Tuesday, November 20, 2007


From Urumqi we got a sleeper bus to Turpan with Tristen. Turpan is a legendary desert Oasis, at 154m below sea level it is the second lowest depression in the world (after the Dead Sea) and is also known as the hottest spot in China. It’s famous for it’s silk road history and ancient settlements

We stayed in a hotel near the bus stop, behind it was the markets, busy with mainly Uighur traders and shoppers. There was plenty of Nan bread, Yoghurt and fruits especially grapes of which the region is famous for.

In the town square at night we saw TV news projected on water fountains, which seemed both spectacular and ridiculous, this supposedly being an oasis town in the middle of the desert. The news was from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) Communist Party conference in Beijing.

Opposite was a huge outdoor pool hall, where we stopped for a game with Tristen.

The next day we hired a car with Tristen and a Chinese Buddhiset Nun for a tour around Turpan taking in Gaochang and Jiaohe Ruins amongst other sites. It was a good day but as often with tours it felt a little bit conveyor belt, tick the box. The entry to each site wasn’t cheap and soon added up. The ruined cities were impressive though and well worth it.

Gaochang (Khocho Ruins) was originally settled in the first century BC and rose to power in the 7th Century during the Tang Dynasty. Also known as Khocho it became the Uighur capital in AD 850 and a major staging post on the silk road until it burned down in the 14th century. We didn’t take the ‘donkey taxi’ deciding to walk around the ancient dusty desert city.

The Bezelik Caves were not that great and were pretty much empty after being looted most famously by German archaeologists in 1905. Known as 'Thousand Buddha caves' the name means a lot of Buddhas rather than an exact amount. Tristen was not impressed and said "Its like everywhere I've been in China, slightly disappointing

Driving around the region we saw many square vented structures, which are were used for drying grapes and other fruits.

We had lunch at a Uighur Restaurant in Grape Valley. It was a nice spot, eating outside under vines for shade. We had Laghman, hand pulled noodles with Veg, which we had a lot in Xinjiang, it was one of the few veggie options we knew how to order in Uighur restaurants, and was nice.

We stopped at Emin Mosque, an Afghan style mosque and minaret, founded by a Turpan general Emin Hoja, but didn’t go inside. Outside the mosque were many stalls selling local fruits, grapes and raisins alongside tourist tat. The Peoples Republic of China flag was raised on the entrance gate ensuring you remember who's land it is. 'Religion, Tourism and Commerce'.

The Jiaohe Ruins were probably the most impressive site. Also known as Yarkhoto, it's one of the world's largest, oldest, and best preserved ancient cities. 6500 residents once lived here. It was established by the Chinese during the Han dynasty (206 BC - AD 220) as a garrison town.

We met many tour groups, mostly Chinese, their guides talking through hand held tanoys and leading the masses by flags. We had to make use of our guide book and the useful signs in ‘Chinglish’ that would give in depth knowledge such as “The layout of the whole temple is full of characteristics’.

The next day we took a local bus out to nearby Tuyoq. The bus was held up on route, by the PRC army on parade wielding shovels? I took a photo which upset their boss, who came onto the bus shouting ‘No Photo’. The bus which was full of Uighurs didn’t seem to enthused about the display and delay.

We had a great day just wandering around the area and old town, walking up to Tuyoq Mazar, the symbolic tomb of the first Uighur Muslim.

We jumped on the back of a local tractor/ taxi to get back to the bus stop, where we had some delicious Laghman, whilst waiting for the bus back to Turpan, we ended up getting a shared taxi back for around the same price as the bus. It was a much more rewarding way of getting about and cheaper than the tour yesterday.

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