Huocheng County, on the western border of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, stands on area vast expanse in the northeastern part of the Yili River Valley, 653km away from the city of Urumqi, the capital of the Autonomous Region, and 47km from the city of Yining, the capital of the Yili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture. The lavender planting base in Huocheng County is one of eight such zones of global repute and the largest one in China. Its yield of lavender and lavender essential oil accounts for 95% of the entire country’s production.
Huocheng County, once a stronghold along the Northern Silk Road, was the capital city during the Chagatai Khanate period, and was Xinjiang’s political, economic, and cultural hub during the Qing Dynasty. It is situated at the same latitude as the world-renowned homeland of lavender, Provence in France, thus equipping Huocheng with a very similar climate and set of natural conditions, ideal for lavender cultivation.
In 1960s, the 65th and 70th regiments of the Agricultural Fourth Division of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps successfully transplanted lavender from Beijing Botanical Garden to Yili Prefecture for the first time. Currently, planted area of lavender has reached over 20,000 mu, hence the nickname “the hometown of lavender in China”, and its evolution into one of the eight world-renowned locations for lavender development.
Lavender generally comes to blossom in June. Each time the wind blows over a field of lavender in full bloom, images of purple waves rolling up and down present a beautiful picture.
Peak time: first half of June. Because of the relatively short flowering life of lavender, most lavender fields finished blossoming by June 20th over the last few years.
Once a stronghold along the Northern Silk Road, Huocheng County has a long history and elegant landscape, in addition to being rich in tourist resources. It was Xinjiang’s political, military and cultural center during the Qing Dynasty and features Huiyuan Ancient City (comprised of two ancient cities) as well as the no.1 scenic spot, Guozi Valley, (Fruit Valley). Meanwhile, the Daxi Valley (comprised of two famous valleys) is the only place in Asia that grows the wild plum. Also of interest are the “desert in oasis”, the Tukai Desert and Kekedala Prairie. Other places of interest include the Islamic-style mausoleum Tuhuluke Tiemuerhan, Genghis Khan’s seventh, and the ancient ruins of the Qing Dynasty’s largest Taoist site (Mazha Taoist Temple) – Fushou Mountain Temple, commonly referred to as the Daxi Valley Temple. The area also plays host to four fingernail tortoises, the only kind of tortoise to inhabit northern arid regions, and Asia’s only wild fruit, the wild plum. This is in addition to being the national planting base for lavender. Furthermore, Xinjiang’s leading alpine lake, the misty and mysterious Sailimu Lake, and a modern agricultural sightseeing zone, the 10,000 Mu Vineyard Corridor, are also located in the area.
Huiyuan Ancient City
Huiyuan Ancient City, one of Xinjiang’s famous historical cities, served as Xinjiang’s political and military center from the 150 years of Qianlong’s reign to the last year of Guangxu’s reign during the Qing Dynasty. During the 28th year of Qianlong’s reign (1763), General Mingrui from Yili constructed a city on the north bank of the Yili River, named Huiyuan by Emperor Qianlong. The significance of this is the transfer of grace from the Emperor of Qing Dynasty to distant places.
Huiyuan has two meanings, one referring to the Old City and the other to the New City. The Old City was destroyed in 1871 following occupation by Tsarist Russia, while the New City was rebuilt in 1882 after the resumption of Yili, which has become today’s Huiyuan. Huiyuan’s city wall had a height of one zhang and four chi (approximately 4.67m), and a circumference of nine li and three fen (approximately 4500.1m). The 1793 re-expansion lengthened its circumference to ten li, six fen and three li (approximately 5000.21m), making the city the largest in Xinjiang at that time. Inside the city, buildings are orderly arranged along the four major streets vertically and horizontally to the four city gates, namely Jingren East Gate, Yueze West Gate, Xuankai South Gate, and Laian North Gate. Along each street, there are lanes with numbers that add up to 48.
Huiyuan Bell & Drum Tower
The Huiyuan Bell & Drum Tower was first built in the ninth year of Emperor Guangxu’s reign during the Qing Dynasty (1883), and is located 7 km to the southeast of Huocheng County in the center of Huiyuan Ancient City. The eastern, western, southern and northern sides of the towers each face straight towards the four city walls. The Bell & Drum Tower is a 23.76m high four-storey timberwork structure with a three-sided Xieshan-style roof. Each side of is 22 meters’ long, and is built by grey bricks on the outside. On the edge of the tower is a carved grey-brick wall. On each of the four sides of the foundation, there is an arch, 4.1m wide, with a cross channel leading directly to the four main streets. The foundation’s ceiling is made up by square lumbers, painted with the Ba Gua Diagram (Eight Diagrams of Taoism). Likewise, the internal wall is built with square lumbers and grey bricks. On each of the four corners of the cross channel, there is a wooden pole that reaches the roof of the tower. Within the right wall of the South Arch, there is a small door, inside of which there are steps leading to the foundation’s platform, on top of which there is a three-storey carved timberwork cornice arch with ridges and carved beams. On each side of the foundation’s main ridge, there is a store room inside of which treasure vases and iron halberds can be found. The closure of the ridge is decorated with statues of gods and animals on both ends. On top of the tiled roof and flying eaves, hooks are placed for water dripping. Eaves of each storey and the top roof are all covered by green glazed tiles. Under the roof, pillars and architraves are color painted. In the olden days, on the eaves corners of each storey, pleasant-sounding brass bells were hung when the wind blows. On the second storey, there is a big bell, as well as a big drum, used for striking the hour, which signals the opening and closing of the city gates during the daytime and at night.
The Bell & Drum Tower has undergone maintenance work three times, namely in 1927, 1964 and 1981, and is thus Xinjiang’s only traditional timberwork high-rise to possess a relatively long history.
Huocheng County is situated in the vast expanse of the Yili River Valley, in which the four seasons are distinct, with winter running from November 22 to March 10 and lasting as long as 109 days. With this area, places including the Guozi Valley, Sailimu Lake Scenic Spot, Daxi Valley and Sarbulak Town have a snowfall of 100mm. In Huocheng, summer is cool and winter is long, providing favorable conditions for the snow build up and a long freeze, making for the formation of a hard ice surface over thick snow, leading to a gentle slope. It is particularly well-suited to winter sports.