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Karez: A Disappearing Desert Oasis in China

Written by Jane Sophia

Discover the wonders of Karez irrigation system of China!

China is a land of many wonders. We have all longed to see the architectural wonders of China such as the Great wall or the Grand Canal. However, there is one such wonder of China about which we have seldom heard much. Yes, you have guessed it right. I am indeed talking about the Karez irrigation system.

The Karez irrigation system is an underground irrigation system around which the entire civilization of Turpan region has been built. It is located in the Xinjiang region of China and is a very popular travel destination.

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What makes Karez system such a wonder?

The entire region of Turpan is located in an arid area of China surrounded by the Taklamakan desert on one side and the Tian Shan ranges on the other side. Turpan region is actually a depression in the middle of these hostile landscapes.

Turpan region experiences a huge temperature range varying from around 50 degree centigrade in summers to minus temperatures in winters. In such a tough region, people have managed to survive and build up a civilization only due to the karez water system.

Karez in the local language means well. There are a number of horizontally lined up vertical wells which are dug without the help of any kind of modern machinery. These wells are interconnected through an underground canal which stores all the water.

The Karez system stretches for around 5000 kilometres which is astounding. The water is collected in the karezes from the surface runoff in the form of melting glaciers and snow from the Tian Shan ranges of China.


These waters are then collected in the underground canal which distributes it throughout the area. This ensures that the entire Turpan civilization has continuous water supply throughout the year. The underground water supply ensures that the water does not get evaporated in the summer heat and the surface wells have trees lined around in order to prevent evaporation.

Why visit Karez?

Karez irrigation system is an achievement of humanity and it was no mean feat to construct the 5000 kilometres stretch of interconnected wells. When you visit Turpan in China, you will have to first visit the museum which shows the heritage of the Karez irrigation systems.

It has man sized models showing the mechanism of the water system. It also has the tools which are used to build the wells. Next, you will get to enter the underground irrigation system and explore the canals. It is a fun experience to explore those underground wells. You can also rest somewhere in there and enjoy some local fruits.

Why preserve Karez?

Karez is the life source for the entire Turpan civilization. However, for the last few decades karezes are disappearing at an alarming rate. The main factors behind this are overexploitation of the karez system and the population from the nearby factories. As the Karez water system is a United Nations world heritage site, the UN has strictly ordered for government laws and regulations which will stop the exploitation of the karez system and will help to preserve this wonder.

About the author

Jane Sophia

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