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.
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.
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.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Tuyoq Old Town (China). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Tuyoq Old Town. Read more about this site.