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Kara-Kash Dam

Damned dam!

The most precious Nephrite Jade is carried by rivers of the Kuen Lun mountain range from their host rock formations toward gravel field near towns and villages at the Silk Road skirting the southern edge of the Takla Makan desert. Here, since Han dynasty time’s local people collected these “beautiful stones” and sent them as tribute payment to the Chinese court.

The collection of Jade from the river gravel deposits of the Kara-Kash (Black Jade) and the Yurung-Kash (White Jade or Jade Picking) river have been described by numerous historians and modern authors. The sought-after river Jade was gathered in early fall after the snow melt from the Kuen-Lun peaks and glaciers subsided, and the reworked and stirred up river beds became once again accessible.

The Khotan oasis as seen from space and the gravel fields of the Kara-Kash and Yurung-Kash Rivers south of it.

The Jade is stripped from the host rock formations around Xaidulla in the upper Kara-Kash Valley and carried over 300Km toward Khotan. The Yurung-Kash River Jade originates closer to Khotan in the Karango-Tak Mountains and travels for about 50Km with the snow melt waters.

The seasonally violent snow melt water flow is essential so that the precious cargo of Jade pebbles and boulders reaches the outskirts of Khotan. However this water is also important for growing fruits, vegetables, cotton and wheat and providing drinking water to the growing population of Khotan or the modern Hetien (or Hotan).

During a recent survey of satellite images of the Yurung-Kash and the Kara-Kash river from their source to Khotan I discovered that the Kara-Kash river is now reined in at about 70Km from Khotan with a large embankment type of dam with a span of about 250m.

This dam is located closed to the spot where the river empties out from the Kun-Lun range into the Takla Makan desert plain at an altitude of about 1900m at 36°49’26”N and 79°27’07”E. The closet village nearby is Pujiya.

Satellite view of the dam site on the Kara-Kash River.

The construction of the dam is certainly a boon to the Khotan oasis as it allows the supply of a steady flow of the precious water all year around and increasing the bountiful crop of the famous melons, peaches, and apricots. But it breaks the heart of a Jade lover as now River Jade, carried with the summer snow melt waters, will not anymore reach Khotan and force us to concentrate our search now in the barren upper valley or in the still undammed Yurung-Kash river bed.

The Kara-Kash dam holding back now the sought-after River Jade pebbles.

Map drawn 1906 by Mr. Singh, the cartographer of Aurel Stein when travelling in this area and showing a section of the lower Kara-Kash river.

Yurung-Kash River bed south of Khotan – still barren and your best bet for future search of River Jade!

Kara-Kash river bed south of Khotan now better cultivated and irrigated by year round water stored behind the dam.

June 2005

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