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Tiemen Pass was for 2,000 years an important point along the ancient Silk Road of China that guarded the entrance to a 30 km (19 mi) long valley known as Tieguan Gorge, which runs through the highlands to the town of Karashar on the other side. This pass draws some 300,000 visitors annually for its natural and architectural beauty and its historical importance. Any trip to Korla would be glaringly incomplete without a stop at Tiemen Pass as part of the tourist itinerary.
The geography of the region highly favored the Silk Road route passing along the Korla-Karashar valley connection since near the passes on either side flow valuable rivers — a rarity in this arid, desert region. This route which runs through Tiemen Pass was in fact the single possible route to take without necessitating steep mountain climbs or long treks across the barren wastelands. This geographical importance soon translated into economic and then politico-military importance.
A fortification was built at the entrance of Tiemen Pass, which is also dubbed "Iron Gate Pass" for the strength and security it possesses. The Buddhist Kingdom of Karashar grew on the one side of the valley, while the Tiemen Pass side saw a succession of Chinese Dynasties, each one in its turn continuing to guard the strategically important pass.
Ancient Chinese poetry and love stories mention the famous pass, and a tomb is even erected nearby that is supposed to house the bodies of the two lovers who according to the story jumped to their deaths from the pass's steep cliffs into the raging waters of Kongque River below. The gate structure had long perished but was in 1989 rebuilt in conformity to the ancient descriptions of it. Today, the presence of oil reserves in the adjacent Taklamakan Desert, along with the success of the tourist industry in this area, has renewed the importance of Korla.
The pass is located in Korla's north suburbs 8 km (5 mi) north of the city itself and can be reached by special tour buses, rental car, or taxi. Korla can be reached via daily bus and air routes from Urumqi. Urumqi lies 200 km (120 mi) to the northeast as the bird flies, but the bus must navigate around the immense Tienshan, doubling the length and travel time of the journey.
The harsh desert climate dictates that a summer visit will be unpleasant, and the winter is quite cold as well. Even in the summer, one should bring warm clothes due to the extreme drops in temperature at nightfall. Spring and fall are the best times to visit as to weather, but three other factors favor more specific dates.
Mid-May to June is the time of the annual flight of some 10,000 red butterflies to the mulberry trees of nearby Red Butterfly Valley. And the Nadam Fair, a Mongolian cultural festival that offers a taste of local food with a view of traditional-style horse racing, archery contests, singing and dancing, etc., is held in July or August.
Finally, the world-famous fragrant pears of Korla are ripe and at your disposal in late autumn.
Besides Tiemen Pass, Red Butterfly Valley, and the Nadam Fair, there are many other things of interest in and near Korla.
There are numerous festivals: the Horse Milk Festival, the Spring Festival, the Dragon Boat Festival, Genghis Khan Memorial Day, and more.
There are 54 national heritage sites and over 240 national historical relics to be viewed. Natural wonders include: the Bayinbuluke Grassland, Swan Lake, the Tarim River, Tianshan Stone Forest, and Bosten Lake. From the wharf on Bosten Lake, you can see Bailuzhou Island's sand sculptures, and you can visit the island to see its Bailuzhou Academy where ancient Confucian scholars once taught and to appreciate its bamboo forest and abundant bird life.