Life

The Lop Nur Enigma: From Thriving Oasis to Desiccated “Ear of the Earth”

Lop Nur is at the lowest point of the Tarim Basin. It was once the second largest inland lake in my country, with the Tarim River and Kongque River flowing into it. But now, this lake has no water.

The originally vast oasis turned into a sea of ​​sand overnight, becoming the “Bermuda Triangle” of land that has been inaccessible to explorers throughout the ages. Some people say that a spell has been cast here, and that seems to be the case. Great changes take effect from the moment the “spell” is cast, gradually drying up every life.
The mystery of the drying up of Lop Nur, the Sea of ​​Death

The closer you get to the eastern part of Taklimakan, the more unstable the mobile phone signal is, and even intermittent. In sight, various natural scenery along the way are gradually replaced by a single landform. When I stopped the car and looked around, the light was particularly bright and dazzling. The Gobi Desert stretched to the skyline, seemingly endless.

Driving in the boundless sea of ​​sand, the yellow sand rolled up by the tires mixes with the car exhaust, raising a short trail of dust and smoke, which is proof that there are still people out there. Going further east to the easternmost edge of the desert is Lop Nur, one of the four most uninhabited areas in China. As the mobile phone signal completely disappeared, it marked a complete loss of contact with the outside world. This region issued a silent warning, rejecting outsiders without discrimination.

However, the more dangerous the place, the more fascinating it is, and the lack of mobile phone signal is more like a naked invitation to some people. Is it a visit, an inspection, a decryption, or is it being manipulated by the unknown? It’s all a puzzle.

In remote sensing satellite images, Lop Nur is a “giant ear” in Ruoqiang County. It has half-circular lines of alternating light and dark, converging toward the center. It has not only helixes, ear holes, but also earlobes. It is located at the lowest point in the eastern part of the Tarim Basin in Xinjiang and at the easternmost edge of the Taklimakan Desert, the largest desert in China. At first, not many people visited, but based on an unclear picture, the place got a mysterious name “Ear of the Earth”.

Some people also call it “Luobunur”, which is translated from Mongolian transliteration and means a lake where many waters gather. “The Book of Mountains and Seas” named this place “Youze”, which is also called “Yaochi”. It is said that it is the place where the Queen Mother of the West lives. It should be prosperous, with herds of cattle and horses, surrounded by green forests and clear rivers. But standing at the edge of Lop Nur, facing countless folds of sand and stone, spreading layer by layer to the distant sky, I suddenly felt desolate and sad in my heart.

Lop Nur was once the second largest saltwater lake in China, but the time it took for Lop Nur to dry up has always been an unresolved mystery.

In 1972, the Earth Resources Satellite launched by NASA captured a satellite image of the dried Lop Nur Lake. Therefore, many people believe that Lop Nur dried up in 1972. It was not until 2008, through the unremitting efforts of many experts, that the mystery was finally solved: Lop Nur dried up in 1962. According to data, Lop Nur also experienced a severe flood in 1958. At that time, the water area of ​​Lop Nur was 5,000 square kilometers. It didn’t change suddenly overnight, but its disappearance within three or four years is equally shocking. Scientific research shows that Lop Nur was originally a wide and shallow lake, with the lake bottom only three meters above the ground on average. In such a shallow lake, the water body changes very quickly. Without any water replenishment, the depth of the lake water can be reduced by one meter a year due to evaporation. More than 60 years ago, the lower reaches of the Tarim River stopped flowing, and it is not surprising that Lop Nur dried up in a short time.

After Lop Nur dried up, the surrounding ecological environment changed dramatically, with severe desertification and rapid ecological degradation. It soon merged with the vast Taklimakan Desert, leaving no grass growing. Even the Populus euphratica trees that “live and survive for a thousand years, die and survive for a thousand years, and fall without drying for a thousand years” are also “dying” one after another. They give up their bodies on the surface and let their roots endure drought underground. Waiting for the day when water comes to be reborn.

As for the formation of the “ear” shape, there is still no definite statement. Some people believe that this was mainly caused by floods from the southern slope of Tianshan Mountain in the late 1950s. When flood water flows into the lake basin, it passes through the desert, carrying a large amount of sediment, impacting and dissolving the original dry lake basin, and forming an underwater protruding annular strip according to the direction of the water flow. The dry lake bed gradually undergoes subtle landform changes, which affects the local geological composition, causing the spectrum of the dry lake bed to take on an “ear” shape.

