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Published: August 13th 2014
Arriving in Turpan Railway station at 0535 in the morning and facing the scrum of yelling taxi drivers in pitch dark is a bit daunting esp. as we had planned to take the minibus into the city which was 55kms from the station. Why they locate railway stations miles from the towns is beyond me but thats the reality. Problem was the buses didn't start until 0800. So breaking all the rules, we accepted an offer from the first yelling bloke, piled our luggage into the boot of his 'taxi' and roared off into the darkness - with absolutely NO lights on !! After some heated exchanges with the driver, we eventually got out of the vehicle but only after opening the doors of the car as he sped along. Was a close thing whether we could retrieve our packs from his boot, but sanity prevailed, so back to the station we went, where we eventually found a 'real' taxi driver who for a quarter of the previous quote, took us safely into town.
Turpan is China's Death Valley and at 154m below sea level, is the second lowest depression in the world, and the hottest spot in China. Temps
touched 45 on our first day, and I'm not joking you could fry an egg on the pavement easily - if only there were pavements in Turpan. Washing clothes is a breeze here cos the wet clothes dried in bout 25 mins !
After checking into the Silk Road Lodges in Mun'er village ( highly recommended hotel) on the outskirts of Turpan where we could really experience village life that hasn't changed for centuries,, we ventured off to visit Emin Minaret - built in 1777 by a Turpan general Emin Toja. Has a spectacular and unique minaret which unfortunately was closed for climbing.
John spent the next few hrs perusing the new Turpan Museum whilst I checked out Grape street - an interesting pedestrian mall area with grapes growing right over the top extending over two city blocks. This place is the Grape capital of China - grapes are literally everywhere - every farm, every backyard, every street corner, country lane, there are grapes everywhere - and still this time of year they are laden with fruit and ready for picking. Must confess that we seriously overloaded on grapes - one could simply pick a bunch wherever they
were and set them ! We saw them being dried on the country roads, and hung in massive mudrock drying racks to convert to raisins.
Hearing some interesting music along the roadside, John investigated to discover a local Uighur wedding in progress just outside the Lodge. Not known to be shy in such matters, John quickly found himself invited to join the wedding celebrations, and sat cross legged on the ground with the other menfolk, and proceeded to partake of all the yummy wedding breakfast food goodies. But when it came to joining in the dancing, John beat a hasty retreat
Next morning (after a breakfast of grapes !) we were off to visit the ancient cites of Jiahoe and Gaochang. About 8 Kms west of Turpan, Jiahoe was a garrison town established by the Han dynasty over 1600 yrs ago and was remarkable for its size - over 6500 people originally lived here. There are lots of structures and walls, and temples remaining.
Gaochang - aBout 15 Kms east was the ancient capital before Turpan in 850AD, though it was established in 1st century BC. There's not much left today other than the massive 12m high
city walls, which I thought were spectacular. One could wander thru the ruins, and imagine what life might have been like so many centuries ago.
Final site to visit was Tuyoq located in a valley alongside the Flaming mountains - anticipated to be the most interesting of all as this 'city' still had people living today in this most ancient place. Typical Uighur village life in a location that was very holy to Muslims and remains today to be a pilgrim site for Muslims. Local legend has it that the first Uighur to convert from Buddhism to Islam did so here. Unfortunately in this land of nearly zero rainfall, they suffered a once in a century rainstorm about three months ago, which resulted in huge rockfalls sweeping down the hillsides causing some serious damage to the village. None of this had been repaired or restored, so the place was still a bit of a mess.
On our last nite in Turpan, it was off to a very local night market where we feasted on a huge roast cumin spiced chook, hot out of the oven Sesame Nan bread, washed down by litres of Pear juice! It doesn't get
any better than that.
Overall impression of Turpan was the excessive heat, the grapes, and lots of old rocky remains of ancient cities.
Next morning, it was off to that distant railway station to undertake our first 24hr overnight/ day train trip to Kashgar - a city at the heart of the Uighur/Han disturbances.
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