Turpan - China's Hot Pot

Turpan, the hottest city in China, is a model Silk Road oasis. Turpan is a sleepy desert town shaded by poplar trees and grape arbors, peopled by Uighurs in traditional dress and irrigated by a vast system of hand-dug underground channels that funnel the melting snow of the Heavenly Mountains into Turpan. It is this 2,000-year-old irrigation system has kept Turpan alive while other desert boomtowns have withered up and died.

Turpan is in the heart of Xinjiang, where the northern route of the Silk Road steps down into the second deepest continental basin On Earth (next to the Dead Sea). Turpan is 260 feet below sea level, while the nearby Moon Lake is 505 feet below sea level.

Turpan City Ratings
** The following ratings are based on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best.
History(8) Art(7) Local Culture/Unique Tour(7)
Nature/Scenic(8) Food/Shopping(6)   Night Life(3)
Religion(8)   Adventure/Sports(7) Reasonable Cost(9)
Recommended Days of Stay: 3

Quick Facts
Population - 200,000
People - Uygur, Han, Kazak, Mongolian, and Hui
When to go
Tourist Season - May to October;
Coldest Months - January, with temperature as low as -17C;
Hottest Months - July and August, with temperature as high as 48C;
Annual Precipitation - 16.6 millimeters;
Sandstorm - April through early May.
Getting In and Out
By Train - Turpan is 12 hours by train from Dunhuang;
By Bus - Turpan is 2.5 hours away by car from Urumqi.


Turpan's history started with the ongoing struggles in the Han dynasty between the Chinese and the Xiongnu (Mongolian) tribesmen. Both peoples wanted this area as their power expansion base.

For many centuries, the region remained a contested area. During the Yuan dynasty, the Silk Road enjoyed a boom that was never seen before. Turpan took advantage of the opportunity and became a major oasis along the Silk Road.

Turpan Museum * * *
The museum contains a lot of written material, excavated from some of the Tang tombs. Most interesting is the exhibits from the old Uighur capital at Gaochang, including documents relating to land tenure in the early 7c.

Ancient Cities * * * *
There are two well-known ancient cities close to Turpan, Gaochang (Kharakhoja) and Jiaohe (Yarkhoto).

Gaochang was founded by Chinese in the 2nd century B.C. as a garrison on the Silk Road. At its peak, Gaochang served as the capital of Xinjiang during the Tang dynasty. It was abandoned in 1275 for some mysterious reasons.

The city itself is rather large. Things to see include the Bell Tower and a few Buddhist temples. In the center of the city, there is a large temple. It is here that monk Xuan Zang from Journey to the West preached in A.D. 630 on his way to India.

Jiaohe is another ruined city that is 6 miles to the west of Turpan. It is probably the same size as Gaochang but better preserved. UNESCO has contributed to its preservation. The dry weather has helped city preserve its cityscape. It is a life-sized model of a Tang Dynasty city.

Astana Graves * * * * *
This burial site, dated back to the 3rd century, is close to the ancient city of Gaochang. Although investigated by European archaeologists around the century, the bodies in the graves were not removed. Currently, there are only three graves open. Therefore, the entire visit only takes 15 minutes. Because of centuries of dry air, the silk wrappings on the corpses and even the food buried with them have survived in fine fettle. Wall murals depict the pleasures of family life and the beauties of nature, particularly of birds. Among the 10,000 relics excavated at Astana is a pair of woven linen shoes and a fossilized jiaozi (steamed dumplings) which is used to argue whether Marco Polo found or introduced spaghetti to China. Both specimens date from the Tang Dynasty.

Emin Minaret * * * *
The Minaret is the most striking building of the disused mosque. It was built in 1778 by the then local ruler in honor of his father.

The minaret is constructed entirely of brick, in the style of the pre-Safavid architecture of Iran, and is a lovely example of decorated brickwork.

The Minaret is 44m-high. It is broad at the base and tapers markedly. The white mosque connected to the Minaret is the largest in the region. However, it is currently not in use.

Local Culture/Unique Tour
Karez * * * *
For the last twenty centuries, the mountain waters have reached Turpan through a massive underground network of tunnels, an irrigation system called Karez. The underground network consists of 1,000 different canals, all interlinked, covering a distance of over 3000 km. Wells are dug to tap the subterranean streams that originate at the foot of the mountain.

The maintenance of the Karez is still done the old way. A man is lowered into the tunnel and his horse hauls up buckets of mud by the use of pulleys until the tunnels are clear.

There is currently one karez well site open for exhibition. It is complete with a museum of displays and pictures. It is a good way to get an understanding of how the tunnels were dug.

Grape Festival * *
Turpan is considered as the "Grape Country" in China. Every August, locals would gather together during "Grape Festival" to celebrate the harvest of grapes.

Flaming Mountains * * * *
The Flaming Mountains, extending 100 miles, line the northern rim of Turpan Depression. Consisting of barren red limestones, they look as if they are on fire in the intense heat of the day.

The Flaming Mountains were also mentioned in the Chinese classic novel The Journey to the West. When monk Xuan Zang passed by this site, the mountains were still on fire. With the help of Monkey King, Xuan Zang obtained a magic fan and fan the flames down so that his group could pass unharmed.

Grape Valley * * * *
The extreme weather and constant irrigation make the local fruit particularly sweet. Turpan is especially famous for its grapes. Raisins from Turpan can be found throughout China. The Grape Valley stretches 10 miles. It is a beautiful place where you can sit in the shades and sip the local wines to kill a brutally hot afternoon.

Food/ Shopping
John's Cafe
It's a place for OK western food and a base for western backpackers.

Night Life
Turpan's Guesthouse
Outdoor caf¨¦, English menu, cold beer and occasional performance.

Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves * * * * *
Bezeklik is a major Buddhist site in the heart of the Flaming Mountains 35 miles northeast of Turpan. Bezeklik means "place of paintings" in Uighur. The caves were hewn into the cliffside, and large murals, like those at Dunhung, were painted on the walls and ceilings.

Monks used to live inside the caves and the frescoes here clearly represent the life work of generations of devotees. Unfortunately, this place was damaged by the locals who converted to Islam in the 10th century and looted by the western archaeologists in the early 20th century.



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