The Taklamakan Desert is the largest desert in China, as well as the second largest mobile desert in the world. With a total area of 330,000 sq. km, the desert is as vast as the sea, stretching for more than 1,000 km from east to west and over 400 km from north to south. The boundless sea of sand in the desert has won it the fame as a "sea of death," which "one can enter but will never leave." However, in the Uygur language, ＂taklamakan" means "the old homeland," because in ancient times the place was not a desert, but a beautiful oasis that had nurtured numerous brilliant civilizations.
Located in the center of the Tarim Basin in China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region,the Taklamakan Desert lies in the hinterland of the Eurasian Continent, surrounded on three sides by mountains more than 4,000 meters above sea level: the Tianshan Mountains in the north, the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau in the south, and the Pamirs in the west. Rainfall is extremely rare in this region, which only has scorching sun, freezing nights and ceaseless gales.
Nevertheless, the region is not a forbidden zone for life. The surrounding high mountains, while blocking the entry of humid air, also supply pure water with their melting snow.The Hotan River, Keriya River,Niya River and Andir River-all originated from the snowy mountains and flowed across the desert.Some of them dispersed in the heartland of the desert, while others nurtured “green corridors" on the yellow sand one after another.Thanks to the existence of these great rivers, the Silk Road emerged from a "sea of death" and the desert became a land of prosperity that witnessed the exchange Seeds in th between several major civilizations.
The Silk Road appeared in historical records in as early as the 1st century BC during China's Han Dynasty.With a total length of more than 70,000 km,the road crossed Central Asia to link the ancient Chinese civilization with other civilizations created by the ancient Greeks, Egyptians, Babylonians and Indians.In the following centuries, these great civilizations converged in the Taklamakan Desert, proved today by the excavation of a large quantity of precious,world-stunning cultural relics. The relics include portraits of winged angels, brocades from China,Roman-style columns,and statues of Buddha from India. Via the Silk Road,Chinese technologies and inventions such as silkworm breeding, gunpowder and papermaking were introduced to Central Asia and even Rome, while Jing Jiao (or Illustrious Religion), Islam, astronomy and mathematics also spread to China from the West.The Silk Road had changed the history of the world, and the Taklamakan Desert has borne witness to such significant changes.
According to the ancient history records of China, there used to be 36 kingdoms in the so-called“Western Frontier Regions," all enjoying great prosperity and they scattered in the Taklamakan Desert like pearls. However, due to climate changes over the past several thousand years, the desert has gradually shown its cruel side,swallowing one oasis after another mercilessly and burying all those prosperous kingdoms under endless dunes.
Starting from the 19th century,the Taklamakan Desert has become a paradise and treasure house for explorers and archaeologists all over the world. Loulan, Niya, and Miran, those ancient city states that used to live only in history books have been discovered and excavated one after another. Nevertheless,the boundless Taklamakan Desert is still keeping too many secrets to itself,and there remain too many unsolved riddles of history and civilization.