The Silk Road Series 6/16: Across The Taklamakan Desert

Across The Taklamakan Desert

This episode sees the expedition crossing the southern route of the Taklamakan desert, which in the Uighar language means the place from which no living thing returns.

Across The Taklamakan Desert

Besides some interesting enthnography amongst the Uighars in the Xin-jiang autonomous region, who were living very remotely from their supposed Chinese overlords, the team visits two sets of ruins at Miran and Niya, both of which were flourishing centres along the Silk Road at one time.

Miran seems to have been a Tibetan settlement that was finally abandoned around the 11th century, for reasons lost to time. There is hardly anything left there except the remains of a stupa.

The Niyan civilisation appears to have collapsed much earlier, around the 4th century. It originally covered an area of around 20km x 10km. It is so remote that the team went right past it and had to backtrack the following day.

Not much is left of the city except rotted wooden pillars, which do however give an idea of the size of the houses and mansions.

It was here that Sir Aurel Stein found some manuscripts written in the Kharoṣṭhī script, that mainly ended up in the British Museum. Since the 1990s they have been preserved and examined by Prof. Richard Salomon and his team and are some of the most important documents for this ancient Buddhist kingdom.

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