Published: October 5th 2007October 1st 2007
Our local Uighur tour guide Aiysha met us at the Turpan train station. We then headed to our hotel for breakfast. Turpan is pretty difficult to get to - the train station is quite far from the city center, and the closest airport is in Urumqi, three hours away. Xinjiang is China's most western province, close to Pakistan, north of Tibet. However, the official time used in Xinjiang is Beijing time. The sun rises at 8:30 am or later in Xinjiang. So unofficially, Xinjiang is 2 hours behind Beijing. Very confusing. Flights and train schedules use Beijing time, but local restaurants, hotels, etc. use Xinjiang time.
Silk Road: Since Xinjiang is close to the West, and more central to Asia, Xinjiang was an important part of the Silk Road trade route 2000+ years ago. Turpan is a city actually part of the "Northern Silk Road Route".
Xinjiang is certainly different from other places in China. The Uighur people don't even look Chinese... and the language is pretty most signs are in Arabic and Chinese and English. Uighur is close to Turkic languages - Kyrgyz, Uzbek, etc. However, most Uighurs don't really speak Chinese since most schools are taught in
Soft sleeper train to Turpan
Four beds to a cabin. We shared with two Korean tourists.
Uighur. Sheesh. It would be hard for me to travel here on my own. Also, I have a feeling that they don't like Han Chinese people (Han=Chinese majority)... Xinjiang is an Autonomous region, which means that they are part of China but have their own ethnic minority leaders. Xinjiang is also the largest province in China, 1/6 of the land.
Anyway, we eat breakfast and I sneak in a shower before we head to the Tuyuk Village/ Grape Valley. It's a long ride and we passed by Flaming Mountain, which is known to be so hot that people can cook food on there!
There are tons of grape vines along the road, along with grape drying huts. We got to see the inside of the grape drying hut and there are thousands of grape bunches hanging (see pic)! It takes around 40 days to dry the grapes to make raisins. The raisins are delicious.... so sweet and tasty. There are over 100 different kinds of grapes/raisins! Very tasty.
The Tuyuk Village is in the Grape Valley and we walked around the village. The streets and houses and dirt and clay and it is very dry and quaint.
The village is known to be an old pilgrimage site for Muslims. What confused me is that there are Buddhist caves near the village constructed in 3rd century. The caves in Dunhuang were much bigger and better, but the ones in Turpan are older.
In the afternoon we visited ancient ruins of Jiaohe City, which is one of the world's oldest and largest. Formed in 200 AD, this city was in between the two rivers in Turpan. In 1300s AD the city was abandoned, possibly because of the rivers drying out. The city looks like a bunch of cool rock formations - much like the southwest. You would think you were walking through New Mexico or something! Actually, the formations are old clay walls from the houses and structures remaining from ancient Jiaohe. It was fascinating to see this old city. There are still remains from the temples, govt buildings and watch towers. Very neat, and quite unique. We bumped into our Korean roommates from the train ride in Jiaohe.
We then visited Karez Irrigation system. Sounds boring, but you get to see how Turpan obtained water from Tianshan (Heavenly Mountain) two thousand years ago. Turpan is so
so dry and far away from water source, the irrigation channels are over 5000 km long! Imagine digging that - by hand!
Given that we are here during National Week, it was not that busy. Perhaps because Xinjiang is so far away from the rest of China and difficult to get around, that it isn't as popular of a destination? The weather in Turpan was perfect while we were there. During the summer months Turpan can be 47C degrees!. Additionally, it seemed quiet since most of the locals were not out during the day b/c of Ramadan (fasting for Muslims). Most restaurants were closed for lunch.
We had dinner at a Muslim restaurant where they sing and dance for you while you eat. A bit cheesy. I didn't really like the food... too much meat. Huge skewers of lamb and chunks of meat.
There are more photos below