Kizil Caves

Kizil Caves

               Kizil are the better known of the Kuqa caves.  They are about 50 miles from the city of Kuqa and quite into the mountains.  They are on the Muzat River.  They date from the 3rd to the 8th centuries.  There are 269 existing caves in the Kizil group.

               Even driving you get the feeling of isolation that the monks were seeking.  You are driving through the Tarim Basin of sandstone cliffs with jagged edges jutting upwards at steep angles.  After the last mountain you come upon the Muzat River and the valley where the monks found peace and isolation.

               Kizil is prepared for tourists, although there were no English speakers at the gate or as guides.  We were told that only six caves were open that day and no amount of cajoling, or bribing was going to work to have them open one or two more for me.  They were quite strict about photos and required all cameras to be stored at the foot of the cliff face. 

               It was a walk and then a staircase with many steps up to the caves.  

               ”32” was a small chamber with a vaulted ceiling.  It was from the 5th century.  Central stupa with niche for Buddha statue, not present, and chamber behind stupa. 

               “34” is also from the 5th century.  It was a monk’s quarters.  A Big chamber with 1000 Buddhas ceiling.  It had the telltale red/Ocher color of the earlier periods.  The stone work in the corridor around the central stupa was elaborate. In the rear chamber behind the stupa there was a platform, empty now, for a Buddha statue in Parnirvana.  Hariti ate the sons of other people.  Buddha hid her son in a bowl.  Haritia saw the error of her ways and turned into a guardian deity of children. 

               “28” had a high ceiling but not arched.  It had many niches for Buddhas on the front wall.   The back wall had images of disciples.

               “8” was 7th century.  Vaulted ceiling with many good images.  The room was ringed with Jatakas.  After nirvana Buddhas body melted into sarira.  Eight kings in India sent troops to obtain the sarira.  The dispute was settled and the kings divided the sarira.  Many images of musicians and dancers.

               “10” Monks quarters.   A long entrance with a vaulted ceiling.  About 10’x10’.

               “17” from 6th century.  Smaller vaulted ceiling room.  Well preserved.  Many Jatakas including many images on ceiling.  Jakatas in the diamond pattern, each Jakata in one diamond. 

One story is of monkeys fighting with water sprites.  Monkeys are devoured by water sprites. The monkey king is teaching the monkeys to draw water through a reed.

Another is of a monkey who saved the  life of a person who fell in a pit and the person, ungrateful, smashed the monkey to death and ate it. 

  One of three monkey’s crossing the river with Buddha (?) body as the bridge.  Wish I knew this one because the image was quite well preserved.  Buddha on a white horse. 

Lunch at the restaurant at the Kizil Caves.  A young lady came up to us and offered to help us order since she was bilingual and we were clearly helpless Americans.  She turned out to be from San Diego although she graduated from Wuhan University.    She suggested we order the spinach dish since it was growing outside and would be picked fresh.

For me it is a pity that I do not have photos to increase the value of the descriptions of the caves.     :     Expand your mind.  Stretch your body.



               Kumtura is a lesser known Buddhist Grotto in the Kuqa region.  It dates from the 5th or 6th century.  It has about 112 caves.  The caves are in three periods, the first of the period of the Kuqa Kingdom is heavily influenced by the Gandarian Style with a central pillar.  The second period is of the 7th and 8th centuries with the Grand Anxi Militant Government Period.  The third phase is the Uighur Period from the 9th century and after. 

               Our guide, who did not speak English was quite adamant and vigilant about our taking photos, so our descriptions are not good.  Lesson learned and from now onwards, we are taking better notes.

               The five linked caves, 67 -62 are the ones in the photos about 20 feet above the river level.  They are on the Northern side of the grotto along the Weigan River.  They are claimed to be from the 7th to 9th Centuries.  They are accessed through a narrow staircase carved into the mountain.  None had any significant painting.  There were just a few isolated remnants   

The first “67” appeared to be an alcove for sleeping.  Very narrow corridor and sleeping area maybe 4 feet long.

“68” the next along the corridor had an arched ceiling.  

                “69” had a low ceiling.  A niche for Buddha and appeared to me that remains of square patterns.

               “70” had the remains of a Buddha statue.

               “71” had the Buddha body with the head removed.  It is probably in a Western museum.  In the chamber behind the Buddha was a platform that appeared to be for a Buddha statue in Para nirvana.

               “72” had the Buddha body in the niche.

               We entered he next set of three caves through an antechamber.  The main chamber “16” in the center was the largest with “15” to the right and “17” to the left.

               “15” was very small. Maybe a 6 foot long chamber

               “16” had the vaulted ceiling with 1,000 Buddhas.  The guide said it was actually 1224.  The faces were all different and they did not seem to be exalted.  I would guess they were the faces of donors.

               “17” This was slightly bigger than 15.

                Another set:

               “21” a small alcove.  Maybe sleeping quarters.

               “22” A large circular room.  Appeared to be living quarters with some platforms and what seemed to me to be fire pits.

               “23” Had an arched ceiling.  A niche for the Buddha. Painted ceiling well presser ved.  Text claims fifth century.         We also viewed, 58, 60 and 63.

               Kumtura was not well preserved but was a fascinating first look into Buddhist caves.     :     Expand your mind.  Stretch your body.