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Home Travel in Xinjiang Bizalkik Thousand Buddha Caves
Bizalkik Thousand Buddha Caves
Travel in Xinjiang

Bizalkik Thousand Buddha Caves
As Buddhism was the first religion from abroad introduced to this area, Xinjiang (xīn jiāng 新疆) witnessed the earliest development of Buddhist cave art in China. Soon after the religion's establishment in the region, Turpan became the Buddhist center on the Silk Road owing to its geographic location. Among the Buddhist caves found in Turpan (tǔ lǔ fān 吐鲁番), Bizalkik Thousand Buddha Caves (bǎi zī kè lǐ kè qiān fó dòng 柏孜克里克千佛洞) are considered most valuable.  


Bizalkik Thousand Buddha Caves stand high on the cliffs of west Mutou Valley (mù tóu gōu 木头沟) under the Flaming Mountain (huǒ yàn shān 火焰山), 45 km (28miles) east of Turpan. Of the 83 original caves, 57 caves currently remain. The murals cover an area over 1, 200 square meters (12,917 square feet) in more than 40 caves.


Bizalkik Thousand Buddha CavesBeginning in the Southern and Northern Dynasties (nán běi cháo 南北朝), the construction experienced Tang Dynasty (táng cháo 唐朝), the Five Dynasties (wǔ dài 五代), Song Dynasty (sòng cháo 宋朝) and Yuan Dynasty (yuán cháo 元朝). The Caves had been the Buddhist center of Gaochang (gāo chāng 高昌). Near the end of the 13  century, the royal family of Gaochang moved to Yongchang (yǒng chāng 永昌), Gansu (gān sù 甘肃). Around this same time, Buddhism in Turpan began to decline in popularity with the introduction of Islam. Subsequently, the religious importance of The Bizalkik Thousand Buddha Caves became less apparent. Many of the caves were destroyed during the ensuing religious clashes. Vandals dug out the eyes of many of the portraits human figures contained in the murals. Later, at the beginning of the 20 century, foreign explorers robbed the caves of much of the treasures. Despite all the destruction, the surviving parts, such as the delicate Buddha seat and the bright color of the murals, give us some idea of its past glory.

Bizaklik Caves was the royal temple of Huihu (huí gǔ 回鹘) (the predecessor of today's Uyghur) State and the existing caves were enlarged or renovated during that time. The murals take us back to the ancient Huihu State, where we can see the King and Queen and people from all walks of life. The inscriptions, written in ancient Uigar (wéi wú ěr yǔ 维吾尔语), Chinese and other languages, provide authentic reference for valuable historic research.

Brief Introduction

Bezeklik Thousand Buddha CavesBezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves are 77 artificial caves, 40 of them contain murals of thousands of Buddhas. Bezeklik means "place where there are paintings" in the Uigur language.

The caves are located in the cliff face of a long ridge of rather soft stone, which once had a monastery at its foot, an important center for Buddhist worship. A steep stairway leads 10m up to a narrow and winding path to the cliff top. The caves were built along this path. Today there is a broad walkway which allows easy access to the caves.

The caves are often rectangular rooms with a round arch ceiling. This ceiling is divided into quadratic fields, each of them containing the picture of a Buddha. So the whole ceiling contains virtually hundreds of Buddhas. Some larger fields contain a big Buddha, surrounded by other figures and scenes. Other murals show people of the area, including Indians, Persians and Caucasians. As often with this kind of religious paintings, some are rather naive, others are artistically stunning, depending on the ability of the artist. Some faces show the individual characteristics and the inner feelings of the figures.

Murals and Inscriptions

MuralsThe most exceptionally rare mural topics in Bizaklik Caves are found in Caves No.16 and 17. Cave No.16 depicts a musician playing Xiao Hu Lei-- a lute-like instrument originating from southern China's Yunnan province (yún nán shěng 云南省). This strengthens the belief that cultural exchange between northern and southern China was unprecedented during Tang Dynasty.

The mural Transformation in Hell in Cave No.17 supports the notion Huihu Gaochang was the center of Manichaeism from 9 to 12 century.

Buddhist disciples wailing in mourning and Bhikku wailing in mourning in Cave No.33 are also highly praised for their vivid depiction.

muralsIn addition to the murals and inscriptions, a piece of gold foil wrapping paper found at the caves is also intriguing. A stamp on it revealed the address of the shop on the south side of Tiahelou Street, Hangzhou (háng zhōu 杭州), Zhejiang (zhè jiāng 浙江) of Song Dynasty. It also advised clients to examine their goods carefully before purchase to avoid being cheated. As an apparent piece of advertisement, the foil shows that Gaochang Huihu kept close economic ties with Song Dynasty as the trade extended as far as to the East China Sea (dōng hǎi 东海).

Admission Fee: CNY 20
Nearby attractions: Astana-Karakhoja Ancient Tombs (ā sī tǎ nà gǔ mù 阿斯塔那古墓), Flaming Mountain (huǒ yàn shān 火焰山), Ancient City of Gaochang (gāo chāng gǔ chéng 高昌古城)

1. As the Caves are located on the cliff, stay within the marked areas.
2. To protect the murals for future enjoyment, visitors should refrain from touching the murals and artifacts. 
3. Remember, smoking is strictly prohibited in the caves.