Since leaving Xian I’d travelled predominantly by night train. This was definitely convenient but by the time I reached Turpan in Xinjiang, over 2,300 kms from Xian, I felt I had no concept of the distance I’d travelled as I’d slept through it! Despite that it was absolutely clear I’d travelled a long way since then and since I first arrived in China. Why? Because here in Turpan the western influences were everywhere. The faces were different with Turkic influences strong. The locals way of dressing was different too, more Central Asian, Islamic with long skirts and scarves and skull caps. Even the buildings had slight islamic touches and signs were in both Chinese and Uigher (very similar looking to Arabic). I was absolutely on my way into Central Asia!
As another oasis in the deserts of Western China Turpan was an important stop on the Silk Road. The oasis is set at 155 metres below sea level and is the second lowest depression in the world after the Dead Sea. As a result it experiences large variations in temperatures and while I was there the temperature soared to 40 degrees!
Turpan is famous for it’s grapes and it seemed the whole city was surrounded by vineyards. When wandering around the outskirts of town I would peek behind large doors to be greeted by an open area often covered with grape trellises. Sometimes there would be built above a well ventilated rectangular building where grapes would be hung to dry.
Even in the centre of the city were vine covered walkways.
On the outskirts of town amongst the famous vineyards is the Emin Minaret. A little piece of Central Asian architecture in China. It’s geometric patterned tower had me excited to see similar and even more impressive buildings once I reached the heart of Central Asia.
If you know me even a little bit you will know I love ruins and in the desert surrounding Turpan were some impressive sites. First stop the Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves. Another series of caves carved into the side of a mountain in a wonderful location. The caves were once covered with Buddhist murals but sadly today only a small fraction remain as many of the murals were removed by European explorers in the early 1900s.
Next was the traditional Uigher village of Tuyoq. Set in a picturesque valley I enjoyed simply wandering around the mud-brick houses chewing on dried melon, grapes and mulberries.
The ruined mud-brick walls and buildings of Gaochang are set on a large plain with absolutely no shade and unfortunately I arrived in the middle of the afternoon. The heat was intense and the ruins spread out so I jumped at the chance to be ferried around by motorised buggy despite it costing an extra 35RMB.
I stayed at Turpan White Camel Hostel. A reasonable, basic hostel which is to be expected for this part of China. The location in the centre of Turpan is excellent.
Train to Turpan from Dunhuang costs RMB275 for a soft sleeper but keep in mind the train station for Turpan is 54km to the north of the city and takes an hour to reach (NB: the train from Dunhuang actually leaves from the train station at Liuyuan, 3 hours from Dunhuang!!)