Hami: A City of History on the Silk Road
Hami, located in the east gate of Xinjiang, was an unavoidable pass on the Silk Road if one trekked from inland China to the Western Region (present-day Xinjiang). Because of its geographic and strategic importance, every dynasty in history deployed heavy armed forces there. As a gateway from the inland to the Western Region, Hami is under the combined influence of Uygur Muslim culture and Han culture and has developed its own unique traditions.
Mausoleum of Hui Muslim Kings
The mausoleum of hui Muslim kings, located in the western suburb of Hami, houses bodies Hui Muslim kings and their queens. It was first built in 1838 and now only two tombs are left. The architectural style of the mausoleum, different from other Islamic style mausoleums, blends features of both Islamic tombs and buildings of ancient inland China.
Next to the mausoleum is the great mosque, the large indoor mosque in Xinjiang. On the walls of the mosque are painted flower and grass patterns and written Koran in the Arabic language. The lotus-shaped ceilings are well made, featuring typical Islamic architectural style.
Against the sunset light the mausoleum looked especially magnificent and elegant. Because it was too late and I was the only visitor, the tour guide showed me all the spots in the mausoleum and gave me enough time to take photos. While I was photographing, I thought what the kings were doing in history. Were they discussing war affairs under oil light or enjoying happy time with their wives and children? Were they considering how to defeat rebellions in early dates or leading soldiers to reclaim lost territories? Whatever they thought and did, they have already become history.
In the exhibition hall of the history of Hami kings, I saw the copy map of the city wall of Hami. The local government has decided to rebuild the King's mansion and take it as a symbol of safeguarding national unity and territorial intergirty to educate younger generations.
It is said that Gaisi was a Islamic missionary coming to China to spread Islam during the Tang Dynasty (618-917 AD). He died in Xingxingxia and King Hami built a tomb for him. In 1945, Muslims in Hami donated funds to move Gaisi's remaining bones to the current tomb. It is said that Gaisi was taller than average people and respected as "Sage" after his death. While his remaining bones were removed, Muslims welcomed along the road.
I arrived in Gaisi's tomb in the evening. There is a small courtyard house in front of the tomb where a Uygur family live. The lady asked us to buy tickets which is RMB 6 for each. The tomb, surrounded by thriving trees, is a typical Islamic style. The lady said her family began to live here since her grandparents. The ticket income, which the local cultural heritage administration distributes to her by a certain proportion, is her family's living source. It seems that that ancient missionary left not only the impact of Islam on local politics, culture and religion but also a means of living.
Before I left, the lady's daughter came back from school. She spoke fluent mandarin and you can only tell her Uygur blood from her deep eye sockets.
Mingsha (sand-resounding) Hill
Mingsha Hill, 70 kilometers away from Hami, is surrounded by high mountains and the dunes move from northwest to southeast. Because of water evaporation, a steam resonant box is formed. When people slide down from the hill top, sounds are produced and thus the hill is so named.
No one can tell how the hill was formed. Some said the hill is where female general Fan Lihua and her soldiers were buried. In one night, yellow sand covered dead bodies of the 72 soldiers and the current 72 domes are tombs for the 72 soldiers. Some said that the hill used to have flowers, grass and a spring. Although there was not plenty of water in the spring, it never stopped. There was also a gold bowl for passers-by to drink water. The other day, a greedy businessman walked by. He drank water and took the gold bowl away. From then on, the spring turned dry and flowers and grass withered. Only sand left on the hill.
It is surprising that no single grass grow in the hill but at the foot of the hill and on surrounding hills are growing plenty of trees and grass. When I climbed on the top of the hill, I saw snow mountains and clouds in a distance and sheep grazing on the grassland nearby. It is really a beautiful landscape.
In Tianshan Mountain, I felt I were hugged by mountains; in Hami, I felt I were embraced by the grassland. With the mountain and the grassland, I felt I had everything in my arms. Tens of kilometers away from Hami city, there is a white rock. It is as pure as crystal and quite different from black stones around. It is said that this rock fell from the sky and was involved with a tragic love story.
Hami is known for its melons. It is said that Hami melon was not originally produced in Hami but in Shanshan nearby. Because King Hami sent it to the emperor as a tribute and enjoyed great praises, the melon was so name "Hami melon". I tried the melon in Hami and it is really sweet and delicious.