This mainly Uygher city lies 2.5 hour away from Urumqi by bus in the middle of the desert. Well pretty much all of southern Xinjiang is desert, but Turpan is especially hot. It clocked in at 44 degrees celcius/111 farenheit when our bus arrived in the mid afternoon. I checked into a hostel and set out to explore a little bit. The city itself is pleasant, with some walkways lined with grapevines overhead and winding sandy streets with traditional clay-made homes on the outskirts of town. I found the Emin minaret, which I guess is the largest of it’s kind in Xinjiang, or all of China for that matter, but it’s really not that exciting. After over an hour of wandering I had to call it quits due to the heat and relaxed in the hostel for a while.
The thing about Xinjiang is it is on Beijing time (as all of China only has one timezone) and due to it’s far westward location the sunset doesn’t set until almost 10 pm! A lot of the locals go by their own time zone, which is two hours behind Beijing time, which can lead to some confusion scheduling things if you don’t know which time they are referring to! But anyway I wanted to go see the sunset over this ancient city outside of town (Jiaohe), so I took a nap and set my alarm to 8:45pm. Unfortunately the gates were closed, but this guy came up to me and said he could join this tour called ‘Jiaohe at night’ and he’d give me a good discount. Sure, why not. I didn’t really feel like going home empty handed.
I guess the tour had just started so he hustles me inside the little museum area and I catch up with the group and of course the group is all Chinese and the tour guide is obviously speaking in Mandarin. Oh well! The displays had English on them at least. Our group then goes outside where they give us some fruit and then we hop on the tour bus that takes us into the ancient city. To my surprise when we got to the entrance there were men dressed as ancient soldiers carrying flags, girls wearing white dresses carrying lamps, and a king and queen. This wasn’t just ‘hey look at the city lit up at night’, this was like a whole production. So not only could we check out the ruins of the city, but at certain stopping points there was a mock sword fight, a ceremony for the king and queen, and then a natural amphitheater complete with musicians and dancing women. It was much more entertaining than I would have expected. And walking through the city seeing the rock formations and homes dug out of the earth was cool too.
The next day I went to the museum, and then met up with some other tourists (there really aren’t many foreign tourists in xinjiang!) and we hired a taxi to take us out to see some stuff east of the city. We got to see some Buddhist caves (which had long since been looted and the buddhas defaced), an old city that was basically a ghost town (it usually inhabited for the benefit of tourists, but it got too hot so they went home I guess), and the sand dunes in the desert. It’s weird starting after 2:30 pm and still being able to get in a solid 8 hours of touring! We got back, found a little restaurant to have some spicy noodles and lamb kebabs and called it a day!
The next day I would take the bus 6 hours down the highway, Southwest, in the direction of Kashgar to a city called Korla, which is just a big Chinese city and stopover destination. When I saw these cities on a map and how remote they are, I guess I was expected like little dusty, run down, desert towns. But’s it China after all, so nope! High rises, 6 lane roads, traffic jams, towering billboards, shopping malls etc. And lots of curious looks when they spot the white guy. Fortunately my hostel was near the train station and I still retained enough Chinese to be able to buy my train ticket the next morning without any misunderstandings. Yay. Off to the next town, called Kuche.