Kuqa, Xinjiang, China
A vast network of crumbling ruins on the western bank of the Nexus River in Xinjiang presents a unique glimpse into the former splendor of this region. In fact, Subashi stands as the largest Buddhist temple complex found in modern Xinjiang, harkening to its splendor as once the largest of the “Thirty-Six Kingdoms of the Western Regions,” as mentioned in the Book of Han, an historical account of China and the surrounding regions written in the 2nd century. From the 3rd to 13th centuries A.D. the city rose tall and welcomed weary visitors near and far as a branch of the northern spur of the Silk Road.
The original age of this settlement suggests a much early period though, as evidenced by some incredible artifacts discovered. The “Witches of Subashi” is one such, where three woman dated to the 3rd century B.C. were found to have long, pointed hats and unique clothing. Figurines and a wooden casket depicting images of Central Asian men were also found in the site. The rediscovery of Subashi is credited to the Japanese archaeologist and Buddhist leader Count Otani, who carried out excavations at this site in the early 1900’s. Even today, where the excavations reveal streets, pavilions and pagodas, it still remains seldom visited and reminds the visitor how much has been lost to history.
In 2014, Subashi, along with 32 other sites along the Xinjiang - Gansu corridor were inscribed on UNESCO World Heritage List as Silk Roads: The Routes Network of Chang’an - Tianshan Corridor.
15 km north of Kuqa, a town in west-central Xinjiang, between Kashgar and Urumqi.
Subashi reached its splendor from the 3rd century A.D., lasting a millenium until the 13th century.
A Buddhist complex, a city, and a major trading center along the Silk Roads.
Subashi lies in ruins and is seldom visited. Kuqa, once a regional power, now feels like a backwater in the vast Xinjiang province.
We arrived in Kuqa via a 10-hour bus ride through the middle of the Taklamakan Desert, going from the southern spur to the northern spur of the Silk Roads, a passage that only became possible in modern times. Standing at a crucial route between the Taklamakan Desert to the south and the Tianshan Mountains to the north, it comes as little surprise why ancient settlers chose this spot to set up their kingdom. And a visit to Kuqa reminded us how lively this outpost still is as locals and traders still peruse the busy streets. However, upon hiring a taxi to take us to Subashi, things changed abruptly. People disappeared and the landscape took over.
At the gate of Subashi, we had to look for the guard to let us in, and from the looks of his face we were the first visitors of the days. Walking amongst the ruins is only allowed via a newly constructed wooden boardwalk, but it still warrants a good overview of the site. Imagination is required as many places are void of information. Overall a splendid journey to this forgotten city, and a great glimpse in the Silk Roads of the Tarim Basin.