Visit to the Northern Silk Road Oasis Turfan

Ursula Sims-Williams News 5 Comments

Together with Nicholas Sims-Williams and Erica Hunter I recently attended the Turfan Forum on Old Languages of the Silk Road organised in Turfan, Xinjiang, by Academia Turfanica, the Turfan Museum and the Bureau of Cultural Heritage of the Turfan Region, 24-26 October 2010.  This was a first visit to China and Central Asia for me, providing a wonderful opportunity to meet Chinese colleagues and visit the sites we have all been working on for so long (Bezeklik, Khocho, Toyuq and Bulayik), up to now familiar only from the works of Stein, Le Coq and Grünwedel.

The conference consisted of thirty papers. Nicholas spoke on medical texts from Turfan in Syriac and New Persian, while  Erica surveyed the Syriac fragments of Shuipeng (Bulayik), noting the main genres with particular attention given to the prayer-amulets. I spoke on new developments in the International Dunhuang Database Project, a multi-lingual collaborative database hosted by the British Library giving access to over a quarter of a million images of Central Asian manuscripts, artefacts, maps and photographs.

Sengim – © U. Sims-Williams

Before the conference started, we were taken on an intensive tour of the region, visiting the 6th-13th century Buddhist caves at Bezeklik, Sangim, Toyuk, in addition to the the ancient city of Gaochang.

Toyuk – © U. Sims-Williams

The highspot was visiting the Christian monastery Shuipeng, near the village of Bulayik, where almost all the Christian Turfan texts were discovered in 1905 by the second German Turfan expedition under A. von Le Coq. Due to Le Coq’s imprecise geographical description, this site remained unidentified until 2004.


The monastery of Shuipeng at Bulayik photographed by Le Coq (A. Le Coq, Chotscho. Berlin, 1913, pl. 71h)

Almost the same view of the monastery today – © U. Sims-Williams

We also went on a cross-country excursion, driving up a river valley to a site high up in the “Flaming mountains”  in one of the  passes which had formerly been an important route to Beiting. Freezing fog, snow and temperatures of -7°C did not deter intrepid Sogdologists Nick and Yutaka Yoshida from inspecting inscriptions carved in the rock by travellers of ancient times.

©U. Sims-Williams

Shepherd hut in the Tien Shan mountains – © U. Sims-Williams








The wonderful hospitality provided by our generous hosts led to this being a truly memorable visit.

© U. Sims-Williams

Comments 5

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  2. Hi, loved your description of the monastery in turpan. Would love to visit it. We are visiting Turoan next week. Can you give me exact details of where it is if we are going by foot from shuipeng? Many thanks.

  3. Post

    Glad you liked the post! I’m sure it would be quite straightforward to visit Bezeklik, Toyuk and Sengim but Bulayiq, although not far from Turfan, would be very difficult. You would have to get a guide. We were taken there by the Archaeological department. I don’t think it is a public monument. Besides which there is nothing there much except the ruins in the photographs.

  4. Thanks so much for your very swift reply. We’re going to have a try anyway armed with various photos. We think it’s in the area just above the grape valley. We will just have to ask around. We’ ve seen all the other places you mention but this was an amazing find to read about!

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