on the other side of the valley where I had started a few hours before, and I quickly walked down to be able to explore the village itself. From above, I had a good view over the roofs of the houses, some of which were filled with melons drying in the sun. Exploring Tuyoq turned out to be a pleasure: the brown, adobe houses with wooden doors and windows frames, narrow alleys - many of which turned out to be dead-ends, and a shiny old mosque in the middle of it all. Tuyoq is an ancient Uyghur settlement, famous for its seedless grapes. Apart from those, the melons I had seen drying were on sale in other parts of the village and proved to be a tasty delicacy.

Picture of Tuyoq Old Town (China): Tuyoq mosque

On my way through the old town of Tuyoq, I discovered small squares, old trees, and bridges. I was surprised at how few people I saw. A few inhabitants, but no other visitors, and certainly no foreigners. A peaceful place, and one with which it was easy to fall in love. At the end of my wanderings through the alleys of the earthen village, I walked up to the mazar again. Now, the mosque was open, and I ended up talking to a few Muslims. Some misunderstanding about my Turkmen skull-cap led the old Uyghurs to believe that I was a Muslim, too. They invited me into the mazar itself, the resting place of the first Muslim Uyghur of China, where I had no choice but to participate in a prayer. Every now and then, one of the pilgrims went into a space behind a curtain, and in the end, the men urged me to go inside, too. I realized that I was inside the holiest Muslim site of China; believers here even claim that visiting this pilgrimage site for seven times equals one visit to Mecca. I felt in a difficult position: being here was a wonderful experience, but at the same time, I did not want to offend the warm, welcoming people who had invited me in. Thanking them in Arabic, I finally was able to find an excuse to leave the holy site and walk back to the car, in which I found my driver sleeping.

Picture of Tuyoq Old Town (China): Part of Tuyoq seen from a hill
Picture of Tuyoq Old Town (China): Detail of house in Tuyoq
Picture of Tuyoq Old Town (China): Adobe houses in Tuyoq
Picture of Tuyoq Old Town (China): Adobe house in traditional style in Tuyoq
Picture of Tuyoq Old Town (China): The Flaming Mountains canyon with the Thousand Buddha Grottoes
Picture of Tuyoq Old Town (China): Mazar complex near Tuyoq
Picture of Tuyoq Old Town (China): Huojian Mazar above Tuyoq
Picture of Tuyoq Old Town (China): People gathering inside the mazar of Tuyoq
Picture of Tuyoq Old Town (China): Some of the buildings around the Muslim pilgrimage site
Picture of Tuyoq Old Town (China): The village of Tuyoq: adobe houses and green trees
Picture of Tuyoq Old Town (China): Stone with red piece of cloth at the cemetery of Tuyoq
Picture of Tuyoq Old Town (China): Bare rocks define the canyon north of Tuyoq
Picture of Tuyoq Old Town (China): The canyon in the Flaming Mountains just outside Tuyoq

Around the World in 80 Clicks

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