On the way deep into the hinterland of Lop Nur, you will pass by the famous “Great Ocean Road” Yadan Group. It was originally a section of the ancient Silk Road. It used to be the sea and is now the Gobi. Wind-blown sand erosion has carved out the Yadan landform without any artificial traces, standing in the desert. The Great Sea Channel constitutes the most legendary section of the ancient Silk Road. Through the bright sun and yellow sand, you can seem to see the beacon fire station thousands of years ago, and see the camels lining up in a queue on the sand dunes. It was like walking into a mirage, stepping into the land of our predecessors.

There are many canyons growing in the hinterland of Lop Nur. You can intuitively understand by taking off the drone that this is a veritable “Sea of ​​Death”, as if no civilization exists. Trying to find life in this field, you will only find yourself in the end. This is truly no man’s land.

Entering the canyon is equivalent to entering a natural maze. It is unpredictable, tortuous, and interlocking, and can never find an exit. Wrapped in the vast desolation, losing the concept of time and space, and losing contact with the outside world. At a certain moment, freedom may replace fear, and I want to be lost forever in this desolate style.

Pompeii in the desert and the lost ancient country of Loulan

In 1900, explorer Sven Hedin and several guides were searching for traces of Lop Nur when they accidentally discovered a place in the desert dotted with city walls, streets, houses… and even a beacon tower. I thought it was an hallucination caused by the long trek, but unexpectedly, a large number of coins, silk fabrics, pottery and other cultural relics were unearthed here, including 36 pieces of paper with Chinese characters, 120 pieces of bamboo tubes and several writing brushes. Sven Hedin called this place “Pompeii in the desert”, which shocked the world when it appeared.

As a result, archaeological teams and geologists from many countries came in droves. Scholars discovered that the Chinese name of this place appeared on the wooden tubes and scraps of paper that had been covered by quicksand for decades. It was the name of the place mentioned in the first chapter of “Hanshu: Biography of the Western Regions” Described – Loulan. Since then, throughout the long 20th century, exploring the Loulan civilization has become a hot topic in academic circles. After Sven Hedin, scholars and explorers from various countries discovered more than a dozen ancient ruins from the Loulan Kingdom in the Lobu Wasteland. The unearthed cultural relics were enough to fill a museum, and they even deciphered the Loulan official language that had long disappeared in the torrent of history. ——Kai Luwen.

Judging from the current geographical location, the ancient Loulan Kingdom is located in the northwest corner of Lop Nur, at the northern border of Ruoqiang County. Historically, it was once a famous “city-wide country”. It was located at the throat of the ancient Silk Road, adjacent to Dunhuang. It was also one of the thirty-six countries in the Western Regions and was under the jurisdiction of the Western Region Protectorate of the Han Dynasty. But before the Han Dynasty, people in the Central Plains did not know that there was such a mysterious country. It was not until Zhang Qian’s mission to the Western Regions that Loulan was brought into the sight of people in the Central Plains for the first time. With the opening of the Silk Road, Loulan became a fortress on the ancient Silk Road. Prosperous commerce has brought wealth to Loulan, and the extensive and profound Central Plains culture has been infiltrated silently. Through the Silk Road, it has brought a prosperous life to Loulan people, and also brought developed material civilization and spiritual civilization. For a time, Loulan became the paradise of the Western Regions and a paradise in the desert.

The hustle and bustle did not last long. After the 4th century, the famous Loulan Kingdom suddenly disappeared, and the land fell into silence overnight. In 400 AD, Faxian passed through this place on his journey to the west. He recorded in “Records of the Kingdom of Buddhism” that “there are no birds above, no animals below, everywhere as far as the eye can see, only the bones of dead people as marks.” Later, Loulan The existence of Loulan gradually became confusing, and people began to doubt the authenticity of the ancient city of Loulan recorded in historical materials. So much so that later historians did not mention this place when compiling official histories, and even did not want to say more about the once prosperous Western Region.

The desert watcher has the secret to a long life

Loulan disappeared and Lop Nur dried up, but the Tarim River that once nurtured them has continued to flow since ancient times.

