Turpan sits at the very center of Xinjiang, a desert bastion at the foot of the "Heavenly Mountains". This area is commonly known as the "Turpan Depression", the lowest and the hottest place in all of China.
Thanks largely to the people here this relatively small and economically unimportant place has blossomed in recent years, attracting numerous tourists and travelers, who come here to sample the easy going pace of life and to see the desert.
The city itself, despite the intense heat, has been made livable by the construction of vines and trellises, providing avenues of shade from the sun. There are few cars here and donkey cart is the most common and popular mode of transport. The heat means that no one is in a real hurry to get anywhere and it is pleasant just to sit in the shade with a cool drink and watch the world go by.
Turpan is most famous for its splendid grapes. Every household has a ventilated barn on the roof, and some of the world's finest grapes are produced here. 70% of the 500,000 population here are Uygur and the residents here are generally a very friendly bunch, the food is good, the living is cheap and the wine is not bad either!
Flaming Mountains (Huo Yan Shan) are so named because in the evenings the red clay mountains reflect the heat and glow of the desert and seem to burn. Situated on the northern edge of the Turpan basin, and stretching over 100 kilometer long and 10 kilometer wide, this is an intensely hot part of the desert without a single blade of grass to be seen for miles.
In the severe heat of July, the mountains seem to be on fire in the burning sun and become a purplish-brown colour. Hot steam rises upwards from the burning cliffs and it is no surprise that this is where the hottest temperatures in China ever, were recorded.
The caves are situated on the northwestern side of the Flaming Mountains facing a river valley, and are only 15 kilometer north of the ancient Gaochang City and 45 kilometer east of Turpan. These caves are one of the largest Buddhist "grotto" sites in Xinjiang.
The heyday of the caves was during the end of the Gaochang state in the 13th century before the kingdom was moved to Gansu province, after which, the area's people were converted to Islam and the caves were subject to attack and fell into disrepair.
Most of the statues and frescos here have either been destroyed by Muslims or by foreign adventurer-explorers, the most notorious of which was Albert von Le Coq. He stole numerous frescoes, a wall at a time, and shipped them off to Berlin for display, only for them to be destroyed in WW II bombing of Berlin. The caves of today are only a glimmer of their previous glory. Nevertheless the surrounding scenery is quite nice, so it's worth a trip.
This tower, just 2 kilometer east of Turpan, is both a mosque and minaret tower that was built in 1778 by the local Muslim ruler, Emin Hoja.
Also known as Sugong Tower after Emin's Chinese name, the minaret was built in a simple Islamic style. It is circular, 44 meter in height, and 10 m in diameter at the base. Unfortunately, the minaret is no longer open to the public in an effort to preserve the structure; however, you can view the surroundings from the roof of the mosque.
As for the mosque, although it is rather bare inside, services are held every Friday and on holidays.
The ancient, ruined city of Jiaohe (Jiaohe Gucheng) stands isolated on a 30 meter high plateau in the Ya'ernaizi Valley, 10 kilometer east of Turpan. The city is situated on an island between 2 rivers and the name for the area means "the confluence of 2 rivers".
Today, this is a well preserved site and a more atmospheric spot to wander and imagine times gone by than the city at Gaochang. Well preserved temples, pagodas and streets are dotted around. A Buddhist monastery marks the center of the city and there are some ancient filled wells here too. The crumbling sand colored walls of the buildings reflect the color of the desert and the surrounding sand dunes.
The whole city stretches about 1650 meter from south to north, and 300 meter from east to west. It was initially built about 2000 years ago and for a long period of time, was controlled by the residents of Gaochang.
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