Xinjiang, 520km (322 miles) SE of Kashgar, 1,509km (936 miles) SW of ?rumqi

Khotan was once a more important trading and religious center than Kashgar. From ancient times, jade was "fished" from the 24 rivers in the Khotan area, and "jade routes" to Mesopotamia and China flourished from the 3rd millennium B.C. onward. Passing through on his way to India in the 5th century, the Chinese Buddhist monk Faxian found a purely Buddhist population in the order of "several myriads." Returning to China after his adventures in India, Xuanzang found a thriving center: "the country produced rugs, fine felt, and silk of artistic texture, it also yielded black and white jade. The climate was genial, but there were whirlwinds and flying dust. The people were of gentle disposition, and had settled occupations. The nation esteemed music and the people were fond of dance and song; a few clothed themselves in woolens and furs, the majority wearing silk and calico. . . . The system of writing had been taken from that of India."

From 1901, Aurel Stein visited several sites around Khotan, concluding that the ancient capital was at Yoktan (Yaotegan), 9.7km (6 miles) to the west. He found Roman coins, and some delightful paintings and sculptures (ca. 2nd c.) showing Grecian influence. Safe from inundation by Han settlers until the rail line reaches the city in 2010, Khotan is a bustling commercial city, home to one of the liveliest bazaars in Xinjiang, and is a must for those hoping to experience traditional Uighur culture and markets.