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The Karez Well System

Karez Well is one of the longest underground rivers in the world and is known as the most beautiful underground river in China. Qanats are popular with tourists for their clear water and beautiful landscape. Here, we will introduce this worthwhile tourist attraction from the aspects of topographical conditions, river characteristics, ecological environment, and cultural heritage.

Location: Ya'er Village, Ya'er Town, Turpan, Xinjiang. The Turpan Karez Museum is about 3 kilometers or 1.5 miles west of the center of Turpan.

Things to do: Explore the wells and tunnels, and learn about the history and functions of the Karez Well System.

Time needed: 1 hour

Karez Well

The Karez Well System Overview

Through the ages, The Karez Well System is an important ancient irrigation system that is still used in Turpan, Xinjiang, in Northwest China. Karez Well System has nurtured many generations of descendants with sweet milk. Karez Well is located in Ya're a village, in Turpan, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Prefecture. According to the geographical conditions, the basin's solar radiation and atmospheric circulation were created by the ethnic groups in ancient Turpan through long-term production practice. It is a unique underground water conservancy project in Turpan Basin that uses the ground slope to draw groundwater. Meanwhile, the Karez Well System, the Great Wall, and the Beijing - Hangzhou Grand Canal are known as the three major projects in ancient China.

Nearly Vertical of Karez Well

Karez Well Underground River

Speaking of the Karez Well Underground River, we have to mention its topographical conditions. Due to the influence of geological structure, it is close to vertical, narrow, and deep, and the depth of the river channel is hundreds of meters, far exceeding the series of the deepest thousand-mu underground river in China. This makes its cultural heritage and natural scenery particularly rich.

Ancient and Peculiar Landscape

The River character of the Karez Well makes for a great experience for visitors. At Karez Well, visitors can roam the vast underground river on a raft. Here, heaven and earth are connected, and the scenes are different, making people feel like they are returning to the embrace of nature. In addition, the Karez Well has formed an ancient and peculiar landscape - lava rock mountains, which are towering and varied, which impress visitors.

The well-preserved ecological environment of Karez Well is one of the important reasons for attracting people to visit. The river is crystal clear, fish are shuttling through it, surrounded by large forests, and the air is fresh and clean, and the ecological environment here perfectly shows the beauty of nature. Therefore, tourists must come here to protect the environment, care for these precious natural resources, and not destroy the ecological balance of nature.

Natural provision in terms of ecological landscape, etc

Finally, the Karez Well underground river is a place full of cultural heritage. It is one of the representatives of China's ancient indigenous culture, which adds more meaning and beauty to it through the natural supply of river characteristics, geomorphological features, ecological landscapes, and other aspects, as well as the brewing mixed with ancient temples, ancient villages, and other humanistic products. There are many strange shapes on the cave walls in the Karez Well, such as stone stalactites, stone stalactite curtains, stone rice grains, and stone dry rhyme. With the evolution of civilization, these stones of different shapes have been given their own past and present lives, myths, and legends, adding color to the historical site of the Karez Well underground river.

The Karez Well Underground River is an obscure but charming place. Here, you can experience the mystery and beauty of nature, learn about the traditional culture of the Zhuang people, and more historical and cultural stories.

What to Visit in the Karez Well System

It's would be helpful to have a tour guide with you to introduce and and tell you about the exciting things in the Karez Well System, or the Karez Well may seems like any other wells to you.

The most popular site people visit when visiting Turpan the Karez Wells is the Turpan Karez Museum, which has not only pictures and models detailing the history of the Karez Well System but also real underground tunnels that you can walkthrough. Besides, there are two primary tourist spots called Karez Well Amusement Park, and Karez Well Folk Custom Garden where are interesting for traveling in Turpan.

Karez Well System

Why the Karez Well System Was Built

Karez Well System is a set of ancient wells built to connect an underground irrigation system that transported water from the Tianshan Mountains to the Turpan's desert oasis. You would see each of the wells linking the underground canals that bring water to the fields of Turpan if you were to take a cross-section of this series of Karez. The word "Karez" means "well" in the Uyghur language.

Karez Well Amusement Park

Karez System wasn't just about getting water for irrigation for those Uyghur living in the Turpan Depression, the second-lowest point in the world behind the Dead Sea, which was also the issue of blazing heat. The reality of evaporation was problematic and made above-ground irrigation channels impractical. A new method had to be developed to transport mountain runoff to the flat land.

So the ancient Uyghur people found a way to bring the water through underground canals. The Uyghur engineers were able to harness the power of gravity to move the water toward the city by digging at the shallowest part of the underground reservoir, fed by snowmelt from the nearby Tianshan. They constructed the underground channel using a series of shafts to dispose of the rock and ventilate the space.

