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Karez Wells

Karez Well

Karez Well is a kind of underground water works invented and built by laboring people of various ethnic groups in our country to adapt to the natural environment in dry region. In Xinjiang, Karez Wells are mainly in Hami, Turpan and Mori, but they are most in Turpan Basin, where there are altogether 1100-odd Karez wells and have the total length of over 5000 km. Some people hold the view that Karez Wells of Xinjiang, the Great Wall and Canal constitute three Ancient Chinese Works.

Why Karez Wells were built in great number in Turpan Basin can be attributed to the local natural geographical conditions. To the north of Turpan Basin is Bogda Mountain and to its west Kalawucheng Mountain. In summer, large amounts of snow broth and rainwater flow into Turpan Basin and infiltrate into the ground, and constitute underground current, thus making an adequate water source under ground for Karez Wells. Earth in Turpan Basin is solid and good for building well and underground channel. In Turpan it is very dry and hot in summer, and land here has a high evaporation rate. In wind season, the strong wind here can blow sands into every corner here. After wind, a lot of farmland and water channels are buried by sands. But Karez Wells can supply waters through underground channels and is independent of the effect of season and wind and sand.

In addition, Karez Wells have a very low evaporation rate and a stable supply of water, and can irrigate farmland all the year round. The word “Karez” means well. Karez Well is composed of four parts: vertical hole, underground channel, aboveground channel and water storage dam. It is built this way: first, to find water source in a place where there is underground water current, second, dig out vertical wells with certain distance in between, then, to build underground channel connecting these wells and thus water will flow through the underground channel. The outlet of underground channel is connected to the aboveground channel and thus underground water can flow out and irrigate farmland through the aboveground channel. 

The Turpan basin is the lowest in altitude in China. The basin is up to 154 meters (505 feet) below sea level and receives practically no rain. As such, it is the hottest spot in China. Summers are sizzling with an average maximum temperature of 39.7 Celsius (103.5 F) in July. For this reason, the area has been nicknamed the 'fiery basin'. The temperatures are extreme depending on the season as in January the maximum average temperature is -2.2 Celsius (28 F). One might wonder how any human being can live in such a hostile environment, but some do and have actually forged a colorful life out of the arid region.

The secret to Turpan's survival is the Karez irrigation system, also known as the Karez Wells. This network of wells is connected by underground channels, which takes full advantage of the unique region.

The Turpan Basin is composed of three rings of distinct terrain: the towering snow-capped mountains, the Gobi Desert, and the oasis in the center. The snow and ice on the mountains melt during warm seasons and feed into rivers. When the rivers arrive at the Gobi, they soak through the sand and become underground streams. The underwater streams flow along into the lower land, forming springs, rivers, lakes and oasis. The rivers are often seasonable and lose water to evaporation.

To keep rivers from drying out, local residents have dug wells and a network of underground channels to transport water used for irrigation. These Karez systems are very elaborate irrigation systems and were amazingly constructed without using modern machinery or building materials. The Turpan Basin is crisscrossed with about a thousand such channels, some 850 of which are in active use. The total length of the channels reaches an incredible 5,000 kilometers (3100 miles).

The Karez wells nourish the booming agriculture in the basin. The area is particularly famous for grapes and honey melons. The rich and fertile soil, abundant sunlight, and dry weather make fruits especially sweet.


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