Hidden by sand in the Gobi desert for centuries, the abandoned city of Khar Khot is still haunted by the ghosts of the inhabitants that didn’t manage to escape. 

Secluded in the Gobi desert, hidden by sand and stands the test of time, the abandoned city of Khar Khot houses no dwellers except for sandstorms, deadwood and ghosts. 

Khar Khot or Khara-Khoto (ᠬᠠᠷᠠ ᠬᠣᠲᠠ) is Mongolian and means, Black City. It is located in Inner Mongolia, a region in China bordering with Mongolia. The Chinese name for it, Hēichéng (黑城) also means Black City and it certainly marks a dark spot in history considering all the bloodshed that ended the once important trading city. 


There are also the legends about the city being haunted by demons and spirits. And when explorers from all over the world came to have a look at the legend of the abandoned city, the locals refused to go near it because of the ghosts still roaming the place.

The City at the Silk Road

The city was founded in 1032 and used to be a busy and important trading place in the 11th century as a part of The Western Xia, also known as the Tangut Empire. In 1226, the city was taken over by Genghis Khan and many blame the Mongolian ruler that the city is now destroyed. That is not true as the city under Kublai Khan’s time, the city expanded three times and flourished. 

The city was important as a trading hub along the Silk Road and even Marco Polo wrote about it in his travels along the silk road in The Travels of Marco Polo, where he called it Etzina. 

When you leave the city of Campichu you ride for twelve days, and then reach a city called Etzina, which is towards the north on the verge of the Sandy Desert; it belongs to the Province of Tangut. The people are Idolaters, and possess plenty of camels and cattle, and the country produces a number of good falcons, both Sakers and Lanners. The inhabitants live by their cultivation and their cattle, for they have no trade. At this city you must needs lay in victuals for forty days, because when you quit Etzina, you enter on a desert which extends forty days’ journey to the north, and on which you meet with no habitation nor baiting-place.

— Marco Polo, The Travels of Marco Polo, translated by Henry Yule, 1920

The Fall of the City

In 1372, the city was under charge of the Mongol general Khara Bator when the army of the Ming Dynasty attacked.The city was surrounded and under siege for a long time, but the city was more of a fortress, built to withstand any attacking army, and the soldiers outside needed to think of a way to breach the walls.  

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Hidden by sand in the Gobi desert for centuries, the abandoned city of Khar Khot is still haunted by the ghosts of the inhabitants that didn’t manage to escape. 
Rediscovered: Ruin At Kharakhoto from east, 30 May 1914.//Photo: Aurel Stein

So to speed things up on the outside, the Chinese went for the fortress one weak spot, the water supply. The name Gobi basically means waterless in Mongolian, and that is what they became. The city was cut off from its water supply by diverting the Ejin River that flowed right outside the city walls away from the thirsty people inside. 

The inhabitants inside began desperately to dig in the ground, trying to find drops of water according to the legend, but to no avail. When Khara Bator realized that the siege was not something they could withstand he threw all the valuables of the city into the well so as not to give that up to the invaders, even though they had to give up their life.

Kharakhoto BLP221 PHOTO392-29-85.jpg
Hidden by sand in the Gobi desert for centuries, the abandoned city of Khar Khot is still haunted by the ghosts of the inhabitants that didn’t manage to escape. 
Ruins: Muhammadan Tomb K.K.VI. at southeast corner of Kharakhoto, from east, 3 June 1914.//Photo: Aurel Stein

As time went on with no water with the Han Chinese army banging on their doors, Khara Bator murdered his family before taking his own life. The Mongols’ reign over Asia was slowly dwindling away. 

His soldiers waited until the Ming Dynasty finally breached the walls and attacked, killing the rest of the inhabitants of the city, not burying the bodies and making them live on as the ghost they are today. 

Another Version of Escaping

There are alternate versions we can find in the Ming Dynasty annals that tells a different story. In this version, the leader together with his ministers actually escaped from this ancient mongolian city. 

No matter who died and who escaped, the city was abandoned after the defeat and left in ruins to be swallowed by the desert. 


The Black City Today

600 years passed before people returned to the desolated city buried under the dry sand. Because of being so far from any other sign of civilization, the city was largely safe from looters and people seeking to destroy the place. 

When they first started excavating they found a rich amount of manuscripts of the Tangut language along with other important cultural artifacts, untouched because of its remote location, and perhaps because of the ghosts still protecting the city?

Today, tourists can come on a day trip to see the once magnificent city in the desert that the sand has filed down, softened the edges and buried its secrets. But in the night, they go back and miss the action that goes on after the sun goes down. Reports of flames burning for hours and strange lights that lead people astray in the desert are told from the guards watching over this place. 

Their ghost haunts the ruins of the garrisons, the walls and the very sand itself. In a way, giving the ghost city of Khar Khot a sort of life other than just being pieces of crumbling stone walls.


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