The Importance of Karez Well System

Turpan is known as one of the hottest places on earth, which is almost certain that the Turpan would have disappeared centuries ago without this ancient irrigation system's ingenuity. The oasis town of Turpan would not exist if it is not applicable for the Karez Well System.

Karez Well Folk Custom Garden

The system helped to make the Turpan area an oasis on the Silk Road route, and also helped to make Turpan a vital fruit and vegetable growing area in China. It is said that about 600 Karez were in use in 1949, and they supplied most of the water used for irrigation.

In modern times, however, concrete canals and ditches were built, pipes were installed, hundreds of wells were dug. It's hard to appreciate just how amazing this feat of engineering is until you understand how it was done.

How the Karez Well System Was Built

Where's the engineering genius in that the Karez are just a bunch of wells dug in the ground?

Hundreds of years ago, the locals built Karez wells when there was no pumped groundwater and no rainfall to fill a conventional well in Turpan. The most challenging part of building a Karez well system was to create a straight underground tunnel.

Karez Well System

There is a distance of about 20 to 70 meters between every two vertical wells. The ancient Chinese people devised two ways of ensuring they were digging in the right direction and building straight underground tunnels ithout using a compass to set the right direction, avoiding twists and turns that would lead to erosion wasted effort.

The Structure of Karez Well System

Karez Well is a unique irrigation system with an original structure, which consists of four parts: shaft, underground canal, open canal, and waterlogging dam. Bogda Mountains in the north of Turpan Basin and Karawucheng Mountain in the west of Turpan Basin have a large amount of snow and rainwater flowing down the valley in spring and summer and sneaking into the Gobi Desert.

People ingeniously created Karez wells to divert underground subsurface flow to irrigate farmland by using the slope of the mountain. Karez well does not evaporate a lot because of hot and strong wind, so the flow rate is stable, and self-flow irrigation is guaranteed.


The shaft is a passage for transporting underground sediment or silt when excavating or clearing the underground canal of Karez well, and also a ventilation vent. Generally, the closer the shaft is to the source, the deeper the shaft is. The deepest shaft can reach more than 90 meters. There are more than ten shafts and more than 100 shafts in a Karez well. The wellhead is usually rectangular or circular, 1 m long and 0.7 m wide.

Shaft of Karez Well System


The main body of Karez Well is an underground canal; the function is to gather water in underground aquifer onto it. It is generally excavated from low to high on a particular slope so that water can automatically flow out of the surface. Underground canals are all excavated underground, so the excavation project is challenging.

The deeper the canal is, the narrower space is. There are also many advantages to the underground canal. Because of the high temperature and dryness in Turpan, the amount of evaporation is large, the water in the underground canal is not natural to evaporate, and the water flow is not easy to be polluted. Moreover, the water flowing through the underground canal, through natural filtration of thousands of layers of sand and stone, finally forms the natural mineral water, rich in many minerals and trace elements, and the number of residents.

Culvert of Karez Well System

Open Channel Waterlogging

As the name implies, an open channel is a channel flowing on the surface of the earth. It becomes an open canal when the underground canal runs out of the ground. People have built water storage ponds with the function of water storage and regulation in certain places. These large and small water storage ponds are called waterlogging dams, where the water is stored and sent to them whenever needed.

Open Channel Waterlogging

Travel Info of Karez Well System:

Besides experiencing the Karez culture, tourists can see some traditional folk customs and buildings, such as the Raisin Drying Houses, The Home of Anarhan, and Nan Pit, to name just a few, which are entirely worth visiting.

Opening Hours Peak Season: 08:00-20:00 ( April 21-October 20, Monday - Sunday )
Off-season:10:00-18:30 ( 21st October - 20th April of the next year, Monday - Sunday )
Admission Fee  CNY 40
Recommended Time For a Visit   1 - 3 Hours

Value of Karez Well System

Karez Well is an ancient irrigation system; it has played a significant role in daily life and the production of the people in Turkey. The system's function and position cannot be completely superseded, even if there is a highly advanced electromechanical irrigation system. The 4th Standing Committee of Turfan Municipal Peoples Congress proved Provisions on the 3rd Session of Administration of Turfan Karez Wells on May 25, showing that its authenticity and integrity can be well preserved.

How to Get to Karez Well System:

1. Karez Well System is located in the east of Turpan City, about 3 kilometers away from the urban area. Travelers can take No. 1, 101, 102 bus or charter bus to visit.

2. It takes about 20 mins ( 9.5 km ) to drive from Turpan North Railway Station to Karez Well System.

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