Famous for its grapes, Turpan is an oasis town in the north western province of Xinjiang. The city is located in the third lowest depression in the world at 154m below sea level and it is scorching hot during summer and freezing cold during winter. The Turpan Basin is home to both Han Chinese and the Uighur ethnic group who have called this region home for over 1000 years. Once Buddhist, the Uighur’s long ago converted to Islam with their food and customs more akin to Central Asia and the Middle East than that of China.
Scattered throughout the town and surrounding villages were specially made drying houses for grapes as they are mostly dried to last out the winter. The other main crop is melon, also the best in China according to one of the locals I met and they grow cotton too. Oil wells and pumping stations dot the desert landscape just outside of town much to the dismay of the my driver who took me out to Tuyoq.
Tuyoq, a pilgrimage site for Muslims for centuries is a traditional Uighur village about 70km from Turpan set at the base of the Flaming Mountains. The village is surrounded by vineyards, and would look stunning in summer when the grape vines are green and lush. The buildings are all constructed from mud apart from the Mosque that was the centre piece of the village. Just up the gorge there are a number of Buddhist caves dating from the 3rd century but these were unfortunately closed.
While in Turpan I also visited the ruined city of Jiahoe, a Chinese garrison town established during the Han Dynasty. It was a relatively flat 13km bike ride along one of the main roads out of town. The ruins were vastly different to those of Angkor in Cambodia, the only other ancient ruins that I have seen. Constructed from mud and mud-brick rather than stone, this place was not as well preserved but impressive all the same. The houses can just made out as old dwellings but the government centre and the Buddhist Monasteries are much more discernable. There was also the remanets of a Stupa Forest that originally contained 101 Stupas.