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Published: July 17th 2013
I believe there are 3 places that stand out in Xinjiang province in terms of popularity. The first one is naturally Urumuqi because it’s the capital of the province and it’s also the largest and most developed city in this huge province. The second one is Kashgar because of its location in the far west of Xinjiang. It’s the gateway to Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan or Pakistan and it’s the heart of the Uyghur community and culture. Finally the 3rd
place must be Turpan, a famous oasis covered in green grapes where tourists come for a day trip from Urumuqi to enjoy big fat raisins and some sweet wine.
Becky’s friend, Jiao Lu, had some business to attend in Turpan and she offered to drive us there so that we could visit the vineyards and the other sites while she was working: an offer we couldn’t refuse. The road to Turpan from Urumuqi offered some very cool scenery along the way. At first we drove through bare hills of stones and little bush, and then we passed dark stony mountains before hitting the flat empty land where gigantic windmills are spreading on each side of the road for kilometers.
Turpan is located
30m above sea level and the temperatures get scorching in the summer (up to 48 degrees C.), the hottest place in China I believe. Thanks to the heat and the old irrigation system the city of Turpan produces high-quality fruit. We went for a long walk among vineyards. In the valley of Turpan grapes grow on arches so that people can walk underneath. Many farms have arranged their plantations for people to have lunch underneath the grapes. It’s extremely well-designed and pretty romantic if you know which place to pick. Becky and I opted for a walk in the vineyards far away from tourists. The arches weren’t as high as they are in the touristy spots so we had to bend over a bit to walk under but it was fun and we got lost many times. Underneath the grapes everything looks the same and it’s easy to get disoriented. But it’s definitely not a bad place to get lost… From below everything took a fluorescent green shade and the little grapes seemed so appealing.. We must have been 3 weeks too early though as they were still very bitter. I really enjoyed the contrasts between the dark and bare
rocky, sandy hills around and the greenery of the oasis. It was so hot though, almost suffocating. Around 2pm we were happy to watch some Uyghur acrobatic performance in the shade and enjoy some nice “da pan ji”, a huge dish of spicy chicken and potatoes, one of the specialties of Xinjiang.
Three ice-creams later we were on the road again to reach the Flaming Mountains, supposedly the hottest place in China. It’s a big mountain of red sandstone in the desert. There is no real path up the mountain but we did face the heat and went halfway up the mountain. Chinese tourists go there to take a picture of a giant thermometer that shows how hot it is in the desert. Some of them ride a camel if it’s not too hot and then quickly get back to their air-conditioned vehicles. Becky is not the usual Chinese tourist and she walked towards the scorching hot mountain before I even shared my desire to do so with her. As we were walking down towards the exit, sweaty and red-faced, a man with a donkey and a cart was waiting for us, to ask us if we wanted a
ride back to the main gate (a 15 minute-walk). He first asked us for 100 Yuan, then 60 but he never went down any lower so… we walked back the same way we had come from. I do have pictures of our red faces from after the walk but decided we looked too ugly to publish them!
We ended the day at the ruins of the ancient town of Gaochang, maybe 30km from Turpan. It is the site of an ancient oasis
city built on the northern rim of the inhospitable Taklamakan Desert
. It used to be a busy trading center hundreds of years ago. It was a stopping point for merchant traders traveling on the Silk Road
. It was destroyed in wars during the 14th century, and old palace ruins and lots of mud walls can still be seen today. As soon as we got off the car 3 little girls of about 8 to 12 years old insisted on selling us key chains. Becky and Jiaolu bought one each but they kept on following us asking us to buy more. I don’t like it when children try to make money. Later on these little girls even asked me to
barren, eroded, red sandstone hills in Tian Shan Mountain range
give back the key chain Jiaolu had bought and attached to my backpack. They were extremely persistent and even physically pushy. I thought they were rude and aggressive. But Becky and Jiaolu remained calm and patient with the annoying girls who had taken advantage of their kindness. I feel like the Han are extremely (overly?) careful when they deal with Uyghur people. But as an outsider I don’t have all the cards in hand to assess the situation.
Turpan was fun and exciting. The area has so much to offer. I promised myself we would be back and spend at least 2 days there next time we travel to Xinjiang. I hope you enjoy the pics!
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