If counted from the Yarkand River, the Tarim River has a total length of 2,486 kilometers and a total basin area of ​​1.02 million square kilometers. It is the longest inland river in my country. This river nourishes countless ecology and civilizations, including Hotan, Niya, Qiuci, Loulan… Among them, where the Tarim River flows, there is a village where “China’s last Rob people” gather. From here, look around and look towards To the south is the world-famous Taklimakan Desert, and to the north is the Tarim Green Corridor nurtured by the Tarim River and Kongque River.

The Luobu Village is located on the northeastern edge of the Tarim Basin. The development of the Luobu Village began more than 20 years ago. More than 20 families living here have been relocated, leaving only three families, including Amudong, who are all descendants of the Luobu. Amudong Aibudong is 67 years old this year, with a loud voice and a ruddy complexion. He has two heirlooms in his home: a “leaf loop” and a “boat-shaped hat” made of apocynum. Today, several families in the village still retain the tradition of their ancestors: fishing in canoes to make a living. After fishing, everyone is allowed to eat as they please, and then catch again after they have finished eating. The largest fish Amutong had ever caught was more than two meters long, but it was a seed fish in the river, so he put another big fish into the river. In this way, its descendants will leap over the pond in the coming year, inexhaustible and inexhaustible. These are the Luobu people. They are content with what they have, rely on nature, respect nature, and do not ask for too much.

Information about the Luobu people was first recorded in the mid-6th century. “Book of Wei Tuyuhun” records: “There is a country in the north of Tuyuhun, and the customs are the same as those in Tuyuhun. They don’t know the five grains, but only eat fish and perilla.” Tuyuhun was the area in northern Qinghai and Ruoqiang and Qiemo in Xinjiang at that time. A branch of the Xianbei tribe. The customs of the Luobu people are the same. After more than a thousand years, the Luobu people disappeared from the records. Until the first year of Yongzheng in the Qing Dynasty (1726), when the word “Luobunur” appeared again, they were already called “Hui people” by the Qing court.

More than 2,000 years ago, the residents of Lop Nur, including the Lop people, created the famous and mysterious Loulan culture. But for various reasons, Loulan sank into the sea of ​​sand forever. After that, some descendants of Loulan stuck to the old customs. They were called Luop people, and they have been dependent on the waters of Lop Nur for thousands of years. In the 1970s, Lop Nur dried up completely, and the Lop people had no choice but to leave their hometown and migrate upstream along the Tarim River again and again. Today’s Luobu people’s villages migrated from Lop Nur in this way.

At the end of the 13th century, Marco Polo passed by Lop Nur and described the story of a large city called “Lop Nur”. Previously, it was difficult to find records of the Luobu people in the vast historical materials. At the beginning of the 19th century, a large number of foreign explorers came here, the more famous ones such as the Russian Przewalski, the British Stein and the Japanese Tachibana Ruichao, etc. They all left some travel notes about Loulan. Since then, , the word “Rob people” frequently appeared in the public eye.

Nowadays, the living habits of the Luobu people have changed a lot. They no longer only make a living by fishing, but also learned to hunt and herd, and began to eat grilled naan and beef and mutton in their diet. The local Luobu people recalled that at first, they did not know how to make roasted naan, let alone roast beef and mutton. So, they used ready-made materials – dry poplar wood as a match, burned the sand to a boil, buried the mixed dough cake in the hot yellow sand, baked it for a while and took it out to become a unique grilled naan. The roasted lamb is also prepared in the same way: the lamb is buried in the hot sand, and taken out after a few hours, it becomes a unique roasted lamb…

The Lop Nur area is desolate and arid, but the Lop people are full of centenarians, with fair hair and childish faces, and sharp ears and eyesight. In 1987, among the more than 3,700 elderly people over 100 years old in the country, there were nearly 900 in the surrounding areas of Lop Nur. In 1989, there were 19 healthy centenarians in the country, including 6 here. It was recognized by the international natural medicine community as the fourth longevity area in the world. An area that is isolated from the outside world, but holds the secret of longevity, has attracted many domestic and foreign experts to investigate and explore.

Scientific research shows that because the Rob people live in relatively remote areas, far away from environmental pollution, and eat only fish, many people in the group are healthier and live longer. Local elders said in interviews that apocynum tea is a god-given desert deity, and if they drink it every day, they will receive blessings. But perhaps, the habit of regular work and optimistic and open-minded mentality of the old people of Luobu are the secret to a real long life.

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