Two remote, ruined cities make intriguing targets from Charkhlik, if you have time and plenty of cash. Miran (米兰古城, mĭlán gŭchéng) – subject of Christa Paula’s book Voyage to Miran – is relatively accessible, approximately 75km northeast of Charkhlik; a far more ambitious trip would be to Loulan (楼兰古城, lóulán gŭchéng), 250km from town on the western edge of Lop Nor. Loulan’s very existence had been completely forgotten until the Swedish explorer Sven Hedin rediscovered the site, which had been buried in sand, in the early twentieth century; it wasn’t until the 1980s that the first Chinese archeological surveys were undertaken, during which distinctively un-Chinese mummified remains, including the “Loulan Beauty”, were found.

There’s a Loulan Museum (10.30am–12.30pm & 4.30–6.30pm) in Charkhlik, but the most interesting remains have already been removed to Ürümqi. In order to visit the sites themselves, you’ll need to make an application to the local department of cultural heritage whose office is in Charkhlik’s Loulan Museum. The fees and permits required will depend upon the trip you have in mind, but can run to thousands of dollars for official expeditions, and non-specialists may simply be refused entry.

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